Wednesday 26 October 2022

Sony Xperia 5 Mk.IV

The evolution of the Xperia range from Sony has been fun, if expensive, to take part in and follow. In my case, particularly, the smaller of the current range - the 5-series. I am already the owner of a 5 Mk.II and although I wasn't able to get my hands on a 5 Mk.III, I thought that a comparison with the former might be a useful way to go on this as I have the II and IV in-hand.

Thanks to Sony PR in the UK for sending over this delayed but just-released unit for Phones Show Chat to review, though to cut to the verdict to some degree, I liked it so much that I bought one! I managed to find one second hand, mint, for two-thirds of the new price as the new price is not cheap, £949 in the UK. As to whether it's worth that money, dip in and find out with me.

The first thing to be said is that as the line has evolved. It has indeed followed the principles of evolution, small changes and improvements - so much so that the Mk.I, II, III and IV in some ways are difficult to tell apart. Which is a good thing. Slight tweaks to size, design, features, components, but essentially a very similar experience. Small in the hand with flagship specs and many that you won't find on any other phone right now - certainly not all in the one small package.

Cutting to the chase, the big news for the 5 Mk.IV over the previous models is that they have, at last, filtered down the Qi wireless charging from the big brother, being the 1-series. That's a huge deal for me, though I know it's a personal matter which people value differently. They've also increased the battery over previous models to 5,000mAh, improved the screen, tweaked the cameras, put in a faster chipset and 'squared up' the design, in keeping with the latest of the 1-series.

Let's start there, then. The outer aluminium frame is 'boxy' with squared edges unlike the more rounded design of the previous models. If you're very careful, it will actually stand up on its end without falling over - though I wouldn't recommend it! The Mk.II's Google Assistant button has been removed from the right-side, which is really no great loss with 100 other ways to invoke the service, but otherwise, around the edges, it's much the same. A camera two-stage shutter button, a capacitive fingerprint scanner/power button, a volume rocker - all on the right, beautifully crafted.

Up the top there's the 3.5mm audio-out socket surviving (well done Sony) and at the bottom, a USB-C socket for data/charging and a hugely improved SIM/microSD Card tray. It remains pull-out with fingernail, no 'tool' needed, but instead of a flimsy double-length plastic tray it's solid, double-sided and feels much better quality. It's a single-SIM 5G capable model with the option to add a second 5G eSIM. On the left side, there's nothing!

The front and back have been made with Gorilla Glass Victus for the first time (over GG6) and the back has an attractive 'matt' finish which does a great job with fingerprint suppression, for those brave enough to use an expensive all-glass slab without a case! The camera island is in the same place as before, top-left when held in portrait orientation and carries those three 12MP shooters which we'll come to later. The device remains IP65/8 rated for water/dust giving the user confidence for at least some extraordinary events.

, the phone is very slightly heavier, but smaller than previous incarnations - not by much - and unless you have them side-by-side you'd never know. The screen size has not been compromised, however, rather that the frame has been brought in by being 'square', bezels slightly smaller - it's all very subtle. The extra weight no doubt reflects the hike in battery size. If the Mk.II felt premium, and it did, this is gold-plated premium! It feels classy and I think because of the squared off sides, more so than the Mk.II.

There's a 256GB version of the unit available in some markets but I'm settling for the 128GB one here, supported by that microSD Card slot for expanded memory - getting close-to unique in flagships these days. I have my 512GB card in the slot and it's all talking nicely. Read/write times from the internal memory and external seem very fast indeed as I copied over loads of data. The execution was impressive over other phones - and I remember noting this about the Mk.II so I guess it's something that Sony just do! Both units have 8GB RAM, which has been consistent in the 5-series, and does the job very well keeping apps alive and processes running without incident.

The chipset has been hiked from a SnapDragon 865 (7nm+) in the Mk.II, through 888 (5nm) in the Mk.III to now SnapDragon 8 Gen 1 (4nm). Both the II and IV fly with any tasks thrown at them, even demanding games, though I do note that some reviewers are complaining that under very big load (gaming or videography) the phone is getting hot to touch. Some gamers have complained about system throttling to manage the heat, impacting their experience. I have not found this in my testing here but maybe I'm not pushing it hard enough. There is, I noticed, an overheating warning which pops up when you initiate the video/cinema apps, which I guess is not the best sign of Sony's confidence in their hardware for those pushing boundaries.

The phone arrived with Android 12 on board and September Google Security as I write towards the end of October. Sony do have a decent track record of timely updates and for the first time with the IV series phones, committed to 3 OS updates (so it should get Android 13, 14 and 15) along with the same (or more) Google Security Updates. Great to see the bar rising for this longer support by many manufacturers. Android 15 will be released in autumn 2024 so won't be 'outdated' until Google release Android 16 in autumn 2025. Some others do better still, but I'm OK with this. 

The front panel remains uncompromisingly, symmetrically cut off, top and bottom, to make way for all the sensors, speakers and camera so that they don't impact the 21:9 viewing area for consuming or creating media. Again, not many phone-makers are still doing this in 2022, certainly within the flagship space. It's a small area, top and bottom, which does make the phone feel 'taller' than it could be but I think it's a good enough payoff. Between the chin and forehead, we have a 2K OLED panel, consistent with previous models, 120Hz Refresh rate possible, 6.1" diagonal and 449ppi.

It's brighter and even more colourful than the Mk.II screen as I compare them side-by-side as Sony throws in their buzzword featured Triluminos with X-Reality engine and so on. Bottom line is that it's a superb panel with excellent viewing angles too. You can still tweak the display via Display Settings if you feel the need, drill down into manual white balance, colour gamut, contrast and enhance video images - either for the built-in screen or an external one. The Creator Mode is still there, compatible with BT.2020 and 10-bit output. Laying aside all the techo-talk, it's a super screen (however you tweak it - or not) which reminds me very much of a top-notch Samsung panel.

The fly in the ointment is, however, Sony's algorithms with regards to Auto-Brightness. I ended up turning this off on the Mk.II and it looks like I'll end up doing the same here. It just doesn't seem to learn from being 'corrected' by the user, flies up and down at the drop of a hat, making for a frustrating user experience. Maybe I'll revisit this in time and see if it's just that the system needs an awful long learning period, but it never did get fixed in the Mk.II.

It also impacts the Always on Display as, unlike with other systems (Samsung is a prime example), there's no direct control of the brightness there. So you can't even turn the 'auto' off - and it keeps getting that wrong. The Always on Display otherwise is excellent and exactly the same as the Mk.II with that near-unique feature of showing full album-art of the playing music when the screen is off. The user doesn't have many clocks to choose from but the ones which are there are well thought out and attractive. Other than that, it's got the usual time, day, date, battery and notifications. It can be set to always on, Smart Activation (comes on when taking the device from a pocket etc.), when the phone is lifted or just off. 
From there, the lockscreen can be invoked by double tapping the AoD (if set) but lift-to-wake remains a missing link with Sony, as for the Mk.II. Odd, as it's an option for the AoD.

The stereo speakers, front-facing (another rare feature), produce an excellent sound - even better than the Mk.II. They are louder, more bass-orientated, clearer, so with better tone as we used to say! Furthermore, the Dynamic Vibration is better, too. It feels better tuned to the music and with stronger pulses in the right places. The slider works very well for intensity and that Bluetooth DV bug which I reported on widely seems not to be present. (When using DV and sending the sound to a Bluetooth speaker, the system used to get confused with previous models (until a recent update) continually buzzing the phone if engaged and producing a 'clonk' when first connected/engaged. Anyway, happy to see that's gone - even if I am the only person who wants to send music to an external speaker and yet still feel the vibrations!)

All the sound enhancement tools are present too, still with 24-bit output, the drill-down version of Dolby Atmos, 360 Reality Audio, upscaling of music via DSEE Ultimate and so on. Plenty of tools for the audiophile to tinker with including the use of the 3.5mm audio-out socket (which is also a microphone-in, too). Using a wired set of reference headphones produces even better sound than the Mk.II. It seems l
ouder, with more bass and stereo separation. Not by huge amounts, but it’s there. May well be down to an upgraded DAC/amplifier, two years on.

Switch to Bluetooth to get all the clever Sony bells and whistles though, especially if you have a decent set of headphones - tested here with the WH-1000XM4 set. So many settings to play with, so many ways to adjust the sound as to how you want it - via the phone's settings or inside Sony's Headphones app, making the experience even more tweakable, immersive and with all the hooks included to talk to the Google Assistant, control the headphones and what they can do. Your mileage may vary with other headphones, but this whole Sony walled-garden is pretty addictive! Bluetooth is, to some degree, Bluetooth and I'm not surprised that I really can't tell much difference between the two phones two years on, like I could with the wired audio, above.

There's an additional app here for creators called Music Pro aimed at musicians, though it could be podcasters on the move or anyone else who wants to record high quality audio. This can be done via the built-in microphones (which also have a wind-filter setting for those out and about) but also by plugging in an external microphone - so quality is only limited by the gear in the loop. Talking of loops, that's one of the features which can be employed with Music Pro. I have been testing it by recording 'layers' of sound, each recording separately, one after the other, whilst the output can be heard on headphones. This allows for the creation of multi-layer audio, saved into projects and even post-edited on-screen.

It's certainly fun to play with but I'm not sure who would use it in the real world - music professionals are likely to have their own gear anyway. Maybe social media content creators on the move. If you want an even more 'professional' result, you can buy into Sony's cloud service, send up your audio and they'll 'Studio Tune' the result and send it back down to you with 'source separation, noise reduction, reverb elimination, studio microphone simulation' and so on. You get the idea! Currently charged out at £4.99 per month.

The side-mounted fingerprint capacitive scanner is quite superb. After many years of OEMs tinkering with this, position and technology, Sony have hit the nail on the head and seems to be wisely sticking with it. Working first time, every time - it's the perfect position, I contend - and best (if one of the oldest) technologies. A great move. Like with Pixels up to now, there's no Face Unlock which is a bit of a miss - as with both, security would be even better! Google seem to be rethinking that for Pixels this time round, so maybe it will make it into core Android sometime soon, so Sony and others will follow suit.

The 5,000mAh battery is also quite superb! In my 10% Reading Test I have been getting results of 2 hours and 45 minutes, second only to the Pixel 5 in the mainstream Android devices. It's a nice hike from the Mk.II's 4,000mAh which was no slouch (and the 4,500mAh of the Mk.III). For my average use it's getting me well past a day of use - in fact if pushed, heading towards two. To be fair, I'm not likely to push the battery like a heavy gamer, cinematographer or musician might, so I guess they might get different results. Even the biggest batteries will be depleted if you drive them into the ground! Bottom line though, for the average person's use it's very impressive.

There's no charger (or even cable) in the tiny box, incidentally, but the phone will charge at 30W (over 21W for the Mk.II) and that does make a difference if you need a quick boost. Testing that here with my 100W charger (presumably being capped at 30) I was able to half charge the battery from flat in about 35 minutes, then waiting for the second half to get it to 100% another hour or so. Not the fastest out there these days by a long shot, but an acceptable balance for battery protection, functionality and convenience. As for no charger or cable in the box - yes, OK, we get the Save the Planet stuff, but I'd feel a little cheated paying £949 for a phone and not even getting the basics. Hot topic!

Support is here for the first time in the 5-series for Qi wireless charging. So, plonk it on a charger whenever it's not in use and most people won't even have to think about battery running out, or even getting low. After hunting around on the internet chasing data, I think the wireless charging is capped at 15W (if the same as the 1 Mk.IV) but nobody seems to really know that for sure and Sony don’t seem to be saying. I guess that will make the included reverse wireless charging 5W. Whatever it is, it's great to have - particularly for overnight trickle charging, which the Mk.II needed a cable to achieve (or third-party coil). A great move, bringing this feature down from the 1-series.

(DisplayPort) is present, as it was down the line, to cable up with monitors and TVs via the USB-C 3.2 port without relying on wireless connections, routers, streaming or Mirroring and the like! It's a great feature for Sony to have retained (along with Samsung and a few others), certainly as it's becoming less available generally. Latency is a zero issue via this route and you get top quality instant results. One step further down the Samsung/Motorola path would have been some sort of DeX/Ready For facility so that these functions are not a screen 'echo' and you could similarly turn the phone's screen into a trackpad with a proper UI on the monitor/TV. Microsoft Phone Link works well enough, but just like the Mk.II did with no 'special' features afforded to Samsung phones.

Connectivity is excellent throughout with no doubt good components used. Cellular on 4G (I can't test the 5G, sadly) appears to be sound on testing in known 'flat' zones here with both call quality at both ends and data whilst out and about, Bluetooth is 5.2 and the range seems to be broad, GPS locks on quickly with various apps tested and holds onto the connection when needed, WiFi is excellent, tested here with a couple of home routers and my MiFi unit running off a 4G Router, NFC works very well. Equipment hooks up quickly and slickly and Google Pay now tested for payments down at Tesco with no issue!

The software experience is very much like the Mk.II device, if you discount for now the additional new software relating to Cinema Pro, Music Pro, Photo Pro and Video Pro. It's a clean Android version, the party slightly spoilt by the insane inclusion of a few apps that I guess Sony think everyone in the world will want! FaceBook and LinkedIn, which can't be uninstalled, TIDAL 3, which is presumably there to press people into trying 360 Reality Audio - but again, can't be uninstalled and Bravia Core the same. There is a dialogue during setup which lets you avoid other apps being installed - and at least now there's no huge games pre-installed as there was with the Mk.II - like Asphalt 9 and 2.5GB Play Store downloads lurking around to pounce on the unaware. There is of course Force Stop and Disable to get the apps out of line of sight, but I'd like to have seen these done away with generally. Especially the first two.

The rest of the software experience is very much like the Mk.II - as I say, a nice Vanilla feel to things with slight meandering from what Pixels would have, but with a bit more than an AndroidOne phone would offer, as with, for example, a Nokia. I won't repeat what I have said before because, as I say, much of it is the same or similar and can be read on my previous appraisals of the Sony Xperia 5 and subsequent comparison piece of the Sony Xperia 5 with the Sony Xperia 5 Mk.II so do click through. You don't get all the bells and whistles that you do with other manufacturers' software, but in some ways that's a good thing. Nice that there's space for all tastes - and one of the core strengths of Android's open nature and flexibility.

The basics of the camera setup have changed a little since the Mk.II with an experiment entered into during the Mk.III phase with a different optical two-step zoom with 3x/4.4x magnification. The Mk.II had a 3x optical zoom but this time, it's back down to 2.5x instead. They seem to be leaping all over the place to try and get the zoom element towards the sweet spot - though have been consistent with the three cameras, three lenses, all 12MP. The main shooter has remained the f1.7 unit with OIS throughout, the secondary telephoto at f2.4 (for the Mk.II and Mk.IV), again with OIS and the third wide-angle consistent at f2.2 since the Mk.II. The Zeiss Optics with T* lens coating is now consistent with only slight tweaks to video recording capability (4K at 120fps with OIS). The Selfie has become yet another 12MP sensor, f2, matching the other three, this time with enhanced 4K video shooting possible.

If you fire up the camera via the Photo Pro app icon, you land in Basic mode which lets you shoot in portrait if you want to, but as soon as you switch to anything other than Basic mode, it sweeps round into landscape and offers you the full range of manual settings via Auto, Program, Shutter Priority and Manual with only Aperture Priority missing from making this the whole Sony Alpha experience carried over from their camera range. There's loads of settings, dials and buttons to play with but is limited for casual snap-shooters in terms of what you'd get from a Pixel, iPhone or Samsung for point'n'shoot, AI-driven algorithm-based smart systems. This is not a system for 'most people' but rather a tool for enthusiasts and photographers. Again, I've covered much of this in previous reviews and in the Photo Pro app (and Cinema Pro) nothing has hugely changed since the Mk.II that I have not already mentioned or covered there.

What is new and has come across from the Sony Xperia 1-series is the Video Pro app and in my usual style, I'm going to hand over to the good folk at GSMArena to appraise this as they have done a better drill-down than I could and it'll give you a much better flavour of what's possible. So, they have Xperia 5 IV borrows a lot from Xperia 1 IV which covers Photo Pro, Cinema Pro and Video Pro and Photo and Video Quality drills down with loads of samples and videos of all four lenses (including the 4K Selfie) rounded up with an Xperia 5 Mk.IV vs Xperia 1 Mk.IV comparison. There's nothing groundbreaking here but rather a refined evolution and experience for the more seasoned photographer. The very one who will not only get the most from all these tools but also enjoy the process. Most people out there who just want great results from point'n'shoot will be frustrated and certainly better looking elsewhere for automation.

My colleague from Phones Show Chat, Steve Litchfield has posted some YouTube Shorts covering the Sony Xperia 5 Mk.IV Overview - Who's it for? and Sony Xperia 5 Mk.IV - No Zoom Gap so do take a look at those. There will be more coming soon, especially as he compares the Sony Xperia 1 Mk.IV, so keep an eye on his YouTube Shorts Page. The most concerning thing about the extended use of the camera modes here is the warnings which pop up all over the place about overheating. I don't know if that's anything that in time can be fixed by software updates, but it's certainly at the very least an intrusion, impeding the progress of imaging professionals or serious gamers.

Last word goes to the physical shutter release button on the side of the phone, two-stage, proper 'green' focus area indicators and confirmation of focus too, just like a 'proper' camera would do. It's a joy to be able to use this and probably does more than anything here to make me, at least, feel like it's a phone for people coming from a camera-centric background. Well done Sony!

Sony are clearly aiming at not only traditional photographers, cinematographers, musicians here but also the new wave of VLoggers. Live streaming Gamers, TikTokkers, YouTube creators. They no doubt see where the future is in terms of video creation and have made their tools fit that mould, including output to external monitors, up to now not available on the 5-series. It all feels very much aimed at creators of all kinds and maybe also people with deep pockets - as getting into this is not cheap.

I came into this looking at whether or not there was enough here for me to seriously consider upgrading from the Mk.II which I already owned. The key points for me were about wireless charging, bigger battery, speakers output and Dynamic Vibration. And of course, price. I guess I'm not really the 'pro' target audience for this phone as I won't be VLogging, shooting a movie or even recording high quality audio (unless I'm in a tight squeeze one day for podcasting). My concern is that even if I was, I wonder if I'd really be buying into this when I would likely already have 'pro' gear set up (which would do a better job, no doubt). I think the people who would buy into it for these aspects are tech-aware and enthusiastic creators who just want to use it because they can. Also people like me, arriving via nostalgia for the love of cameras and yesteryear. And that audience is probably huge, especially within Sony-loving Japan and other areas of the far-east where people also have plenty of money to spend.

My key points are all met here - and exceeded. The Qi wireless charging makes a huge difference to me, pads littered around all over the place, the battery increase over the Mk.II is huge and makes a significant difference over the previous phone, which was not half bad anyway, the speakers' output is louder and better quality sound than the Mk.II and similarly, the Dynamic Vibration is better synchronised and stronger. I'm sold on this upgrade, as I think you can tell. If money was no object, I would consider £949 still good value here. For those who can make use of these elements and more, I do think it's not too far off the mark. £849 would have been much better of course. As I said above, I was able to get mine second-hand (for when Sony PR unit has to go back) so have worked in the finance for myself with the sale of other gear!

Laying aside my base criteria though, there's an awful lot more to like here. Much of it is indeed an improvement over previous models, evolutionary as it may be. I really like the 'boxy' design following the 1-series over the 'rounded' of the Mk.II, the OLED panel is significantly brighter and more colourful, for those who will make use of it (and in keeping with the creation theme) the 4K Selfie will be a great bonus - and for me, the fixed optical 2.5x zoom camera is a much better compromise than tinkering with hybrid zooms or relying on clever post-shot software, however good it is. Most of all though, and the same as for the Mk.II pretty much, is the compactness of the phone. There are not that many phones out there which are true flagships, no compromises from bigger siblings, which retain a dinky, pocketable design remaining good for one-handed use. Usually there are indeed a few payoffs. Here, there are none.

It's a gorgeous little phone and slice of technology, which I'm hoping that over time I will use more and more, learning about the features which feel, at the moment, are for other users. Dare I suggest that this might, even, get me back into photography? We'll see! But for now, it's a worthy upgrade and highly recommended for the right users.

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