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.
The Home Depot is selling Google’s new Chromecast before it’s been announced
Google’s Pixel 5 event is scheduled for this Wednesday, but some of the company’s other new gadgets are already appearing on store shelves. That includes its all-new Chromecast, which some savvy buyers have been able to purchase directly in-store from retailers like Walmart and The Home Depot over the course of the last week.
The Sports Grind Entertainment has purchased one such device from The Home Depot and can confirm the retailer is not stopping customers from checking out and taking the pre-release product home.
Not all stores appear to be selling the item; we tried two and only found the new Chromecast at a second location. And inputting the universal product code listed on the receipt into the retailer’s website returns no results, so it would appear you can only purchase it early in person.
The receipt doesn’t even say Chromecast on it; it just lists the device as “SABRINA-ABBEY ROCK CANDY,” which is the hardware’s codename (and another clue that the Chromecast is being sold ahead of schedule). Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
We’ve seen plenty about the new streaming dongle pop up in leaks, including its new oval design and Google’s first dedicated Chromecast remote. But thanks to these early sales, we’re getting a whole lot more information than we usually do ahead of release. Here are some big takeaways, gleaned both from our own experience and that of others who’ve held Q&A’s on Reddit and elsewhere:
- The device costs $49.99
- The codename is indeed “Sabrina,” as early leaks suggest because it’s printed on the receipt itself (in full as Sabrina-Abbey, although it’s unclear exactly what Abbey means or what it may be referencing)
- It comes in a white finish that Google calls “snow”
- It runs a rebranded version of Android TV called Google TV (not to be confused with Google’s other defunct smart TV platform of the same name first released 10 years ago)
We’ll have more to share about the new Chromecast soon. Google’s official Pixel 5 hardware event — where it plans to announce the new Chromecast alongside other new hardware, including a speaker from Nest — is scheduled for 2PM ET on Wednesday, September 30th.
Roku is adding Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit to its 4K devices
Roku’s next major OS update is going to be a doozy: the company revealed today that it will support Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit on select 4K players and TVs. You’ll be able to cast content from your iOS or Mac devices, just like with any other AirPlay-compatible TV, as well as control all of your compatible smart home gear. So chin up Roku fans with Apple TV envy, your streaming lives are going to get a bit easier.
The Apple integration will arrive later this year as part of Roku OS 9.4. Reps also say that most of the company’s 4K devices will support AirPlay 2, except for the aging Roku 4.
A week with the Xbox Series X: load times, game performance, and more
I’ve spent the past week with an Xbox Series X in my living room. I’ve played a variety of games on this preview unit, testing load times, performance, and some of the new Series X features. I switched back to an older Xbox One X briefly during testing, and it was like going from cable internet back to the days of a 56k modem. That’s how much the Xbox Series X improves the games you already play every day. Everything just feels better.
As this is a preview console, I was limited to focusing on three areas for this initial hands-on: backward-compatible games, load times, and the new Quick Resume feature. I’m going to focus on my impressions of using an Xbox Series X over the past week and the solid performance improvements I’ve seen across a variety of games. We’ve already covered our initial hardware impressions of both the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, alongside the new controller and 1TB expansion card. You can find more about the hardware right here:
The most significant and obvious improvement with existing games on the Xbox Series X is the massive changes to load times. I noticed load times drop in pretty much every single game I’ve tested over the past week. Games like Sea of Thieves, Warframe, and Destiny 2 have their load times cut by up to a minute or more on the Series X.
In Destiny 2, for example, I can now load into a planet in the game in around 30 seconds, compared to over a minute later on an Xbox One X and nearly two minutes in total on a standard Xbox One. These improved load times are identical to my custom-built PC that includes a fast NVMe SSD, and they genuinely transform how you play the game — you can get more quests and tasks done instead of sitting and looking at a planet loading.
Xbox Series X load times
|Game||Xbox Series X||Xbox One X|
|Game||Xbox Series X||Xbox One X|
|CoD: Warzone||16 seconds||21 seconds|
|Red Dead Redemption 2||52 seconds||1 min, 35 seconds|
|The Outer Worlds||6 seconds||27 seconds|
|Evil Within 2||33 seconds||43 seconds|
|Sea of Thieves||20 seconds||1 min, 21 seconds|
|Warframe||25 seconds||1 min, 31 seconds|
|AC: Odyssey||30 seconds||1 min, 7 seconds|
|No Man’s Sky||1 min, 27 seconds||2 mins, 13 seconds|
|Destiny 2||43 seconds||1 min, 52 seconds|
Warframe and Sea of Thieves are equally impressive with their load times now. I can now open Warframe and the game is ready to play just 25 seconds later. That same load takes literally a minute longer on my Xbox One X. Sea of Thieves now loads to menu screens in around 20 seconds, with another 28 seconds to load into a session. On my Xbox One X, it takes a minute and 21 seconds to even load the game initially, and then another minute and 12 seconds to get into a game session.
None of these games have been fully optimized for the Xbox Series X either. This is simply Microsoft’s backward compatibility support in action. I switched back to my Xbox One X regularly throughout the week, and it was painful to witness these old load times that added a minute or more to games.
Not only do games load faster, but in many cases they also feel a lot smoother. Destiny 2 is a great example of a game that was held back by the weaker CPU and slow HDD in the Xbox One X. It’s a title that hit native 4K previously, but the 6 teraflops of GPU performance in the One X was bottlenecked by a laptop-like CPU and an old spinning hard disk. This meant the game was stuck on 30fps.
While Bungie has committed to enhancing Destiny 2 for the Xbox Series X and PS5 with 60fps support, it already feels faster without the patch. I would regularly notice frame rate drops in Destiny 2 on the Xbox One X when things got a little hectic on screen during a public event or in a raid with mobs of enemies coming at you. I haven’t seen a single stutter running Destiny 2 on the Xbox Series X.
This console has also improved other parts of Destiny 2 that were slow on the Xbox One. Loading into the character menu sometimes takes a few seconds on the Xbox One X, but on the Series X it feels like I’m playing on my PC as it’s near instant. These are minor improvements, but they’re the small things that add up and make a game more enjoyable to play.
I’ve noticed similar improvements across Warframe and Sea of Thieves, where games just seem to automatically benefit from the CPU, SSD, and GPU improvements to run more smoothly.
The other benefit to the Xbox Series X and this next generation is that games aren’t separated out like they were in the shift from Xbox 360 to Xbox One. Back then, you could only match Xbox One players in a lot of games, leaving out friends who still played on the Xbox 360. In every multiplayer game I’ve tested on Series X, I was able to join friends who were using an Xbox One and match against other Xbox One players.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fully test all of the games I wanted to during this initial preview period, which means analyzing performance more closely across a variety of games hasn’t been possible just yet. Microsoft initially had around 300 games available for this preview Xbox Series X, before expanding that to beyond 500 over the weekend.
I haven’t been able to test titles like Forza Horizon 4 and Grand Theft Auto V as a result, as Microsoft seems to be unlocking games for this preview program cautiously to ensure they run well and there’s no unexpected issues. None of the games I’ve tested are even fully enhanced for this new console, so there’s going to be a lot more to test in the coming weeks.
I’m sure the excellent folks over at Digital Foundry will also have their usual side-by-side comparisons for frame rates and performance soon. It will be interesting to see how many existing games get enhanced to improve resolution render rates, frame rates, and more.
The Xbox One had a fast resume feature to let you swap between games, but it felt like it never really worked properly or games didn’t support it. It couldn’t be more different on the Xbox Series X. Quick Resume utilizes the SSD inside the Series X to let you swap between multiple games freely. It takes around five seconds to resume games where you left off, and I was able to switch between five games easily.
I even rebooted the Xbox Series X for an update and all of the games still quickly resumed. Most games I tested worked flawlessly with Quick Resume, but some aren’t supported. Titles like Sea of Thieves, that feature a big multiplayer arena, don’t work with the new feature. It makes sense, though, since these games can’t quickly resume a live and evolving environment that changes every second.
The limit on the number of games you’re attempting to quickly resume will really depend on which ones you’re using. I had no trouble flipping between five, but I did run into an issue where a game failed to resume and I had to restart it. Another title resumed, but it was frozen for a couple of seconds before it came back to life. Since the Xbox Series X I’m using is a prototype preview unit, I’ll reserve judgment on Quick Resume until our full review closer to launch.
Since I’m limited to talking about backward-compatible games, load times, and Quick Resume, I’ll have some further thoughts on the preview experience of the Xbox Series X soon. What I will say is that the Xbox Series X felt like I was playing on a familiar Xbox that’s a lot faster and more capable.
The experience of switching back to an Xbox One was genuinely dispiriting. For running my existing Xbox games, the Series X feels like I’ve just upgraded my iPhone— everything feels smoother and faster. These games aren’t even optimized for the console and they’re already running better, so I’m excited to see what truly optimized games will offer in the coming weeks.
Like any generation of game consoles, it will take months or even years to understand what the hardware advancements will do for game design. We’re waiting to see how ray tracing gets implemented into next-gen games and how many are able to deliver up to 120fps at a 4K resolution.
The true next generation of games is still a mystery, but what I’ve seen from backward-compatible games over the past week is encouraging. I’m hoping that game developers will have a lot fewer bottlenecks with both the Xbox Series X and PS5, enabling them to deliver some game improvements we’re only used to seeing over on the PC side.
We’ll have full reviews of the Xbox Series X and Series S closer to launch, so stay tuned for lots more coverage of Microsoft’s next-gen consoles.
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