Sony Xperia 5 III Review: The Goldilocks Zone

It has been a rough year for mobile electronics. The semiconductor shortage and supply chain constraints have made it hard for companies to ship their products. The Sony Xperia 5 III was supposed to launch in the US shortly after the Xperia 1 III. It is the end of December now and all signs are pointing to a January 11th launch

Instead of waiting for the US launch, I imported the Taiwanese model. Below are my thoughts after 2 months. 

Disclaimer: I purchased all devices reviewed in this article. I did not receive any review units from Sony. I am NOT sponsored or affiliated with Sony in any way. I do not accept copy approval from Sony or any other organization. All opinions are mine and mine alone.

Specifications

  • 📺 6.1 inches 1080 x 2520 pixel OLED (Gorilla Glass 6)
  • 🧠 Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • 🗃️ 8GB RAM 128/256GB Storage
  • 📷 Three Rear Cameras (Four focal lengths)
    • 📷 Wide: 12 MP, f/1.7, 24mm, 1/1.7″, 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
    • 📷 Telephoto: 12 MP, f/2.3, 70mm, f/2.8, 105mm, 1/2.9″, Dual Pixel PDAF, 3x/4.4x optical zoom, OIS
    • 📷 Ultrawide: 12 MP, f/2.2, 124˚, 16mm, 1/2.6″, Dual Pixel PDAF
  • 📷 Selfie: 8 MP, f/2.0, 24mm (wide), 1.12µm
  • 🔋 4500 mAh
  • 🔌 30 Watt Fast Charge
  • 📐 157 x 68 x 8.2 mm
  • 🎨 Mirror Black, Mirror Green, Mirror Pink
  • 🎁 3.5mm Headphone Jack, Expandable Storage, 5G
  • 💸 $1000
  • 📅 2022.01.11 for the US, 2021.10.08 for Asia

The upgrades from the Sony Xperia 5 II

The Xperia 5 III is a minor upgrade from the Xperia 5 II. The most notable upgrades you will find are the inclusion of the variable telephoto lens, Snapdragon 888, 4500 mAh battery, and fast charging.

Aesthetics: Mirror Finish and comfortable build

Unlike the Xperia 1 III, the Xperia 5 III comes with a mirror finish instead of a matte one. The mirror finish is a giant fingerprint magnet. I wish Sony made the Xperia 5 III matte just like the Xperia 1 III. Another difference between the Xperia 1 III and the Xperia 5 III is that the latter doesn’t have square-off sides. This means you can not balance the Xperia 5 III on its side like its larger brother.

The width of the Sony Xperia 5 III is quite narrow by today’s standards. This make the device easy and comfortable to hold. It is one of the few phones on the market that I can still manage to use with one hand.

Screen: HD 120Hz

The Xperia 5 III only has a 1080p screen that runs at 120Hz. For a 6.1 inch screen, this is more than adequate. Images and text are sharp. I haven’t noticed any meaningful difference between the HD panel and the 4K panel of the Xperia 1 III.

If you were hoping that the HD panel would be brighter than the 4K panel I am sorry to inform you, but that is not the case. The max brightness of the Xperia 5 III is roughly the same as the Xperia 1 III. It is still too dim for my liking, especially trying to take pictures in direct sunlight. My guess is that Sony decided to limit the brightness due to heat and performance considerations. I would prefer for them to throttle the CPU and give us a brighter display, but I know not everyone is going to agree.

Performance: Slightly cooler but still troublesome

The Snapdragon 888 is still a troublesome CPU, but the HD display does make a difference in terms of reducing heat. With 120Hz, I rarely ran into issues where the phone was too hot to touch. It does regularly get hot enough where the software will automatically revert down to 60Hz. But it is more of a minor nuisance rather than a deal-breaker.

Camera: Same as its bigger brother

The camera on the Xperia 5 III is pretty much the same as the Xperia 1 III. The only thing you don’t get is the time of flight (ToF) sensor. The ToF sensor is supposed to help with autofocus, especially in low-light situations. In my testing, I didn’t see much of a difference.

Photos on Xperia 5 III are true to life. The HDR is decent but you still get scenarios where the sky is blown out. The 4.4x optical zoom lens is quite useful when you can’t get too close to the subject. Overall I enjoyed the versatility of the four focal length setup of the Xperia 5 III. The photos shot on the Xperia 5 III are pretty good as well.

I still do wish Sony’s HDR was a little more vibrant than what is already provided. If Sony is able to accomplish this, they will be able to rival the Pixel and iPhones of the world.

Battery: Fantastic

Battery life on the Xperia 5 III has been fantastic. I rarely get below 50% at the end of a long day. This is with 120Hz turned on.

Some people might be dissuaded by the lack of Qi wireless charging. I am okay with Sony’s decision to exclude it. One reason is that wireless charging is extremely inefficient. The other reason is that Sony most likely would have had to reduce the battery size if they kept the same dimensions. If you compare the battery size by volume, you will notice that the Xperia 5 III is one of the most battery dense phones:

  • 📱Samsung Galaxy M51: 5.89 mAh/cm^3
  • 📱Sony Xperia 5 III: 5.14 mAh/cm^3
  • 📱Google Pixel 5: 5.01 mAh/cm^3
  • 📱Google Pixel 6 Pro: 4.52 mAh/cm^3
  • 📱Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: 4.50 mAh/cm^3

Software: Same as the Xperia 1 III

The software on the Xperia 5 III is the same as the Xperia 1 III. You can check out my review of the Sony Xperia 1 III for more details.

Security updates for the Xperia 5 III have been slow and inconsistent. It is currently December 28th and the device is still on the November 1st security update. This doesn’t bold too well for a device that was released in Taiwan only a couple of months ago. This is an area that Sony should improve on.

Speakers: Not as good as the Xperia 1 III

The speakers do not have as much depth as the Xperia 1 III. The difference is likely due to the small body. It is not bad by any means. The increased volume and 360 spatial sound do make the speakers sound slightly better than the Xperia 1 II though.

Another thing I noticed is that the body of the phone does vibrate when the front facing speakers are on at full volume. And no, it isn’t because the dynamic vibration feature is turned on. A minor thing, but I had hoped that they resolved the issue like they did on the Xperia 1 III.

Other Observations

Poor vibration motor

The vibration motor on the Xperia 5 III seems to be a lot worse than the Xperia 1 III. There are time where the vibration motor feels like its not working at all and other times when it feels like its got a loose spring. Restarting the phone seems to temporarily fix the issue. It seems like a software issue to me, but I can’t confirm.

VoLTE works straight out of the box

One of the concerns I had when importing this phone was that I would have to flash it to the US variant software again to get VoLTE. To my surprise, it works straight out of the box. The VoLTE setting is already enabled in settings. Not sure if this is exclusive to the Taiwan variant or if Europe and other Asia variants would work like this as well.

Pricing: $1000 might be a bit much

The US pricing for the Xperia 5 III is $1000. Given that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 phones are already being released, the $1000 price is hard to justify.

Recommendations

Despite the shortcomings I mentioned above, the Sony Xperia 5 III is a great compact phone. If you want a smaller phone that has front-facing speakers, expandable storage, or just like Sony’s sound and imaging profile the Sony Xperia 5 III is definitely for you. I think Sony is heading in the right direction. They just need to sort out their release and pricing strategy so that they can carve out a space to thrive.

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