Sony Xperia Z5 Compact review: In a league of its own

How does the successor follow the best phone of 2014?

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Sony Xperia Z5 Compact
  • Sony Xperia Z5 Compact
  • Sony Xperia Z5 Compact
  • Sony Xperia Z5 Compact
  • Expert Rating

    5.00 / 5


  • Fantastic profile
  • Excellent 23MP camera
  • Water resistant
  • Finger scanner
  • Flagship-grade hardware


  • None

Would you buy this?

Samsung, LG and HTC each make miniature versions of their flagships. All of them discount their screens, processors and graphics. Each one is a ‘Lite’ version cashing in on the promise earned by their top selling phones.

Sony’s Xperia Z5 Compact differs. Powering the smartphone is the same processor found in the Xperia Z5 and the Z5 Premium. This isn’t a knock-off of a full sized phone. It is every part a flagship, only engineered to take up less space.

And does it ever. The smartphone is a healthy 9mm thick and is a short 127mm. Apple’s iPhone 6s stands taller by more than a centimetre, and that’s not a tall smartphone either.

Part of the Compact-ness is owed to a 4.6-inch screen. The smaller display settles on a HD resolution for a density of 323 pixels-per-inch, which hovers right around Apple’s ‘Retina’ standard. A balance is at play here as the economical display promises rewards when it comes to battery life.

Plant an Xperia Z5 Compact alongside one of Sony’s premium televisions, such as the X9400C, and the relation is undeniable. Both have black bezels that blend in with a dark panel. Both put to work proprietary technologies in an effort to deliver brighter colours, nuanced tones and improved picture. And both run a version of Google’s Android.

The display serves the smartphone’s high resolution cameras justice. Sony’s imaging division remains a cornerstone for the company. Most of the sensors used in rivalling brands are manufactured by Sony, though the company has saved its latest imaging technology for itself.

Sitting flush in the body of any Z5 smartphone is a brand new 23-megapixel camera. Hallmarks of this camera include an incredibly fast autofocus at 0.03 seconds, excellent digital imaging stablisation and the ability to record videos in 4K.

The Xperia Z5 has a 23MP rear camera and a 5MP front camera
The Xperia Z5 has a 23MP rear camera and a 5MP front camera

Photos are captured truthfully on this smartphone. Samsung and LG’s flagships artificially brighten dark scenes. The result is a well lit picture characterised by more detail and an increase in graininess on account of image noise.

Sony’s take is a little different. The company treats the colour black as an indispensable ingredient. Take a photo at night and the details that cannot be seen by the human eye won’t be seen on the finished photo. The camera strives to memorialise the scene just as it is. Most of the time, it is as beautiful.

Some people will prefer the artificial liberties taken by Samsung, LG and Apple’s cameras. Others will relish that Sony’s smartphones are versed in the colour black. This is a case of individual preference.

Taken with the Xperia Z5 Compact primary camera at 8MP
Taken with the Xperia Z5 Compact primary camera at 8MP
Taken with the Xperia Z5 Compact primary camera at 20MP
Taken with the Xperia Z5 Compact primary camera at 20MP

Photos snapped in the daytime are among the best in the industry. Colours pop with vitality and the large 23MP size crystallises fine details. The camera is all the more attractive because its blends in seamlessly with the smartphone’s body.

People fond of recording videos will gravitate to the Xperia Z5 range. Digital stablisation is a dirty word in the photography space. Sony’s rendition of the technology successfully irons out bumps and knocks for smooth video panning.

The side of the smartphone has a physical shutter key. It acts as a subtle nod to Sony’s photographic lineage and makes it possible to take photos beneath a waterline.

Sony’s Xperia range has long boasted waterproof credentials. The Z5 Compact continues this proud tradition by withstanding water 150cm deep for thirty minutes.

Read more: Sony's Xperia Z5, Z5 Compact go on sale next week at Australia's largest telcos

The real value of a water resistant phone is its ability to withstand spills and raindrops. A moment of terror washes over you when the water in a glass spills on an ordinary phone. Relief takes place when that phone is an Xperia Z5 Compact. There’s no need to worry its circuitry will be fried and its warranty will be deemed void. Sony has designed it to endure such punishment.

The certification rating covers more than water; the Z5 Compact is also dustproof.

Introduced to the range is a finger scanner. Using it feels natural because its location — under the power button on the smartphone’s side — is an extension of how it would be held. A single press is all it takes to wake it from standby and unlock the phone.

The same processor, GPU and storage is found in the entire Z5 range. The Snadragon 810 chipset features two quad-core CPUs, one clocked at 2GHz and another at 1.5GHz, as well as an Adreno 430 GPU. Internal storage is 32GB across the board, with support for microSD cards 200GB in size.

Distinguishing the Compact variant from its siblings is its RAM. It has a lesser 2GB compared to the 3GB of the Z5 and Z5 Premium.

It remains a powerful smartphone, with a top score of 27,107 in 3DMark’s ice storm unlimited benchmarking test. Apple’s iPhone 6s beats it by the narrowest of margins at 28,348, while Samsung’s powerful Galaxy S6 edge trails at 22,248.

Internet speeds bode well for the small smartphone, which supports Cat6’s theoretical top speed of 300Mbps. Telstra is the only carrier in Australia selling the Xperia Z5 Compact on a postpaid contract. Plan pricing starts at $70 per month when it goes on sale 27 October.

Armed with a Telstra SIM card in our North Sydney offices, the Xperia Z5 Compact achieved a top download speed of 100.5Mbps and upload speeds of 30.4Mbps. These are fantastic speed test results.

Battery life is the most underrated feature of a smartphone, which is strange considering it is directly related to how much a smartphone can be relied upon. A smartphone with more than a day battery life is a smartphone you can trust. Sony claims the Z5 Compact is such a phone with its 2700 milliamp-hour battery lasting up to two days.

PCWorld has been testing the Xperia Z5 Compact for two weeks straight. During that time, the battery saving mode — ‘Stamina mode’ — was enabled. Our lowest result on record was 23 hours, while our highest was 33 hours. Often it would outlast a day in a performance that inspires confidence.

Paramount to the Z5 Compact’s charm is its size. If you want a powerful smartphone without the inconvenience of heft and bulk, a smartphone ripe with features and versed in multimedia, it is a must have.

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Read more on these topics: 5.1, Xperia, Android, sony, Z5 Compact
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