I just recently covered the flagship Sony Xperia 1ii with it’s impressive 4K display, 21:9 aspect ratio, triple cameras on the back and a set of video/photo applications that even the professionals will appreciate having in something pocket sized.
With the Xperia 1ii costing still around £1000, Sony also launched the 5ii which is the model I have had sent in to review this time, costing £799 making it still premium, but definitely more affordable than the top of the range model.
I used my main SIM card in the phone for 2 full weeks as my main device, but as we are in lockdown still I was not able to use how I normally would going to work and moving between masts and coverage around my hometown.
No one from Sony or their PR company has had any viewing of this review before it went live so everyone is seeing it at the same time, also the device I was sent was a review model which was returned back to them once the review period was over so no payment or free device was offered for writing this.
Whilst a lot of the design for Sony smartphones seems to stay roughly the same, it was nice to see a slight change from the squared off edges from the more expensive 1ii which made it feel rather large, and with the smaller display and curved edges, the 5ii was much better in the hand in both comfort and usability.
The front camera will be covered more in the camera section of the review, but as a quick overview you get a 8 megapixel camera with 1080p recording on the go.
The screen comes in at a decent 6.1 inches in size using OLED technology for deep blacks and bright colours, it also offers a 120hz refresh rate which will be great for anyone into high frame rate gaming or likes a smooth silky animation here and there, and the 1080p resolution does a good job at keeping things looking good.
The large screen takes up all the front with no physical buttons to be seen, just the large screen which looks great for watching content back on.
Looking over at the left side you get the pull out tray, you also get the Nano SIM slot for your network of choice SIM, also included on the 5ii is Dual SIM support so you can place two different networks at the same time instead of needing two phones, you do still however lack any eSIM options but it is at least a good move over the single SIM Xperia 1ii, but remember if you do want to sue two SIM cards then you lose MicroSD card access.
Only a small thing to mention but appreciated was the fact you don’t need a pin to take out the sliding holder like on most other phones, there is a small slot you can use your nail and remove quickly which is great for anyone who swaps SIM cards a lot as there is no need to go hunting for the pin to swap over, however what is annoying is the phone restarting any time you swap SIM cards, frustrating when you need to swap and make that quick phone call.
Sony does this a lot on their phones and is something very much appreciated as not everyone has access to a PIN to swap SIMS unless they remember to have one with them at all times.
Over on the right hand side you have the volume rocker for up and down controls, also a power button in the middle which has a fingerprint sensor inside so you can use this for unlocking quickly or authorising contact less payments if you use Google Pay, thankfully speed and reliability was very good and was easy to use thanks to the curved edges making it easier to hold.
One button that some will like and some will find very annoying is the addition of a Google Assistant key between the volume and camera button.
Whilst this is a handy way to load the assistant for doing different tasks, you can of course use the Hey Google voice phrase or tap the microphone on screen to bring this up instead, some people may get annoyed when they accidentally keep pressing this when aiming for the camera button, or just holding the phone normally.
Finally you have a dedicated camera button which is something Sony have been doing for years on their phones, it gives you a real camera experience by half pressing to focus, then fully pressing to take a photo.
Up at the top you have one of the dual microphones for noise cancellation as well as stereo recording, also nice to see is the 3.5mm headphone jack so you can use your own pair of headphones without needing an adapter which is nice to see, plus you do get a decent pair of in-ear headphones in the box if you don’t already have a pair you want to use.
Down at the bottom you have the other microphone used in the dual setup, you also have the USB-C port for data transfer or fast charging at 18w which is decent but slower than some of the competition, and as mentioned before you also miss out on wireless charging here so need to remember to have your charger with you if you plan to use a lot through the day.
Turning over to the back you have a full glass panel with the Sony logo slap bang in the middle.
In the top left corner you have the LED flash for use of a flashlight or boosting brightness in poorly lit conditions for photos and videos.
Then you have the triple camera setup consisting of three 12 megapixel lenses and the LED flash for improving low light situations, in fact the only thing missing over the Xperia 1ii is the ToF sensor.
Sony have gone with a wide angle, super wide and a telephoto, all at 12 megapixels to keep the levels of brightness and contrast consistent with each other and to make things more consistent.
The camera setup is the same as on the more expensive Xperia 1ii model which means you get the same camera performance and quality images between both of them, so if the camera is the main thing you look for this is a way to save a lot of money and not miss out on performance.
The Xperia 5ii has the same software as the Xperia 1ii including the new Android 11 update, as such the content on this section of the review will be the same as each other with only a few changes made
Thankfully Sony have cut back on the amount of customisation they do to Android updates, and this allows faster rollout of newer patches because there is less work involved.
Also thankfully there is less bloatware installed including doubling up on apps for the same task, for so long there was an Album app for photos as well as Google Photos for example, instead there are just a few from Sony to enhance the experience without taking over completely.
During my time with the device it had a rather large update thanks to Android 11 now being available which was nice to see the update coming quite fast considering a lot of phones out there are still running Android 10.
The latest version of Android brings with it the new gesture navigation option if you want to try something new, there is still the normal three button navigation if you like, but the gesture way means you get more content on the screen.
Having such a tall screen also brings some new additions to the software with the ability to be able to multitask with 2 apps at the same time on a 50/50 split, and with the screen being so tall it does not make the content too small to be usable.
Sony has done a good job on the software front with little bloatware and quick software updates such as to the latest Android 11, and this is a big improvement from the old Sony software experience on older devices.
One setting you will either love or hate pretty quickly is the dynamic vibration mode when watching back video content, the idea is that is enhances the experience with small timed shakes when video content needs it,for example in Jurassic Park when the T-Rex scene makes the water in the cup shake, this is a perfect use, but may be annoying for some people, so Sony let you switch this on or off easily.
Performance from the Xperia 5ii is very good thanks to the impressive Snapdragon 865 processor included which is one of the best in both performance and power management and seen across multiple other devices on the market at this price point.
This is backed up by 8GB of RAM which means smooth multitasking including graphic heavy games, and in my time playing Call of Duty or PUBG I had no issues at all with the performance.
The battery included is 4000mAh which is decent for a smartphone, it is the same battery that Sony included in the Xperia 1ii, but thankfully does not have a 4K display to power, although it does run at 120hz which will be draining some of the extra power.
Something you do miss out on here is wireless charging support which is a shame, however as that is generally much slower than wired charging is well worth saving the money over the 1ii.
For the first time I can think of I was actually in an area for some time that had 5G coverage, so was able to check out speeds and performance as it was very impressive, I connected to an EE 5G mast from across the bay area and got speeds around 200Mbps, this was quite a distance from the mast though so expect even faster speeds if I was closer, but that is for a different review when lockdown is over.
On the networking side the Xperia 5ii is the second phone from Sony to provide 5G connectivity if having the technology is important for you when considering a purchase, especially as the networks are now well underway at getting this in more areas.
Of course you also get the standard GPS, Bluetooth, NFC and WiFi built in for navigation and communication, WiFi supports the latest standard too for stronger and quicker data speeds if you have the right router.
Performance is very good all round with the Xperia 5ii and considering the saving on the more expensive 1ii, as long as you do not want the larger 4K display you will find this phone does a great job.
Sony smartphone cameras have always been an issue for me with performance, they should be right up there with performance considering the background of the company, but seem to struggle at times in comparison with other flagships.
The selfie camera comes in again the same as the Xperia 1ii with 8 megapixels for stills and 1080p for video recording, and once again they have not been afraid of using actual bezels instead of a pinhole camera.
Quality is decent for selfies and what you would take them fore which is mainly sharing on social media and video calls, although in a time when phones around this price have 16/32/40 megapixel selfie shooters it would have been nice to have a higher megapixel count for more detail.
Selfie videos are decent too, but with a lower megapixel count you do lose some of the creative opportunity such as cropping in and keeping the footage really sharp, but for most uses it will do a good job.
With the camera setup being the same as the flagship Xperia 1ii this means anyone looking to get the best camera from Sony can pick this phone and not miss on any performance for lower cost, so once again they have stayed away from the high megapixel count seen by other manufacturers.
Sony have gone with a three lens setup, all at 12 megapixels which includes a telephoto, a main, and a wide angle camera for all conditions. Also the megapixel size all being the same should make for the same colours and contrast no matter what camera you decide to use which will be key to professional users.
In good lighting the captured photos seem decent enough packing a lot of details and colour which was good to see, it does not have the boosted contrast which Samsung seem to love doing in there photos that make greens really over the top which is a good thing although some people do like that style of photo.
Here are photos taken using each of the three cameras so you can see what quality you can expect to see from these 12 megapixel sensors.
Once again it seems to be the low light performance that suffers from an Sony phone, I am not saying the images are bad by any means, they just lack the punchy colours you get from Samsung and Huawei for example, and with Apple stepping up their camera game more and more people will be looking for a decent night time camera.
The story of the camera comes in two parts on this phone, for most people the standard point-and-shoot camera which has quite a few different settings you can change will mean you just point at the subjects and hope to take a good shot.
Then comes the other side which is the Camera Pro app and this is more like a manual control camera which has full control over things like ISO, contrast, lighting in all kinds of different conditions for you to play with, I even found it a little confusing but for professionals you’ll be right at home.
If you’re into your photography then it will be the Pro Camera you use for most of the time as you know exactly what settings you’re using to get the best out of all your photos and this is where Sony excels with their imaging background.
Video mode is pretty much the same story with a decent video recording app built into the camera which lets you switch between a few modes and settings for decent point and shoot video content.
However there is also the Video Pro mode app which is a minefield of settings and toggles to play around with to get that perfect video footage that looks as professional as using a proper video recorder, but this time one that fits right in your hands.
One thing that seems to still trouble Sony is their 4K recording in which you often get a pop up message about the video needing to stop because the phone is too hot due to consistently recording 4K footage, this doesn’t seem to impact any other flagship phone from other manufacturers but is also not unique to this device as this same issue has gone back since 4K recording first started many years ago.
Despite not being the flagship phone I actually found myself enjoying using this phone more than the Xperia 1ii for a few reasons.
Whilst having a 4K resolution screen is nice, having 120Hz was nicer experience as it made everything more enjoyable, especially navigating through the menus with the quicker screen but also made game playing more enjoyable with a higher refresh rate on supported games.
Considering you’re getting pretty much the main core specs apart from that larger 4K resolution display and wireless charging, most people would be better off going for this device as you save a large amount of money without sacrificing very much in exchange.
Whilst Sony may not be the smart phone of choice for a lot of people these days, especially considering the competition, the company has made a very good all-round capable device for a decent price and should be considered by people even if you’re not a Sony diehard fan.
Considering the Xperia 1ii was the first Sony phone I had used in several years this was a nice follow-on device to get into review, and I’ll say again because of the big price difference between the two, most people would be better off buying this one and saving yourself a decent amount of cash.
Whether I would recommend buying this over something like an S21 or iPhone 12 Pro is very much an individual choice, and of course the diehard Sony fans will look to snap this one up to get an all round great experience, at a lower price.
However what is good to see is Sony still competing in the high range upper tier market as for a while it looked like they are almost down and out which would have been a real shame.
Right now the Xperia 5ii can be purchased at many locations online, you can get from various networks on a monthly plan and include your usage with the price if you commit to 24/36 month contracts, or if you want to purchase SIM Free from Sony direct then you are looking at £799.
A big thanks to Sony UK for providing the device to review.