The overall design of the NEX-5 is very reminiscent of another much older Sony camera, the popular DSC-F707, a high-spec 5-megapixel, 5x zoom model launched in 2001. With the 18-55mm standard zoom attached the camera does look somewhat unwieldy, with the lens diameter overlapping the height of the body, and with the larger 18-200mm superzoom lens attached the effect is even more pronounced. However the metal-bodied 18-55mm lens is surprisingly light at 194g, while the camera body weighs 288g including battery and memory card, and the combination handles well. The body has a prominent textured handgrip on the front and a small rubber-coated thumbgrip on the back, and is easy to hold and operate one-handed. I've not had a chance to handle the NEX-5 with the 524g 18-200mm lens attached, and I imagine it would require two hands for comfortable operation, but with the smaller lenses the camera is no harder to handle than a small superzoom camera.
The camera's overall build quality is excellent. The body is made from magnesium alloy and feels very strong and durable. The battery/card hatch has a strong metal hinge and a locking latch, and the panel joins are very tight.
Sony has managed to squeeze a lot of features into a very small space, but the design is efficient and the camera looks clean, contemporary and stylish. The most obvious external feature is the large 7.5 cm (3.0 inch) monitor screen, which is articulated to fold down by 45 degrees or up by almost 90 degrees. It has a resolution of 921,600 dots, the same as Sony's top-of-the-range digital SLRs, with a very wide angle of view. It is clear and bright enough for use even in bright sunlight, and has a good anti-glare surface. I've no doubt that someone in the comments section will bemoan the lack of an optical viewfinder, but with a monitor this good you really don't miss it too much. It would have been better if it was fully articulated of course, but one can't have everything.
The control layout is much more akin to that of a compact camera than a digital SLR, with the main camera controls consisting of just two multi-function buttons, with a rotary-bezel D-pad for menu navigation and exposure adjustment. In general use it is quick and easy to use, but once you start trying anything other than the basic functions it does get a bit fiddly. Simply adjusting the ISO setting takes four button presses then a turn of the dial and another button press. The menu system is divided into six sections on a pretty graphic screen, but it's not at all obvious in which section you'll find what you're looking for. By way of an example, the ISO setting is found in the “Brightness/colour” section, which is far from obvious. It's rather ironic that Olympus, which used this sort of graphic menu for many years despite much criticism, has recently switched to a much simpler and easier on-screen sidebar and list menu, and Sony has done the exact opposite.