Sony Xperia Z5 Review (In Depth): The Xperia Z5 is Sony back on sexy, irresistible form after the brief stumble of the Xperia Z3+, with the excellent new 23-megapixel camera a very welcome addition. Check out our full Xperia Z5 review.
Sony’s flagship Xperia phones have been some of the best handsets of recent times, leading the way in terms of visuals, camera smarts and design features such as water resistance. However, so far in 2015 Sony has been oddly quiet. While rivals such as Samsung and LG have put out stellar new premium mobiles (the Galaxy S6 and G4 respectively), Sony simply updated last year’s Xperia Z3 with some slightly upgraded specs and slapped a plus sign on the end of the name.
Read next: Full in-depth Sony Xperia Z5 Compact review
The Xperia Z3+ was a let-down thanks to its too-hot-to-handle nature, but that seems a distant memory now with the much-awaited release of the Xperia Z5 family. And the Sony Xperia Z5, which sits happily between the dinky Xperia Z5 Compact and 4K-boasting Xperia Z5 Premium, is a fantastic flagship that won’t disappoint fans or newcomers (sorry, I should have said spoiler alert, although I’m guessing you’ve already looked at the score).
We’re a shallow bunch here at Recombu Towers, so let’s start as ever with looks. Simply put, the Xperia Z5 is Sony’s most gorgeous mobile to date and probably one of the most attractive handsets of all time, thanks to some very sleek design work.
As usual, Sony has gone for that perfect partnership of glass and metal. That curved aluminium edging looks great and feels comfortable to clutch, especially compared with the harsh corners of the Xperia Z2, while your chosen paint job continues around to the frosted glass on the rear. We’re glad that Sony went for a matt finish rather than the usual shiny effort, for two reasons. First, it helps to further distinguish the Xperia Z5 from earlier handsets, and second, it’s a lot less smudgey. You can handle this handset while snacking on a late night kebab and you won’t end up with an utter grease-fest (take note, Galaxy S6).
Sony fans will notice a couple of other big design changes too, the most obvious being the all-new power button. Gone is the iconic round button of old and now you have a flat, stretched-out affair, almost like someone took a hammer to last year’s flagship (except a lot more elegant, obviously). The reason for that is the built-in fingerprint scanner, something we’ve seen on plenty of other premium 2015 phones like the iPhone 6s and both new Nexus mobiles. More on this in the ‘features’ section below.
You’ll also spot that Sony has added the Xperia branding to the left edge of the phone, while the position of the volume rocker is now below the power button rather than above it. This takes a little getting used to, but ultimately makes the Z5 easier to handle with one mitt. In fact, considering the size of the phone, it’s quite friendly to use one-handed – although that could be a result of the number of 5.5-inch-plus mobiles I now find myself reviewing.
And while the Xperia Z5 is once again water-resistant, happily swimming in fresh water for half an hour or so, the charging port isn’t hidden away beneath a flap any more. Like the Xperia Z3+ and Xperia M4 Aqua, the port is wide open and sat on the bottom of the phone, while the SIM and memory card slot are housed beneath the sole flap on the upper left edge.
As mentioned, one of the biggest new features in the Xperia Z5 is the fingerprint scanner, which unlike every other sensor I’ve seen is actually sat on the right edge of the phone rather than the front or rear. It’s impressive that Sony has managed to design such a skinny scanner and even more impressive that it works perfectly.
No matter which hand you use, you’ll find that you always have a finger or thumb that naturally sits on top of the scanner when you grip the phone. No awkward fumbling around, or holding the phone in a weird way in order to unlock it. Give the button a quick squeeze and then simply leave your digit resting on the surface and the Xperia Z5 should register your print and skip straight to your desktop. I found that the scanner was just as accurate as the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6s sensors, correctly registering every time except for when my hands were wet or covered in flour or something. And you can register a number of prints, in case you use both hands to grip the phone or your family members need access too.
The Xperia Z5 once again runs Android Lollipop, although this should receive an update to Marshmallow soon – hopefully by early 2016 at the latest.
Sony has stuck with its traditional phone overlay for the Xperia Z5, which sits on top of Android Lollipop 5.1. It’s still a neat, clean look and feel (once you remove the plethora of widgets pimping Sony services) which thankfully doesn’t ram tons of custom features down your throat. You’ve once again got Small Apps for multi-tasking and support for the likes of Remote Play (to stream your PS4 games to your phone), but most of the tweaks are hidden away in menus and can be ignored if you like.
Read next: Sony Xperia Z5 vs Xperia Z3 vs Xperia Z3+ Should I Upgrade?
Screen and media
Sony may have gone a bit mental and slapped a mighty 4K screen on its slightly bigger Xperia Z5 Premium handset, but the vanilla Xperia Z5 sticks with a 5.2-inch Full HD Triluminos screen – and that’s no bad thing. Quad HD is great and all but begrudgingly we’ll admit that it’s an unnecessary luxury, even if you enjoy watching high-def movies on the go.
Sony’s screen is brought to life by its X-Reality software rendering, which helps to produce realistic-looking images. Viewing angles are strong and on maximum brightness you’ll have no trouble seeing the screen even when you’re out in sunlight (that thing us Brits won’t see for another six months). And you can fiddle with colour settings in the display menu, to make the screen as rich and vibrant as you wish.
So should Sony have boosted the resolution to Quad HD to match other flagships such as the Galaxy S6 and LG G4? Possibly but it’s really not necessary, as the Full HD panel on the Xperia Z5 is still perfectly sharp – you need to get in very close and squint until your eyes bleed to see individual pixels. Any real difference is only noticeable if you squash this phone and a Quad HD panel side-by-side, and even then it’s marginal.
The Xperia Z5’s stereo speakers are powerful enough to enjoy some tunes while you’re dancing around in the shower, with decent audio quality too. Of course, to take advantage of the phone’s Hi-Res audio support, you’ll want to plug in some decent headphones – like Sony’s own MDR-NC750 ‘phones with built-in noise cancellation.
And as usual, the ‘up to 32GB’ of storage space can be expanded via a microSD memory card (up to a further 200GB). That’s a feature missing on many other recent mobiles such as the new Nexus handsets, the Galaxy S6 and the OnePlus Two, so the Xperia Z5 is a great choice if you like to carry a massive media collection around.
Performance and battery life
A Snapdragon 810 processor is once again stuffed inside this Xperia, although the Z5 thankfully doesn’t get hotter than the sun after extended use (unlike the Xperia Z3+, which packed the same processor).
Overall performance is solid, with only the occasional odd pause when loading an app to mar an otherwise smooth-running handset. And the Xperia Z5 handled the latest games such as Hitman Sniper without any issues.
Sony reckons that the Xperia Z5’s processing algorithms are more efficient than previous Xperias, so the processor is only activated and fully powered up when needed. As a result, the smaller 2900mAh battery (compared with the Xperia Z3’s 3100mAh cell) doesn’t result in worse battery life. In fact, I easily managed a day and a half of life between charges, with the Xperia Z5 behaving as expected overnight and holding charge well. Try streaming video non-stop and you’ll get an impressive seven and a half hours of playback from a full battery, which is better than most other mobiles we’ve tested recently, including the Moto X Style.
My only real complaint is a lack of built-in wireless charging, which means you need to fanny around with accessories to add the feature. Still, at least that open USB port means no fiddling with flaps any more.
It’s hard to believe that the Xperia flagship phones have stuck with the same camera from the Xperia Z1 onwards, but that 20.7-megapixel lens – paired with Sony’s impressive Superior Auto mode – made for some great snaps in pretty much any conditions. Of course, times have moved on and the LG G4 and Galaxy S6 have surpassed the old Sony snapper for amateur photographers, so I’m glad that Sony has put some effort into producing a solid camera for the Xperia Z5.
Check out our in-depth Sony Xperia Z5 camera review, including a full comparison with other top snappers like the G4 and S6. And here’s our comparison of the Xperia Z5, Xperia Z5 Compact and Xperia Z3/Z3+ cameras, to see what the difference is.
Sony’s Xperia Z5 is one of the most desirable and feature-packed phones of 2015, boasting a strong everyday camera, sharp visuals that can be customised how you like and an improved (but still gorgeous) design that incorporates one of the best fingerprint sensors yet. The few drawbacks, such as a lack of wireless charging, seem quite petty – especially considering the Xperia Z5 includes features such as a microSD memory card slot, something missing on massive mobiles like the Galaxy S6.
Read next: Sony Xperia Z5, Z5 Compact and Z5 Premium UK price and release date