Sony announces the Xperia 5 II with 120Hz screen and actually useful game enhancements

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Sony is continuing its refresh of its smartphone line to focus on photography and video with the new Xperia 5 II. It’s the smaller sibling of the very tall and weirdly expensive Xperia 1 II, and this newer phone betters it in several regards. It’s cheaper, for one thing, going on sale on September 29th for $949. The other major improvement is that Sony has put in a high-refresh-rate 120Hz panel.

Oddly, though, Sony says it’s not shipping until December 4th and even more oddly, it will have 5G but won’t work with the 5G networks in the US — just like the Xperia 1 II.

The basic idea of the Xperia 5 II is that it’s a phone with a tall 21:9 screen, but it’s relatively small at 6.1-inches. That sounds big, but since it’s so tall it works out to only about 2.68 inches wide. It’s a much more pocketable phone than the Xperia 1 II.

It features fairly standard flagship specs for 2020: a Snapdragon 865 processor, 4,000 mAh battery, and the aforementioned 120Hz refresh rate display. Sony is also sticking with dual front-facing stereo speakers and a traditional headphone jack, both of which are formally classified as endangered species now. Unfortunately, there’s no wireless charging.

As for cameras, the Xperia 5 II has the now-standard three-camera array on the back. Sony’s focus on photography means that it prefers to label them with their 35mm focal length equivalents: 16mm, 24mm, and 70mm.

Sony is claiming to be the first smartphone to be able to record slow motion at 120FPS in 4K HDR. I’ll be curious to see how that works and also to see if the Xperia 5 II improves on the video quality in the previous one. Sony’s pro video app lets you have a lot of control over video settings and to package clips into projects for easier editing.

Really, though, the Xperia line’s claim to fame with the camera is with auto focus and capture speed. Like the Xperia 1 II, the Xperia 5 II features Sony’s best-in-class autofocus, which can lock on to a human or pet’s eye and keep that focus tack sharp with surprising speed — up to 60 times per second. It can also do burst mode shooting at 20fps.

Maybe the most interesting photography feature is that you can set the Xperia 5 II to be a direct tethered upload machine for one of Sony’s newer mirrorless cameras. It’s not the equivalent of full USB tethering on a desktop, but it is much faster and more efficient than the usual Wi-Fi solutions offered on cameras these days.

Sony is also talking up the Xperia 5 II’s gaming features — and for the first time in forever I think an Android gaming phone might have features that are more than just gimmicks. Sony’s angle is that the 120Hz refresh rate includes a 240Hz touch scanning rate, but that’s not the big deal to me.

Sony has a game enhancer mode, like many phones, but its mode has some genuinely useful features. That’s not something I ever expected to write about game enhancer software on an Android phone.

You can directly set and lock the screen’s refresh rate, motion blur, and touch response speed. More interestingly there is a power bypass feature — it lets you set the phone to draw power directly from a USB-C cable without charging the battery. That significantly reduces heat, which means all the silicon can run better. Sony also has added a graphene heat sink to draw heat away from the main board.

In all, the Xperia 5 II sounds like a fascinating phone with unique features and infuriating drawbacks. But if you’re deep into Sony’s camera ecosystem, it could be a good choice. A better choice might be to wait for the Xperia Pro, which has been announced but still not detailed beyond one key photography feature — using your phone as an external HDMI monitor for a video camera. Presumably by the time the Xperia 5 II launches in December, we’ll have heard more.

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