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The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact: Or, Why You Don’t Need A Phablet In 2016

Damien McFerran on why you don’t need a massive phone in 2016 to enjoy all the benefits associated with a flagship

When the Nexus 6 was released I wrote a piece about how I was initially quite skeptical about the gargantuan size of Google’s flagship phone, but having laid hands on it, became something of a convert. Sure, the Motorola-made phablet had pocket-busting proportions but on the upside, it boasted a gorgeous screen which enriched pretty much every activity, from browsing the web to watching movies and playing games.

You might assume that since then I’ve been a vocal supporter of the legions of big-screen handsets that have flooded the market; most Android hardware manufacturers have embraced the “bigger is better” approach and we seem to have arrived at an “accepted average” of around 5.5-inches for screens, with some even venturing in the 6-inch territory of the aforementioned Nexus 6.

However, I have to admit that despite my initial affection for monstrous mobiles, I’ve found myself gravitating back towards more manageable offerings. The Galaxy S6 made me realise that perhaps having a tablet-sized device in my jeans might not be the way forward, while the Nexus 5X proved that even Google itself was having second thoughts.

This trend looks set to continue into 2016 as well. Samsung has drawn a clear line in the sand with its 2016 flagships; the Galaxy S7 has a 5.1in display, while the Galaxy S7 EDGE has a 5.5in panel. This is markedly similar to what Apple does with its iPhones. And guess what — the small iPhone is far more popular than the Plus model.

Perhaps this is why Apple is releasing a smaller, 4in iPhone dubbed the iPhone SE on March 21. Perhaps Apple realises there is a very real demand amongst current iPhone 6, iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c users for a smaller phone with a 4in handset. I mean, the company shifted around 20 million iPhone 5c units back in the day. Can you imagine how many it’d do if the phone was marketed as “an iPhone, just with a smaller display”!?

Now, almost a year to the day that my Nexus 6 first arrived, I find myself cradling a handset with a 4.6-inch display. For some Android users, that will seem like the mobile equivalent of reverting back to VHS after months of advocating Blu-Ray.

The phone in question is the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact, and it’s a handset which could well be the last of its kind. Unlike its rivals, which produce scaled-down “mini” versions of their flagship phones but saddle them with vastly weaker internals, Sony has, once again, given the Z5 Compact parity with the full-blown Xperia Z5.

It has the same Snapdragon 810 processor, 32GB of storage, fingerprint scanner and an identical 23 megapixel camera. It has a lower-resolution display, not always a bad thing, see HERE for why, and 2GB of RAM instead of 3GB, but these are barely noticeably differences in everyday use.

In short, Sony has given buyers a genuine choice: you can have the big-screen experience with the 5.2-inch Z5, or have something that’s friendly on your fingers and pockets with the Z5 Compact and not lose out on power or features. It’s not a case of getting a significantly weaker phone just because you don’t want a massive slab in your trousers.

It would appear this theory is now gathering traction in the wider mobile space as well. LG’s new G5 handset is smaller than its predecessor and Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 range is clearly divided up between “phablet” and “normal” phones with the Galaxy S7 coming in at 5.1in while the EDGE version packs in a larger 5.5in QHD panel.

My experience with the Z5 Compact has been enlightening. Where I assumed the Nexus 6 would be too large, I feared Sony’s handset would be too small – would I really be able to revert to such a small screen after months of using handsets with roomy 5-inch (or more) displays? Wouldn’t it be hard to read text, watch video or browse websites? As it turns out, such reservations were unfounded. I probably should have reminded myself that not so long ago, I was rocking the Nexus 4 with a similarly-sized screen, and had no complaints with that particular handset.

While iOS fans might be reading this and wondering what all the fuss is about, especially as the iPhone 6S has a screen which is only 0.1 of an inch larger than the Z5 Compact’s, for Android users, the fact that Sony seems to be the only phone maker catering for the smaller end of the market should be worrying.

The company has recently launched the Z5 range in North America after a long delay (and minus the fingerprint scanner), which would suggest that it hasn’t been the commercial success it should have been in other parts of the world. That potentially means that the Z5 Compact could be the final time Sony attempts to create a phone for those with an aversion to phablets, which in my eyes, would be a disaster.

Having dabbled with the Nexus 6, mucked around with the 5.5-inch Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 and wrapped my digits around the Nexus 5X, the Z5 Compact is the first phone that has genuinely felt comfortable in my palm — I feel like I’ve pushed the boundaries of screen size and now returned to smartphone equilibrium.

Prior to the phablet invasion the late Steve Jobs famously stated that no one would want to buy big screen phones, and while some might point to the iPhone 6 Plus range as evidence that the Apple co-founded was wrong, I actually think he was spot-on.

Android phone makers may have embraced the phablet approach and Apple may have produced a big-screen variant to appease market trends, but the continued dominance of the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 6S, as well as the upcoming release of the rumoured iPhone 5se, suggests to me that Jony Ive and his team of designers at Cupertino are of the same mindset as I am: bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, especially when it comes to usability, mobility and general ergonomics.

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