In days gone by, many manufacturers were competing as to who would design and build the best small phones. But those days have long since gone, as many leading manufacturers attempt to build the best displays, something you won’t often find on a smaller screen size. But, interestingly, amongst all the commotion at the top, there is one standout company that isn’t always playing at this game. With their Xperia Z5 Compact, the manufacturer has continued with the success found on the previous two iterations, the Z1 Compact and the Z3 Compact.
Devices of reduced screen are often accompanied by reduced specs as well, making the Z5 Compact even more of a standout, as it is not only a powerful smartphone, its specs are on par with the other flagship, the 5.2” Xperia Z5. FoS takes a look at this compact wonder, how it holds up against the best, and whether its diminutive size has any drawbacks.
Build and Design
As with Sony’s other Z-series smartphones, the Z5 Compact continues the line of the manufacturer’s omni-balance design philosophy at its core. It may seem a lazy approach, but not only does it work, but there has been a few miniature changes that make a world of difference in the overall look and feel of the units. For starters, while still glass, the frosted approach not only looks better, but also makes it grippier in hand, and resting on your couch not sliding off, as many users can attest to. And Sony seem to be all about the one-handed use with their latest designs. The power button now doubles as a fingerprint sensor. Instead of protruding from the frame, it is now slightly concave, almost as if cut out specifically as a thumb-rest. This means that whenever you press the power button to turn on the screen, it immediately unlocks using the fingerprint scanner; a seamless process.
The standard Z5 may be a touch thinner, the additional chunk on the Z5 Compact’s 8.9mm thickness isn’t at all concerning. But I do wonder about it being slightly thicker than the Z3 Compact from last year. On the Compact, the rounded edges seem softer due to the plastic approach, rather than the metallic finish on the Z5 and Z5 Premium. The edges almost feel like some kind of bumper, which looks especially strange on the white version. In fact, the white version looks very much like a prototype than the actual finished product. Thankfully, though, the black, yellow and red versions are look more premium looking.
I’ve always enjoyed the near-clean design on Sony’s Z-series units, and the latest line strengthens this approach. The layout of the buttons and ports are fairly similar, differing by a few millimetres at most. The double length flap houses the SD card and nanoSIM slots, alongside the pull out regulatory information, such as FCC licensing. As already discussed, the fingerprint sensor lies on the right side, perfectly positioned for your thumb. While there were times when the sensor didn’t recognise my print off the bat, I noticed that if the thumb is even remotely moist, or extremely dry, it tends not to read very well. And then there’s the always-present waterproofing. The IP68 certification brings dust and waterproofing up to 1.5m for 30 minutes.
As with the Z3 Compact, Sony has continued with its 4.6” screen. Unlike the difference in size between the S3 Mini, S4 Mini and S5 Mini, which gradually increased in size and somewhat defeats the purpose of buying a smaller sized smartphone, the Z5 Compact sticks to the tried and tested. That said, the unit also has the same 720p HD LCD display, making it a bit of a conundrum. This lower res display in 2015 is not something many users will be looking forward to, especially when you compare it against the Z5 and Z5 Premium (4K display). This fact is even more emphasized by the market where there are a number of the considered budget phones offering the same display, and mid-range devices with 1080p. This, once again, does open up the argument of whether a sub-5” screen really needs a 1080p display, and whether users notice any difference in quality and clarity.
The Triluminious display with its X-Reality Engine and Bravia Engine 2 does make for some high contrast, bright and clear imagery, especially when compared to the Z3 Compact, which is an indication that perhaps 1080p may not be entirely required after all. The colours are a bit oversaturated from the start, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but with a few tweaks in the settings does make it easier to manage. Sony has also included a new adaptive contrast technology that helps with the ability to display better under direct sunlight, a nice plus to have over other smartphones that simply increases the brightness, making it more visible, but a lot more washed out.
Performance and Battery Life
Despite its diminutive size, the Z5 Compact is still very much on par with its big brothers. In fact, the unit sports almost identical innards, minus the RAM. This includes the Octo-core Snapdragon 810 chipset with 1.5GHz Quad-core Cortex A53 and 2GHz Quad-core Cortex A57 CPU, which also includes the Adreno 430 GPU. In terms of the RAM, the sports a 2GB chip, with 32GB internal storage. This already makes the Compact a really impressive unit, able to handle everything you through at it, but when you consider that without the full HD requirement, it could be even more efficient than the other units. And in most situations, this is indeed the case. Everything from the moment you unlock the unit is crisp and smooth to the touch. Even when running games and more powerful operations proves quite smooth. But, and this is something that has plagued Sony Xperias for some time now, the unit tends to heat the rear higher than what I found comfortable. Although I wouldn’t go as far as to say it overheats, since it doesn’t turn off or start running amuck as is often the case when devices overheat, it is still quite concerning.
Battery life on the whole is pretty impressive on the Compact, and I was able to continually use the device over a two-day period without too many concerns, albeit avoiding some heavy-duty games that run the Compact quite hot, such as Real Racing 3. I did still manage to play many other games during this two-day use, which didn’t adversely affect the unit too much.
As part of my reviews I tend to browse the Web for complaints and aspects to look out for on units to put them through their paces, and while my experiences don’t always align, there are one or two issues I do pick up. One such item that bugged me was the Compact’s camera. From the app and shutter, to the actual image quality, I was not happy at all. Although the app opens and runs in milli-seconds, I did find a slight lag between taking a photo and it generating the image, and also trying to take multiple shots. Then there’s the image quality. I was able to get a few really good images when out and about in good sunlight, but things quickly turned once I moved indoors to try a few images with slightly less light. And it doesn’t have to be that dark either. Images in less than full sunlight always seemed to have some smudging between outlines. As an example, taking an image of a person with a normal background often appeared as if they were stitched in rather than part of the environment. Even when switching to the more enhanced HDR mode, the improvements were only slight, not as much I was used to on other devices such as the Samsung Galaxy range or the iPhone. I figured, then, that this may be the case on the other units in the range as well, but having had some hands on with the Z5 and Z5 Premium, I had noticed this issue, and searching the Web doesn’t reveal this either. I do hope it’s only a software tweak that is required, as it wouldn’t really make sense for the same camera to work differently on the 3 devices.
Edit: As it turns out, Sony have released a patch for the camera app.
There’s a lot to love about the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. It looks the part with Sony’s refresh of its omni-balance design philosophy, and has the performance and battery life to match. Its small size doesn’t take away from its flagship qualities. But, the unit isn’t quite perfect. While Sony has made further strides with their camera technology, super-quick focus and sharper photos, the version on the Compact doesn’t match what I’ve seen on the Z5 and Z5 Premium. Then there’s the 720p display, which, in 2015, is the most disappointing aspect of all, and something I just can’t get used to, even though the small screen does mean it has a less noticeable pixilation.
A quick browse around the Web and you’ll notice a few comparison articles between the Z5 Compact and Z5, and there are a few points worth mentioning. While Sony hasn’t quite shaken off its heating concerns, it has improved a great deal, and the Compact is actually the best of the Z5 units. It also scores better with its battery life, but with the lower display resolution, it does add up. We can only hope that the follow-up Compact Z-series units improve on its shortcomings, but a good smartphone we still have in the Xperia Z5 Compact.