Friday, 6 November 2020

Sony Xperia 5 vs Sony Xperia 5 II

Autumn 2019 and Sony released their baby Xperia 1 as the Xperia 5. There were some significant differences apart from the size, including access to some camera software and Qi Wireless charging. I was able to grab a 5 eventually second-hand and have it here now to compare with the autumn 2020 update, the Mark 2.

In the meantime, Sony have also updated the Xperia 1 to Xperia 1 II with some other differences, but that's a topic for another day. I was mightily impressed with the Sony Xperia 5 and reviewed it here in my Blog earlier this year. The question now is whether or not it's worth the Xperia 5 owner paying out another £799 (128GB model price in the UK) in order to get the updates. This will, of course, depend on the updates and how impactful they are on the performance of the phone and user-experience.

Before you read on, it might be an idea to check out Steve Litchfield's video review in The Phones Show 410 as he puts it through various tests in more depth than the straight comparison here between old and new.

The differences, then. First off, the new version has 5G over the old's 4G. Depending on what use you might make of that, what coverage you have where you live, what tariff you're on with your carrier and how congested your situation is, will depend on the importance. For me, I reckon for all the above, I can't see needing (or even wanting) anything more than 4G for a good long time to come - certainly during the life-expectancy of the phone (in terms of updates from Sony/Google).

Physically, they are very similar indeed. Virtually the same weight. The new model is 0.2mm less fat, if anyone's going to notice that difference! Quite surprising, however, given the next difference, battery. In the box there's the usual Sony tight-fisted approach to any extras like a simple TPU (to cut into their profits charging £800) and it's just a power-brick and cable. Still, that seems to be the way some manufacturers are going these days, declaring how great they are at saving the planet.

The old model has a 3,140mAh battery and the new, 4,000mAh. As I said in my previous review linked to above, I was surprised at and pleased with the performance of the 5 in terms of battery. It lasted longer and performed significantly better than other phones with a similar battery. In fact, based on my reviews over time with plenty of phones, I'd say that it performed much more like other units with a 4,000mAh cell. If that's also true of the update here, maybe the 4,000mAh will behave more like a 5,000mAh unit! The new phone is able to Fast Charge at 21W instead of 18W, so again, incremental change.

Testing the battery has, so far, left me a little disappointed. My 10% SoT which I use with all phones when testing, level playing field, returned me 1 hour 40 minutes on the 5 with that smaller battery and yet only 1 hour 30 mins on this new version. I don't quite understand that. Yes there is a bit more RAM to drive (which I'll come to) and there is 5G (though I am not in a 5G zone, nor do I have a 5G contract) but it seems wrong. GSMArena have tested the 5 to be 96hrs on their unique testing system and 102hrs for the 5 II, but that's not what I'm seeing. I have not had the phone long, to be fair, but I keep re-testing and that's what I get. However, the average use test is fine - both of these phones will have no problem for the person (not caning them shooting video or playing games) getting to the end of a reasonably busy day. It's just that I was expecting more of a leap from the new model.

Next up is the screen refresh rate, being 120Hz over the 5's 60Hz. I have them next to each other here and I'm swiping and scrolling and gaming and movie-watching and I can't see the difference. Still, good for those with better eyes (or brain signals) that can see it. By the way, it's off and at 60Hz by default, so most users will probably not realise it is there anyway! I would rather have a cheaper phone! The OLED panel looks very much the same to me too, wound up to 100% manually, they look exactly the same for colour, brightness (super bright OLED of course) with all the same controls in Settings.

How about the SnapDragon 865 over the elder's 855 then? Same applies, sorry! I don't see any difference in day-to-day use. They both fly in any process that is thrown their way. I'm guessing if I was a big gamer or someone shooting and editing movies I might see the technical difference. And perhaps that's what we have here - a device aimed at professionals doing extraordinary stuff with their gear to produce masterpieces. Not someone taking shots of Dave and his mates down the pub and watching an episode of Breaking Bad now and again. Geekbench scores show a 18% increase overall in performance. Must get my eyes tested and brain checked! Same is true of the RAM - there's an extra 2GB on the new model, making it 8GB, but the 6 of the old model was perfectly good. I have never had any slow-down switching between apps nor concern about apps, services and processes being shut down in the background because the system needed more. It feels like another tick-box.

The front-facing stereo speakers are back unlike with the 5, where one of them was bottom-firing. I didn't have too much of a problem with that but the move back to the front and presumably better components and/or tuning have given the 5 II a boost and improvement over the 5. It's not a huge increment, but it is there. Unlike the 5, when engaging the Dolby it actually sounds like it's improving things rather than making it worse. That's good. The vibration motor for the Dynamic Vibration feels like it is more in-tune with the beat somehow than the older model ever was, but part of that could be to do with the better sound output. The sound output from the speakers is not the best there is on a phone, but it's very good (on both units), a cut above many, many others and yes, slightly improved on this updated model.

The addition of (and return to for Sony) a 3.5mm Audio-Out socket is, for some, a big one - and for the rest of us, a very occasional annoyance to not have it in the 5. Bluetooth is so good here, v5 of the old or 5.1 of the new, that personally I don't see this as a big problem. But if there really are filmmakers and musicians out there creating masterpieces with a phone, OK - they might well appreciate the easy plug-in to external gear while they are going about their business. Do we really think that professional photographers and musicians are likely to use a phone for what they do, beyond Sony promotional material I wonder. Anyway, for us mere mortals, the sound output is excellent from the socket, much the same as the 5 (with an adapter) - far too loud for me and excellent quality with the options to manipulate the sound via Dolby 'til your heart's content!

The camera, much like the above, is very similar to the 5's though the 2x optical zoom has jumped to 3x, there's OIS 
for video shooting and 120fps for fun slow-mo stuff. The same Cinema Pro app is available as for the 5 but the addition here is the Photography Pro app which has made it down from the 1 II. And this is almost worth the money alone for me! I'm not sure about what professionals might do with it (if anything) but this is fabulous fun for a hobbyist photographer to play with settings galore, just like the fun which can be had with a dSLR.

Little things matter - for example, like a camera, a green focus confirmation to use in collusion with the physical two-stage shutter button. I don't know why on earth it has taken so long to make it from camera to phone. Seems a simple addition to me. The cheapest compact camera has it, but not phones. Well done Sony! The whole interface is festooned with dials and buttons and options. A simple-press AEL, EV dial and Mode wheel. I love it! Just like using a proper camera. When they crack the aperture thing on phones and give us AP, it'll be fabulous. Bring it on! Why they can't back-port this app to my 5, I don't know. I guess so they can get another £800 out of people and force them to upgrade. Bad Sony. I really want this app!

There's some bloat thrown in, naughty Sony again - they have plenty of money and don't need to do deals with the likes of FaceBook, LinkedIn, Booking dot com and the biggest and worst one the whacking great big game Call of Duty. Fortunately, they can be Force-Stopped and Disabled, but unfortunately, they can't be uninstalled. Still, get past that and we have the usual clean version of Android that Sony usually serve up - all of it, again, just like the 5. The phone is running Android 10 of course and during my review period it was updated to October 2020 Google Security, the same as my 5. No complaints there - Sony are doing well with that.

It's an excellent phone. Gorgeous in the hand (as long as you're OK with the 21:9 ratio) and feels super-premium. The slightly more rounded edges will be a thing for taste, but for me, I think I prefer the boxy look of the 5. It almost feels like the package ticks every box here. I'd like a bit more out of the battery and Qi Wireless charging has not made it down from Big Brother, sadly. I'd also like a little bit more out of the speakers, personally, but I'm really nit-picking now!

I started out comparing it with the 5, so that's where I'll end. £800 is a lot of money for the person who already has a 5 (like me) and you have to sum up what you get for that with two phones which really are so similar that I wonder why they bothered. I guess it depends how much 5G is of value, how much you're going to use that 3.5mm audio-out socket over the USB-C or Bluetooth options or if you can really see the 120Hz screen refresh difference. Is a 3x zoom more important to you over 2x or more importantly, will you make good use of that Photography Pro app and delightful camera interface resulting. Having concluded that the battery increase is not such a big deal, for me it's about software - and that seems wicked to spend £800 to obtain. One more tick-box might have swung it for me, Qi charging - if it had that, I'd be sorely tempted! Either the 5 or 5 II are highly recommended.

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