You’re looking for a new phone. Something reasonably powerful, big screen, great sound. A handset to blow your iPhone-loving friends out of the water.
This might just be it.
Sony’s Xperia Z5 is a larger phone, verging on phablet dimensions. Available in a variety of finishes, we’re reviewing and giving away one in a stunning gold finish. But is it a good enough smartphone for you to spend time reading this review and entering our giveaway?
The Sony Xperia Z5: What’s Inside?
This phone comes with a lot of spec.
Requiring a nano SIM, the inside of the 146 x 72 x 7.3 mm case is packed full of tech, the highlight of which is the Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810 chipset with a Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 CPU and Adreno 430 GPU, backed up by hefty 3Gb of RAM.
Several versions of the Xperia Z5 are available, including the Xperia Z5 Premium, a super flagship boasting a 5.5 inch 4K display. The model we’re reviewing, however, is the Xperia Z5, the standard flagship, still with phablet dimensions (a slightly smaller 5.2 inch), but with a more battery friendly Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixel display, complete with Sony’s TRILUMINOS™ with Live Color LED for remarkable color reproduction.
A microSD slot – in the same caddy as the nano SIM – will support up to 200 GB, which will add to the 32GB internal storage.
As with any modern smartphone, you can expect to get online via mobile Internet (GSM, HSPA, LTE) or wireless, and the device also features Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA and wireless hotspot. Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, NFC, micro USB with USB host support and FM radio are all included.
Fingerprint Recognition Brings Added Security
One particularly useful feature is the fingerprint recognition, made possible using a small scanner mounted in the power button. Setting this up requires several cans of your thumb to be captured, and if you don’t vary the position of your chunkiest digit, you’ll be setting this up for a while. The best approach is to consider that the scan is looking at a strip of your thumb, and between scans move it slightly so that a different portion of your opposable digit is scanned.
All in all, the results are good, but the only benefit a thumb fingerprint recognition brings – beyond the obvious security benefits – is to save you pressing the power button. Instead, you just rest your thumb against the scanner to unlock the phone.
It’s nice to have, and can frustrate any unauthorized user, however.
Portable Entertainment Center
Like most Sony devices, the Xperia Z5 is an entertainment center, albeit one you can stick in your pocket and take with you anywhere. As a result, the smartphone has superb video and audio. The TRILUMINOS system makes a massive impact when you start watching video, while hi-res audio reproduction is as good as any other on the market, including Beats Audio, if not better.
Factor in the microSD slot and you have a smartphone that can hold its own against any other (and quite a few tablets and PCs) in multimedia playback. Whether you’re planning on enjoying music, streamed video or gaming, put simply, the Xperia Z5 is a fun device.
On the subject of gaming, meanwhile, you’ll find a PlayStation subfolder in the app drawer. From here, you can connect to your PS4 and use the Remote Play feature, as well as access various services on the PlayStation Network. It’s a bit like the Xbox 360 and Xbox One apps for Windows Phone and Android, only better…
Lollipop with a Stripped Back Custom UI
Upon booting, the first thing you see is Android 5.0 Lollipop. Although the phone ships with the promise of an imminent upgrade to Android 6.0 Marshmallow (likely January), the most important thing to note here is that Sony has been working on a new user interface that closely resembles stock Android.
The result is a user interface that feels very much like Android 5.0 Lollipop but with a heavy dose of Sony software. As for branding, the only ever present element is the clock/calendar widget which can be removed if preferred. All in all, this is a slick, satisfying presentation of Android Lollipop, which suggests good things for the imminent update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
A nice addition to the UI are the Favorites Bar shortcuts on the Recents screen. Here, you can add a collection of lightweight apps (all windowed) such as a calculator, timer, browser, etc., that can be instantly launched. These can prove useful, and act more like widgets that can be quickly closed rather than standard apps.
Battery Life & Performance
One of the biggest surprises about this phone is the battery life. The non-removable Li-Ion 2900 mAh battery lasts up to 520 hours on standby, with up to 13 hours talk time. How does this translate into daily use?
While on standby and disconnected from both 4G and Wi-Fi, the Xperia Z5 battery decreases in daily chunks of 10-12%. Essentially, this means the phone can last over a week without recharging in a low-use scenario, although of course this would be an unlikely occurrence.
But what it does mean is that you can leave the Xperia Z5 at bedtime and wake up 6 hours later to find that it still has something approaching a useable charge. Better still, it recharges within a couple of hours and is equipped with several battery management tools. STAMINA mode and Ultra STAMINA mode activate power save functions, the latter enabling only basic phone functions – ideal for those desperate times when you’re nowhere near a power source for recharging. Background data queuing can also be enabled to reduce battery impact.
Using Antutu Benchmark to gauge an idea of how fast the phone is, we can see that, unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of an animal. User experience and other benchmarking tools may well differ, but based on Antutu, the Xperia Z5 running Lollipop is very highly rated, with only the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Note 5, and the Letv Le1 Pro coming in ahead.
That’s not bad at all.
However, it isn’t without its quirks. For instance, EA’s Dead Space seems to launch incorrectly half the time, sometimes with perfect sound, others with just ear-splitting static. For a phone with such good audio, this is particularly jarring.
Does the 23 MP Camera Deliver?
An impressive 23 megapixel camera (5520 x 4140 pixels) with phase detection autofocus and LED flash is mounted in the chassis of the Xperia Z5, offering a 16:9 ratio. You may prefer, however, to decrease to 20 MP and get the standard 4:3, but it is 8 MP that is selected by default, so if you’re looking for hi-resolution images from this camera, open the Settings screen in the camera app before you start snapping.
Color reproduction is convincing, with tones and hues appearing lifelike regardless of the environment. Various apps can be used within the camera app, such as 4K video, Multi camera view (which records footage from your device’s main camera and that of another Sony Xperia Z5 series phone or a recent Wi-Fi-compatible camera), panorama mode, and even Face in Picture, which records or snaps from both front and back cameras, and Vine, for uploading video clips to Twitter. In total, 12 camera apps are available, with more ready to be downloaded.
Other settings are also present, such as scenes and camera modes, and the smile detection works really well. Nighttime photography without the flash is impressive, with a more realistic color reproduction than you would find on cheaper phones. Think a camera on a par with the Samsung Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6S, here, but with the added polish that Sony brings to photographic hardware.
Meanwhile, snaps and videos recorded at the same location are automatically compiled into a story, much like the feature in Google Photos and other automated movie making apps.
Is the Xperia Z5 a Phone You Want?
As you’ve seen, the Xperia Z5 delivers a competent smartphone experience, combining the best of Android Lollipop with some surprisingly good pre-installed Sony apps and solid hardware.
This is a good smartphone, perhaps Sony’s best (although 4K fans will prefer the Z5 Premium.)
Compared to another 2015 phablet that we’ve reviewed – the Samsung Galaxy A7 – the Xperia Z5 is the more user friendly device. The useful thumbprint scanner on the power button saves time; the weight of the phone is perfect – not too heavy, not too light – and the camera is superb. Benchmark results speak for themselves.
However, you might be concerned that the phone ships with Android 5.0 Lollipop rather than the current Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Sony has stated that it will be making Marshmallow available on the Xperia Z5 in due course. So no need to panic!
Rightfully a flagship device, the standard Z5 is always going to be in the shadow of the Premium, super-flagship. But for a piece of hardware like this, available on Amazon for $565 or so, that shouldn’t be too much to worry about if you’re not too bothered about 4K resolution on a 5 inch screen.910
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