The Xperia 5 II is a solid flagship phone from Sony with excellent build quality, very nice cameras with pro photography and cinematography features, and fast performance. At $949.99, it’s also priced quite high, especially considering it lacks 5G, doesn’t support wireless charging, and has poorer battery life than some less expensive phones. For most people, the $700 Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is a much better bet.
Slim and Sleek With an Incredible Display
The Xperia 5 II sports the traditional Sony aesthetic: It’s long and thin, with sleek edges. It measures 6.2 by 2.7 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.8 ounces. The 6.1-inch, 2,520-by-1,080 OLED display is crisp and has excellent color accuracy, and its 120Hz refresh rate makes it good for watching videos and gaming.
The Xperia 5 II’s display is crisp and immersive.
The back of the phone is a glossy black glass that looks sleek but quickly attracts fingerprints and smudges. There’s a vertical camera stack in the upper left corner, with Sony and Xperia branding at the middle and bottom. A USB-C charging port is on the bottom edge, and a headphone jack rests on top. The left side is home to a SIM slot; the right is busy with the volume rocker, power, Google Assistant, and camera shutter buttons. The power button does double duty as a responsive fingerprint sensor.
The Xperia 5 II’s Gorilla Glass 6 display and back panel should be able to withstand the occasional drop or ding without much damage, and its IP65/68 rating means it can handle water sprays and immersion without damage. As always, you should invest in a case to be safe.
Excellent Audio, But Where’s the 5G?
The Xperia 5 II ships unlocked and will work on every major US carrier. It supports a wide variety of LTE bands, including band 29 for AT&T customers and bands 46 (LAA) and 48 (CBRS) for faster connectivity in congested areas. It doesn’t support 5G, however, and is missing band 71, a must-have for rural T-Mobile customers.
Our initial network tests on the Xperia 5 II yielded poor results on Verizon and T-Mobile’s networks. We believe this may have been due to a firmware issue. In December 2020, we updated the phone and ran additional network tests. In our second round of tests, the Xperia 5 II averaged speeds of 58.3Mbps down and 44.8Mbps up on Verizon’s network in Chicago. That said, it still doesn’t compare to the less expensive Google Pixel 5, which saw LTE speeds of 84.7Mbps down and 56.2Mbps down, not to mention incredible 5G speeds up to 1.6Gbps.
Call quality was good on Verizon’s network. Maximum volume for the earpiece peaks at 88dB, which is loud enough to hear on a busy street, and noise cancellation worked without a hitch.
The Xperia 5 II also supports dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.1, and NFC.
The dual front-firing speakers peak at 93dB and feature Dolby Atmos. The overall sound quality is excellent for a phone. Timbre is strong, with well-defined mids and even some bass.
Strong Performer With Mediocre Battery Life
The Xperia 5 II is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset with 8GB RAM. That’s a little less than the 12GB of RAM in the Samsung Galaxy S20, but it’s more than enough to get the job done. Our review unit came with 128GB of storage (a 256GB version is also available), of which 110GB was available out of the box.
We were able to multitask with dozens of apps and Chrome tabs open without experiencing any lag. Gaming performance is also good; we played Alto’s Odyssey for over an hour without any dropped frames or slowdown, though the battery depleted by more than 20 percent during this period.
On Geekbench 5, a suite of benchmark tests that measure raw computing power, the Xperia 5 II earned a single-core (SC) score of 922 and a multi-core (MC) score of 3,396. That falls between the Galaxy S20’s 918/3,280 and the iPhone 11 Pro‘s 1,333/3,455.
The Xperia 5 II’s 4,000mAh battery lasted 9 hours and 18 minutes in our battery drain test, which streams HD video over Wi-Fi at full brightness. That’s fine, but the Galaxy S20 FE and the Pixel 5 both surpass it by a couple of hours. It supports fast charging via USB Power Delivery 3.0. Wireless charging isn’t available, which is a strange omission for a flagship phone, especially at this price.
A Smartphone Photographer’s Dream
On the back of the Xperia 5 II you’ll find a 12MP f/1.7 primary camera, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle lens, and a 12MP f/2.4 telephoto lens. An 8MP selfie camera with an f/2.0 lens sits on the front of the phone.
The triple lens camera stack allows you to grab the perfect shot.
In good light, all of the cameras on the Xperia 5 II are capable of taking nice pictures. The rear lenses consistently captured crisp shots with excellent depth of field and color accuracy in testing. The front-facing camera did a good job as well, though there was some occasional loss of fine detail.
In low light, the Xperia 5 II’s primary and ultra-wide lenses perform well. All of our test shots look natural, with satisfactory depth of field. The telephoto camera isn’t able to capture enough light to take a decent shot, however, and won’t even try to take photos in low light unless you opt for Sony’s Photo Pro app.
Portrait mode with the rear camera benefits from Real Time Eye autofocus, a feature once found only on Sony’s mirrorless cameras. All of our test shots were spot-on, and the bokeh looks a little more natural than the overly aggressive background blurring you’ll find on most other smartphones. The front-facing camera does a commendable job in low light as well, but we noticed some loss of background detail and flattening of images in our test shots.
Sony’s Pro Camera mode allows for more granular control.
In addition to a Pro camera mode, the Xperia 5 II also has a Video Pro app that’s tuned by CineAlta. The app allows for more granular control over the sensors, and you can change things like color, white balance, focus, and ISO. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but it works well once you’re up to speed. We tested it in both 2K and 4K modes, and our test videos were sharp, with good depth of field and no noticeable dropped frames. In short, it’s a vast improvement over the Xperia 5’s video mode.
Android With a Few Perks
The Xperia 5 II ships with Android 10, with Sony’s custom skin running on top. Sony’s UI isn’t heavy-handed, but it’s definitely a departure from stock Android. Notifications and app icons look different, and you get some extra features like Cinema Pro, Photo Pro, and Side Sense.
The Sony Xperia 5 II shows off Sony’s design aesthetic.
In addition to Sony’s apps for productivity and its cameras, the Xperia 5 II also ships with some bloatware. It’s disappointing to see an unlocked phone include superfluous apps, but fortunately there aren’t that many, and they can all be uninstalled.
Sony confirmed the Xperia 5 II will get an Android 11 update in December 2020. The company also doesn’t make any promises after Android 11, so it’s a bit of a risk considering Google and Samsung both guarantee multi-year software upgrades.
A Hamstrung Flagship With a Steep Price Tag
The Sony Xperia 5 II offers excellent build quality, capable cameras, and a fast processor. But it’s missing 5G and wireless charging, two features we expect in a phone that sells for nearly $1,000. If you’re a major Sony fan, or are seriously interested in the camera’s cinematography features, the Xperia 5 II might be worth your while. For everyone else, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE provides similar hardware, along with wireless charging and 5G, for $250 less.
The Bottom Line
The Sony Xperia 5 II is an attractive Android phone with excellent build quality and capable cameras, but without 5G and wireless charging, it feels instantly out of date and not worth its high price.