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Sony Xperia Z5 Compact review: The best mini Android phone around

With flagship specs compressed into a small body, the Z5 Compact is the best mini Android phone you can buy.

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Andrew Lanxon
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Andrew Lanxon

Lead Editor, CNET Advice, Europe; Lead Photographer, Europe

Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

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6 min read

I called Sony's Xperia Z3 Compact the best "mini" phone around in 2014, and now Sony is here to defend that title with the new Xperia Z5 Compact. Like its predecessor, the 4.6-inch Z5 Compact is loaded with most of the same specs as its full-size flagship siblings, but compresses them into a much more portable body.

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8.7

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact

The Good

The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact's small size makes it very comfortable to use, but without sacrificing the power and performance of a flagship phone. Its camera takes great shots and it won't die when you get it wet.

The Bad

Its blocky design lacks the finesse of other flagship handsets.

The Bottom Line

By squashing powerful specs into a smaller, water-resistant body, the Z5 Compact earns the title of best "mini" Android phone.

Rival manufacturers tend to heavily water down the specs of their "mini flagships" -- I'm looking at you, LG G4C and Samsung S5 Mini. Sony's diminutive handset, however, is as proud a flagship as the standard Z5, containing as it does most of the same top-end specs. In addition to the potent Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor under its 4.6-inch screen, the Z5 Compact has a great 23-megapixel camera, a water-resistant design, a fingerprint scanner, expandable storage and a battery that won't quit on you before the day is done.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's available now in the UK for £390, which is an extremely reasonable price. Particularly when Sony's other Z5 phones, the standard Z5 and the Z5 Premium both come with sky-high price tags of £549 and £630 respectively. In Australia it'll cost you AU$849, which is approximately what the UK price converts to. In the US, it'll cost $500 and sell February 7.

Why do I want a smaller screen?

One simple reason: comfort. Most top-end phones have swollen to huge proportions with screens pushing 6 inches. Wrapping your hands around those Goliaths isn't easy and texting with just one hand is impossible. You can easily hold the Xperia Z5 Compact in one hand and comfortably stretch your thumb across the whole screen. It's fairly slim at 8.9 millimetres (0.35 inches) thick and weighs just 138 grams (4.86 ounces) so it'll sit unnoticed in your jeans pocket.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Is it still good for gaming?

If gaming is your main focus for a phone then you should look for something with a larger display. The Compact's screen is perfectly suitable for calling, texting, social networking and so on, but games and movies aren't as immersive as they are on larger phones. Its processor is powerful enough to run games, of course, but the small screen size doesn't really do them justice.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas plays extremely smoothly, for example, but using the on-screen controls means that your thumbs are covering up a significant portion of the action. Matching up candies in Candy Crush isn't as easy either. Sure, the 720p resolution might seem low when compared to the 2K (and even 4K!) displays seen on larger phones, but the screen's smaller size means it doesn't need as many pixels to remain sharp.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Indeed, the Compact's screen is perfectly crisp, as well as being bright and displaying vivid colours too.

Is it less powerful than the full-size Z5?

No, not by an amount you'd really notice. Both phones run on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 processor, but the Compact has 2GB of RAM, rather than the 3GB you get on the standard Z5. In benchmark tests, performance is very close -- I found nothing I could do on the Z5 that I couldn't do on the Compact.

What about the camera?

The 23-megapixel camera on the Compact is the same one that's used on the rest of the Z5 series phones, and the Compact's is just as good as its siblings'. Shots are well exposed for the most part and colours are rich too. The white balance can sometimes be a bit off, but it's very easy to tweak the colour balance to warm up a shot a little.

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Sony Xperia Z5 Compact camera test (click to see full size)

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Sony Xperia Z5 Compact camera test (click to see full size)

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Sony Xperia Z5 Compact camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The interface is simple enough to get to grips with. You'll find a whole range of creative extras on board, including panorama modes and an augmented-reality mode. It'll shoot video in 4K, which plays back smoothly. On the front is a 5-megapixel camera for taking embarrassing selfies. Like the main camera, it can take good shots in bright sunlight, but it suffers from image noise when the light starts to fade.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Does its waterproof design mean I can take it swimming?

No. While Sony used to advertise its phones for underwater photography, it no longer recommends fully submerging them. The water resistance it has is designed to keep it alive after you've spilled drinks on it, or chatted away on a call in the pouring rain. A rubberised flap keeps water out of the combined SIM and microSD card slots.

The phone's design generally isn't much to write home about. It has a plain aesthetic with flattened edges, which results in a blocky, toy-like design. It lacks the sophisticated charm of phones like the Galaxy S6 Edge, but you'd still have to be in a pretty bad mood to call it ugly. Beauty is subjective, of course, and its slightly clunky style won't affect the way you use the phone.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Will it last me more than a day on a single charge?

As long as you're reasonably careful then you should have no trouble at all. Even after I listened to podcasts on my morning commute, played a couple of games at lunch and checked my emails and social accounts throughout the day, I still had juice left to get me through an evening in the bar. It lasted 13.5 hours on our battery drain test, which is above average.

Sure, you can watch the power drain away if you spend all day playing games or streaming video. But keep your streaming to when you're within dashing distance of a charger and you'll be fine.

Any other features I should know about?

The Compact has a reasonably generous 32GB of storage and it's one of a dwindling number of phones that still lets you expand that with a microSD card. The power button on the right edge now incorporates a fingerprint scanner, which works quickly and accurately. I'm right-handed and found my thumb sat perfectly over the scanner when I held the phone. It'll work in your left hand too, of course, you'll just need to register your index or middle finger for the scanner. The scanner is in the same location on all the Z5 series phones, but the smaller size of the Compact means you don't need to shuffle it around in your hand to get your finger into position quite as much.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

What about Android?

It's running the older Android 5.1 Lollipop software, rather than the more recent 6.0 Marshmallow. I can't hold that against the Compact too much, though, as it was announced before Marshmallow was available. Sony has said it will send out an update to the latest version, although it hasn't yet given a date. Sony also puts its own skin over Android, which I find easy to use, although it does come with quite a lot of pre-loaded software. Mercifully, much of this can be uninstalled if you don't want it.

Is this phone really worth buying?

If you're after a phone with performance to rival any of the flagship phones but that's much more comfortable to hold, the Z5 Compact will be right up your street. Its processor can tackle anything you'll want to throw at it, its camera takes great shots and its water-resistant design will keep it going after it's taken an impromptu shower in beer.

The Compact's processor and camera perform just as well as the ones in the Z5 and Z5 Premium, but it can be yours for a lot less cash. It therefore represents considerably better value.

What other phones should I consider?

The Z5 compact has very little competition as a small, high-performance phone. Most Android phones tend to be 5 inches or larger, even at the budget end of the market, and, all flagship devices with specs comparable to the Z5 Compact have much larger displays. It's really the only option for a powerful mini Android phone and I hope Sony continues the Compact line in the years to come.

The other option at this size, of course, is the iPhone. The new iPhone 6S is a stunning device all round with power to spare and one of the best cameras found on a phone. Its 4.7-inch size is comparable to the Z5 Compact too. It'll cost you a lot more, though.

If size isn't as much of an issue for you, then Motorola's Moto X Style (aka Pure) is worth a look and costs roughly the same. It's much bigger at 5.7 inches, but it's heavily customisable and has plenty of power and a good camera.

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8.7

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 8Camera 8Battery 8