Sony Xperia 5 iii Review: Petite Android Phone With Camera Chops

Sony Xperia 5 iii Review: A Small, Premium, Imaging Flagship

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For a few years now, Sony’s been making premium, feature-rich, media-centric, flagship smartphones that incorporate technologies from its Alpha cameras, and target die-hard Sony customers. This niche strategy appears to be working for the company, as it continues to bring new handsets to market. In 2021, Sony launched the Xperia Pro ($2000), Xperia Pro-I ($1800), Xperia 1 iii ($1300), and Xperia5 iii ($1000).

Today we take a look at Sony's most affordable flagship, the Xperia 5 iii. If you’ve been keeping tabs, Sony’s “bread and butter” phones – if there is such a thing – are the Xperia 1 and 5 siblings, now in their third revision, hence the “Mark 3” (iii) moniker after the name. They mostly share specs each year, but the larger Xperia 1 packs a 6.5-inch 4k (3840x1644) display, while the smaller Xperia 5 comes with a 6.1-inch 1080p screen.

It’s worth pointing out that the Xperia 5 iii was originally announced nine months ago. That’s a long wait. We’re testing it because it’s finally available in the US, and it packs a trick telephoto shooter. Last time we reviewed a Sony handset was the Xperia 1 ii, back in 2020. So what’s changed with this third generation? Let's find out...

Sony Xperia 5 iii Hardware And Design

The Xperia 5 iii inherits the tall, narrow, and angular design language Sony introduced with the original Xperia 1 and 5. These proportions match the display’s 21:9 aspect ratio, but Sony’s phones have been channeling the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey for a while now. As you’d expect from a $1000 flagship, build quality and materials are top notch, but the shiny metal frame and glass back makes the Xperia 5 iii quite slippery.

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On the plus side, Sony took care to round off the edges and soften the corners slightly, making the Xperia 5 iii more comfortable to hold. It’s also smaller than most other flagships thanks to a 6.1-inch screen, and a compact 68mm (2.68in) width. That’s iPhone 13 mini territory, but since the top and bottom bezels incorporate the 8MP selfie camera, a notification LED, and dual speakers, the Xperia 5 iii is much taller than Apple’s diminutive handset.

Here in the US, color options include the usual glossy black (like our review unit) and a lovely forest green. Other markets also get a pink model. The Xperia 5 iii is IP68 water and dust resistant, but unlike it’s larger sibling, the Xperia 1 iii, it lacks wireless charging. Around the back, you’ll find a vertical camera pod in the top left corner. It only protrudes slightly, and is home to this phone’s Zeiss-branded triple 12MP camera system.

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Most controls are located on the right side of the Xperia 5 iii, including a volume rocker, power/lock key with an embedded capacitive fingerprint sensor, Google Assistant button, and two-stage shutter key. The USB Type-C port (USB 3.1) and primary mic live along the bottom edge, while a headphone jack and secondary mic live on top. You’ll find a dual SIM / microSD hybrid tray on the left side, which can be opened without a SIM tool. Clever.

Sony Xperia 5 iii
Specifications & Features
Processing and 5G Platform Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 + integrated Snapdragon X60 5G Modem 
Display 6.1" FHD+ (21:9) OLED, 2520x1080 resolution, 120Hz
Memory 8GB LPDDR5
Storage 128/256GB UFS 3.1 + microSD
Rear-Facing Cameras 12MP f/1.7 Main OIS, dual-pixel PDAF - 12MP f/2.2 135º Ultra-Wide PDAF - 12MP f/2.3 / f/28 3x / 4.4x "Variable" Telephoto OIS, PDAF
Front-Facing Cameras 8MP f/2.0
Video Recording Up to 4K @ 60fps, 1080p @ 60fps, 720p slow-mo
Battery 4500 mAh
OS Android 11
Dimensions 157 x 68 x 8.2mm
Weight 168 grams
Connectivity 802.11ax Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.2+LE, NFC, USB-C, LTE, 5G
Colors Black, Green, Pink
Pricing Find Sony's Xperia 5 iii @ Amazon, Starting at $998

Sony Xperia 5 iii Display Quality

What sets the Xperia 5 iii’s screen apart is the 21:9 aspect ratio, and the lack of hole punch or notch. Otherwise, it’s a beautiful, perfectly flat, 6.1-inch FHD+ (2520 x 1080 pixels, 449ppi) OLED panel with a 120Hz refresh rate and HDR support. The side bezels are very slim, but the top and bottom bezels are about 5mm (0.19in) tall to accommodate the 8MP selfie shooter, a notification LED, and the front-firing stereo speakers.

Overall, this display is really nice, but it doesn’t get nearly as bright as some of the panels on today’s best flagships. This is especially noticeable in direct sunlight.

Sony Xperia 5 iii Camera Performance And Image Quality

The Xperia 5 iii’s camera system is very similar to the triple 12MP setup we reviewed on the Xperia 1 ii, with one significant difference – or party trick, if you will: a variable telephoto. Well, “variable” probably isn’t quite the right word, since this periscope telephoto lens can only switch between two focal lengths (magnifications) and apertures: 70mm / 43-degree (3x zoom) at f/2.3, and 105mm / 23-degree (4.4x zoom) at f/2.8.

Still, that’s rather impressive, at least from a technical standpoint. This 12MP “variable” telephoto also features OIS and Sony’s IMX663, a 1/2.9-inch dual-pixel PDAF sensor with 1.2-micron pixels. Basically, it’s a major update over the Xperia 1 ii’s telephoto. Like before, the 24mm 12MP main shooter packs Sony’s IMX557, a 1/1.7-inch dual-pixel PDAF sensor with 1.8-micron pixels, paired with an f/1.7 82-degree OIS lens.

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As for the 16mm 12MP ultrawide, it uses Sony’s IMX363, a 1/2.55-inch dual-pixel PDAF sensor with 1.4-micron pixels, alongside an f/2.2 124-degree lens (no OIS). In front, the 24mm 8MP selfie camera features Samsung’s S5K4H7, a 1/4-inch sensor with 1.12-micron pixels, together with an f/2.0 84-degree lens (no AF or OIS). Clearly, Sony isn’t holding back with the Xperia 5 iii shooters, at least when it comes to specs.

With the default camera app, the Xperia 5 iii records stabilized 16:9 HDR video at up to 4K 30fps / 1080p 60fps with all three rear cameras and up to 1080p 30fps with the front shooter. Audio is captured in stereo, and Sony includes a wind filter setting to minimize wind noise. It’s also capable of recording stabilized 21:9 HDR video at 4k or 2k and 24, 25, 30, or 60fps with all three rear cameras (but not the front) using the Cinema Pro app.

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Xperia 5 iii ultrawide

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Xperia 5 iii main camera

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Xperia 5 iii (3x optical zoom)

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Xperia 5 iii (4.4x optical zoom)

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Xperia 5 iii (12.5x digital zoom)

Like with the Xperia 1 ii, the Cinema Pro app replicates some of the features available on Sony’s CineAlta video gear, including color science options (like Sony’s lovely Venice CS), pull focus functionality, and manual audio level adjustment. With the Xperia 5 iii, the previously separate Photo Pro app has been folded into the default camera app. As a result, there’s now a basic mode alongside Sony’s excellent Alpha photography features.

Basic mode is pretty much what you’d expect from a default camera app, and focuses on ease-of-use. It includes the following modes: bokeh (portrait), burst (20fps), slow motion (720p 120fps), portrait selfie, panorama, and creative effect (color filters). Like the Xperia 1 ii, the Xperia 5 iii automatically enables night and macro modes as needed, but unfortunately, there’s no way to override this behavior, which is annoying.

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Xperia 5 iii main camera (night mode)

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Xperia 5 iii ultrawide (night mode)

Another niggle we have with the camera app is that it doesn’t automatically switch lenses when zooming. You have to select the focal length first (0.6x, 1x, 3x, 4.4x), then digitally zoom within that focal length. So, to use the telephoto shooter, you either select 3x, which lets you zoom up to 4.4x, or you pick 4.4x, which allows you to zoom up to 12.5x. There’s simply no way to zoom continuously between 0.6x and 12.5x like on other phones.

Beyond basic mode, you also get most of the great features available on Sony’s Alpha cameras. This includes auto, program, shutter priority, manual, and memory recall modes, all wrapped in a user interface that replicates Sony’s familiar Alpha experience. Obviously, there’s no aperture priority mode, since the rear shooters have fixed apertures, but the virtual dials include haptic feedback, and the user experience is excellent.

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Xperia 5 iii "macro" (2x zoom)

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Xperia 5 iii selfie camera (portrait mode)

On the main camera, there’s also continuous auto-exposure plus continuous face and eye autofocus for both people and animals at 20fps whether you’re shooting photos or videos. The ultrawide and telephoto shooters offer the same functionality at 10fps. So if you want to be creative with photography and cinema-like video, the Xperia 5 iii is definitely the flagship for you. But this begs the question, are the results worth it?

Well, the answer really depends on what you’re looking for. If you expect to mash the shutter button in basic mode and consistently get Pixel, Galaxy, or iPhone-like results, the Xperia 5 iii isn’t the right handset for you. That’s not to say this camera system doesn’t capture quality pictures or videos (see our samples), it’s just that Sony’s computational photography chops aren’t quite in the same league as the competition.

If instead you’re familiar with Sony’s Alpha cameras, and want a similar experience on your phone – complete with Zeiss T* coated lenses – the Xperia 5 iii delivers. We like that no matter which mode you’re in, these shooters don’t over-process images, so there’s always enough headroom to develop your photos in your favorite photo editor. Just don’t expect to be wowed by the selfie camera – it’s mediocre at best.

Sony Xperia 5 iii Audio, Data, And Call Reception

We used the Xperia 5 iii primarily on T-Mobile’s sub-6GHz 5G network in San Francisco and around the Bay Area and didn’t experience any issues with calls or data connectivity. That being said, we never saw 5G on AT&T and Verizon’s networks despite all the right bands being listed in the specs. According to Sony, the Xperia 5 iii is certified for T-Mobile and Verizon’s 5G networks, but not AT&T's, so keep this in mind.

Obviously, 4G LTE connectivity works fine across the board, and while sub-6GHz 5G is on the menu, there’s no mmWave 5G support. Needless to say, that's disappointing at this price point.

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The good news is that audio performance is stellar. You get stereo speakers, a headphone jack with a quality DAC / amp, Dolby Atmos and 360 Reality Audio support, LDAC / aptX HD for Bluetooth, and even DSEE Ultimate (Sony’s upsampling algorithm). Our only complaint is that the headphone amp doesn’t get loud enough when driving high-impedance headphones and earbuds – like our trusted BeyerDynamic DT 990 Pro.

Sony Xperia 5 iii Performance And Battery Life

With a Snapdragon 888 on board, the Xperia 5 iii doesn’t pack Qualcomm’s latest and greatest chip. Then again, it was announced in April 2021, so we can’t fault Sony’s choice of SoC here, especially since it’s paired with 8GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 128GB of UFS 3.1 storage (256GB in some markets) – plus microSD support up to 1TB. Cleary, these are still potent specs, despite the looming tide of Snapdragon 8 Gen1 handsets.

And as you’d expect, performance is strong. The Xperia 5 iii ran everything we threw at it without any fuss, and we didn’t notice any pauses or stutters when juggling our usual suite of productivity, social media, and entertainment apps. It also handles gaming well, and even includes a dedicated gaming mode. But, like other Snapdragon-equipped 888 phones, the Xperia 5 iii gets pretty hot during sustained processor-intensive tasks.

geekbench 5 sony experia 5 iii

Unfortunately, our review unit was running pre-production software which prevented us from installing most of our standard benchmarks, and Sony wasn’t able to remove this limitation in time for this review. As such, we don’t have any benchmark results to share other than Geekbench (above). While we fully expect the Xperia 5 iii’s performance to match that of other Snapdragon 888-equipped handsets, that’s just empirical.

Battery life is fine, but not spectacular. In our experience, the 4500mAh cell didn’t have any difficulty powering the Xperia 5 iii through an entire day of normal use. Obviously, we saw a dip in battery life when recording 4K video or gaming for longer periods, but that’s to be expected. This handset supports 30W wired fast charging (USB PD), but sadly lacks wireless charging – unlike its larger sibling, the Xperia 1 iii. That’s a bummer.

As for the rest of the specs, the Xperia 5 iii matches other modern flagships. This includes WiFi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.2 (LE), NFC, and A-GPS/ GLONASS / BDS / Galileo / QZSS positioning, plus the usual assortment of sensors. Haptics are strong but don’t feel as refined as what we experienced with the Xperia 1 ii. The side-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor – which doubles as the power/lock key – is fast and reliable.

Sony Xperia 5 iii Software And User Experience

Out of the box, the Xperia 5 iii runs a mostly stock build Android 11, but an update to Android 12 is currently rolling out. Despite still running pre-production software (Android 11), our review unit delivered a smooth and clutter-free user experience. Sony’s flavor of Android is similar to Google and Moto’s, and we’re big fans of this approach. There’s no heavy skin getting in the way, and customizations are kept to a (useful) minimum.

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Basically, everything from the Google Discover feed to the app tray to the notification shade to the settings menu are left pretty much untouched. Tweaks include the aforementioned gaming mode, a one-handed mode, an app launching shortcut called “side sense”, and optimized charging through “battery care”. We described these features in more detail in our Xperia 1 ii review back in 2020, so go ahead and check it out.

When it comes to bloatware, the Xperia 5 iii is mostly free of unwanted preinstalled apps. Besides Google’s familiar suite of apps and Sony’s own apps (Photo Pro, Cinema Pro, Music), only Asphalt 9, Call of Duty, LinkedIn, Netflix, and Tidal come preinstalled. That’s pretty reasonable. It’s worth noting that these apps cannot be uninstalled, so you’ll have to disable them if you want to keep things bloatware free.

Sony Xperia 5 iii Final Verdict

There’s no doubt the Xperia 5 iii is an excellent phone. It’s a small, premium, and feature-rich flagship with a standout design and a trick telephoto shooter. We like the beautiful display, Alpha camera experience, superior audio features, solid performance, and clean software. But while it’s better than Sony’s previous phones, it still lacks some critical features, like better computational photography, broader 5G support, and wireless charging.

We might be able to gloss over these omissions, but considering the Xperia 5 iii is now months old and costs about $1000, that’s a hard sell. For that kind of money, you can buy Samsung’s outgoing Galaxy S21 Ultra (currently $945) or Google’s Pixel 6 Pro ($899) and have change left over. Not only are these two of the best imaging phones available today, they don’t skimp on full 5G support or wireless charging.

Ultimately, we appreciate what Sony’s shooting for with the Xperia 5 iii. There’s clear progress, this Xperia 5 iii is a step-up from previous-generations, and we think niche products are important, so we hope Sony continues to improve the line-up. We're just hoping for a more complete flagship package that doesn't omit some popular, key features, alongside those wonderful Alpha camera features. Bring it on, Sony.

  • Unique design
  • Gorgeous display
  • Trick “variable” telephoto shooter
  • Great “Pro” camera apps
  • Headphone jack
  • Stock Android
  • It’s nine months old
  • Mediocre selfie camera
  • Limited US 5G support
  • No wireless charging

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