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Hands on: Sony Xperia 5 review

The camera that’s got its eye on yours

Sony Xperia 5 review
(Image: © Jamie Carter/Digital Camera World)

Our Verdict

Using tech from Sony’s Alpha interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras to keep focus on a human eye, the Xperia 5 is an interesting innovation. However, despite a talented triple camera this 21:9 CinemaWide-shape phone won’t appeal to all.

For

  • Relatively small footprint
  • Triple camera set-up
  • Useful Eye AF Auto Focus mode
  • BIONZ X features from Sony Alpha cameras
  • Can split-screen apps

Against

  • Lacks a headphones jack
  • 21:9 CinemaWide is a little odd

Do people go wild for Sony phones? No, they do not, but IFA 2019 saw a notable launch of a new flagship Xperia phone for anyone interested in phoneography. The Sony Xperia 5 borrows a thing or two from Sony’s much higher profile mirrorless camera line-up, so DigitalCameraWorld.com headed over to Sony’s massive stand at IFA 2019 to get a first look. It is set to cost $880/£715.

Sony Xperia 5: design

Sony Xperia 5

(Image credit: Jamie Carter/Digital Camera World)

A 6.1-inch, 164g, 158x68x8.2mm metal-framed phone running Android 9 Pie and with a 3,140mAh battery and USB PD (Power Delivery) fast charging, the Xperia 5 boasts an OLED display, something that didn’t escape our eyes. 

Vibrantly colorful and contrasty, it’s an excellent screen with impressively wide viewing angle to boot. There’s also a slightly odd 21:9 aspect ratio to that OLED display. Measuring 2,520x1,080 pixels – something Sony calls both Full HD+ and CinemaWide – this is a screen conceived for movies, but also for gaming and split-screening apps.

To the eye that unusual aspect ratio isn’t immediately obvious, at least not detrimentally so, and it also feels rather lightweight. In fact, it’s a sneaky 16g lighter than the Sony Xperia 1. The Xperia 5 is an attempt to make a CinemaWide phone that fits into pockets more easily, and on that front, it succeeds. 

Certified as IP65/IP68 water resistant, Xperia 5 uses Corning Gorilla Glass on both sides, and is sold in blue, back, grey and red. None of them have a 3.5mm headphones jack. Get over it. It’s also got 128GB storage and a microSD card slot for adding more.

Sony Xperia 5: features

Sony Xperia 5 review

(Image credit: Jamie Carter/Digital Camera World)

Although the Xperia 5’s OLED display features upscaling tech that up-converts video content to HDR, the headline feature is its Eye AF (Auto Focus), though before we get to that, briefly consider its triple camera set-up. There’s a 26mm (f1.6) all-rounder lens that ought to behave well in low-light (though we didn’t get to test that), a 52mm (f2.4) telescopic lens with 2x optical zoom, and a 16mm (f2.4) super-wide lens (35mm equivalent). Each has a 12 MP image sensor. It’s also got optical image stabilization (OIS).

That Eye AF (autofocus) feature is there to both identify, and then focus on, on the eyes of people and animals, something that all photographers know must always be in focus in any kind of portrait or action shot. It uses algorithms borrowed from Sony’s Alpha interchangeable lens cameras, and it can not only find and focus on, but also follow the eyes it finds in the frame.

The Xperia 5 also boasts continuous burst shooting at up to 10 frames per second (fps), which works in conjunction with that Eye AF mode.

Elsewhere, the Xperia 5 is fitted with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipset, which among other things promises to switch to 4G if it thinks your WiFi connection is dropping. 

Sony Xperia 5: performance

Sony Xperia 5 review

Eye AF at work on Sony Xperia 5

(Image credit: Jamie Carter/Digital Camera World)

So its Eye AF  works like this; you point the Xperia 5’s camera at someone and it (a) automatically focuses on one of their eyes, and (b) follows that eye as it moves around the frame. Then you press the shutter button. It’s really that simple. If someone else comes into shot, the Xperia 5 detects them too, and creates a slightly bigger box that covers an eye of each of the subjects. The results appeared to be decent on the Xperia 5’s screen, though we didn’t have a chance to export the photos and study them closely on a bigger monitor. It’s not ‘feature of the year’, but it’s good to see useful camera hacks like this appearing on a phone. 

However, the Xperia 5 has another little trick up its sleeve because a long hold of the shutter button initiates continuous burst shooting. Ten fps later, you’ve probably got the shot you want. Granted, it’s a bit of a manual process to back through and delete the miss-fires, but hey, we’re pretty sure they’ll be some artificial intelligence to sort that out in a future iteration of this intriguing photography-centric smartphone.

Sony Xperia 5: early verdict

Sony Xperia 5 review

(Image credit: Jamie Carter/Digital Camera World)

A slimmed-down version of the Xperia 1, the lighter Xperia 5 retains that odd-sized 21:9 aspect ratio OLED screen. A clever design makes that of little concern – and very handy for split-screening apps – while the Eye AF (Auto Focus) features for identifying and keeping a human eye in focus appeared genuinely useful, and easy to use. Add the versatility of three lenses -– particularly that wide-angle – and the Xperia 5 appears to be a reasonably adept camera phone with some welcome photography-centric features. 

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