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Sony Xperia Z5 Compact: A Mini phone master?

Sony has, aside from Apple, been the only OEM who has explored the possibility of the high powered smartphone that doesn’t break the pocket as well as its owner’s’ hands. With its compact series now in its third iteration has Sony managed to fix the few issues with the Z3 Compact? Read on to find out.

Disclaimer: Our Z5 Compact review unit was provided to us, free of charge by Clove.co.uk. We have used it as our daily driver for a little over 2 weeks on the Three UK network here in the south east of the UK. Our Sony Xperia Z5 Compact was the E5823 model number powered by Android 5.1.1 build number 32.0.A.6.200.

Unboxing

Sony hasn’t really made the unboxing experience special with the Z5 Compact. A simple white box, with the image of the device on the front with the Sony and Xperia Z5 Compact branding. The back has the phone in its multitude of colour options, including white, pink, yellow and grey (our model) as well as various call outs, such as the Exmor RS camera, the 4K movie recording, Triluminos Display, Hi-res audio, Playstation, fingerprint reader and more.DSC_0007

Lifting the box lid we are greeted with the Z5 Compact itself. Lifting that up we find the free included screen protector and picking up the paper insert we see the power plug, MicroUSB cable, and a nice wedge of regulatory papers. Not a spartan box, but not the most feature packed we have seen either. The inclusion of a screen protector is nice, but I would have rather they left it out and with the savings put it towards including a QC2.0 charger.

Hardware

With the Z5 series, I think it’s fair to say that Sony’s “Omnibalance” design has reached its logical conclusion. Aside from either removing the physical buttons in their entirety, or duplicating them on the other side, I’m not sure what more Sony can do with this design language. In comparison to the Z3 lineup, the Z5 series is incredibly angular. The smooth lines are gone, replaced by straight lines that look far cleaner, though are less hand friendly.

For those spec obsessed amongst you, here are what I consider to be the most important specifications on the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact:

  • 4.6” IPS 1280x720p screen
  • Octa-core Snapdragon 810, 4xA53@1.6ghz, 4xA57@2ghz
  • 2gb RAM
  • 32GB onboard storage
  • up to 200gb MicroSD card
  • “23mp” Exmor RS camera on the back
  • 5mp front camera
  • PDAF system
  • 1080p video capture on front camera
  • UHD (4K) Video capture on the rear.
  • MicroUSB 2.0 charging and data port
  • Dual-Stereo speakers on the front
  • Side mounted fingerprint scanner

A more comprehensive run down can be found here from GSMArena.

SAM_1301

On the front of the Z5 Compact we have the screen, the main attraction, or at least, it would be if it wasn’t so, well, boring. At 4.6” the 720p resolution makes it out to be about 323 pixels per inch, which is in the realm of “ dense enough so that at a normal viewing distance you don’t notice it” or, “retina” as the industry has started referring to it as. The screen on the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is okay, with decent viewing angles (thankfully no longer an issue on Sony devices) and good colour reproduction, but it’s not particularly interesting, even with all of Sony’s “enhancements” turned on (X-Reality for mobile, and super vivid mode). Nothing on the screen just ever looks particularly amazing. It’s not a bad screen, and as a former Sony owner, they used to have bad screens; this one is just uninteresting. An issue I’m experiencing which may or may not be able to be fixed with a software upgrade, is the screen takes a while to ramp back up to full brightness. For example if it’s on a desk and the screen starts to dim but hasn’t quite turned off, if I touch the screen it can take 3 or 4 seconds before it gets back to its full brightness level, whereas on other devices it is nearly instant.

Above the screen we have the 5mp front facing camera module, which I’ll speak more about in the camera section. Suffice to say though it’s okay, but there are certainly better selfie snappers. Next along is one of the two speakers on the front that pair up to give a stereo effect. Again they are also ‘okay’, and have nice sound and clarity, but their problem is that they just aren’t all that loud, I’m not sure if the size of the slits being so small is reducing the sound output, or that the speaker modules Sony picked for the Z5 Compact just aren’t all that loud, but going from previous experience with Sony devices, they just aren’t that loud. Next we have the Ambient light and proximity sensors. These do their jobs. One adjusts the screen brightness based on the ambient light in the immediate vicinity of you and the device, and the other turns the screen off when it detects your face within a certain distance, to stop you pressing on screen elements with your cheeks when in a call for example. Lastly there is a notification RGB LED. It’s nice and useful, especially coming from a Motorola device with Moto Display. My only problem with the LED light is that it is sloooooow. The distance between the light flashes is enough that often i miss it with a glance.

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SAM_1299On the left hand side of the Compact we have the etched in “Xperia” logo, and the waterproofing flap, beneath which there is the NanoSIM and MicroSD trays. Whilst on the subject of the NanoSIM and MicroSD trays, Sony has one of the worst implementations of this, and I cannot believe this is still an issue. A miniature tray, infinitely flexible and it barely holds the SIM properly leading me to believe that I have put it in but then halfway in the SIM has fallen out. Everyone else has figured this out and Sony just can’t for whatever reason. On the upside, the MicroSD tray holds cards up to 200gb giving you a hypothetical 232gb of space to play with which will become even more useful with the advent of adoptable storage in Android Marshmallow. Strangely Sony have also included a lanyard loop. If you still like phone charms or want to have a wrist strap then this is the phone for you.

The right side is where most of the action happens. There lies the power button with the integrated fingerprint scanner. Unlike some newer sensors, this isn’t always scanning, you do need to wake the device up before it’ll start scanning, and this is where some of the issues start to arise. If you are right hand dominant, this is the perfect place for the fingerprint scanner. It is right where my thumb lands, and when using the right thumb in this two week period it has not failed once. It’s snappy and whomever Sony has sourced the fingerprint scanner from, it is a great sensor. This stops being quite as interesting and positive if you are left hand dominant, like myself. You can register your left index finger, and if you reposition it enough during the scanning you can almost get it perfect every time – almost, but it certainly isn’t designed for left handed use.SAM_1294

Underneath the Power button we have the absolutely minuscule volume button. Yes, you read that correctly. The power button is central to the body, and the volume button is underneath that. It is spongy and there is a lot of travel in the button before it actuates and I’m really not a fan of it. Lastly on the right side is the 2 stage camera button. This is a similar story to the way that the volume button is spongy, but there is of course the two stages. They are okay but I feel that the pressure needed to actuate the button could also induce shake in an image. My main problem with the camera button is that although it is able to launch the camera when you hold it down, it’s incredibly slow. From pressing it to having a usable shutter is over 6 seconds. Motorola’s double twist to open camera and Samsung’s double tap home button is much faster, heck, even turning the screen on and using Lollipop’s camera shortcut is probably faster. I feel that this is a software glitch that could be fixed, but speaking to others who have reviewed the Z5 series, it’s not an isolated incident to my unit.

SAM_1297

The top and bottom edges of the Z5 Compact are rather barren, with the top housing the 3.5mm audio jack and the secondary noise cancelling microphone, athe bottom of the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact housing the MicroUSB charging and Data port along with the primary microphone. The MicroUSB port is notable for a few reasons. Firstly, the Z5 Compact is now flapless. For those unaware, the Z5 Compact is waterproof. Previously however to deliver this feature manufacturers had to cover and hide certain ports with flaps. Many figured out how to waterproof the inside of the 3.5mm audio jack also but it took a little while longer to get the MicroUSB port SAM_1295waterproofed. One less flap is always a welcome addition. The other reason I’m interested in the MicroUSB port on the Z5 Compact is that it supports MHL 3.0, a video-out protocol. MHL 3.0 supports 4K UHD at 30Hz, and up to 10w of charging capacity, so if all the links in the chain are pulling their weight, you can output 4K 30fps from your phone and charge it at the same time all through one cable. All of this and more is available on USB-C, of which there is also an MHL alternate mode called SuperMHL, but until USB-C is everywhere, MicroUSB is the best bet we have.

Now we come to probably the most interesting, and least busy aspect of the Z5 Compact’s design, the rear. The frosted glass back has the Xperia Logo on the bottom and just above the centre there is an almost mirrored finish Sony logo. A few centimetres above that is the MFC logo denoting that underneath this is where the NFC antenna is. Then we get to the main attraction; the “23mp” F2.0 24mm equivalent lens, and the single LED flash. I put the 23mp claim in quote marks because strangely, after some very smart people did some digging it turns out that the Z5 series has a custom sensor that is roughly equivalent to 25mp. We’ll speak more about it in the Camera section, but nevertheless, it’s very interesting.

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Whilst some people have gone over the potential downsides to the classic “Glass sandwich” design, until I break a phone with a Glass back I’m not worried. As always, take care of your devices and if you don’t want a case, consider putting a skin on it. The ever awesome Dbrand have some excellent Sony Xperia Z5 series skins to choose from. Take your pick (I’m a Wood or Carbon Fibre man, but that’s just me).

z5c dbrand

 

Software

Screenshot_2015-10-29-10-03-18The Xperia Z5 Compact runs Android 5.1.1 with Sony’s modifications on top delivering Xperia UI. The Xperia UI on top of the build of Android here is relatively light. It’s not as heavy as Touchwiz, Sense or LG’s UI, but it clearly isn’t on the same level as what Motorola is doing on their phones. Sony has slightly changed a lot of things in the Android user interface. One of the most noticeable is the on-screen buttons. In Lollipop, Google switched the previous OSB style to a triangle for back, circle for home and square for recent apps. Apart from the size being slightly smaller here, Sony has changed the circle home button back to, well, a house.

There are more changes as well. As usual Sony has changed the look of the icons in the notification bar, and then changed both the shade and hue of the quick toggles, whilst also changing those icons. For what it’s worth, Sony also let you customise the quick toggles from a list of certified ones they give you. For example I added Signal, Location and Stamina tiles to my shade, but you can add or remove them as you wish. Thanks Sony.

Screenshot_2015-10-29-10-04-10Sony’s included apps – and there are a lot of them – look okay. They don’t detract from the look of stock Android all that much though. The dialler for example is nice and ‘material designy’. My problem mainly with the software build is the amount of bloat on the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. Most of these apps can thankfully be uninstalled but the problem is most consumers won’t know it can be uninstalled and will just leave it there, and there it will remain, taking up space forever. The Apps that I consider bloat on the Sony Z5 Compact are:

  • Screenshot_2015-10-29-10-04-18AVG Antivirus
  • File commander file explorer
  • Kobo eBooks
  • Lifelog
  • News from Sony
  • OfficeSuite
  • Playstation
  • Priviledge Plus
  • PS Video
  • PSN
  • QuickOffice
  • Sketch
  • Smart Connect
  • Spotify
  • TrackID
  • TV Sideview
  • What’s new
  • Xperia Lounge

 

Screenshot_2015-12-31-16-25-33Now that’s a lot of stuff. Some of this you might not even consider to be bloat but it’s a lot of stuff either way that I should be able to choose if i want it there. Perhaps it would be better placed in an installer on first boot; tick the ones you want during the setup process. It’s very nice that the bloat is uninstallable, but still, I’d really really rather it not be there in the first place. One of the reasons we usually see sites justifying the amount of bloat on the phone is when they say “Well it helps bring the price point down” but the Z5 Compact is just a smidgen under £400 and I don’t personally think that that is particularly low price. Therefore that justification can’t and doesn’t stand up here. This is an expensive phone that is still riddled with bloat. Is it as bad as the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3? No, not quite, especially seeing as this has 32GB of on-board storage, but that is a phone that cost, at most, £199, half of what Sony is charging for the Z5 Compact. What gives Sony?

Of Sony’s redesigned apps, my favourites are the dialler and Movie creator. The Dialler isn’t the most interesting app, and I don’t prefer it over the stock lollipop one, but it’s a nice approximation of Material from an OEM. It’s not perfect of course. Most of Google’s own apps aren’t perfectly material either, but it’s nice and fast and doesn’t stutter like some dialler replacements do. The other app mentioned was a movie creator. It’s a lightweight basic video editor. I’m not editing videos on my phone often, but Android used to have one in the Ice Cream Sandwich era, but has since disappeared and a lot of the play store equivalents are kind of awful, so thank you Sony for adding this in.

One silly, small change that I’m glad Sony added, and that most OEMs have added, is a “clear all” button in the Screenshot_2015-12-31-16-27-36[1]recents menu. Not only that, the close all button is the proper Material Design FAB (Floating Action Button). It’s a nice light material teal (or is it Turquoise?) and it just works. What doesn’t work all that well however is what Sony calls “small apps”. They are what they sound like. They’re small floating apps, which might be useful on the 5.5” screen of the Z5 Premium, but on the 4.6” screen of the Compact, the calculator small app takes up over a quarter of the screen and the resizeable browser small app is absolutely useless. Whilst it may be fast, no one wants to browse the web on what is effectively a 2.5” screen and when you resize it to be useful, you might as well use the full size Chrome browser. Small apps are a vestige of “Old Sony” that they can’t quite let go of, but they really, really need to.

Overall the build of Android Sony give you on the Z5 Compact isn’t offensive. They give you a mostly clean Android build with some nice additions. Their Camera app, whilst not being the best, is still a good camera app, and hopefully the Z5 series of devices should start to see their Marshmallow upgrades soon. Sony has been running an Android concept program recently (a stripped down version of android with just the essential Sony bits, such as the camera, and it has had tremendously positive reviews from that project) so hopefully Sony trims down the skin even more for the Marshmallow release.

Screenshot_2015-10-29-10-04-41

Performance

When we heard that the Z5 series was going to be powered by the Snapdragon 810 I was honestly quite worried. Whilst most of the “ZOMG Snapdragon 810 overheats!!!1!” scaremongering was, well, just that, scaremongering that doesn’t mean there aren’t thermal issues with the Snapdragon 810 chipset, and with the Z5 Compact itself. I have, on more than one occasion, had to put the device down, or take it out of my pocket because it is getting uncomfortably warm. Sadly this was one of my first impressions with the device. I had signed into my Google Account and was downloading my apps and it got so hot that I was worried about the glass rear panel. About 5-10 minutes later all was fine, but one of my first impressions of the device was “Oooh, that’s warm”.

Most of the time, the performance of the 810 in the Z5 Compact was okay, but even on this 720p screen, there was still times when it would hang, drop frames, or even straight up freeze for a second or two. I’m not sure whether this is just unoptimised software, or if the ugly head of the Snapdragon 810 is rearing again. We hope it’s the former but we fear it’s the latter.

Gaming wise, for the few games I tested, the Z5 Compact handled everything fine – for a while. It got hot again. It’s simple physics; if part A gets hot in something with twice the surface area (the larger phones) it’s going to get equally hot, if not hotter in the smaller phone with the smaller surface area, and the Z5 Compact does get warm. In order to save itself the chip will thermal throttle so don’t worry about the internals frying themselves. However that throttling will involve pulling down the power and running the chip at lower clock speeds in order to reduce the temperature. This process obviously reduces the performance. This doesn’t mean the chip or the phone are overheating all the time, it’s operating as it is intended to, but sadly the Snapdragon 810 is just not a very well designed chip. Not only that, it was made on an inefficient and very short lived process node from TSMC (20nm). Sony hasn’t done the best with the Snapdragon 810 that honour goes to Huawei/Google and the Nexus 6P. Again it’s not perfect, but it’s made the best out of a mediocre situation.

One of the best things I thought Sony had done with the Z5 Compact was the inclusion of “only” a 720p screen. At 4.6” anything above 720p is kind of useless, but that doesn’t seem to really be the case here. The Z5 Compact is mostly fast, but there are times when it feels like it is struggling, and I don’t know if it is just trying to stay within its thermal limit and it is throttling to stop itself from sustaining any damage, and also damage other components such as the battery. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the Z5 Compact is slow, because for 85% of the time the Z5 Compact feels like every other high end phone, but there seems to be many instances where the phone feels as if it’s struggling. Leave it a few minutes or forcefully reboot it and everything goes back to normal. It’s currently 2015, and very nearly 2016 however and consumers shouldn’t have to reboot their devices periodically and pretend it is Windows in 2006.

In benchmarks the Z5 Compact performs, say it with me folks, like pretty much every flagship in 2015. The Snapdragon 810 is a well known entity at this point in time. I’ll post the benchmarks below, but it gets 77k points in AnTuTu, 1376 single core in Geekbench and 3648 in multi-core Geekbench. Sunspider (though now depreciated) gets a relatively respectable 528.6ms. As I said, we know how the 810 performs, and I’ve already noted my thermal issues with this phone in particular. I’m not sure there is much more I need to say.

Camera

Sony phones and Cameras have been a mixed bag for a while now. Sony makes great sensors and everyone who can buy them (who doesn’t already make their own) usually tries to buy them, and If they can’t, they’ll shop around and often end up with either an Omnivision or if they have a higher budget, a Samsung sensor. But Sony cameras in Sony phones have been less than optimal.

In the Z5 Compact, and all of the Z5 series, Sony have delivered a custom made sensor. They label it as 23mp camera, and effectively that is what it is. You can’t capture higher resolution stills than that. However the actual sensor is roughly 25mp. GSMarena and some other very smart folks realised this when they took a 23mp 16:9 image and a 23mp 4:3 image. Instead of cropping the 4:3 image to 16:9, the 16:9 image has more horizontal pixels than the 4:3, and the 4:3 image has more vertical pixels. This is a cool engineering trick, and shows that Sony really cares about resolution.

That doesn’t however stop the Xperia Z5 Compact from just having an ‘okay’ camera for the most part. Let’s be clear, I am not a professional photographer, not by any stretch of the imagination so I left the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact in automatic mode for most of the time and only went into manual mode to activate HDR. The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact gave me really good shots, but very rarely did I get any “Woah!” shots, and this is where my main issue with the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact’s camera comes in.

It’s slow.

It’s slow to open, the app feels clunky, shot to shot time is a little longer than I’d like and HDR processing time is really rather long. With the screen off and using the shutter button to open the camera, I’m often waiting between 6-7 seconds before the Z5 Compact has a usable camera. That’s not really forgiveable. You can also forget fast movement in auto mode. No OIS means blur central and in manual mode I couldn’t get the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact to cooperate all that much either (though that might just be my lacklustre skills behind the camera).

Again this isn’t to say the Z5 Compact has a disappointing or bad camera, but it isn’t an exciting Camera or package. The colours are probably very accurate, and actually DxOMark gave it the highest score of a mobile camera, but It’s not an exciting camera for auto results and for the average consumer I’d say this was probably a slightly underwhelming camera. If you’re a pro shutter bug or just a slightly advanced user, you’d more than likely be able to get some great shots with this.

Video shot on the Z5 Compact, in similar fashion to the stills, are very good and very accurate, if not overly exciting. It does a very good job with the Electronic image stabilisation (EIS), and shoots in 1080p (up to 60fps) 720p (up to 120fps) and 2160p, or UHD up to 30fps.

Lastly we have the selfie snapper, the front facer, the ever increasing in popularity second camera on a phone. Again, as with much of this device, it’s just okay. In low light it becomes instantly grainy and digitally noisy, the focus never seems quite there no matter how far away I am from it, and honestly Snapchat, which is what most people will use it for, is kind of disappointing.

 

Battery

Screenshot_2015-12-20-00-25-45This is where some things start to look up. With a 2700mAh battery, you might think the Z5 Compact has mediocre battery life, but you’d be wrong. Most days I end the day at near 10 or 11pm and I have between 20 and 30% left. That is something only the Moto X Play was able to provide me with, but that had a battery pack nearly 1000mAh larger and a 1080p display, albeit with a much weaker Snapdragon 615 SoC.

My beef with the battery on the Z5 Compact is recharge time. The Z5 Compact is a QuickCharge 2.0 enabled device, yet it doesn’t ship with a QuickCharge Charger. It ships with a 5v 1.5a (7.5w) charger instead. This was similar to the issue I had with the X Play except, whilst that charged normally on my standard chargers, with my Z5 Compact, if I go to bed with it under 15% (on the very rare occasion) or it being dead there is a very high chance I will wake up in the morning and it will still not be fully charged. Granted, I only really need it to be about 70% charged for a day of use, but if you charge it overnight, you expect a full charge.

Screenshot_2015-12-20-13-17-04On the Geekbench Battery bench the Z5 Compact scored a relatively great 5 hours and 17 minutes if we let the screen dim, but just shy of 5 hours (4 hours 57 minutes) if we made the screen stay on a fixed brightness (we went with roughly 75%). The Z5 Compact feels a lot more impressive than these numbers would lead you to believe. On more than one occasion I was into the 6 hours screen on time mark, and once i went into 7 hours. Impressive for any phone, let alone one with less than a 3000mAh battery.

 

Connectivity

The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact has all the ports you’d want in a high end phone, well, most of them. There is a 3.5mm Audio jack on the top off to the left. It works well. With my Sennheiser CX475’s I noticed that the sound was a little quieter than on some other devices such as my Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 (though that has unusually high output in both speakers and headphones) but it sounded nice and clear and with no interference, which is a nice bonus. The next port is the MicroUSB port on the bottom, which i’m less enthused about.

As you all know, on lower end devices I am not too fussed about devices having MicroUSB ports, but on higher end devices, and that is what Sony is pitching and pricing this as, a miniature flagship, I feel the exclusion is less acceptable. As cheaper and cheaper devices like the LeTV 1s that costs just £150 or less come with a USB-C Port, I’m kind of bummed that Sony didn’t include one with the Z5 Compact, the Z5 or the Z5 Premium. Maybe they couldn’t figure out the waterproofing for that port yet? After all, despite the incredibly short lived Xperia Z3+, the Z5 series is the first Sony device to have uncovered but waterproof MicroUSB ports.

Having said that, this is probably the best MicroUSB port Sony could have added, It’s Micro-B, so it’s USB2.0 only, so it doesn’t have the unsightly connector of MicroUSB 3.0. They have also oriented it the correct way, wherein the narrow part is on top. It has MHL3.0, so it can output 4K UHD at 30Hz to your TV whilst being charged at up to 10w, so that’s nice.

Sony has included 802.11ac WiFi on the Z5 Compact, including 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz (5Ghz is actually required for 802.11ac) and it was, again only okay. The 2.4Ghz antenna seemed weak in my opinion and the 5Ghz was even weaker. Speeds were great, but range was not, and sadly this carries over to the mobile signal side of things. Where every other device I own gets coverage throughout my entire house, there are multiple places where the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact showed no signal at all with the same SIM cards, and struggled to latch on to a signal for longer than a few seconds in those same areas. When I had connection my data speeds were great and I often got about 13Mbps download and 2Mbps upload on the DC-HSDPA network of my carrier of choice (Three UK). When I traveled to areas with 4G, due to the issues mentioned earlier, it had an even harder time grabbing hold of the LTE signal. Again when it did make a connection the speeds where in the upper 30s lower 40s on the download, and about 10-15Mbps on the upload. If you were buying this device on its ability to give you coverage wherever you go, unless you’re with someone like EE, I’d seriously advise looking somewhere else.

Conclusion

This is the bit I like least when writing a review because I have to decide whether or not I’d recommend a phone to those of you who spent the time reading, and sadly with the Z5 Compact, unless you cannot stand larger phones and really want to avoid iOS, I can’t recommend this device for a number of reasons. First off, it gets hot, and more often than I’d like it to. Secondly there are very obvious performance issues, at least on this build of Android. It remains to be seen if Sony can resolve these with software updates. Finally the camera isn’t setting the world alight. It’s an okay camera, but it isn’t very captivating. Top all of that off with its relatively high £400 price tag, and there are better options at lower costs.

The Z5 Compact isn’t a bad phone, but it feels unfinished and overpriced for what it currently offers.

Xperia Z5 Compact

£394.80
8.4

Screen

7.5/10

Performance

7.5/10

Camera

8.5/10

Build

9.0/10

Battery

9.5/10

Pros

  • Small size is really nice after all the huge ones
  • Powerful package
  • Accurate Camera
  • That battery

Cons

  • May be too small for some
  • Snapdragon 810
  • Price
  • Fingerprint scanner not leftie friendly

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

One comment

  1. What about at the price of £300 which is just about where its at now. Worth it?

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