There’s less competition in the mobile phone space than ever, especially in the US, where companies like LG and HTC have either left the game entirely or wasted time and market share with unpopular concepts. While companies like Motorola and Google have managed to convert many users into customers, it’s no secret that Samsung and Apple have thrived in this environment. Now is the perfect time for a dark horse like Sony to enter the fray. With the Xperia 5 IV, the company has the best chance yet.
Focused on content creation, this device promises to deliver features that other manufacturers abandoned years ago, setting it up to be a top choice for power users.
Unfortunately, getting your gorgeous headphone jack and microSD card back is going to cost you, and I don’t just mean cash. While the Xperia 5 IV is expensive, it also lacks some of what other smartphones – including more affordable options – provide. Some users may be missing that extra ingredient that would sway buyers to Sony’s side.
Sony Xperia 5 IV SPECIFICATIONS
- SoC: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
- Display: 6.1″ 21:9 OLED, 120Hz
- RAM: 8GB
- Storage: 128GB, expandable up to 1TB
- Battery: 5,000mAh
- Ports: USB-C, 3.5mm headphone jack
- Operating System: Android 12
- Front camera: 12MP f/2.0
- Rear cameras: 12MP f/1.7 wide lens with OIS; 12MP f/2.4 2.5x telephoto lens with OIS; 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide lens
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6e, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC
- Dimensions: 156 x 67 x 8.2 mm
- Colors: Black, Green
- Weight: 172g
- Price: $1,000
- Brand: Sony
Sony Xperia 5 IV: Availability and Network
As with all modern Sony phones, you won’t find the Xperia 5 IV in a carrier store. Instead, Sony prefers to sell directly to consumers, skipping any potential headaches from Verizon or AT&T store shelves. Unfortunately, this will limit its appeal to consumers who like to try a phone before they buy. Instead, you’ll have to buy it online through Sony directly or by being redirected to Best Buy or Amazon. Either way, it will only cost you $1,000.
Curiously, Sony removed some of the band support seen on the Xperia 5 III, leaving the 5 IV worse for wear when it comes to network compatibility. You should be able to get a strong LTE connection on Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile—along with all their MNVOs—although the 5 IV lacks band 71, the basic band for data connections in rural areas across the US. 5G is actually worse because there are no n2 and n71 bands. This will impact Verizon and T-Mobile customers. Finally, mmWave support for the n260 and n261 bands has disappeared.
This is a big disappointment compared to the Xperia 5 III which featured these bands. The further you live from major urban centers, the worse your connection will be. If you’re considering upgrading to this phone, consider taking your current device and downloading an app like Netmonitor that will show your current bands. For example, if you’re a T-Mobile customer dependent on band 71 for LTE coverage, I wouldn’t recommend buying the Xperia 5 IV.
Sony Xperia 5 IV: Design and display
Frankly, it’s impossible to talk about Sony’s design without first discussing the display, as the entire shape of the phone revolves around it. Sony continues to stick with the 21:9 aspect ratio, which makes the phone feel much narrower in the hand than your usual run-of-the-mill phablet. Although the company advertises it as a small smartphone, reaching anything at the top of the 6.1-inch screen — notifications, UI elements — still requires two hands, or at least squishing the phone in your palm. The Sony Xperia 5 IV doesn’t feel small and brings the same headaches as larger devices without the necessary width to make two-handed typing feel better.
Still, this design has a lot of advantages for a select group of use cases. Taking pictures while maintaining professional on-screen controls or watching the latest Christopher Nolan movie on HBO Max—an experience he’s sure to appreciate—makes the most of the extended display.
After all, Sony’s design philosophy is a bit too utilitarian in a world where hardware from Samsung, Google and even Apple continue to excel.
But with everything else, doing what you want to do is more difficult. Instagram Stories fill only half of the display, such as large bars covering the top and bottom of the screen. Likewise, YouTube videos and game streaming feel small. Any app built around using the width of the display will have similar problems since most phones aren’t that tall.
So, what about everything else? The design of the Sony Xperia 5 IV feels like the best Android hardware of 2017, for better or worse. Sony is perhaps the only smartphone brand that has resisted display cutouts for its front cameras. Instead, you’ll find top and bottom bezels that make this already tall phone even taller. The corners of the screen are still slightly rounded, but you probably won’t notice it compared to other devices.
The frosted glass on the back supports wireless charging without collecting too many fingerprints (smudges are off the table), and the metal frame is strong enough to prevent bending. This means that the phone is so light that it looks cheaper than it is. Of course, we’re used to flagships weighing well over 200 grams, so when something this light comes along, you have to remind yourself that this isn’t a cheap device.
After all, Sony’s design philosophy is a bit too utilitarian in a world where hardware from Samsung, Google and even Apple continue to excel. That said, the green variant – a Sony exclusive – gives this device a much-needed pop of colour, and if the Xperia 5 IV wins you over, I’d recommend picking this variant up.
Sony Xperia 5 IV: Hardware and what’s in the box
Sticking with the ‘2016 Android phone’ vibe, Sony has left behind a lot of hardware features that its competitors have killed off, starting with the top-mounted headphone jack. I also spent several hours listening to Spotify’s (very handy) audiophile playlist; although I didn’t think the audio sounded better or worse with a wired connection than with Bluetooth, fans of wired headphones will appreciate that the jack is still there. Just don’t expect any of the high-end audio we’ve experienced from LG.
The bottom of the phone has its own relic: a SIM card tray that doubles as a microSD card slot. Not only is expandable storage less and less available on flagship phones, but we’re likely looking at a future that will primarily depend on eSIMs as well. Sony’s slot is unique: you don’t need a SIM card tool or a paper clip to pull it out, so you have instant access to the microSD card slot whenever you need it. Although theoretically easy to pull out and lose, there are no problems with this design.
The Xperia 5 IV uses new covers to prevent rattling even at higher volumes, and the result is phenomenal.
Dual SIM fans, please note that this slot only works for one physical SIM card. You will need to register an eSIM to dial two numbers at the same time. The volume rocker and power button are on the right side of the bezel. I don’t mind the rocker – it’s snappy and responsive, although I wish it was a bit longer to make it easier to find just by touch.
However, the power button is quite frustrating. Even without the case, it’s too shallow for the Sony Xperia 5 IV, and I can’t imagine how it would feel with a case. The power button is also the phone’s fingerprint sensor, which proved to be just as unresponsive and imprecise as AP’s Stephen Schenck on the Xperia Pro-I.
Too often I’ve pulled my phone out of my pocket only to find it temporarily locked while trying to scan my palm like a fingerprint. The slightest amount of sweat would prevent the sensor from detecting my thumb or require me to wipe my shirt button. I recently spent a good part of the last month using the Galaxy Z Fold 4 as a daily driver, and the side sensor on this phone didn’t give me any problems. Sony has some tweaking to do with its combo buttons; they are too imprecise to be relied upon to unlock the phone right now.
As usual with Sony’s Xperia phones, you’ll also find the camera shutter button below the volume rocker and power button. It’s a nice addition for die-hard photographers with a two-step push that works well for focusing on a subject. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be remapable for those who take the occasional selfie. I couldn’t find any off-camera options in Sony’s settings menu, though perhaps some third-party software can change its function.
Finally, the bezels give Sony room to install some hefty front-facing stereo speakers. The Xperia 5 IV uses new covers to prevent rattling even at higher volumes, and the result is phenomenal. Despite the different sizes, I didn’t notice any imbalance between the left and right channels. While Bluetooth speakers will give you an excellent listening experience – especially for movies or music with heavy bass – this phone is as good as any for watching YouTube videos or browsing TV shows on the weekend.
In the box you will find a 30W fast charger, a USB-C cable, the usual information brochures and the phone itself.
Sony Xperia 5 IV: Software and performance
The Sony Xperia 5 IV comes with Android 12 tweaked with light skins from Sony. In general, the experience is as close to “stock Android” as you’ll find. Everything from the app drawer to the search bar at the bottom of the home screen is pretty close to what Google offers on its own devices, so most of the customization here comes from the pre-installed apps.
Sony is targeting creators and consumers with this phone, and the included software confirms that. A collection of imaging apps – Photography Pro, Video Pro and Cinema Pro – are some of the most important tools included.
Compared to an added feature from Google or Samsung — two companies that took drastically different paths when considering their UI approach but added something to the core Android experience — Xperia feels straight up like AOSP.
Unfortunately, this device is not immune to bloatware, including apps like LinkedIn, Tidal, Netflix, and Facebook. If you’re not interested in any of these apps, you’ll be displeased to find that they can’t be uninstalled. You can disable any of these apps in settings, but you won’t be able to completely remove them from your phone. Since you only get 128GB out of the box – on a phone focused on content creation – every gigabyte counts.
Overall, Sony’s software leaves something to be desired. Compared to the added features from Google or Samsung — two companies that took drastically different paths when considering their UI approach but added something to base Android — the Xperia experience (Xperi-ence?) feels straight AOSP.
There are some nice subtle touches, like the pixel-style search bar at the bottom of the home screen. However, I found the other additions unnecessary and distracting. Side sense, for example, is a floating window that is always available on the side of the screen, similar to One UI. (These panels are often more than helpful.)
The rest of the software experience makes the most of Sony’s creative ecosystem. There is a Game Enhancer app that allows for live streaming. There’s also a tool for wirelessly transferring photos and videos from supported Sony cameras, and an audio recording suite that promises studio-level quality. Voice recordings sound pretty solid – especially when you run them through Sony’s cloud processor. Unfortunately, it will cost you a monthly fee after the 100MB free trial expires.
The Sony Xperia 5 IV is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, which is approaching its first anniversary. It’s not necessarily a bad processor, but the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 provided a much-needed boost over this phone, thanks to a foundry swap that saw TSMC replace Samsung. Generally speaking, the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 runs much cooler than its older counterpart, although I didn’t experience any major heat issues with the Xperia 5 IV. The phone behaved during normal use and was warm but not hot in more intense situations like gaming.
Although I was running on a perfectly capable chip, some performance issues gave me serious headaches. At times, browsing apps like Instagram would make you feel jittery. The UI would tremble under my thumb, either too far or not far enough across my feed. The same thing happened when browsing the web in Chrome or selecting songs from Spotify.
None of this holds a candle to my experience with Android’s Back gesture. While you won’t find a curved display on the phone, it keeps things slim by minimizing the left and right bezels to the maximum. However, when I reached to the left side of the display and swiped back, it often failed to detect what I was trying to do. Instead, apps would sit still or — in Twitter’s case — open a sidebar instead of sending me the page back.
The Xperia 5 IV only seems to detect swiping from a very specific part of the screen, which is pretty unforgiving if you have bigger thumbs. My experience was more reliable when I held the phone in two hands and swiped back with my left thumb, but that ruins the one-handed concept promoted by Sony.
Sony Xperia 5 IV: Camera
Sony is marketing the Xperia 5 IV as a phone built specifically for content creators and consumers, with the triple-lens camera setup falling into the former category. However, rather than follow recent pixel-merging trends, this phone sticks with three 12MP lenses – the primary shooter, an ultra-wide sensor and a 2.5x telephoto lens.
If you’re willing to put in the time, you can take some pretty impressive photos. Sony’s camera user interface is based on its Alpha series, so fans of its DSLR line will feel right at home. Manual exposure, shutter speed priority and automatic program are available right from the start. Newbies will definitely find these tools overwhelming, which is probably why Sony is switching to basic mode instead. You can change the settings so that it opens in whatever mode you last used, but most people will rely on Basic mode for their photos.
Camera performance in low light, especially at dusk or when shooting with a zoom lens.
Basic mode is similar to the user interface of the camera of another smartphone. However, without the manual control provided by the other modes, the output is flat and undersaturated, especially compared to the advanced processing on phones from Google and Samsung. In many shots, the phone failed to capture a local park without blowing out the sky, while the Pixel 6 maintained that balance without a problem. The Xperia 5 IV made a partly cloudy day look completely overcast.
Xperia 5 IV telephoto lens vs. digital zoom on the Pixel 6. The Pixel 6 is sharp as hell, but it’s still the more usable photo.
In low light, the primary lens took acceptable shots, though I found it much slower than Google’s Pixel 7’s night mode. Unfortunately, the telephoto lens could not keep up. Taking photos at dusk with a 2.5x zoom lens in prime mode produces blurry and noisy photos that are not acceptable even for social media. A similar situation is with an ultra-wide lens, which works well in optimal lighting situations, but starts to lose detail after sunset.
The selfie camera is perfectly acceptable in daylight and can take decent pictures in low-light environments such as restaurants and bars. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to use basic mode to switch to the front-facing camera.
Sony’s video quality was more impressive than photo quality. The included Cinema Pro app can capture some pretty impressive shots, and the user interface is advanced without feeling overwhelming to newcomers. It can even record in 4K120 resolution, which looks mighty impressive on the Xperia 5 IV’s 120Hz display.
Since the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 tends to overheat, I made sure to test Sony’s 4K capture with Cinema Pro, recording at 4K30 for over fifteen minutes in 66-degree weather. Although the app warned of overheating every time I opened it, I couldn’t get the phone to heat up enough to stop recording. Your mileage will certainly vary in warmer climates, but if you’re looking to film your next vlog, the Xperia 5 IV will do the trick.
Sony Xperia 5 IV: Battery life
The Sony Xperia 5 IV has some of the best battery life I’ve seen on a phone in a long time.Granted, I’m at home and working most of the day, but on Wi-Fi there wasn’t a single day during testing where I ended up with less than 50 percent charge. That means streaming music or podcasts, browsing Twitter and other social media apps, tracking your run through Google Fit, and messaging, all at 120Hz. I also didn’t notice a major drop in battery life when I was out shooting for this review, although the 4K recording is enough to finally start dropping that percentage in a meaningful way.
For whatever reason, Sony’s software would constantly show its battery usage graph as just disconnected from the charger, regardless of when it was actually last connected. This made charting how long the phone would last on a single charge difficult, but for most buyers, that doesn’t matter. If you are thinking of getting this phone, rest assured that it will see you through the day.
Sony Xperia 5 IV: Should you buy it?
I’ve spent this entire year hoping that someone would burst onto the US mobile scene to compete with the likes of Google and Motorola while giving Android users an alternative to Samsung. Finally, with the Xperia 5 IV, Sony is closer than ever to being that company – and yet this phone misses the mark in some key ways.
Admittedly, some of my gripes with this phone boil down to personal choice. I’m not in love with the design, but you might be – and even if you’re not, some of the “old” features on display might be enough to win you over. In 2022, it’s hard to find a flagship with a headphone jack, front-facing stereo speakers and a microSD card slot, but Sony has done it. I’d also hesitate to call it a small phone, but the narrow 21:9 aspect ratio is sure to excite some fans.
However, the other issues aren’t enough to make me overlook them. The software feels sketchy and the update schedule leaves a lot to be desired. The camera can take pretty great pictures with enough patience and practice, but if you’re looking for the mobile equivalent of a point-and-shoot camera, you’re better off with the Pixel 7. The Xperia 5 IV’s fingerprint sensor borders on useless, and it’s missing some key bands for reliable 4G and 5G coverage.
For these reasons, you should probably not buy the Sony Xperia 5 IV. At just under $1,000, there are simply too many compromises to recommend this phone to the average consumer. That said, Sony has built a fan base with its recent Xperia phones, and the Xperia 5 IV is sure to please that group. If you’re in the demographic Sony’s going after here — content creators and, to a lesser extent, content consumers — it’s worth considering. Most shoppers will be better served by the Galaxy S22 or Pixel 7 Pro. Still, if you miss the days when LG and HTC offered power users impressive hardware, the Xperia 5 IV might be just what your nostalgia ordered.