Our long-term re-review of the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact examines how this mini mobile stands up against rivals in 2016. Is it still worth buying, now that Sony’s latest dinky smartphone, the Xperia X Compact, has just hit stores?
The Xperia Z5 Compact from Japanese giant Sony was the only phone under 5-inches that won a perfect score from us back in 2015. That fun, colourful frame is pleasingly easy to operate with just one hand, but the miniaturised design doesn’t mean compromising with basic features. Rather, the Xperia Z5 Compact boasts the same solid 23-megapixel snapper and nippy Snapdragon processor as its bigger brother, the Xperia Z5.
You also get most of the full-sized Z5’s premium features packed into that shrunken body, including Remote Play game streaming, Hi-Res Audio support and plenty more besides. All things considered, it’s no surprise the Z5 Compact is one of our top picks in our best mini mobiles round-up.
So we really, absolutely loved the Xperia Z5 Compact when we reviewed it a year ago, but does it still hold a special place in our heart after all this time? We’ve been using the phone as our full-time handset again for this 2016 re-review, and here’s what we think.
Sony Xperia Z5 Compact 2016 re-review: Design
So far in 2016, the trend has definitely been towards massive mobiles. We’re not just talking premium devices like the Galaxy Note 7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, either. Even affordable phones like the Moto G4 and the great-value OnePlus 3 come packing mighty 5.5-inch screens, as more and more consumers make use of their data bundles by streaming a bit of Netflix on the go.
That’s why returning to the Xperia Z5 Compact is kind of like pulling on some fluffy slippers after rocking your stiff smart shoes all day. Sure, the Z5 Compact lacks the glitzy finish of its glass-and-metal brothers, but it’s bloody comfortable to use. That chunky frame sits perfectly in the hand, and we’ve had no trouble at all using the phone with just one mitt whenever necessary (mostly while hurtling along on a London bus, clinging desperately to a sweaty pole).
After a fair bit of jostling, knocking about and other punishment, the Xperia Z5 Compact is still in top condition. That bright yellow plastic body hasn’t picked up any proper scuffs, scratches or devastating cracks, unlike its bigger brother the Xperia Z5 – check out our long-term Z5 review if you want to know more about that particular debacle.
And the Xperia Z5 Compact is fully water resistant too, so you can accidentally dunk it into your pint with no ill effects. That’s something we haven’t seen on any other mini handsets except for the iPhone 7 – not even Sony’s new Xperia X Compact is immune to a dipping.
Sony Xperia Z5 Compact 2016 re-review: Performance and battery life
The Xperia Z5 Compact rocks the same Snapdragon 810 processor as its bigger brother and a full year of toil hasn’t had any negative effects. The Z5 Compact was a smooth little sailor when we first reviewed it, with none of the occasional little stutters that we saw on some other Snapdragon 810 handsets. And even after abusing it on a regular basis, this dinky phone still has plenty of bite.
In fact, we’ve only seen a single crash in the past twelve months, which was swiftly resolved by restarting the phone. That aside, this handset has been perfectly well behaved.
This year’s Xperia X Compact uses the energy-efficient Snapdragon 650 processor, so the Z5 Compact is almost equal to the latest mini Sony when it comes to performance. In benchmarking tests, the X Compact still wins out, scoring 78224 in AnTuTu compared with a score of 56216 from the Z5 Compact. But in terms of everyday user experience, they’re both pleasingly capable.
Battery life was another highlight of the Z5 Compact and this also hasn’t diminished over time. With everyday use (emails, web browsing, the odd snap and some media streaming) you should comfortably get up to a day and a half of use. You’ve also got Sony’s Stamina and Low Battery modes to stretch out the mini mobile’s life, when needed.
Any phone packing a Snapdragon 810 processor usually entices the same question from our readers: “Does it get hot when you’re using it?” Well, the Xperia Z5 Compact does occasionally heat up, but only if you’re hammering it by shooting lengthy 4K video or with lengthy gaming sessions. Good news is, the phone very rarely reaches a troublesome temperature. In fact, you can shoot almost half an hour of 4K footage before the camera app finally gives up on life.
Sony Xperia Z5 Compact 2016 re-review: Screen and media
Cinema fans might scoff at the idea of watching an entire movie on a dinky little 4.6-inch screen, but when we’re kicking back with a bit of Netflix on the Z5 Compact, we never find ourselves squinting or coming out the other end with a migraine. That’s helped in some large part by the crisp 720p HD resolution. Visuals are sharp and bright enough to see even in sunny conditions, while the option to boost the panel’s vibrancy with Sony’s Super Vivid mode is appreciated.
Read next: Sony Xperia Z5 Compact tips and tricks
The Xperia Z5 Compact’s 32GB of built-in storage space is respectable and enough for plenty of apps and media, although it’ll fill up fast once you start shooting home movies. At that point, you can thankfully just hunt out a microSD memory card to transfer your data.
Sony Xperia Z5 Compact 2016 re-review: Cameras
Sony has admirably crammed the same 23-megapixel camera found in the full-sized Xperia Z5 into the Compact model, and we’re still fans after a year of use. It may not be a perfect snapper, while some of the features such as the post processing that occurs on digitally zoomed images could be easily dismissed as a bit gimmicky. But you’ll struggle to find a more dependable snapper on another mini smartphone, offering a similar user experience and results to the Xperia X Compact and Apple’s iPhone SE.
Read next: Xperia Z5 23-megapixel camera supertest
Of course, Sony has overhauled its camera interface since our full Xperia Z5 Compact review, rolling it out to existing handsets as a standard update. So, is that new camera app an improvement?
Well, the biggest change is in how you select which camera mode to use. Superior Auto is of course the default, which intelligently picks the correct scene settings for the current conditions. If you wish to swap to manual mode, you can now flick up the screen – the transition takes roughly a second, so you’re not hanging around too long and less time is wasted than before, where you had to tap into the modes menu and then tap the manual button.
Alternatively, if you wish to shoot video, you now have to flick down the screen to enter movie mode. With the old app, it was simply a case of hitting the on-screen video button, which sat alongside the shutter button, so the process now takes a little longer. So far it hasn’t been an issue, thankfully, and this is the same setup as you’ll find on the iPhone. If nothing else, it keeps the interface neat and tidy.
Of course you still get the usual crazy Sony camera modes tucked away, just a quick flick from the video mode. You can once again add live cartoon effects to your shots, dual shoot with both cameras at once and so on. If you want to record 4K video, you’ll also have to jump in here and select the special mode – you can’t do that from the standard movie mode.
But at least you get the option to shoot UHD 4K footage, something skipped on the Xperia X Compact.
This year’s Xperia X Compact may add a fresh new camera experience and boost benchmarking performance, but the year-old Xperia Z5 Compact has its own advantages, including water resistance and 4K video recording.
After twelve months, we’re still happy to return to the Z5 Compact at any time. The compact dimensions, smooth everyday user experience, solid battery life and dependable camera make it a great all-round mini mobile. And with a new £300 to £350 price tag, it’s well worth a look for anyone who’s sick of massive handsets.