With most products and their successive generations, there are either revolutionary updates or iterative improvements. Sony’s top-tier Xperia Z series falls into the latter category, as within a span of three years, the brand has launched six smartphones – which means a new flagship approximately every six months. This means there’s little chance of seeing breakthrough innovations between generations. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it lets users get the best hardware available in the market, while the manufacturer tries to continually improve its handsets based on customer feedback.
Having said that, it seems that the Japanese company is still trying to perfect its flagships to make them compelling offerings. Can its latest, the Xperia Z5 (first impressions) be its ‘this is it’ moment? Let’s find out in our review.
Design: it’s the same, yet (subtly) different
Dimensions: 146 x 72 x 7.3 mm
Weight: 154 grams
Time and again, we have slammed Samsung for using the same design language for its smartphones, irrespective of their price range, but it seems that the same problem is plaguing Sony. With the Xperia Z, the company kickstarted its new design philosophy called Omnibalance, and since then all its devices have come across as flat rectangular slabs with round aluminium power buttons. The only difference between Sony offerings in different price brackets is the choice of material, but otherwise it’s not easy to tell them apart.
So it’s no surprise then that the Xperia Z5, which is the sixth iteration in the company’s flagship Z series, seems quite similar to the very first avatar. However, it’s not like there aren’t any differences, as there are several subtle design changes in Sony’s latest.
Up front, a 5.2-inch display panel acts as the centerpiece, with the space above taken up by Sony branding, a secondary snapper and a couple of sensors. You’ll also find two two speaker vents placed symmetrically at the top and bottom. Just like previous devices from the company, the navigation keys are available as part of the software interface, so it’s quite odd to see that so much space being wasted below the display panel.
The metallic edges hold all the ports and buttons, along with antennas in the rounded corners. The right spine sports the power button, which unlike previous iterations, is oblong shaped. It’s followed by the volume rocker and a camera key, which is really useful to capture pictures quickly. It’s worth noting that the placement of the volume rocker make it slightly difficult to access. Towards the left, you’ll find an ejectable tray, which accepts two nano-SIM cards as well as a microSD card. There’s also Xperia engraving further below.
The 3.5mm audio interface can be found up top alongside a noise-cancellation microphone, whereas the base features a micro-USB port and a lanyard hole.
Going back to the power button, you might be wondering why Sony decided to forgo its trademark watch crown-inspired power button with an oval-shaped one. That’s because the button also doubles up as a fingerprint reader. We must say it’s an unusual placement, considering most manufacturers opt for the home button or the back. However, once you get used to Sony’s implementation, it makes so much sense and doesn’t require any behavioural change. Whenever you take out your phone from the pocket or pick it up from a surface, your hand reaches to the power button almost automatically, and boom, the Sony Xperia Z5 is unlocked.
However, unlike other implementations, you need to apply various permutations and combinations to add multiple fingerprints depending whether you are using the handset with your left hand or right hand. In our case, we registered the thumb and index finger of both hands. Another problem worth highlighting with the location of the sensor is that sometimes it gets pressed unknowingly while in the pocket, and after a couple of times, the fingerprint function is locked due to multiple wrong authentications.
Similar to its predecessors, the Xperia Z5 features a unibody design language. Its rear panel is quite minimal with only the primary camera module and an LED flash being functional elements and other things being the branding like NFC and Sony. It’s great to see Sony moving away from regular glass panels for the rear and using frosted glass in its latest flagship. Sadly though, the frosted glass too, doesn’t look very premium in the age of metallic smartphones, and its smooth texture isn’t very grip-friendly either. Within minutes of holding the device, it becomes slippery, especially if you have sweaty hands.
Our review unit looks classy in a gold hue, though the Sony Xperia Z5 is also available in black or white options. Similar to its predecessors, the smartphone is dust- and waterproof, thanks to the IP67 compliance.
Overall, the design language opted by Sony for the Xperia Z5 is a mixed bag. We liked the slim frame measuring 7.3mm and the fact that its weight of 154g is well distributed across the body, however the device doesn’t look very different from previous models, and doesn’t command a premium either with its looks or build quality. The sharp edges of the metallic rim don’t help in ergonomical handling either. Having said that, we must commend the manufacturer for the ingenious placement of the fingerprint scanner.
Display: for your viewing pleasure
Size: 5.2 Inch
Resolution: Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
Display Type: IPS LCD
Pixel Density: 424 ppi
While the smartphone world is going the 2K way when it comes to the display resolution, we know that it hardly makes much difference to the end user. Sony also seems to be supportive of this camp, although it does show off its engineering prowess with the pricier version of the Xperia Z5, called the Xperia Z5 Premium, which is world’s first smartphone boasting a 4K display.
The Sony Xperia Z5 bears a standard resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, which on a screen size of 5.2-inches, results in a decent pixel density of 428ppi. The display offers crisp text and impressive colours. The brightness levels are also adequate, and the display is easily visible outdoors.
The smartphone also provides the option to turn on Image enhancement with the X-Reality or Super-vivid mode. Users can also tweak the white balance of the display. Another useful option is Smart backlight control, which detects whether you are looking at the screen while holding the Sony Xperia Z5 in your hands and keeps it awake.
Protecting the display against scratches and knocks is Corning’s third generation Gorilla Glass. The touchscreen can also work if you are wearing gloves thanks to the super-sensitive glove mode.
Software: simple and unobtrusive
Operating System: Android
OS Version: 5.1, Lollipop
Sony has always kept its customisations on top of Android bare minimal and straight-forward, unlike Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense. The skin on the Sony Xperia Z5 is no different, and runs atop Android Lollipop 5.1. The UI is mostly similar to previous implementations with five home screens and a dedicated app launcher sorting all apps in an alphabetical or custom order.
Sony was one of the first manufacturers to offer a floating window for using popular apps with its Small Apps functionality, and they can be used in the Xperia Z5 too. Simply hit the overview button, and along with the recently-opened apps, you can also open smaller version of apps like the calculator, timer, Gmail, etc.
In terms of preinstalled content, the device is quite loaded with apps like Amazon Kindle, AVG Protection, Facebook, Hungama Play among others. It also comes with various apps from Sony such as Sony LIV, Jive, Xperia Lounge, etc. Gamers would also love the inclusion of the Modern Combat 5, although other titles such as Thor The Dark World are demo versions. There’s also a Lifelog app that tracks your steps taken, calories, and sleep patterns.
Camera: not really the best one around
Primary camera: 23 MP
Flash: LED Flash
Secondary camera: 5 MP
While most of the features in the Xperia Z5 remain the same as its predecessor or have received minor updates, the camera department has got a significant boost. Instead of a 20.7MP sensor as seen on its predecessors, the device flaunts a 23-megapixel snapper at the back. The shooter features an Exmor RS sensor with an aperture of f/2.0 along with Sony’s G lens measuring 1/2.3”. The company also boasts about the fast autofocus capabilities of the primary shooter – just 0.03 seconds is all it takes to lock focus on the subject. The hardware seems powerful, although the images aren’t as detailed and vivid as we’d have liked to see from the sensor mounted on a Sony smartphone. As mentioned in our Sony Xperia Z5 camera review, the camera quality is impressive, but fails to carry forward the legacy of its predecessors.
While writing this review, Sony gave a much-needed update to its camera app, which was unchanged for years. The new interface seems to be more user-friendly, and offers a spate of options. In the landscape mode, users can choose between modes like superior auto, manual, video, or check various camera apps, along with toggling the flash or switching to the front camera, with the options on the left. Towards the right, you can find the shutter button, gallery and settings menu. In terms of modes (referred to as apps), users can choose between AR effect, Panorama, Multi Camera, AR Mask, etc. You can also download modes and apps such as Time Lapse, CamScanner and Motion Shot from the camera interface itself. We also loved the fact that we could shoot images by using the shutter key rather than fiddling around with the viewfinder.
The landscape and close-up images are brilliant. However, low-light imagery is a different story altogether. Only traces of the subject are visible, and the flash offers too much lighting, and thus ending up overexposing it.
The front camera with the resolution of 5-megapixels does a decent job. In adequate lighting, the images are sharp and vibrant. In terms of video capabilities, the phone can shoot videos in maximum 4K resolution and slow-mo videos at 720p.
Here are a few samples clicked from Xperia Z5’s 23MP shooter.
Performance: a hot-headed device
CPU: Quad core, 2 GHz + Quad core, 1.5 GHz, Snapdragon 810
GPU: Adreno 430
RAM: 3 GB
Memory: 32 GB + Up to 200 GB
SIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM
Sony has always chosen high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets for its flagship offerings, and same is the case with the Xperia Z5. Just like its predecessor, the Xperia Z3+ (first impressions), the device draws power from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC. The octa-core processor offers four Cortex-A57 cores running at 2GHz, while four low-power cores are tuned at 1.5GHz. With such a loaded configuration, using the phone is a breeze, and switching between multiple tasks isn’t an issue either, thanks to 3GB of RAM. We rarely faced any lags with the smartphone, and playing high-end games such as Modern Combat 5 and Riptide GP2 was a delightful affair.
Sadly, while the processor is powerful, it’s also notorious for heating issues. The problem seems to grow manifold with the Xperia Z5, since Sony’s previous offerings also struggled with managing heat dissipation. It’s not just while gaming or running multiple apps together, the smartphone starts heating up even with the flashlight turned on for a few minutes. That said, the Xperia Z5 doesn’t seem to heat as much as the reported issues with the Z3+.
Handling your storage needs is 32GB of flash memory, out of which around 21.5GB is available to you. The amount of storage should be good enough for storing your personal content as well as installing various apps or games. However, if that’s not sufficient, then you can top it up further by up to 128GB with the use of a microSD card. The Xperia Z5 also supports USB OTG capabilities to plug in flash drives.
On the connectivity front, the smartphone comes with the usual options, including 4G support, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC. The good part is that the device offers dual-SIM support, which isn’t available on most flagships. Call quality is great, and we didn’t face any network issues either.
Battery: the weak link
Sony was among the first Android smartphone manufacturers that focussed on the battery life of its devices. It introduced the software-based STAMINA mode to ensure that the juice lasted longer. However, it seems that the brand has now lost its way as the Xperia Z5 offers an average battery life. While its capacity of 2,900mAh isn’t necessarily bad, and the handset doesn’t tote battery-draining 2K resolution, it barely manages to last an entire working day. As part of our standard test, with both brightness and volume levels at 50 percent, it was able to play a 720p video on loop for nine hours, which is less than the results delivered by other high-end offerings.
However, the device does come with various battery-saving modes. Along with the STAMINA mode, there’s also Ultra STAMINA mode, which shuts down everything except calls and messages. There’s also support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 technology, helping the device getting juiced up in a jiffy.
Sony’s Xperia Z series is the best example of refined improvements. With each generation, the devices have become better than their previous iteration. In its sixth generation, the latest offering the from the Japanese electronics giant brings forth loaded specs, at least on paper. However, the specs don’t seem to translate to real-life experience. Plus, the design language is similar to its predecessors, and the device doesn’t seem to offer anything better than the competition either. On the plus side, the Xperia Z5 is quite compact, features a super-fast fingerprint reader and comes powered by top-of-the-line hardware.
In fact, when we bring the competition into purview, it becomes an extremely difficult case for the Xperia Z5. While its asking price of Rs 52,990 (available online for as low as Rs 49,000) pits it against the likes of Samsung Galaxy Note5 (review) and LG G4 (first impressions | camera review), being compact, we won’t compare it with the phablets. It’s biggest rival would be the Samsung Galaxy S6 (first impressions) and its curvy sibling, the Galaxy S6 edge (review | FAQs). The Samsung offerings flaunt gorgeous designs, superb displays, stunning image quality from the cameras and powerful innards. By virtue of price drops, the phones are also available at much more affordable price points. If you have half a lakh rupees to spend and you want a device that’s optimum for one-hand usage, then you can also look at the latest Apple iPhone 6s or last year’s iPhone 6 (review | FAQs).
With the competition offering better price-to-spec ratio and performance, we can’t recommend Sony’s latest offering outright. Don’t get us wrong, the Xperia Z5 is a decent option, just not a compelling one.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Optimum for one-handed usage
- Fast, easy-to-reach fingerprint sensor
- Powerful hardware
- Dual-SIM support
- Not-so-different design
- Gets hot quickly
- Average battery life
- An expensive proposition
Photos by Raj Rout