Read next: Sony Xperia Z5 review
Each iteration of Sony’s Xperia flagships adopts small, subtle changes over the generation preceding it, but the Z5 Compact takes on some more significant cosmetic updates over its predecessor.
The phone comes in a number of colourways including a pair of fun pastels (coral and yellow) that are reminiscent of Apple’s iPhone 5c, but shuns the softer rounding of the Z3 family for straighter sides, formed from a single plastic surround.
The aesthetics of the Z5 Compact are wonderfully clean, with Sony’s advancements in its waterproofing process (the Compact adheres to IP68 certification) allowing for both an exposed headphone jack and microUSB port, meaning fewer flaps and rubber seals that run the risk of failing. The remaining flap sculpted along the handset’s left side accommodates both a nanoSIM and a microSD card slot.
One big change is the absence of Sony’s once signature metal power key, but it’s for good reason. As well as the fact that it doesn’t protrude like the older design did, the new ovoid button actually doubles as fingerprint sensor and it’s easily one of the most responsive and reliable that we’ve come across.
The whole design is finished off with a frosted glass back (like the full-sized Z5) that feels more grown up versus the reflective glass of older top-tier Xperias and it hides both scuffs and fingerprints far more readily.
Powerful phones with sub-5-inch displays are becoming harder and harder to come by nowadays and Sony’s Compact line stands as one of the few that still fits that mould.
The 4.6-inch display lends itself better to one-handed use than pretty much any other high-end handset out there right now (without having to resort to a one-handed mode) and the Triluminos LCD the company has employed boasts balanced colour and contrast performance and strong enough overall brightness (provided you switch off adaptive brightness, which can sometimes dim a little too heavily).
Sony has also integrated tap-to-wake for convenience and a glove mode for those winter months.
The elephant in the room is the display’s resolution, which with the arrival of Z5 Premium left us guessing as to whether or not Sony would up the ante of the Compact’s screen too. In truth the company stuck with a 720p HD panel, but anything higher would have simply been a case of numbers for numbers sake, based on our experience with the handset. The fidelity and clarity on offer is excellent and at 319 ppi it’s only just shy of an iPhone 6/6s’s display in this regard.
The aforementioned addition of a fingerprint sensor has been timed to perfectly coincide with the arrival of Android 6.0 Marshmallow which will offer native support for the hardware amongst a few other tasty additions, but Sony has already put time and effort into slimming down its distinct brand of Android interface so that it’s lighter on its feet too.
If you’re familiar with Sony’s interface you’ll notice small tweaks like removing the need to tap ‘OK’ every time you enter your PIN on the lock screen, or the additional drawer in the apps menu, which now takes the shape of a simple settings button with a couple of options. Effectively less clutter makes for a faster, easier to understand experience for the user.
Sony’s own apps and widgets are still prevalent, pushing you towards some of its staple services, including interplay with PlayStation products and the ability to easily connect to networked media drives you might have set up.
You’ll also find familiar pre-loaded third-party applications like Spotify (which Sony chose as the replacement for its own Music Unlimited service), as well as offerings from Dropbox, AVG and Kobo to name but three and luckily if you don’t like or plan on using any of these additional services, you can uninstall them.
Performance and battery life
The hook of the Compact line is that it packs top-tier specs in a smaller package and Sony’s decision to grace the Z5 Compact with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor means that it boasts unquestionable flagship-level performance.
The lesser demands of that 720p display also justify the phone’s 2GB of RAM when the standard Z5 packs 3GB, but everything from general operation to intensive 3D gaming all run without issue. Gaming for prolonged periods does result in notable heat build up, but neither battery nor performance appeared to suffer in this state.
Whilst some might balk at the fractionally thicker body the Z5 Compact packs over its predecessor, that does also mean that you’re gifted with a 2700mAh battery, which again paired to the lesser demands of the phone’s sub Full HD display make for some excellent battery performance.
After using the phone for an entire weekend in real world conditions (Friday evening to Monday morning), not needing to visit a wall plug was a refreshing experience and going forward the Z5 Compact will likely be one of the few phones for quite some time that won’t bring on the feeling of battery anxiety when it reaches beneath 30 per cent. This all also occurs without relying on Sony’s STAMINA technology, which promises to push the phone notably farther on a single charge.
If the 32GB of inbuilt storage isn’t enough for you, the microSD slot accommodates cards up to 200GB in capacity, giving you effectively best-in-class local storage capabilities before even touching the cloud.
Sony’s camera sensors are big business, used by everyone from Nikon to Apple, so when it uses that same technology in its own devices, you should expect great results.
The rear camera features a mammoth 23-megapixel sensor, whilst selfie-lovers with appreciate the 5.1-megapixel front-facer and both perform extremely well. The snappers on the Z5 Compact aren’t perfect, but as you’ll see from our comparison with its leading competition, there’s little else out there that can match it.
On the software side, as with the tweaks Sony made to the main Android experience, the camera improvements too are nothing but meaningful. Superior Auto mode will suit most scenarios and you can now tweak colour temperature and exposure from here on the fly as well as having the option to capture snaps at the sensor’s maximum 23-megapixels.
Shots in most conditions appear accurate and the processing the phone applies makes for softer, smoother transitions between high and low contrast elements. Low light performance is also respectable and being a Sony phone, there are a number of augmented reality experiences to toy with as well, although the AR Mask creates some particularly nightmarish results.
The Snapdragon 810 lets you shoot video at a myriad of resolutions and frame rates, from VGA, right up to 4K at 30fps and all with impressive levels of image stability thanks to the phone’s SteadyShot feature too.
We loved the Z3 Compact and the Z5 Compact just reaffirms our appreciation for the smaller-screened flagship. With specs that ensure this phone won’t feel tired by the end of the average two-year contract and a price tag of just (for a flagship) £429, Sony’s offering an impressive amount of bang for your buck.
There’s little else out there with such an attractive design, stellar battery life, great optics, waterproofing and solid performance unless you’re happy breaking the 5-inch barrier and in truth to meet all those criteria, you’ll likely still find yourself looking at Sony’s other top devices.