Advertisement

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Advertisement

Sony Xperia 5 III review: Smaller, cheaper and just as impressive

Sean Cameron
28 Oct 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
899
inc VAT

The Sony Xperia 5 III is well-made with solid performance but is let down by an inconsistent camera and thermal issues

Pros 
Strong battery life
Easy to use one-handed
Front-facing stereo speakers
Cons 
Can run quite hot
Unreliable cameras
Screen aspect ratio not the best for some content
Advertisement

Sony’s vision for what a flagship smartphone should be has always differed a little from the competition. Phones from Apple and Samsung’s warehouses are usually a bit more generalised, while the Japanese firm would rather focus its attention on a few key areas to try and pull ahead.

With its “mid-range flagship” refresh for 2021, the Xperia 5 III, we can see the fruits of this approach in three key areas: battery life, camera performance and screen technology. Utilising the know-how of its Alpha-line camera engineers, Sony claims that the new Xperia offers some of its best imaging performance in a handheld yet.

This, of course, is a rather bold claim, and one that is increasingly being made by the competition. Against declining sales and an intensifying market, does the Xperia 5 III do enough to earn a recommendation, and to potentially help keep Sony Mobile in the spotlight for a little while longer?

Buy now from Sony


Sony Xperia 5 III review: What you need to know

The Sony Xperia 5 III has one major feature which defines it from the rest of the Android competition: its size.

Although its 6.1” panel is the same across the diagonal as that found on the likes of the iPhone 13 Pro, it has a significantly narrower aspect ratio, making the phone tall and thin where others are wider and fatter. This is a phone which is very easy to use one-handed.

Aside from its dimensions, the Xperia 5 III’s OLED screen refreshes at 120Hz and the phone also has a 4,500mAh battery, front-facing stereo speakers and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Its primary camera sensor is 12MP, flanked by a secondary pair of 12MP ultrawide and variable 12MP telephoto zoom lenses.

Naturally, the Xperia 5 III uses a Snapdragon 888 processor, along with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and it’s currently on Android 11, which means it has nearly all of the mod-cons offered by the competition. There’s an update to Android 12 scheduled for the near future as well.

Sony Xperia 5 III review: Price and competition

The Sony Xperia 5 III costs a hefty £900 for the 8GB/128GB model, which is definitely at the upper end of what might be considered ‘normal’ pricing for a flagship smartphone in 2021. It exists in an exceptionally competitive market, no doubt, and there are plenty of contenders.

From the ‘small phone’ perspective, the iPhone 13 Mini (£679) puts up a strong challenge. It offers an even more pocketable design and strong camera performance, but lacks a high refresh screen, telephoto cameras or a headphone jack.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 (£700) is an interesting challenger as well. Offering a bigger but still manageable display, it also has a telephoto camera, wireless charging and a far more affordable price following various drops since its January 2021 release.

Lastly, there’s the recently released iPhone 13 Pro (£949), which for just a bit more is well worth a look, with a top-notch set of cameras, excellent video recording capabilities and a solid battery life. There is, of course, the question of preferences between iOS and Android on a per-user basis, but the iPhone is strong competition regardless.

READ NEXT: Check out some more of our favourite iPhone models

Sony Xperia 5 III review: Design and key features

Long gone are the days when Sony was known for any kind of experimentation in its phone design. The firm has stuck firmly to its guns for years, producing handsets with sharp corners and long industrial lines that have a certain ‘executive chic’ to them but which haven’t been particularly memorable.

Of course, its smartphones do stand alone in one particular area. Sony continues to double down on exceptionally tall 21:9 displays for its handsets, which means that while these phones usually have the same size screens across the diagonal as the competition, they are longer and thinner instead.

For certain kinds of content, particularly reading and social media scrolling, this has some concrete benefits and it helps one-handed usage considerably. If you have smaller hands or like to message on the go, the Xperia 5 III feels pretty darn great. The only drawback is that when you’re watching cinematic content that wasn’t filmed in this wide aspect ratio, the footage doesn’t quite fit the screen.

Aside from its unusual dimensions, the Xperia 5 III both looks and feels like a handset that costs just shy of four figures, with a few quality of life additions that will make a difference to the right kind of person. This includes the dedicated camera shutter button, which was once a mainstay on the phone market but has now been abandoned by all other than Sony. The other addition is the humble 3.5mm headphone jack, which offers music with none of the complications and frustrations of Bluetooth audio.

A slight drawback, however, is the slipperiness of the Xperia 5 III’s rear glass. Although glass-topped phones are nothing new, the Xperia 5 III has a tendency to dive off almost any surface with an unnerving enthusiasm – not ideal for a £900 investment.

Sony Xperia 5 III review: Display

The screen on the Sony Xperia 5 III might be a little thin, but it comes packing a boatload of marketing jargon to rival the very best in the business.

To begin with, it’s an FHD+ (2,520 x 1,080) OLED panel, which means it’s capable of displaying an inky looking black level and near perfect contrast. It’s also a high refresh display, with the screen updating at a maximum of 120Hz. Navigating UI and social media scrolling feels nice and fluid, and much more responsive than regular 60Hz screens.

Like last year, you can also activate a “Creator” colour profile in the phone’s settings, which is tuned to the BT.2020 colour gamut. Yet again, colour accuracy in this mode is absolutely astonishing, with a measured average Delta E (colour difference) of just 1.15. Do yourself a favour and switch to this mode as soon as you switch it on for the first time.

In fact, the only real downside to the Xperia 5 III’s display is the lack of brightness. Peaking at just 365cd/m2 while display HDR content, the Xperia 5 III lacks the oomph required to properly view HDR footage on Netflix and Prime Video in all its intended glory. As a point of comparison, we measured the iPhone 13 Pro’s screen at a retina-searing 1,014cd/m2.

Buy now from Sony


Sony Xperia 5 III review: Performance and battery life

With 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and a top-tier Snapdragon 888 processor as standard, the Xperia 5 III matches its competitors on every important spec-metric, and yet it still feels particularly fast.

Whether simply moving through the interface, loading complex web pages or launching graphically intensive games, everything is handled with aplomb. For most people this will be more than enough processing power for their daily needs - this is a fast smartphone, no question.

This general impression is born out by the Geekbench 5 test, with a single-core score of 1,121 and a multi-core score of 3,545. It’s also a cracking gaming handheld as well: fragging foes in CoD Mobile was all too easy, even with my rapidly aging gaming “skills”.

One unfortunate by-product of both the phone’s diminutive dimensions and the particular processor chosen is relatively poor thermal performance. If you use the Xperia in a particularly demanding way over a longer period of time, especially if it is charging, it gets a little too hot to handle and sometimes quite quickly.

In better news, the Xperia 5 III has decent staying power. On a typical 16-hour day, which consisted of listening to music, watching video, sending messages, browsing the web and making frequent calls, I managed around 5hrs of screen-on time before it was time to consider bringing the charger out. Running the Expert Reviews battery test, the Xperia 5 III managed 17hrs 55mins, which is pretty good but hardly exceptional.

The included 30W charger is capable of providing a 45% top-up in just 30 minutes of charging. Sony’s battery care mode, which limits charging speeds if the phone has been plugged in for a while, should help preserve long-term battery health as well.

READ NEXT: These are the best phones for long battery life available right now

Sony Xperia 5 III review: Cameras

Through an internal partnership with the teams responsible for Sony’s own Alpha lineup of mirrorless cameras, the Xperia 5 III has benefitted from a few inclusions that help it stand apart.

The first is the Xperia 5 III’s variable ‘liquid’ telephoto lens. This allows shooting at both 70mm and 105mm equivalent focal lengths through the use of a single lens and a wide variable aperture (f/2.3 and f/2.8 respectively). Each of the lenses also benefits from ZEISS T* coating, with blisteringly fast ‘Real-Time’ eye autofocus for both humans and animals as well.

However, it’s a shame that the camera app offers such a poor first impression. Sony’s cameras are often known for their obtuse interfaces, and it seems as though the pre-installed camera app on the Xperia 5 III has taken them as a design inspiration.

Changing settings feels needlessly complex. By default, the app is set to ‘Basic’ mode, however there is also an ‘Auto’ mode, with little offered to differentiate between the two. There are also standard PASM (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual) shooting modes for those that like to dabble.

Niggles with the camera app aside, image quality on the whole is good, though quite dependent on the lens used. Shots with the main camera are detailed and come with some pleasant colour saturation, though with a focus on keeping scenes more natural. I experienced a few issues with metering in bright scenes, with no option for spot metering as a remedy, so I was more reliant on the included HDR ‘backlight’ mode. This is subtle and did little to improve exposure across images.

Although it doesn’t benefit from a dedicated ‘Night mode’, in low-light the Xperia 5 III merges several long exposures captured over a few seconds to achieve a similar darkness-boosting effect. I actually really liked the Xperia 5 III’s nighttime pictures as well, which kept artificial brightness and any crazy colour saturation monstrosities to a minimum. However, I did notice that some low-light pictures looked quite washed out in comparison to the same scenes captured on the Pixel 5.

The Xperia 5 III’s ultrawide camera offers similar shot-for-shot performance as the main sensor, though it does suffer in low light. Both telephoto zoom ranges managed to produce sharp, well-exposed images, but there were some issues with stabilisation. With the longer 105mm lens in particular, it takes a particularly steady hand to avoid blurry images.

Of all the sensors, it was clear that the selfie sensor wasn’t the priority. At just 8MP it lacks in resolution compared to other options on the market and while this isn’t necessarily an indication of how well a camera performs, the images produced are soft and overly noisy.

Video tops out at 4k resolution at 30fps and captured footage had plenty of detail and nice-looking colours. The pre-installed Photography Pro app offers more granular control of the Xperia 5 III’s video settings, along with options for flatter LOG profiles.

As a phone camera for ‘normal’ people, the Sony Xperia 5 III fits the bill. Its images are mostly accomplished and good enough for sharing, but for pros and tinkerers, the obtuse menus and strangely laid-out app might be more than a little off-putting.

Buy now from Sony


Sony Xperia 5 III review: Verdict

In its heyday, in partnership with Ericsson, Sony was one of the biggest players in the mobile market. Ever since it split and entered the Android space on its own, it has been consistently trying (and sometimes succeeding) to reinvent the wheel to recapture a little of its past glory.

The Xperia 5 III is a testament to that ambition, showcasing a lot of what the company is good at. The camera arrangement is versatile, audio reproduction is great and the screen is vibrant and sharp. Battery life is a particular strong suit, and its long-tall design stands out once more.

But for issues with thermal performance, somewhat iffy pictures from the telephoto lenses and a high price, the Sony Xperia 5 III would otherwise be a simple recommendation. There are also much more do-it-all, generalist handsets at lower prices that may suit better, such as the Galaxy S21 and Pixel 6 Pro. The Sony Xperia 5 III is an accomplished smartphone, but it’s perhaps just a little too specialised to be an easy fit for the public at large.

Sony Xperia 5 III specifications
ProcessorOcta-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (1x2.84GHz, 3x2.42GHz, 4x1.8GHz)
RAM8GB
Screen size6.1in
Screen resolution2,520 x 1,080
Pixel density449ppi
Screen typeOLED
Screen refresh rate120Hz
Front camera8MP (f/2.0)
Rear camera12MP (f/1.7), 12MP (f/2.3) zoom, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
FlashLED
Dust and water resistanceIP65/68
3.5mm headphone jackYes
Wireless chargingYes (30W)
USB connection typeUSB-C
Storage options128GB; 256GB
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD
Wi-FiWi-Fi 6
Bluetooth5.2
NFCYes
Cellular data5G, 4G
Dual SIMYes (shared with microSD)
Dimensions (WDH)157 x 68 x 8.2mm
Weight168g
Operating systemAndroid 11
Battery size4,500mAh

Read more

Reviews