What is the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact?

The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is the smaller sibling to the Xperia Z5 and the 4K-screen packing Z5 Premium. It's also the successor to the Xperia Z3 Compact, retaining the same 4.6-inch 720p HD screen in a water-resistant body.

As is the case with its predecessor, Sony includes as many of its high-end features as it can into the smaller frame. So you get the same great camera, 64-bit Snapdragon 810 processor powering performance and the ability to shoot 4K video just like you can on the Z5.

SIM-free, the Z5 Compact costs around £450, which is £100 cheaper than the Z5. On the face of it, if you're happy to make some compromises with the design and screen quality, then Compact has plenty going for it. However, I found that the longer I've been living with it, the more niggling issues I discovered.

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact – Design

In recent years, Sony has stuck firmly to its "Omnibalance" design philosophy. When the Xperia Z launched in 2013, it was refreshing to see a handset that was so different from what the likes of Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC were bringing to market. Those same eye-catching elements introduced back then have trickled down into Sony's other handsets, including the Z3 Compact.

The Z5 Compact offers a frosted-glass finish on the back and front of the phone, which, although feels very much like plastic to touch, makes a welcome change from the slippery tempered glass used on last year's phones. For anyone who's owned a Z3 or a Z3 Compact, you'll know all about how the issues of that glossy back, especially if you like resting your _phone_ on the armchair of your sofa or any soft material surface.

Measuring in at 8.9mm thick compared to the Z5's slender 7.3mm profile, the Z5 Compact is a far chunkier phone. In fact, it looks the handset's back and sides are sporting a bumper. Unlike the Z5, these sides are made of plastic, rather than the more luxurious metallic finish.

In white, I can't help but feel that the Z5 Compact looks like a toy. There are few companies that have successfully delivered an attractive white phone; you can add Sony to the group that doesn't quite pull it off. The good news is that the Z5 Compact is also available in black, yellow and red – and I'd be inclined to go for one of these over the white.

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The buttons and ports are positioned in pretty much the same place you'll find them on the Z5.

The Compact moves the nano-SIM and micro SD card slot further down the left edge of the phone, next to a small gap where you can attach a lanyard. Elsewhere, it's an identical layout to the Z5.

Thankfully, you still get a dedicated camera button, which is handy for taking photos in landscape mode. Plus, the larger, side-mounted home button now includes a fingerprint sensor. To set it up, head into the phone's security settings and follow the process, which involves placing your finger on the power button and lifting it off when you feel a vibration.

While I found Sony's fingerprint sensor better positioned than Apple's Touch ID sensor and Samsung's fingerprint tech, it was a little more temperamental in operation. You'll need to be very precise when wrapping your finger around that button.

I should also mention waterproofing. Sony remains one of the few companies to offer such protection: its IP68 certification means it's technically dust- and water-proof to a depth of 1.5m for up to 30 minutes. Except Sony doesn't want you to take your _phone_ into the water, as the company bizarrely advised its customers recently.

The Z5 Compact certainly isn't an ugly phone or an uncomfortable phone to use, but in many ways it just isn't as nice as the Z3 Compact. Especially with its thicker form.

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Sony Xperia Z5 Compact – Screen

The Z5 Compact sticks with the same 4.6-inch 720p HD panel as its predecessor – and the LCD screen is scratch-resistant too. Although this means it might not be as impressive as its bigger brother for watching films and playing games, overall there are few areas in which I can pick holes.

Saying that, resolution is something that needs addressing. Is it time for Sony to upgrade to a Full HD display? There are a number of significantly cheaper phones out there sporting 1080p screens – although few similar-sized phones offer a resolution higher than 720p HD. It's arguable whether the benefits of the extra resolution are as noticeable as they are on an 5-inch screen or above.

The increase in pixel density from 319ppi on the Z3 Compact to the 323ppi here does result in sharper screen quality and improved clarity. In addition, Sony includes its now standard Bravia TV-inspired display technologies such as a Triluminious display, X-Reality Engine and Bravia Engine 2.

The bottom line is that the Z5 Compact's screen is exceptionally bright, offers great contrast and accurate colours.

Out of the box, colours can look a touch oversaturated and won't be to everyone's liking. However, Sony does offer a way to address this: head to the Display setting, where you can adjust white balance and turn off the image-enhancement options, which can overdo it with vibrancy.

Viewing angles on the Z5 Compact are solid as well, and it offers great visibility in bright sunlight; Sony's adaptive contrast technology aids the ability to view and read the screen at day or night.

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact – Software

The Z5 Compact runs on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with the addition of Sony's user interface . Hopefully, Marshmallow will be on its way – but judging by the speed at which Lollipop was updated on the company's phones, it might be a bit of a wait.

Like the majority of Android fans, I prefer using a pure version of Google's mobile OS. Unfortunately, the likes of Sony, Samsung and HTC like to put their own spin on things. In the case of the Z5 Compact, the software is beginning to feel a bit stale. It's by no means clunky, but compared to Samsung's TouchWiz, it still carries a fair amount of bloatware and adverts; it just doesn't look very sleek.

In terms of apps, there are still plenty of native ones on board. There's Lifelog for activity tracking, the Shazam-like TrackID, TV Side View and there's now even a dedicated app for the AR camera mode. You also get a suite of PlayStation apps including the ability to activate Remote Play to stream games from a PS4 to your Z5 Compact. Although it's a feature more fitting for the larger Z5 and the Z5 Premium.

Core Lollipop features are present – such as the redesigned notifications dropdown menu and additional lockscreen features – and Google Now is activated by swiping up from the virtual homescreen button. Sony does make one notable addition: small apps. You can find them when you select the multitasking button at the bottom of the screen. Those apps can be customised, although in general I didn't find them either useful or compelling to use.

If you had to place Sony's Android UI among its competitors, I'd say it lags behind Samsung, LG and HTC. A few tweaks and a scaling back of the bloatware would certainly improve matters, however.

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Sony Xperia Z5 Compact – Performance

An area where Sony doesn't compromise on with the Compact is power. Here you get a Snapdragon 810 processor made up of 1.5GHz quad-core Cortex A53 and 2GHz quad-core Cortex A57 CPUs. That's accompanied by 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 430 GPU to handle gaming. On paper, this suggests the Compact is a portable powerhouse – and in many ways it is. However, it isn't without its issues.

Without a hulking Full HD screen to power, swiping through homescreens and launching apps is perfectly fine. It's quick, slick and the benchmarks prove that Sony makes good use of that power. Running Geekbench 3, it averages a multi-core score of 4,193, which is up there with the Z5 and leading flagship phones.

Unfortunately, when you give it something more demanding to handle, the cracks begin to appear. It's most noticeable for gaming. Real Racing 3 runs smoothly and looks fantastic, but after 10 minutes of playing it, the rear of the phone becomes very hot.

In the past, Sony's phone's have been plagued with overheating issues – and, sadly, those same issues continue with the Z5 Compact.

There are also a few problems with screen responsiveness, something Sony says it's looking into. Following 10 or 15 minutes in Facebook, Twitter or general web browsing, if I try to simply scroll through a page it registers the interaction as wanting to launch something. This quickly becomes irritating, and it isn't clear whether this is a software or hardware issue. Either way, it's a problem.

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact – Camera

The most impressive feature by far on the Z5 Compact is the camera. It's simply one of the best I've used for image quality in all conditions. Like most smartphone cameras, it has its quirks and it's not perfect, but it definitely makes up from some of the indifferent Sony phone cameras in the past.

It's the same setup as the Z5. The main camera is a 23-megapixel 1/2.3-inch sensor with an LED flash tucked into the top right-hand corner of the phone's rear. That's accompanied by a hybrid autofocus, and a sizeable f/2.0 aperture, 24mm wide-angle lens. Up front is a 5-megapixel camera, positioned at the top of the phone, and it actually does a surprisingly good job of taking selfies in well-lit environments.

When it comes to shooting video, you can opt for a maximum 4K resolution at up to 30fps or Full HD at 30 or 60fps in 16:9. The front-facing camera manages a maximum Full HD at 30fps as well. As we've seen before, though, shooting in 4K is restricted – as you'll soon find out via the pop-up, which reveals recording in the higher resolution format will cause the phone to get hot. And it does.

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The camera app hasn't changed drastically from last year, which means it's still filled to the brim with features.

One thing that isn't immediately obvious is that Sony has set the Z5 Compact to shoot in the lower 8-megapixel resolution as default. The reason for this is that shooting at this resolution provides more reliable images for colour accuracy and dynamic range, for instance.

However, you'll miss out on the added detail that comes with taking images in the 23-megapixel mode. To change this, jump into manual mode, where you can shoot the higher resolution images in 4:3 ratio.

Alongside manual mode, you also get Superior Auto – one of the best panorama modes out there – plus Sony's more gimmicky features such as AR Mask and Effect. There's plenty here for more regular shots and those that are more playful.

When taking a photo, note that – whether you're using the dedicated camera button or using the onscreen shutter – a few seconds before the image is taken, the scene looks extremely out of focus. Once you press the shutter, it sharpens up. However, the delay gives you the impression that you're going to take terrible, blurry photo. It's clearly down down to some odd software niggles that, although don't appear to impact image quality, do make make for a slightly bizarre shooting experience.

I decided to see how an 8-megapixel, 20-megapixel and a 23-megapixel image compares using the Superior Auto mode. As you can see below, there doesn't appear to be a dramatic difference in image quality. Detail, sharpness and colour accuracy look consistent throughout. So don't be fooled by the "more megapixels means better images" argument.

8-megapixel sample in Superior Auto mode

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20-megapixel sample in Superior Auto mode

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23-megapixel sample in Superior Auto mode

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It's possible to achieve some rewarding results outdoors, in good light. Images display plenty of detail and vibrancy, plus colours are generally accurate if at times a little oversaturated. There's some sharpening to compensate for some of the weaker elements of the image, but it doesn't seem to be excessively applied. Sony has clearly put its software to work to give you the best results – and for much of the time, it pays off.

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Up close for those macro-style images, too, it's possible to capture some really impressive shots. Here you can pick out the sprinkling of salt on the sweet potato fries and the camera also manages to capture the more natural tones in the hand.

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Indoors, results are mixed. As you can see with the AR Mask image sample below, noise is more noticeable and the image lacks those same punchy colours present in some of the other samples.

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Unfortunately, Sony doesn't include optical image stabilization for low-light shooting. It only offers its SteadyShot Intelligent Active Mode stabilisation for when you're shooting video. However, this doesn't equate to poor-quality pics in scant lighting. The image below was taken indoors and shows that the Z5 Compact is capable of capturing surprisingly detailed, well balanced images.

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A useful tool that you have at your disposal is High Sensitivity mode, which is available only if shooting 8-megapixel resolution images. The maximum ISO sensitivity on a smartphone is 12800, which means the camera sensor attempts to capture more light from each pixel, therefore reducing image noise.

Below you can see how images with and without the ISO sensitivity cranked up compare. There's a noticeable upsurge in brightness without having a detrimental effect on image sharpness.

Sony's HDR mode isn't as impressive as the HDR mode on Samsung or Apple's cameras. However, it does have the ability to create more evenly lit scenes, addressing those gloomy elements without looking too over processed.

8-megapixel sample with High ISO sensitivity mode turned off

ISO off

8-megapixel sample with High ISO sensitivity mode on

ISO on

As I've mentioned, the Z5 Compact shoots 4K video at 30 frames per second. In comparison, this is exactly the same as what you can manage with the iPhone 6S Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S6. Shooting in Full HD 1080p does give you more modes and settings with which to tinker, but if you have to shoot in 4K you can expect great judder-free results.

Just remember that the Z5 Compact can become a little hot after 10 or so minutes of filming.

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact – Battery Life

If there's one area in which Sony phones do better than most it's going the distance. With companies such as Samsung opting to reduce battery capacity in its flagship handsets in favour of wireless charging, Sony forgoes this feature for a 2,700mAH non-removable battery, which is just 100mAh bigger than the one inside the Z3 Compact.

In moderate use, this is good enough to get you through a day and a half of playtime. Sony claims that you can achieve two days, and while this is possible, you'll need to take advantage of the power-saving modes included.

Stamina mode is the most effective, disabling app activity when the phone isn't in use; with it on you'll gains a couple of extra hours. There's an Ultra Stamina mode, too, which is a far more restrictive measure. However, it means you'll get an extra hour or two to make that late-night taxi call.

In more intensive testing, I streamed the first episode from Season 1 of House of Cards on Netflix. By the end of the hour-long episode, the battery had dropped from 100% to 85%. This is pretty standard for most phones and in general suggests the Z5 Compact is well equipped for those longer gaming or streaming sessions.

For when you're battery hits 0%, Sony includes Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 technology. With the charger bundled in the box, you can power up from 0 to 100% in just under 2 hours. This isn't quite as impressive as Samsung's quick-charging tech, but it's pretty good if you're of the type who regularly forgets to charge their phone overnight.

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Sony Xperia Z5 Compact – Call and Sound Quality

Call quality on the Xperia Z5 Compact is as good as it is on last year's Z3 Compact. Sony sticks with an active noise-cancelling microphone to help drown out exterior ambient noise when you're taking calls. It works as advertised: calls are clear, even in noisier environments, with no dropouts. The speaker can initially sound a little low, but that's easily addressed, and a call equaliser improves the peppiness of calls.

Sony includes two slim, front-facing stereo speakers, which aren't a massive upgrade on the Z3 Compact's speaker setup. They're loud, but not the loudest pair of smartphone speakers I've heard. Clarity is decent until you turn it up to the maximum volume, where some of the detail is lost and a little distortion creeps in.

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If you're planning to do most of your listening through your headphones, there are a host of audio settings to play around with here. The first is called DSEE HX, which promises to upgrade the audio quality of compressed music to "near Hi-Res Audio quality".

I streamed some music from Spotify and loaded on a few MP3 files. While I did get a sense of audio sounding richer and and more full-bodied, I'm not sure I really noticed the extra detail or finesse in tracks.

ClearAudio+ essentially does make audio cleaner, especially with music playback, but it can feel a tad excessive at times.

There's also a dynamic normaliser to minimise volume between audio and a Sound effects section. Here you can activate the equaliser and make use of a headphone surround-sound mode, where it's possible to switch between Studio, Club and Concert Hall profiles.

When you first plug in the headphones, you'll receive the option of Automatic optimisation to finely tune sound quality for your ears and headphones.

If audio quality matters, and you like the ability to tinker, then this is one of the best phones with which to do it.

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Should I buy the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact?

While I may not be entirely sold on the design changes, using the Z5 Compact has been great. It features a fantastic camera, offers superb battery life and, although it isn't Full HD, the screen is great performer.

Initially, I was only to happy to recommend the Z5 Compact. That was before I discovered the performance issues. The handset overheating following a short amount of time gaming and the increasingly irritating touchscreen issues result in the Z5 Compact being marked down against the Z3 Compact. If Sony can address these problems, then maybe I'd reconsider. Right now, it just isn't good enough.

The 4.7in iPhone 6 is worth considering if you don't mind a slightly taller handset and are a fan of iOS; the 16GB model can be picked up for £459. Although it lacks expandable storage, it will give you roughly a day of battery life.

If size isn't an issue then there are plenty more affordable 5-inch Android phone alternatives out there, such as the Moto X Style or the Galaxy S6 for around £400 SIM-free. Again, there will be some compromises with battery life, especially in the case of the S6, but you'll get a more reliable handset in return.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is arguably the best 4.6-inch Android phone available right now. If it wasn't plagued by performance issues, it could have been so much more.

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