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 on unpopular concepts. Although companies like Motorola and Google managed to convert many users into customers, it’s no secret that Samsung and Apple have flourished in this environment. Now is the perfect time for a dark horse like Sony to enter the competition. With the Xperia 5 IV, the company has its best chance yet.

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Focused on content creation, this device promises to deliver on features that other manufacturers left behind years ago, setting it up to become a top-tier pick for power users.

Unfortunately, getting back your glorious headphone jack and microSD card will cost you, and I don’t just mean in cash. While the Xperia 5 IV is expensive, it’s also missing some of the polish that other smartphones — including more affordable options — provide. For some users, it might be missing that extra ingredient to sway buyers to Sony’s side.

Sony’s latest smartphone is focused on creators and content consumption, packing some impressive features into a relatively compact device. Unfortunately, it’s pretty expensive compared to the competition, and the lack of carrier support — and some key US bands — might stop its core audience from buying it.

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
Pros

  • It might not be shorter than most phones, but it’s certainly narrower
  • Multi-day battery life
  • Some excellent creator-focused tools and apps
Cons

  • You’ll need to be comfortable shooting manually to capture good shots
  • Difficult to buy, and missing some must-have bands
  • Some back gesture weirdness

Buy This Product

Sony Xperia 5 IV: Availability and network

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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 being on shelves in Verizon or AT&T stores. Unfortunately, that’ll limit its appeal to consumers who like to try a phone out before purchasing. Instead, you’ll need to buy it online through Sony directly or by heading to Best Buy or Amazon. Either way, it’ll run you just shy of $1,000.

Strangely, Sony has removed some of the band support seen in 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 of their MNVOs — though the 5 IV is missing band 71, an essential band for connecting to data in rural areas throughout the US. 5G is actually worse off, as bands n2 and n71 aren’t here. That’ll impact Verizon and T-Mobile customers. Finally, support for mmWave bands n260 and n261 has disappeared.

That’s a major disappointment compared to the Xperia 5 III, which featured these bands. The farther away you live from major city centers, the worse off your connection is likely to be. If you’re thinking of upgrading to this phone, consider grabbing your current device and downloading an app like Netmonitor, which will display your current bands. If you’re, for example, a T-Mobile customer reliant on band 71 for LTE coverage, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing the Xperia 5 IV.

Sony Xperia 5 IV: Design and display

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Frankly, it’s impossible to talk about Sony’s design without first discussing the display, as the phone’s entire shape revolves around it. Sony continues to stick with a 21:9 aspect ratio, making the phone much narrower in-hand than your usual run-of-the-mill “phablet.” Although the company advertises this as a small smartphone, reaching anything along the top of the 6.1-inch screen — notifications, UI elements — still requires two hands or, at least, shuffling the phone up your palm. The Sony Xperia 5 IV doesn’t feel small, and it delivers the same headaches as larger devices without the necessary width to make two-handed typing feel better.

Still, this design has plenty of merit for a select group of use cases. Taking photos while keeping pro controls on screen or watching Christopher Nolan’s latest movie on HBO Max — an experience I’m sure he’d appreciate — makes the most of the elongated display.

Ultimately, Sony’s design philosophy is a little too utilitarian in a world where hardware from Samsung, Google, and even Apple continues to stand out.

For everything else, though, doing what you want to do feels more difficult. Instagram Stories only fill half of the display, for example, with large bars covering the top and bottom of the screen. Likewise, YouTube videos and game streaming feel minuscule. Any application built around taking advantage of the width of the display will feature similar issues, as most phones aren’t this tall.

So, what about everything else? The Sony Xperia 5 IV’s design feels like the best Android hardware from 2017, for better or worse. Sony is perhaps the only smartphone brand that has resisted display cutouts for its front-facing cameras. Instead, you’ll find top and bottom bezels, making this already-tall phone even taller. The screen corners are ever-so-slightly rounded, but you probably won’t notice compared to other devices.

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The matte glass on the back supports wireless charging without gathering too many fingerprints (smudges aren’t off the table), and the metal frame is sturdy enough to prevent flexing. That said, the phone is so lightweight it almost feels cheaper than it is. Of course, we’ve grown used to flagships weighing well over 200 grams, so when something this light comes along, you have to remind yourself that it’s not a budget device.

Ultimately, Sony’s design philosophy is a little too utilitarian in a world where hardware from Samsung, Google, and even Apple continues to stand out. That said, the green variant — a Sony exclusive — adds a much-needed splash of color to this device, and I’d recommend picking up that variant if the Xperia 5 IV wins you over.

Sony Xperia 5 IV: Hardware and what’s in the box

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Sticking with the “Android phone from 2016” vibes, Sony has kept around plenty of hardware features that its rivals have killed off, starting with the top-mounted headphone jack. Also, I spent a couple of hours listening to Spotify’s (very handy) audiophile playlist; while I didn’t think the audio sounded any better or worse with a wired connection than with Bluetooth, fans of wired earbuds will appreciate the jack’s still here. Just don’t expect any of the high-end sounds we used to experience from LG.

The bottom of the phone features a relic of its own: a SIM card tray pulling double-duty as a microSD card slot. Not only has expandable storage become less and less available on flagship phones, but we’re likely looking at a future relying primarily on eSIM as well. Sony’s tray is unique: you don’t need a SIM card tool or paperclip to pull it out, giving you immediate access to the microSD card slot whenever you need it. Despite theoretically being easy to pull out and lose, this design has no issues.

The Xperia 5 IV uses new enclosures to avoid rattling, even at higher volumes, and the result is phenomenal.

Dual SIM fans, remember that this slot only works for one physical SIM card. You’ll need to sign up for an eSIM to rock two numbers simultaneously. The volume rocker and power button are along the right side of the frame. I don’t mind the rocker — it’s clicky and responsive, although I wish it were a little longer to make it easier to find on touch alone.

The power button, however, is quite frustrating. Even without a case on the Sony Xperia 5 IV, it’s too shallow, and I can’t imagine what it would feel like with a case. The power button is also the phone’s fingerprint sensor, which has proven as unresponsive and inaccurate as AP’s Stephen Schenck found on the Xperia Pro-I.

Too often, I’d pull the phone out of my pocket, only to find it temporarily locked while trying to scan my palm as a fingerprint. The slightest amount of sweat would stop the sensor from detecting my thumb or would require me to wipe off the button with my shirt. I recently spent much of the last month using the Galaxy Z Fold 4 as my daily driver, and the side-mounted sensor on that phone gave me no issues. Sony has some work to do in tuning its combination buttons; they’re just too inaccurate right now to rely on for unlocking the phone.

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As is usual for Sony’s Xperia phones, you’ll also find a camera shutter button below the volume rocker and power button. It’s a nice addition for die-hard photographers, with a two-stage press that works well for focusing on a subject. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem remappable for those who take the occasional selfie. I couldn’t find any non-camera options in Sony’s settings menu, though perhaps some third-party software can change its function.

Finally, the bezels give Sony the space to install some beefy front-firing stereo speakers. The Xperia 5 IV uses new enclosures to avoid rattling, even at higher volumes, and the result is phenomenal. Despite the different sizes, I noticed no imbalance between the left and right channels. While Bluetooth speakers will give you a superior listening experience — especially for bass-heavy movies or music — this phone is as good as any for watching videos on YouTube or binging through TV shows on the weekend.

In the box, you’ll find a 30W fast charger, a USB-C cable, the usual informational booklets, and the phone itself.

Sony Xperia 5 IV: Software and performance

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The Sony Xperia 5 IV ships with Android 12 enhanced with some light skinning from Sony. Generally, this experience is about as close to “stock Android” as you’ll find. Everything from the app drawer to the search bar along 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 preloaded apps.

Sony’s focused on creators and consumers with this phone, and the bundled software confirms this. The collection of imaging apps — Photography Pro, Video Pro, and Cinema Pro — are some of the most essential tools included.

Compared to the added functionality by Google or Samsung — two companies taking drastically different routes when considering their UI approach but adding something to the base Android experience — the Xperia experience feels straight out of AOSP.

Unfortunately, this device isn’t immune to bloatware, including apps like LinkedIn, Tidal, Netflix, and Facebook. If you’re uninterested in any of these apps, you’ll be displeased to learn they can’t be uninstalled. You’re free to disable any of these applications in settings, but you won’t be able to remove them from your phone completely. Considering 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 functionality by Google or Samsung — two companies taking drastically different routes when considering their UI approach but adding something to the base Android experience — the Xperia experience (Xperi-ence?) feels straight out of AOSP.

There are some nice subtle touches, like the Pixel-esque search bar at the bottom of the home screen. Other additions, however, felt pointless and distracting. Side sense, for example, is a floating window available along the side of your screen at all times, similar to a One UI tool. (These panels are often in the way more than useful.)

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The rest of the software experience makes the most of Sony’s creation-focused ecosystem. There’s a Game Enhancer app that allows live streaming. There’s also a tool for transferring photos and videos wirelessly from supported Sony cameras and an audio recording suite that promises studio-level quality. Voice recordings sound pretty solid — especially once you run them through Sony’s cloud processing suite. Unfortunately, it’ll cost you a monthly fee once your free 100MB trial is up.

The Sony Xperia 5 IV is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, a chipset nearing its first anniversary. It’s not necessarily a bad processor, but the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 provided much-needed improvements over this phone, thanks to a foundry swap that saw TSMC replacing Samsung. Generally speaking, the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 runs much cooler than its older counterpart, though I didn’t notice any major heat issues with the Xperia 5 IV. The phone kept cool during regular use, and it felt warm but not hot in more intensive situations like gaming.

Despite running on a perfectly powerful chip, some performance issues gave me some serious headaches. Occasionally, scrolling through apps like Instagram would feel janky. The UI would jitter under my thumb, either scrolling too far or not far enough through my feed. The same thing happened when browsing the web on Chrome or when selecting songs from Spotify.

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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 does keep things slim by minimizing the left and right bezels as much as possible. However, reaching over to the left side of the display to swipe back often failed to detect what I was trying to do. Instead, apps would sit motionlessly or — in the case of Twitter — open the sidebar rather than send me back a page.

It seems like the Xperia 5 IV only detects swipes from a very specific portion of the screen, one that’s pretty unforgiving if you have larger thumbs. My experience was more reliable if 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

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Sony markets the Xperia 5 IV as a phone made specifically for content creators and content consumers, with the triple-lens camera setup falling into the former category. However, rather than follow recent pixel-binning trends, this phone sticks with three 12MP lenses — a primary shooter, an ultra-wide sensor, and a 2.5x telephoto.

If you’re willing to put in the time, you can take some pretty impressive photos. Sony’s camera UI is based on its Alpha series, so fans of its DSLR line will feel right at home. Manual exposure, shutter speed priority, and program auto modes are all available right from the jump. These tools will definitely feel overwhelming to newcomers, which is likely why Sony defaults to its Basic mode instead. You can change your settings to open on whatever mode you last used, but most people will rely on Basic mode for their photos.

The camera’s low-light performance, especially around dusk or when shooting with the zoom lens.

Basic mode is similar to any other smartphone camera UI. However, without the manual controls provided by the other modes, the output is flat and unsaturated, especially compared to the advanced processing on phones from Google and Samsung. In many shots, the phone couldn’t capture the local park without blowing out the sky, while the Pixel 6 kept this balance without an issue. The Xperia 5 IV made a partly cloudy day look completely overcast.

The Xperia 5 IV’s telephoto lens vs. digital zoom on the Pixel 6. The Pixel 6 is sharpened to hell, but it’s still the more usable photo.

In low light, the primary lens captured acceptable shots, although it felt far slower than Night Mode on Google’s Pixel 7. Unfortunately, the telephoto lens couldn’t keep up. Snapping photos at dusk with the 2.5x zoom lens in Basic mode produces blurry and noisy photos that aren’t even acceptable for social media. It’s a similar situation with the ultra-wide lens, which does fine in optimal lighting situations but begins to lose detail once the sun sets.

The selfie camera is totally acceptable in daylight, and can even get some decent shots in low-light environments like restaurants and bars. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to use Basic mode to swap to the front-facing camera.

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Sony’s video quality was more impressive than the photo quality. The included Cinema Pro app can capture some pretty impressive shots, and the UI is advanced without feeling overwhelming for newcomers. It can even record at 4K120, which looks mighty impressive on the Xperia 5 IV’s 120Hz display.

Because the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is notable for overheating, I made sure to test out Sony’s 4K capture using the Cinema Pro app, recording at 4K30 for over fifteen minutes in 66-degree weather. Despite the app delivering a warning about overheating every time you open it, I wasn’t able to make the phone hot enough to stop recording. Your mileage will definitely vary in warmer climates, but if you’re looking to shoot your next vlog, the Xperia 5 IV can handle it.

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 most of the day working, but on Wi-Fi, there wasn’t a single day in my testing where I ended below 50 percent on a charge. That’s with music or podcast streaming, browsing Twitter and other social media apps, tracking a run through Google Fit, and messaging, all at 120Hz. I also didn’t notice a major drop in battery life while out on a walk taking photos for this review, though 4K recording is enough to finally start getting that percentage to drop in a meaningful way.

For whatever reason, Sony’s software would constantly show its battery usage chart as having just disconnected from a charger, no matter when it was actually last plugged in. It made charting out how long the phone was lasting on a single charge difficult, but for most buyers, it won’t matter. If you’re thinking of picking up this phone, rest assured it’ll get 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 another alternative from Samsung. Finally, with the Xperia 5 IV, Sony is closer than ever to being this 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 this design, but you might be — and even if you aren’t, some of the “old-school” features on display might be enough to win you over. It’s difficult to find a flagship phone with a headphone jack, front-facing stereo speakers, and a microSD card slot in 2022, but Sony’s done it. I’d also hesitate to call it a small phone, but the narrow 21:9 aspect ratio is sure to thrill some fans.

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Other issues, however, aren’t enough for me to overlook. The software feels underbaked, and the update schedule leaves a lot to be desired. The camera can take some pretty great shots 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 fingerprint sensor borders on useless, and it’s missing some key bands for reliable 4G and 5G coverage.

For these reasons, you probably shouldn’t buy the Sony Xperia 5 IV. Priced just shy of $1,000, there are just too many compromises to recommend this phone to a general consumer. That said, Sony has built a fanbase with its recent Xperia phones, and the Xperia 5 IV is sure to delight that group. If you’re in the demographic Sony is chasing here — content creators and, to a lesser extent, content consumers — it’s worth considering. Most shoppers will be better served by a Galaxy S22 or a Pixel 7 Pro. Still, if you miss the days when LG and HTC offered power users some impressive hardware, the Xperia 5 IV might be just what your nostalgia ordered.

Buy it if…

  • You miss once-standard smartphone features, like headphone jacks and microSD slots.
  • You love shooting your photos or videos in manual mode.
  • You’re deep in the Sony ecosystem.

Don’t buy it if…

  • You prefer to shoot first and adjust image settings later.
  • You want a phone with a reliable software update schedule.
  • You’re looking for value in your smartphone purchase.

FAQ

Q: How does the Sony Xperia 5 IV compare to the Google Pixel 7 Pro?

Google and Sony released their latest flagship phones before the holiday season, but they’re different. For the Pixel 7 Pro, Google has taken a more modern approach, with a massive 6.7″ curved display, a hole punch design for the selfie cam, and no headphone jack. Sony’s phone, by comparison, feels pretty tiny and comes packed with power user tools like a headphone jack, a notification LED, and a microSD card.

The biggest differences might come from the camera array. Google is focused on its AI processing, but it might be too overpowering for anyone who prefers manual mode. Sony, meanwhile, wants you to shoot everything manually and then fine-tune your image until it’s just how you want it to look. The Pixel 7 Pro is $100 cheaper and widely available in carrier stores, while you’ll need to order the Xperia 5 IV online.

Q: How does the Sony Xperia 5 IV compare to the Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro?

Both the Sony Xperia 5 IV and Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro are power user devices for those who feel abandoned by Samsung and Google. Sony has focused its efforts on content creation, with an impressive manual photo mode, dedicated apps for recording video and audio, and a game streaming mode. Asus, meanwhile, focuses on gaming.

The ROG Phone 6 Pro has a litany of accessories, including a controller dock, and aims to provide silky-smooth performance on mobile titles and cloud platforms. Both devices are expensive and niche, so if you’re stuck picking between the two, decide how important camera quality is to you. While the Xperia 5 IV can take some solid shots, the same can’t be said for the ROG Phone.

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