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Sony Xperia Z5 review

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Introduction

With the Xperia Z5 family, Sony has definitely piqued the interest of the public, delivering not one, but three flagship devices. The Z5 Premium is the world first 4K screen phone, while the Xperia Z5 compact is a powerhouse device with a small footprint.

This, however, puts the regular Z5 in somewhat of an odd spot. For the first time ever, the standard “Z” model is not the “latest and greatest” Sony has to offer. It also almost identical to the Z3+, while being quite a bit more expensive.

But reading the specs on paper really doesn’t reveal the extent in which To really see the Z5 for what it is and understand all the work Sony has put into making it a familiar, yet refined device, we have to dig deeper. That is just what we intend to do in the following pages – to see just how different the Z5 is from the Z3+, what has changed and what has been preserved. To discover if the Z5 is Sony’s flagship savior, or just a fixed-up Z3+, bound to stay underappreciated amidst its superstar siblings.

Key features

  • 5.2″ 16M-color 1080 x 1920 IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with X Reality for Mobile, Triluminos technology and Dynamic Contrast Enhancer; scratch-resistant glass, oleophobic coating
  • Android OS v5.1.1 Lollipop with Xperia launcher
  • Octa-core Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810, feat. a quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 and quad-core 2 GHz Cortex-A57 and an Adreno 430 GPU and 3GB RAM
  • 23 MP camera with 2160p@30fps video recording; 5.1 MP front-facing camera with 1080p@30fps video
  • 32GB of built-in storage and a microSD card slot
  • LTE Cat.4 (150Mbps)/Cat.6 (300Mbps), depending on the region; Dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; A-GPS/GLONASS receiver, Bluetooth v4.1, FM radio with RDS
  • Active noise cancellation with a dedicated mic
  • 2,900mAh non-removable battery
  • IP68 certified – dust and water proof up to 1.5 meter and 30 minutes
  • Fingerprint sensor

Main disadvantages

  • Screen bezels are wider than the Xperia Z3+
  • Non-removable battery
  • Heavier and thicker than the Xperia Z3+

It is quite obvious that specs-wise the Sony Xperia Z5 does not disappoint. The handset is powered by Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810 chip, along with an Adreno 430 GPU, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. That also happens to be the case with the Z3+. Similarities extend even further to the 5.2-inch FullHD display that also seems to be shared between the two models. In fact, the only significant hardware differences between the pair are the fingerprint reader and the camera.

Sony is betting big on its new multi-aspect 23MP sensor, which is being marketed as the Z5’s major feature. However, the same shooter is actually present in the Z5 Compact and Z5 Premium as well, so it is not quite as exclusive to the model as Sony would have you believe. It’s nonetheless an excellent camera and we can’t wait to put it to use.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The most important thing is that the Z5 Compact promises to learn from the Z3+ and its mistakes and excel where it failed. That’s alone is enough to warrant a full length review. So jump on.

Unboxing

The Sony Xperia Z5 comes with rather minimalistic packaging. It is housed inside a white, two piece cardboard box, without any fancy finish, embossing or other accents to suggest a premium product. That, however, is in no way a complaint as a lavish box, like the one on the Huawei P8, for example, only ramps up the overall price with little to no other purpose, as in today’s world a smartphone is almost never an off-the-shelf supermarket purchase.

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Sony Xperia Z5 packaging

However, it is worth noting that the Z5 comes bundled with all the essentials – a wall charger (1.5 A), USB cable, both of nice quality as well as a pair of in-ear headphones. They are far from superb in terms of sound quality, but are still well above average. They sound nice, feel sturdy enough to last at least a few months and also come with two extra padding sizes and a clip.

It is worth noting that bundled accessories vary from market to market. Alto the photo above is of the Sony MDR-NC750 High-Resolution Audio Headset, which, when used with the Z5 provides active noise cancelling.

Sony Xperia Z5 360-degree spin

The Sony Xperia Z5 boasts a slick and clean exterior. It is styled entirely following Sony’s new minimalistic design language.

 

 

Design and build quality

One thing is definitely changed on the Z5 and that is the design and the same goes for its sibling – the Premium and Compact, as well. With the Z5 series Sony is making a significant revision of its signature design language. It is the biggest such undertaking since the Xperia Z1 and all members of the Z5 family, share this common new exterior.

It seems that Sony’s vision was to go a step beyond the symmetry of its previous devices. The new design language takes the concept of uniformity to a whole new level. The Z5 is not only symmetrical, it looks almost identical from every angle – no more accents on curves or groves, no more obvious grills, everything is tucked away to create a minimalistic exterior as if the phone has been machined out of a single uniform block.

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Sony Xperia Z5 overview

Some people are sure to find the new understated looks boring, but it is quite charming in its simplicity. But, you shouldn’t let the clean looks deceive you, the Z5 packs a lot of power.

The Z5 measures 146 x 72 x 7.3 mm, which is almost identical to the Z3+, except it is a tad thicker, but we could hardly tell the difference. In terms of weight, however, the Z5 tips the scale at 154 grams, which is exactly 10 grams more than the Z3+.

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The Xperia Z5 in the hand

As already mentioned, the whole Z5 lineup shares a common design and the bunch can definitely be mistaken from a distance, especially if you don’t watch out for the model-specific color options. One such detail are the four bumper edges of the Z5, which, unlike the smooth finish on the Z5 Compact, are quite visibly made from a different material than the rest of the frame.

This is due to the fact that the higher-end Z5 and Z5 Premium use a metal frame that Sony has decided to reinforce by replacing the edges with a polycarbonate plastic. This might not look as smooth as the one piece solution on the Compact, but it is arguably a better overall design that allows you to have both the premium feeling of a metal frame and protection against easy denting of said metal on the most-likely contact points in a drop.

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The Xperia Z5 with a Sony flip cover

The back on the Z5 Compact is made of frosted glass (another way of saying matte glass) and Sony has really got the most out of the available materials. The body feels nice to the touch and the finish does not look cheap in any way. The handset comes in two classic colors – white and black, as well as two additional more vibrant options – yellow and green.

Controls

Just like the Z5 Compact, Sony has decided to leave the display of the Z5 mostly unchanged compared to its predecessor. Hence, the phone is equipped with a 5.2 inch 1080 x 1920 pixels display, just like the Z3+. As far as we are concerned FullHD is a perfect choice, but valid arguments could also be made for the need of higher resolution, like QHD, mostly to keep up with other flagship phones out there. Thankfully, however, this time around Sony can’t be accused of lacking behind on the new fad thanks to the Z5 Premium, which, if anything, takes high res to the extreme with the first 4K display on a mobile phone.

That being said, the 1080p panel of the Z5 seems like the most reasonable choice Sony could have made.

Sony Xperia Z5

Surprisingly enough, bezels have also gotten bigger and the Z5 now has a screen to body ratio of 69.6%, instead of the 70.9% of the Z3+. This is also the case with the Z5 Compact and the Z3 Compact. But, once again, the difference is barely noticeable, especially in black.

Overall, the front of the Z5 is clean and decluttered. The 5.1MP front camera is placed just to the left of the Sony logo, above the display and is void of any rings or color accents, so it can blend in.

You can really tell that Sony is making an extra effort to bring a new minimalistic feel to the Z5. This design language also extends to the earpiece grill, which is now almost invisible. So is the symmetrical bottom speaker grill and it is actually the only thing found beneath the screen. It also houses the main microphone.

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The front of the device is very clean and minimalistic

Going around the device, we find the left side almost empty. The SIM card and MicroSD slot are hidden under a tightly sealed flap. It does a splendid job of water-sealing the sensitive components, but does have a grove near the bottom that stands out on the otherwise flush side. It does, however, aid greatly in opening the cover, which is at least some conciliation.

There is only one other details on the left frame of the Z5 – a machined premium looking Xperia insignia – definitely a nice accent. It is actually one of the few little additions that is exclusive to the Z5 family, so you can look for it if you have trouble telling the Z3 Compact and Z5 Compact apart and even more so, the almost identical twins – Z3+ and Z5.

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The left side of the Z5 is mostly empty

The right-hand side is a little bit more crowded. It houses the silver power button, which also tends to stand out, especially on our dark grey review unit.

It is, however, just as instantly recognizable as the old round signature Sony one and it does actually make a lot of sense to leave at least one such distinguishing detail on a device that can otherwise be instinctively grabbed in any orientation. The embedded fingerprint reader might also have something to do with the color.

Sony Xperia Z5

However, it is quite a lot harder to justify the volume rocker position. Instead of being above the power button, Sony has decided to place the control underneath it. This is a common trait for the entire Z5 family and is arguably quite inconvenient. And before you flame us in the comment section, we are aware that the older Z3 series has a similar layout, but the rocker was positioned a bit higher, making it easier to press with your thumb.

Near the bottom, there is a very thin and almost unnoticeable shutter button. It makes taking photos all that more convenient, especially underwater where the capacitive touchscreen might play tricks on you.

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The right hand side has a lot going on

The 3.5mm headphone jack is placed on the top of the device, in the left corner. Next to it is the secondary noise-canceling microphone.

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The top features the 3.5mm headphone jack and noise-canceling mic

The bottom side of the Z5 is relatively bare as well. It houses the microUSB port, which thanks to Sony’s additional waterproof coating no longer needs a cover flap.

The only other thing on the bottom is the lanyard eyelet. While still convenient for a lot of people it is somewhat of an eye-sore, s for some reason Sony has decided to make it a deep cavern that extends well inside the device. However, it is arguably a lot less noticeable than the one on the Z5 Compact, which is on the side of the unit.

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The bottom side holds a microUSB port and a lanyard eyelet

Around the back of the Z5, we find a matte glass panel, complete with an exquisite frosted finish and thankfully not the type that would be easily covered in fingerprints. The only controls found here are the new 23MP camera, just like the one on the Z5 Premium and Compact, along with a single LED flash.

Other than that, on the back there is both Sony and Xperia branding, as well as the traditional tiny NFC logo as this is where the NFC contact area is located. The logo itself has a rubbery finish to it – yet another pleasant example of attention to detail on Sony’s part.

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A clean back side

Sony Xperia Z5 battery life

The Sony Xperia Z5 is powered by a 2900 mAh battery, sealed-in, as expected. That is quite a bit less less than the Z5 Premium at 3430 mAh, but still better than the 2700 mAh pack of the Z5 Compact. As for the Z3+, it has just a bit more juice at 2930 mAh, but that still makes the pair quite comparable and will help up see if Sony has, indeed, improved the power efficiency of its flagship offer.

Sony Xperia Z5

Overall, with an endurance rating of 73 hours, the Xperia Z5 definitely did alright in our tests, but still not quite the 86 hours the Z5 Compact managed to clock in. Granted, the scores are pretty close, but we expected almost identical results, considering the identical hardware, but, apparently the display size played a huge role. Our test reveal that the Z5 did slightly better than its smaller sibling in terms of web browsing, but failed to impress with only about 8 hours of video playback, only 17 hours of call endurance and quite a draining standby mode.

On a more positive note, however, the Z3+ managed to last only 65 hours under the same test conditions, despite having a slightly bigger battery than the Z5. This is a definite improvement on Sony’s end.

An endurance rating of 73 hours means that the Z5 should be more than happy to facilitate two days of average use, or at least our understanding of it – one hour of browsing, video playback and calls a day, respectively and the rest – standby.

Such usage pattern is of course entirely artificial, but we’ve established it so our battery results are comparable across devices. And if it doesn’t quite fit your bill, you can easily hop on to our battery life chart and adjust the pattern to your liking for an even more comprehensive comparison.

Update, 09 Aug 2016: Since we reviewed the Xperia Z5 back in 2015, two major circumstances changed and as a result today we’re announcing a re-test of the phone’s battery performance.

Regarding the reasons, which led to this, first Sony has updated the Xperia Z5 to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow.

Secondly, and more importantly, we standardized the display brightness for our battery tests to 200nits as opposed to the 50% setting on the brightness slider, which we used before. The change didn’t affect the relevance of most of the phones we’ve tested because the median brightness of all tested phones was 200nits anyway. The thing is that the Xperia Z5 was one of the outliers and with a brightness of only 90nits midway on the brightness scale, it had an unfair advantage over the rest of the 2015 flagships.

Freshly updated to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow and with a screen brightness firmly set to 200nits, the Xperia Z5 pulled off an Endurance rating of only 48 hours.

With the two-fold increase in brightness the phone’s battery life in the web browsing (7:42h) and video playback (4:05h) tests got slashed in half compared to before and the optimizations by the latest Android version didn’t help much.

Sony Xperia Z5 review

The Snapdragon 800 chipset was notorious for overheating and we did notice that during video playback the phone would get very hot so this is still very much an issue. Cooling it down as much as we can didn’t help its case much.

So there you have it – an up-to-date re-test of one of the key 2015 flagships.

Don’t miss the other updated pages throughout this review. We’ve re-tested the phone’s benchmark performance under Android Marshmallow and we’ve also reshot our test charts and posters in the camera section. End of update

Connectivity

Sony is offering the Z5 in both a single SIM and dual SIM variant, just like the Z5 Premium. The handset offers quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE/HSDPA support. LTE is enabled and Sony has multiple regional models to make sure the Xperia Z5 will work with the most widespread 4G networks. It is worth noting that the E6653 variant offers Cat.6 LTE with speeds of up to 300Mbps, while the E6603 one still has Cat.4 with a theoretical maximum of 150Mbps. This, however, makes little difference in real world conditions and shouldn’t really be a consideration.

Local connectivity features dual-band Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac and Wi-Fi Direct. There is also support for Bluetooth 4.1 with A2DP. Satellite navigation is also a given, with additional A-GPS and GLONASS or Beidou (market dependent) support.

The Xperia Z5 also has an FM radio with RDS.

The phone doesn’t offer an IR port, but it does come with NFC.

There is a microUSB 2.0 port for charging and data connections and now, thanks to special coating, it no longer needs to be covered by a flap. Media transfer mode is supported for accessing the phone’s built-in memory and microSD card over the USB cable.

USB host functionality is present, but requires a little more work than simply plugging in a device. There is a special menu under Xperia Connectivity in the setting that allows you to “discover” a plugged USB device. It still works as expected, but it requires some extra legwork. This is most likely related to the aforementioned coverless USB that might be vulnerable to shortages under water.

Being part of the premium “Z” line has a few other benefits, like MHL 3 TV-out support. You can also output your phone’s screen wirelessly via the Miracast protocol or Sony’s Xperia Connectivity Throw option.

The app also lets you share your media over DLNA by creating a media server, as well as connect to a PlayStation DUALSHOCK 3 (or 4) wireless controller.

Last, but not least, the Z5 offers advanced active noise cancelling when paired with a supported handset like the Sony MDR-NC750.

Android Lollipop with a pinch of Xperia

After a slightly hesitant transition into Android Lollipop, Sony is now fairly comfortable with the new platform and is spreading it across as many devices possible. We are happy to report that the Z5 comes with Android Lollipop right out-of-the-box and, even better, it is running the up to date 5.1.1 version. It is mostly identical to its predecessor in terms of user interface, but there are a few notable changes.

Sony Xperia Z5

As far as the launcher goes, Sony has gone to great lengths to preserve its signature look and feel. If you are transitioning from a KitKat Xperia, you will instantly feel that almost everything is right where you remember, just with a fresher material-design look.

This even extends to the bundled applications. Most of them are also practically untouched as far as navigation and UX goes, but now employ all the extra visual eye-candy of Android Lollipop. This kind of transition really takes effort and is definitely worth noting.

The lockscreen has undergone some changes with Android 5.0. There are no more lockscreen widgets available, apart, of course, from a selection of clocks.

The multiple panes have been removed as well. There are still quick shortcuts to launch the dialer and camera, which are now at the bottom left and right corners, respectively.

Naturally, you can protect your lockscreen by Face, Pattern, PIN or Password unlock and in the Z5 even finger print, in ascending order of security.

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Xperia lockscreen, lacking widgets

There are five homescreen panels by default and you can set any of them as your primary one. You can’t have more than seven panes at any given time though, nor can you change the order they’re in.

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Homescreens and widgets

You can set various live and static wallpapers, add widgets and shortcut, or change the UI theme. You can also choose which icons will be visible on the status bar, and which should remain hidden.

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Customization • Themes

The notification area uses the standard Lollipop-style pull-down effect with multiple levels. Quick settings are on the top and notifications on the bottom. The aforementioned can be accessed by swiping from the top twice, but Sony has also preserved its two-finger swipe gesture, which extends the full shade in one stroke.

The toggles are customizable and you can choose between a total of 13 and have up to 9 of them visible. Their order can be adjusted manually, or you can leave that to Lollipop, which will automatically rearrange them according to frequency of use.

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Notification area • Quick settings

The app drawer is laid out across multiple pages and you can sort the apps in various ways. However, in this new version of the launcher the signature left swipe-out menu is gone. Instead it is replaced by a small drop-down menu on the right and the search bar is at the top.

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App Drawer

The Xperia Z5 uses the stock Android task manager that lets you switch between the recently opened apps, as well as terminate any of them with a side-swipe.

The so-called “small apps” are also available in the Xperia Z5 and are accessible via the task manager. They are similar to Samsung’s Mini Apps, and pop up tiny widget-like applications on your homescreen, which you can move around and use without having to open the full-fledged app.

The list of small apps really tends to differ from one Sony to another for some reason and on our unit we found a default set of eight of those available: Active Clip, Browser, Calculator, Calendar, Timer, Touch Block, Music, Bookmarks, Gmail. The latter two seem to come courtesy of the Chrome and Gmail apps presumably through implementing some special interface, but oddly enough they don’t appear on all Xperia’s with the corresponding apps installed.

You can launch only one instance of a Small App, but you can open multiple Small Apps simultaneously.

Sadly, you can’t disable the small apps entirely and will always have them cramming your recent apps whether you use them or not.

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Task switcher • Small apps

Finally, Google Now integrates with your Google account and can access your daily routine, internet searches, email, etc. and give you information relevant to your interests and daily needs.

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Performance

Specs-wise, the Xperia Z5 is a true flagship, no doubt about it. It runs on a Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810 SoC, which is still the chip manufacturer’s top offer, at least until the 820 comes along. It has more than enough power to spare, but also happens to be the exact same hardware involved in the Z3+ overheating fiasco.

Whether it was Sony’s fault or a faulty chipset batch doesn’t really matter, as, at the end of the day, the Z3+ did, for a fact, overheat quite badly. This bad reputation quickly started dragging down Sony mobile’s fortunes and looked like a primary motivator for the quick release of the Z5 family. This did, effectively, push the flagship issue under the rug and we are also happy to report that, as expected, Sony has made sure the Z5 doesn’t suffer from overheating.

Sony Xperia Z5

Sony has really gone the extra length to ensure the Z5 handles heat diligently by employing a dual heat-pipe cooling system and quite a bit of high-efficiency thermal paste. It definitely does a better job at pulling heat away from the chip, so, even though the Z5 and Z3+ share the same core computing silicon, the former has the added benefit of better thermal management, which is generally a major stability and performance booster. It is just like investing in a big and pricy aftermarket heat sink to replace the small OEM one on a desktop pc – quite a natural thing to do and we applaud Sony for it.

However, before we get too carried away, there is an important note to be made here. The Z5 might handle heat better than the Z3+, but it still got quite toasty during our benchmark tests. This time around, however, it is nothing to worry about and quite tolerable, so Sony did, in fact, remedy the original issues. Still, it is also worth noting that despite its small size and identical hardware, the Z5 Compact did run a little colder than its full-size sibling. That is odd, to say the least, but the Z5 did also manage to score a bit higher in CPU tests, so, perhaps, Sony is pushing it a bit harder. But, we digress.

The rest of the Z5’s specs sheet seems just as worthy for a 2015 flagship. The aforementioned eight-core chip (Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2 GHz Cortex-A57) is backed up by an Adreno 430 GPU, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expendable storage. The phone’s price tag also puts it squarely in the high-end realm and lets it rub shoulders with most other current flagship smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S6, the LG G4 and perhaps even the 16GB iPhone 6s, although that might be a little bit of a stretch.

We made sure to pit the Z5 against all of these phones in the benchmark comparison below and also included a few other high-end offers that come close in specs to what the Z5 has to offer, like the Xiaomi Mi 4c, HTC One M9, OnePlus 2, Meizu MX5 and others. Last, but definitely not least, we threw in a few other Xperia handsets, like the aforementioned Z5 Compact, which we recently reviewed, as well as the nicely specked mid-range Xperia M5.

First up, we have the raw CPU performance test with GeekBench 3 and this is where the eight cores get to shine. We can happily report that the Z5 is performing up to par with other Snapdragon 810 devices. It fact, Sony seem to have done a truly terrific job in utilizing the raw CPU power to the fullest extent, outshined slightly only by the OnePlus 2, which has the same chipset. The Z5 did also score a couple of hundred points more than the Compact and seeing how this is a CPU only test and the extra gig of RAM couldn’t weigh in like in some other scenarios, it does seem the Z5 is staining itself a bit more.

There is an interesting observation to be made here, pertaining to the Xperia M5. Like we already mentioned, despite being a mid-range phone by design, its MediaTek Helio X10 SoC definitely holds its own and scores only a couple of hundred points below the Z5 Compact. If it is raw computational power you are after, then the latter might be a perfectly viable choice and it does come with a lower price tag than the Z5. However, the weaker GPU does take its toll in most of the other tests, so there is a definite tradeoff in making the more economical choice.

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