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Apple iPhone SE vs Sony Xperia Z5 Compact: Which is best for me?

Apple iPhone SE vs Sony Xperia Z5 Compact: We compare these two compact mobiles to see which is best for you, including a full camera comparison, performance and battery life tests.

If you’re in the market for a powerful, big-screened smartphone you’ll find yourself inundated with options; look for smaller handsets that don’t skimp on oomph, however, and your choices become pretty limited pretty quickly. The new iPhone SE is one of only a handful of devices that boasts top-tier performance in a small form factor and the closest offering on the Android side of the fence has to be Sony’s Xperia Z5 Compact, so naturally we wanted to see how they measured up.

At a glance

  iPhone SE Z5 Compact
SCREEN SIZE 4-inches 4.6-inches
SCREEN RESOLUTION 640×1136 720×1280
WEIGHT 113 grams 138 grams
OS iOS 9.3 Android 6.0
REAR CAMERA 12-megapixels 23-megapixels
FRONT CAMERA 1.2-megapixels 5.1-megapixels
PROCESSOR 1.8GHz dual-core Apple A9 1.5GHz/2.0GHz octa-core Snapdragon 820
MEMORY 2GB RAM 2GB RAM
STORAGE 16GB/64GB. Non-expandable 32GB. Expandable up to 200GB
BATTERY 1624mAh 2700mAh

Design

In an unusual move, Apple opted to draw on an older design to serve as the foundation for the new SE. The hard edges, diamond chamfer and circular volume keys all render it identical to 2013’s iPhone 5S, however, you can pick up the SE in the company’s newer signature rose gold hue, an option not available in the 5S’s hay day.

The hard edges offer plenty of grip in the hand despite the phone’s smooth sides, but it doesn’t feel as comfortable to wield as the likes of the larger 6S or indeed Sony’s Z5 Compact, both of which employ subtle rounded elements along their edges.

Apple iPhone SE vs Sony Xperia Z5 Compact - sides

The Compact is the larger of the two devices, small in Android terms, but closer to an iPhone 6S going by display size. The phone’s stainless steel frame holds a responsive power button/fingerprint sensor, suitably matched to take on the SE’s Touch ID home button. In place of metal as on the SE, the Compact features a frosted, laminated glass back which doesn’t help with grip and has the potential to easily crack if its larger sibling, the Xperia Z5 is anything to go by.

Where Sony has the edge is with the Z5 Compact’s expandable storage, accessible under a flap on the phone’s side. The flap in question also alludes to the Compact’s other key ability, the fact that it sports IP68 dust and waterproofing, upping its hardiness beyond that of the SE.

Screen

The larger display of the Z5 thankfully boasts a higher resolution, which on paper sounds more impressive to the lower res 4-inch display on the SE, until you notice that they both pack around the same pixel density. In real-world usage, this means that text, iconography, and fine image detail all appear equally crisp and clear, whichever phone you’re using.

Apple iPhone SE vs Sony Xperia Z5 Compact - front

In truth, the SE wins out thanks to its superior overall brightness and lower reflectivity, but the gap is a lot narrower in terms of colour reproduction and viewing angles.

OS

Whilst more often than not the tweaks to iOS are steady but slow, version 9.3.1, which the SE runs (at the time of writing) brings some nice new touches to the tried and true experience. The ability to lock Notes with a password or fingerprint is handy, as is Night Shift, which drops blue output from the display at sunset to reduce eye fatigue. It’s still overall a more limited experience than Android, but depending on how invested you are within Apple’s ecosystem directly correlates to how useful you’ll find some of the SE’s principal software features.

The Xperia Z5 Compact recently made the leap to the latest publicly available iteration of Android, 6.0 Marshmallow. Behind the scenes, that means apps now ask for access on a permission-by-permission basis, whilst it ensures compatibility with new features further into the future.

Sony’s also worked hard to reduce the amount of apps (especially duplicate apps) it installs on its devices out-the-box, something Apple should perhaps consider doing. It’s a clean, tidy interface, with a customisable element that doesn’t feel overwhelming, however, it also has the potential to glitch or bug out slightly more often than iOS does.

Performance and battery life

Apple’s A9 chip was already a speedy bit of silicon, but the lesser demands of the SE’s lower resolution screen (compared to the 6S) have only made a fast experience faster. You’ve also got 2GB of RAM to play with, plenty of graphical power and 16GB or 64GB of storage.

That last point is unsurprisingly where the Compact takes the lead. The phone sits in between both storage skews of SE with 32GB of internal space, but you can bolster that via microSD card up to an additional 200GB, which saves you money at purchase and gives you more flexibility.

Apple iPhone SE vs Sony Xperia Z5 Compact - Ports

Much like the SE to the 6S, the Compact benefits from many of the same internal components (including its processor) as the larger Xperia Z5, which again, thanks to its smaller, lower resolution screen means the phone performs exceptionally well. Sony’s phones do have a tendency to overheat during intensive actions like gaming or filming 4K video, but whilst this issue is present on the Compact it isn’t as debilitating as it once was on older Sony hardware.

A key benefit of picking up a smaller phone is that you typically get better battery life (most likely as a result of their lower resolution displays). In the case of the SE’s 1624mAh cell, you can expect up to a day and a half of regular use, but the Compact’s larger 2700mAh ensures that it’ll reliably last up to two work days without trouble, a refreshing change compared to the status quo.

Check out our iPhone SE battery test feature.

Camera

We recently threw both the SE and the Z5 Compact into an extensive camera comparison and both came out fairly evenly matched. Whilst either phone will take a great picture or capture solid video, the Compact stuck out for its wide-angle lens, rich functionality (including downloadable camera modes), dedicated shutter key and superior 5.1-megapixel front-facing camera.

Apple iPhone SE vs Sony Xperia Z5 Compact - cameras

The SE’s selfie camera meanwhile lacks resolution (at just 1.2-megapixels) but makes up for it with its front-facing Retina flash. On the back, the 12-megapixel sensor doesn’t technically capture as much detail as Sony’s 23-megapixel effort, but it’s insanely fast and takes a great picture without having to tweak any settings in most conditions.

Both phones also shoot 4K and slow motion video, whilst the experience on the SE when shooting in the latter is markedly easier to use. The Z5 Compact meanwhile sports better digital image stabilisation, thanks to Sony’s SteadyShot technology.

Read next: iPhone SE vs 6S vs Galaxy S7 vs Xperia Z5 vs Z5 Compact camera test

Verdict

The Sony Xperia Z5 was out in the market months ahead of the SE and just so happened to drop to around £300 when Apple launched its latest iPhone. That made it the more affordable option of the two, whilst retaining a killer camera, waterproofing, and the latest Android software.

Apple iPhone SE vs Sony Xperia Z5 Compact - handheld

That said if it’s a small but powerful phone you’re after, it’s hard not to place the iPhone SE at the top of the list. Apple’s squeezed most of what makes the iPhone 6S such a brilliant device into an impressively small package. The quality of the user experience, its reliability, and its relative affordability (for an iPhone) also stand out as reasons why, in this instance, we’d be tempted to side with Apple.

You can pick the iPhone SE up from O2 here.

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