The Sony Xperia 5 IV is a unique smartphone in 2023 with a focus on photography that remains unchallenged by any non-Sony device, though that can also be its downfall, requiring a lot of knowledge about photography to really squeeze the best out of the camera setup.
Otherwise, it’s a pocketable smartphone that’s easy to use one-handed, offers great battery life and features like a dedicated shutter, an easy-to-access microSD port, a notification LED and a headphone jack that have been ditched by much of the competition.
However, it’s not the very best Android tech on offer, lacking elements like an adaptive refresh rate, true fast charging technology and the latest processors used by most of the premium Android competition.
If you’re a huge photography nerd you’ll likely love what the Xperia 5 IV offers, but for most people that simply want a great all-rounder, you may be better off elsewhere.
- Compact, pocketable form factor
- Granual control over camera and video capture
- 21:9 OLED display is perfect for watching movies
- Great all-day battery life
- Requires a lot of photography knowledge to get good photo results
- Slow charging speeds
- Not the fastest processor around
- Immersive display6.1-inch, 21:9 OLED screen is free of a notch and more immersive as a result
- Triple camera arrayThree rear 12MP cameras, including wide, ultra wide and tele
- Great specsSnapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip, 8GB RAM and 5000mAh battery
Sony’s Xperia smartphones don’t try to directly compete with the Android flagship competition, instead doing its own thing to try and tempt consumers away from the sea of similar-looking smartphones on the market.
That trend continues with the Sony Xperia 5 IV, joining the Xperia 1 IV at the top of Sony’s Android phone collection, boasting many of the same key features in a much more pocketable form factor. The question is, is it really a phone for the average consumer, or is it something best left to photography pros?
Design and Screen
- Compact, one-handed design
- Built-in two-step shutter button
- Durable and water resistant
Sony doesn’t market the Xperia 5 IV as a compact device, but that’s exactly what it is, and it’s mainly down to a rather tall, narrow design paired with a 6.1-inch display.
It’s certainly easier to hold and use one-handed than larger Android alternatives like the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro Max, and even with a taller-than-usual design, it’s still easy enough for me to reach the top of the display.
The overall design of the Xperia 5 IV is influenced heavily by the Xperia 1 IV, sporting a subtle design with flat sides, a flat screen, a matte glass finish on the rear and rather muted colour options including black, green and white. It’s flanked by a slightly recessed power button with a built-in fingerprint reader that’s incredibly rapid, along with volume controls.
There’s also the signature two-step shutter button on the bottom-right of the phone which doubles up as a camera shortcut even when the phone is locked, though I found I’d sometimes accidentally activate the tech when simply taking the phone out of my pocket.
That, along with features like a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD card reader that doesn’t require a fiddly tool to open presents a niche appeal for those that want something a little different to the bog-standard flagship.
The smartphone is a little weightier than you’d imagine by looking at it, but that’s likely down to the inclusion of a large battery – a little more on that later.
It’s certainly a way off the likes of the iPhone 14 Pro Max, and if anything it instils a bit of confidence that it can resist a knock or two. Gorilla Glass Victus support for the front and rear glass panels, along with IP65 and IP68 dust and water resistance, further bolsters that durable feel.
The 6.1-inch OLED display is one of the main reasons to opt for the Xperia 5 IV over the (slightly more premium) Xperia 1 IV and its 6.5-inch panel, providing a display experience that’s more compact than rivals without impacting too much on the overall experience – and that’s largely due to the 21:9 aspect ratio.
The wide aspect ratio means the 6.1-inch display is perfect for watching ultrawide Hollywood blockbusters without the annoying black bars atop and below, ideal for watching Netflix on the go. It also means the display can be large and tall while still being comfortable to use one-handed, a feature that shouldn’t be overlooked for the small-handed out there.
It might not boast the 4K resolution as its pricier sibling, but to be honest, it’s hard to tell the difference on such a small display. If anything, it means the Xperia 5 IV performs better at gaming because it has fewer pixels to power.
The FHD+ panel delivers crisp visuals and great HDR support that makes supported videos really pop. Colours are great too, thanks to the use of an OLED panel that delivers not only vivid colours but deep, dark blacks.
It’s plenty bright, with Sony claiming a 50% boost to brightness compared to the previous-gen Xperia 5, making it a solid display for use in bright sunlight – though it best to turn it down to avoid burning your corneas in darker environments.
The 120Hz refresh rate on offer provides buttery-smooth scrolling and super-smooth animations when browsing the smartphone’s various apps and menus, helping everything feel more responsive in use.
The only issue is that, unlike other phones with an equally high price tag, it’s locked in at either 60- or 120Hz with no adaptive refresh rate to save on battery life when the high refresh rate isn’t needed (like when watching movies or reading texts).
- Impressive pro-level camera and video apps
- Steep learning curve for photography newbies
- Average performance in its auto modes
Sony is a popular brand in the camera and DSLR markets, and it’s using its snapper experience to its advantage with the Xperia 5 IV.
The Xperia 5 IV actually comes with not one but three pro camera and video apps, though the one most of you will use is Photography Pro. It’s a similar concept to most standard camera apps on the market, using computational photography and a combination of hardware and software to automatically generate the best image possible. It’s essentially your regular point-and-shoot setup.
That’s its basic setup, anyway. With the flick of an on-screen switch you can toggle to more advanced shooting modes, and this is where it really begins to shine – if you know what you’re doing, that is.
The manual controls over the several shooting modes – including shutter priority and full manual, as with its Alpha DLSR line – are astonishingly granular, allowing you to tweak settings like ISO to really change the overall feel of a photo. The auto mode is decent, but the manual modes are where the camera setup really shines.
If, like me, you’re a bit rusty with your manual camera controls, you may find it a slightly frustrating experience at first. But with a bit of time and a lot of patience, you’ll learn how to make use of the advanced tools on offer. It really does offer one of the most fulfilling smartphone photography experiences around because it’s you that captured it, not an AI.
When it comes to the actual camera setup, you’ll find a main 12MP wide snapper with dual-pixel PDAF that enables Sony’s awesome real-time tracking focus, along with OIS for super-smooth shots. That’s paired with a 12MP 2.5x optical zoom lens with OIS, and a 12MP 124-degree ultrawide snapper.
Though the main 12MP wide lens is the most capable of the trio with an f/1.7 aperture and a 1/17in sensor, there’s great performance on offer from all three. Images shot in well-lit conditions are packed with detail, vibrant colours and impressive dynamic range, with top-notch camera tuning that makes it hard to tell at a glance which camera was used.
However, it is certainly tailored more towards pro-level users. I’ve found the basic and auto modes can sometimes be hit-and-miss, selecting the wrong settings for the scene and resulting in a shot that’s under or over-exposed, and that’s not ideal on a phone that focused on its camera prowess.
There’s potential for decent low-light photography, though in my experience, it tends to perform better in outdoor environments with moderate light – like streetlights and lamps – than darker indoor conditions, which can turn out a little soft, lacking the crisp detail of well-lit shots.
There’s also a Pro video app for shooting video at up to 4K@120fps for high-res slow-mo, along with dedicated 24- and 25fps shooting modes for a more cinema-esque vibe.
Combined with a similar level of pro-level controls over elements like ISO, shutter speed and white balance, as well as impressive rack focus capabilities, it’s great at capturing high-quality video – but again, as long as you know what you’re doing.
- Strong, but not industry-leading, performance
- Top-notch Hi-Res audio support
- Android 12 with an upgrade to Android 13
- A few pre-installed Sony and third-party apps
As you might expect from a flagship Sony smartphone, the Xperia 5 IV’s performance is top-notch – though it’s not quite industry-leading.
That’s largely down to the inclusion of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which had already been replaced by the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 by the time the Xperia 5 IV was launched. Let’s not mention the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset coming in 2023 smartphones…
But while it’s not the latest and greatest, performance still feels responsive on a day-to-day basis with nary a hint of lag or stutter no matter what I threw at it, be it scrolling through media-heavy social media apps or playing the occasional game of Call of Duty Mobile with high graphics settings enabled.
I will note that it can get hot when performing more strenuous tasks like playing AAA mobile games with maximum graphics enabled, but it never becomes uncomfortably hot, or indeed hot enough that it noticeably affected performance.
That’s all largely reflected in benchmark results, managing a respectable CPU benchmark multi-core score of 3274, while single-core performance clocked in at 1087. It’s a similar story in the GPU department with a score of 2534 in 3DMark’s high-end Wild Life Extreme graphics test.
Storage is respectable with either 128- or 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage available, though this can be expanded thanks to the inclusion of a microSD card slot – a feature becoming a bit of a rarity in modern smartphones.
There’s also a top-notch audio experience with a stereo speaker setup that does a decent job at immersing you in your Netflix movies with two front-facing speakers built into the display, but what’s more impressive is the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack that supports Hi-Res audio up to 24-bit/192kHz.
Though it’ll require wired headphones that also support Hi-Res audio – something that the average consumer won’t have handy – it’s a boon for the audiophiles out there, adding extra resolution to music playback. There’s also support for the likes of Dolby Atmos audio as well as Sony’s patented 360 Reality Audio, further adding to its audio prowess.
While the Xperia 5 IV shipped with Android 12, it has since received the upgrade to Android 13 and all the benefits that come with it.
There are more Sony-branded apps than you might expect, with dedicated Pro apps for photo, video and audio capture, along with a handful of pre-installed apps including Netflix and the PlayStation app. I’m not too fussed about the inclusion of popular apps like Netflix, but if you’re a digital puritan, you can delete them just as easily.
Otherwise, the smartphone runs as you’d expect with very few UI quirks, a refreshing change compared to the likes of Xiaomi’s MiUI 13.
- 5000mAh battery
- Comfortable all-day battery life
- Slow charging speeds
Despite the pocketable dimensions of the Xperia 5 IV, Sony has somehow managed to stuff a whopping 5000mAh battery within. For context, that’s the same capacity as the much larger 6.8-inch Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, so it’s pretty impressive. And with a smaller display to drive, it’s safe to say that battery life is superb.
It’s a phone that never hit the 20% mark when out and about during testing despite some pretty heavy camera testing and the occasional gaming session when sat on the tube. In fact, on days when I didn’t use the phone as much, I found it’d end the day with around half the battery remaining. This could very well be a two-day device depending on your usage.
Even when watching movies on Netflix it’s impressively battery efficient, with just 6% drain when streaming for an hour. Gaming is unsurprisingly a little more taxing on the system, with 8% drain when playing Call of Duty Mobile for 30 minutes, but that’s really not that bad.
Charge speeds aren’t that fast at 30W, especially compared to other Android flagships that boast a full charge in around half an hour. In testing it took 30 minutes to reach 50%, but a full charge took much longer at 1 hour and 46 minutes.
Fans of wireless charging will be pleased as the Xperia 5 IV is the first in the 5 series to boast 15W Qi wireless charging capabilities, along with the ability to reverse wireless charge at a slower 5W. Charge times will be even slower than the wired alternative, but it is convenient.
Should you buy it?
You want a more manual camera experience: The Sony Xperia 5 IV provides some of the most granular camera controls of any smartphone on the market, ideal for photography fans with a bit of experience.
You want the best phone tech available: While the Xperia 5 IV has a portable design, a tall display and impressive camera chops, other elements – like charge speeds, performance, and display tech – are lagging behind the premium competition.
The Sony Xperia 5 IV is an impressive camera-focused smartphone, but only if you already have a lot of experience in the world of photography.
For everyone else that simply wants a top-end smartphone that has the latest tech and will do everything for you, there are more tempting options available – many of which are present in our best phone and best Android phone group tests.
How we test
We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry-standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Used as a main phone for the review period
Thorough camera testing in various locations with varying light levels
Tested and benchmarked using respected industry tests, as well as real-world use