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Hands On: Sony Xperia Z5 Compact

With the Z5 Compact, Sony proves big things can come from little phones

A few years ago, a 4.6-inch Android phone was considered massive and unwieldy. Today it’s like a phone for ants. Outside of the iPhone 6, no manufacturers are bold enough to release “small” devices anymore, except Sony.

The Xperia Z5 Compact is a breath of fresh air. As with last year’s Xperia Z3 Compact, Sony’s goal was to pack all the awesomeness of a big flagship phone into a much smaller package. This year, the experiment feels like a success.

A more natural feel — and a fingerprint scanner

The Xperia Z5 Compact has a simple, classy, candy bar look. Like most Sony phones, its design is functional but understated. The Compact is comfortable to hold and use with one hand, thanks to its rounded, soft-plastic bumper and matte back panel, which is glass but feels smoothly frosted when you move your fingers across it.

The most interesting part of the design is the power button. It’s a totally new look for Sony, which usually prefers tiny pop-out buttons. On all of the Z5 phones, however, the power button is about as wide as your thumb and slightly indented, like the Home button on the iPhone 6. And for good reason: Sony is jumping on the fingerprint-scanner wagon.

With a few taps of your thumb (or any finger that you use to tap the power button) you can set up fingerprint unlocking. We’re guessing Sony will support payment features in the future, much like Apple and now Samsung, which has embedded a fingerprint sensor in the Home buttons of its Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5 lines.

Sony has hit the sweet spot with its fingerprint unlocking power button.

Sony’s fingerprint unlocking feature feels faster than alternatives from Apple and Samsung, and the location of the button seems far more natural than trying to stretch to reach the Home button at the bottom of a phone. Sony has hit the sweet spot here.

Maybe I sound crotchety when I say this, but I like to use my phone with one hand when I’m out and about. Everything about the Xperia Z5 Compact’s design makes it easier to use on the go. This is one of the first phones in a while that you may not have to prop up with your pinky finger during use.

23 megapixels of fun, 5 megapixels of vanity

Like the standard Z5 and Z5 Premium, the Compact has a fantastic looking 23-megapixel rear camera on it. My opportunities to test the camera were limited, but I managed to squeeze in a few zoomed shots. I really wanted to test something out: Sony claims its new camera can produce super-clear shots with a 5× digital zoom, and frankly, that sounds too good to be true. The phone does this by taking 8-megapixel shots even though it has a 23-megapixel camera – tightening and shrinking the image to keep it crisp.

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact

I have to admit, zoomed in shots looked better than those from any other smartphone camera I’ve used in recent memory, but they will win no awards. There is still a lot of pixilation, masked by some software filters that brighten and sharpen the images, like an Instagram filter. Tomfoolery? Maybe, but it results in better zooms.

As Sony claims, the camera takes extremely fast photos, though its difficult to say if it meets the 0.3-second claim the company is boasting.

The selfie cam is a solid 5-megapixel sensor, putting it ahead of the current iPhone and on par with the best phones on the market. Bust out that selfie stick with confidence!

Ultimately, the Z5 Compact has front and rear cameras that seem as good as anything available at first glance, and that’s really all you can ask for — especially out of a compact, 4.6-inch phone.

How it compares to the standard Z5

Sony has made a few comprises to squeeze power and into the Z5 Compact at a reasonable price. The bumper is plastic rather than metal, for example, and the screen has a lame 720p resolution, not the 1080p you might expect for a modern phone. Other specs are a step down from ideal as well, including the 2GB of RAM and 2,700mAh battery.

These downgrades don’t matter much, in the long run.

Everything about the Xperia Z5 Compact’s design makes it easier to use on the go.

Here’s the thing: this phone feels premium, even with a plastic build. Thanks to recessed glass, the Z5 Compact’s screen may not shatter when you drop it. It’s also completely waterproof, like most Sony phones. Just 2GB of RAM is disappointing (you can never have enough), but the processor is still a Snapdragon 810, and it only pushes pixels on a 720p screen, so its taxed less. This may result in an overall increase in battery life, despite a slightly smaller battery than the standard Z5. And unless you’re a screen freak, you won’t notice the difference between 720p and 1080p on a 4.6-inch screen. Ultimately, these are good tradeoff. The Compact didn’t appear to slow down at all, though we’ll need to do more testing.

Sony is using the 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, and all models sporting that chip tend to get a little hot. This will happen when you play graphics-intensive games or use the camera. It didn’t bother us too much on this phone.

All key defining features of the Z5 are present. The 23-megapixel and 5-megapixel cameras are here and the fingerprint sensor is fully operational — and this is a powerful little phone. A MicroSD card slot is also present, and it runs Android 5.0 without too many additions, meaning it’s a smooth user interface experience too.

Conclusion

The phone-buying world’s obsession with giant, unwieldy devices has made even modestly holdable devices a rarity. It’s nice to have a palm-friendly Android on the market. We hope Sony gives this model a decent release in the United States this fall.

In fact, everything about the Z5 line has us excited. For once, Sony has solid advantages over competitors like HTC, Apple, and Samsung. The Xperia Z5 Compact is waterproof, has a fantastic fingerprint sensor, and includes a great camera. Combine that with its rare but reasonable size and Sony may have a winner.

Pricing and exact release information is not yet available.

Highs

  • Easy to hold and use with one hand
  • Waterproof design
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • 23-megapixel rear camera
  • Great selfie cam

Lows

  • Less RAM than full Xperia Z5
  • Plastic build
  • Gets hot when using camera