Sony Xperia Z5 review [hands on]: optimization is the name of the game

Sony has launched the Xperia Z5 alongside two other variants, the Xperia Z5 Premium and Xperia Z5 Compact. We recently had the chance to put it through its paces. From our experience so far, it seems Sony has optimized its flagship with just three changes. Find out what these changes are in our first hands-on Sony Xperia Z5 review.

Sony Xperia Z5 release date and price

The official announcement of the Xperia Z5 came on September 2, 2015 during the IFA 2015 tech fair and the Sony Xperia Z5 release date will fall in October for selected markets. In Europe, the Xperia Z5 price will be €699 and the device will be available in four colors: Graphite Black, Silver-White, Matt Gold and Fir Green.

Sony Xperia Z5 design and build quality

If you know Sony, you may have guessed that the design of the Xperia Z5 hasn’t changed much from the company’s traditional Omnibalance design language, and the Xperia Z3+ in particular.

There’s a new ‘Xperia’ stamp and the power button is now a small, elongated pill shape, and the volume rocker is closer to the dedicated shutter button. The reason for this change? The power button now houses a fingerprint scanner.

sony xperia z5 side power button
The power button is larger and houses a fingerprint scanner. / © ANDROIDPIT

At the bottom edge of the left-hand side of the Z5, there’s a stamped logo and a flap covering a port for the microSD and nano-SIM card slots at the top.

The magnetic charging dock pins are gone, replaced by an open micro-USB port on the bottom edge and a recessed loop for attaching a cord for underwater use.

The top edge has just a pinhole microphone and headphone port. The right-hand side has the finger scanner/power button combo, shutter button and volume rocker.

sony xperia z5 front camera
Up front it’s all typical Sony, unfortunately still with big bezels. / © ANDROIDPIT

On the front of the Xperia Z5 we have a proximity sensor, LED notification, 5.1 MP front-facing camera and dual stereo speakers above and below the display. The speakers are so slim that you might not even notice they are there.

Unfortunately Sony hasn’t done anything about the screen-to-body ratio, so the Xperia Z5 is still quite large and has the same big bezels at the top and bottom.

sony xperia z5 back
The Xperia Z5 is relatively large, considering its screen size. / © ANDROIDPIT

The back of the Xperia Z5 is all-glass, like its predecessors. It doesn’t look like the back of an Xperia device has changed in years.

The lens of the 23 MP camera is located in the top left hand corner with a single LED flash sitting below it. Both the front and back camera use Sony’s Exmor sensors.

sony xperia z5 sim sd
The Xperia Z5 now has its very own etched branding. / © ANDROIDPIT

Once again Sony has remained conservative in its approach to design, despite having told us that changes were on the way. If shifting a few buttons and ports around counts as design changes at Sony, then we shan’t hold our breath for anything radical for a while. However, if you’re a fan of the Omnibalance design language then the refinements here are likely to be very welcome.

Sony Xperia Z5 display

If you put the Xperia Z2, Xperia Z3, Xperia Z3+ and Xperia Z5 side by side with the screen turned on, you will not notice any difference.

The Xperia Z5 display is the same 5.2-inch Full HD Triluminos IPS LCD as the other devices. So we have the same resolution (1,920 x 1,080 pixels), screen diagonal and pixel density (425 pixels per inch) as pretty much every other flagship Xperia in recent memory.

By this point it might seem that Sony doesn’t think users need higher resolution displays than Full HD, except that the Xperia Z5 Premium’s 4K display blows that theory out of the water.

sony xperia z5 front display 2
It’s the same excellent 5.2-inch Triluminos IPS LCD display. / © ANDROIDPIT

However, the quality of the Sony display is undeniable. The brightness is almost excessive, but the color saturation is nicely balanced, the images are sharp and the IPS LCD offers good outdoor visibility.

You can hop into the settings and manually configure the display to your preferences if you think the colors are too bright or not bright enough for your tastes.

The viewing angles are also really good. Even at an angle of 30 degrees it is still possible to see what’s on screen. Furthermore, Sony has optimized the screen’s touch recognition so it is now more sensitive and recognizes touch input even when the screen is partially wet. It still won’t work underwater, but at least you don’t have to fully dry it off to use it.

sony xperia z5 app drawer 1
The screen viewing angles are impressive. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sony Xperia Z5 special features

Like many other manufacturers, Sony is getting on board with the fingerprint recognition capabilities of the upcoming Android 6.0 Marshmallow and has delivered the Xperia Z5 with a finger scanner.

This will not only add an additional level of security but will also enable the use of fingerprint-secured Android Pay, the NFC-based mobile payment system arriving with Marshmallow.

sony xperia z5 finger scanner
The finger scanner is very well placed. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sony has made a very good decision when it comes to the location of the finger scanner sensor. It is in a very natural place for turning the phone on, even when you’re removing it from your pocket. With a little practice, you could have your phone unlocked by the time you get it out of your pocket.

Despite the small size of the fingerprint scanner (it is smaller than the Galaxy S6 home button, for example), the capacitive sensor in the scanner has a resolution of 500 ppi, which makes it very accurate, even over a relatively small surface.

In my time testing the phone I didn’t notice any differences in response rate or accuracy compared to the Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6.

sony xperia z5 specs
The Xperia Z5 runs Android 5.1.1 for now but will get Marshmallow soon enough. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sony Xperia Z5 software

Sony’s user interface is very recognizable. Nothing much has changed on the Xperia Z5 in this regard.

The same minimal style is evident in the home screens, app icons and settings menus. Although we’ve seen versions of a stock, bloatware-free Android ROM in leaks, the Xperia Z5 was not the device to debut it.

sony xperia z5 settings
Sony’s Xperia UI in the settings menu. / © ANDROIDPIT

The usual suite of Sony apps is on board, including Music, Videos, What’s New, News from Socialife, Facebook and 11 apps from Google. There’s also a radio antenna, but not all countries will get an FM radio.

The OS speed and performance is pretty good, with no visible delays or stutters.

sony xperia z5 quick settings
The Quick Settings menu on the Xperia Z5 looks a lot like stock Android. / © ANDROIDPIT

I do have to report that I suffered some strange issues on all the new Xperia devices though. At times, the home button and swipe-down gesture on the home screen just wouldn’t work. I’m hoping this bug is down to this not being the final software, but I have heard of this affecting other commercially available units that do have the final software versions on board.

On the positive side, Sony seems to have done a great job of optimizing the software to avoid the overheating issues of the Xperia Z3+. The Xperia Z5 uses the same Snapdragon 810 CPU the Z3+ uses, and even though I tried all the tricks I knew to make it crash, the chipset seemed more stable than on the Z3+, despite not being under-clocked compared to that device.

sony xperia z5 camera mode 2
Despite hammering AR mode and 4K video we couldn’t make the Xperia Z5 crash. / © ANDROIDPIT

That’s not to say that the Xperia Z5 didn’t heat up though. It didn’t get catastrophically hot and no apps force closed, but it did get hot. Fortunately the glass construction helps disperse heat quickly, but still, it’s a concern.

Sony has pushed a massive 2 GB update for the Z3+ this week, so perhaps there are some major improvements on the horizon for that device too.  

sony xperia z5 xperia brand
Sony seems to be paying more attention to the finer details in the Xperia Z5. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sony Xperia Z5 performance

The Xperia Z5 specs are largely the same as the Xperia Z3+, which only appeared in June 2015. We’ve got the same 64-bit octa-core Snapdragon 810 (MSM8994) with four 2 GHz cores and four 1.5 GHz cores and Adreno 430 GPU.

The Xperia Z5 also packs 3 GB of RAM and only comes in one internal storage option: 32 GB. Fortunately you have the option of microSD card expansion up to 128 GB.

sony xperia z5 sim sd 2
There’s a nano-SIM and microSD card slot on the Xperia Z5. / © ANDROIDPIT

In my short time with the Xperia Z5 I didn’t notice anything particularly remarkable in terms of performance – other than the unresponsive hone button and swipe-down gesture. We’ll be able to bring you more information in our full Sony Xperia Z5 review, but I can at least confirm that the camera app doesn’t force close from overheating when using AR modes or shooting 4K video.

Unbelievably, when I asked a Sony engineer about the camera problems on the Z3+, I was told that Sony would prefer to have a camera that delivers quality images for 20 seconds before crashing than to have a stable camera that provides sub-optimal results or compresses the final result. Not the answer I was looking for!

Sony Xperia Z5 audio

Sony assures us that it has optimized the audio quality in the Xperia Z5, because this was one of the main requests in a customer satisfaction survey. The audio volume from the front-facing speakers is now louder and clearer.

The Xperia Z3 produces MP3 sound quality using the DSEE HX technology for high-resolution sound. During my time with the Z5 I couldn’t really evaluate this claim, but we’ll bring you more in the full Xperia Z5 review.

sony xperia z5 headphone jack
Sony has improved the audio quality on the Xperia Z5. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sony Xperia Z5 camera

Finally, an upgrade – the Xperia Z5 camera now has a 23 MP Exmor sensor with a super-fast auto-focus of 0.03 seconds. One of the talkative engineers responsible for the development of the Xperia Z5 camera told me that the camera module has been enhanced and now utilizes a "hybrid image stabilizer".

While this may sound like a mixture between optical image stabilization and a software-based solution, Sony was quick to clarify that it’s digital. According to the engineers, the camera lens doesn’t shake inside the phone like it traditionally does for optical image stabilization, so we’re not entirely sure how it works, but it certainly produces results as good as Sony claims. The hybrid image stabilizer also works in video mode and the anti-shake results were very impressive too. 

sony xperia z5 camera mode 3
The camera on the Xperia Z5 is really impressive. / © ANDROIDPIT

You can enlarge the focal area on screen for photos, and the auto-focus in video is incredibly good. As soon as a subject enters the frame it is instantly in focus, and Sony’s continuous auto-focus allows the camera to refocus on objects in the frame based on the distance between them and the camera lens.

While other cameras offer this feature too, I haven’t seen any do it as well as the Xperia Z5. The Z5 never does the auto-focus shuffle when trying to get the right focal length for objects in video, not even those that are moving.

sony xperia z5 camera
The Xperia Z5 has an all-new 23 MP camera with ‘hybrid image stabilization’. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sony Xperia Z5 battery

Sony claims the Xperia Z5 battery can be used for two days and one hour without needing a charge. As you might have guessed, we’re going to wait to test out this marketing claim properly in the full Xperia Z5 review.

The Z5 battery is the same size as the Z3+ battery – 2,900 mAh – and we didn’t get anywhere near two days out of that phone. Both battery modes, STAMINA and Ultra STAMINA are on board and Xperia devices typically have some of the best battery management on the market.

With most other things being equal to the Z3+, Sony would have had to have done some pretty serious battery management work on the Z5 to make such a big leap. We’re looking forward to seeing how different things really are.

sony xperia z5 usb
The Xperia Z5 has an optional fast charging cable. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sony Xperia Z5 technical specifications

    • Type:
    • Phone
    • Model:
    • Sorry, not yet available!
    • Manufacturer:
    • Sony
    • Dimensions:
    • 146 x 72 x 7.5 mm
    • Weight:
    • 157 g
    • Battery size:
    • 2900 mAh
    • Screen size:
    • 5.2 in
    • Display technology:
    • LCD
    • Screen:
    • 1920 x 1080 pixels (424 ppi)
    • Front camera:
    • 5.1 megapixels
    • Rear camera:
    • 23 megapixels
    • Flashlight:
    • LED
    • Android version:
    • 5.1.1 – Lollipop
    • User interface:
    • Xperia UI
    • RAM:
    • 3 GB
    • Internal storage:
    • 32 GB
    • Removable storage:
    • microSD
    • Chipset:
    • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810
    • Number of cores:
    • 8
    • Max. clock speed:
    • 2 GHz
    • Connectivity:
    • HSPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 4.1

Early Verdict

With the launch of the Xperia Z5 so close to the Xperia Z3+ (which is also known as the Xperia Z4 in Japan and the US), I was told very plainly that Sony didn’t change very much, that “the hardware is pretty much the same except for the camera and audio and battery optimizations”.

So why was this device release so rapidly without much of a change? “In Japan this device would be released anyway and users could import it, so why not release it internationally?” explained Sony.

sony xperia z5 front display brand
The Xperia Z5 feels like a minor improvement over the Xperia Z3+. / © ANDROIDPIT

Whether this makes Xperia Z3+ owners feel better or worse we can’t say, but it’s clear that Sony focused on three main areas to differentiate the Xperia Z5 from its predecessor: camera, audio and battery. The camera is definitely better, the audio we can’t tell just yet and the battery we’ll have to wait to test out fully. 

One thing is for certain though: when buying a Sony Xperia you should to make sure the specs are exactly what you want because they may well be superseded in six months.

sony xperia z5 calling
Even if the Xperia Z5 isn’t right for you there’ll be a new one in six months. / © ANDROIDPIT

It is clear that the Xperia Z5 is really just an enhanced version of the Xperia Z3+ – an Xperia Z3++, if you will. If the recent software update for the Z3+ is as good as Sony claims it is, then perhaps the gap between the Z3+ and Z5 will shrink even more.

Taking this into consideration, it might be hard to justify buying the Z5 just for its finger scanner and better camera alone, especially when the Z3+ will now be cheaper and is pretty much the same phone.

Sony Xperia Z5 – where to buy?

You can pre-order the Sony Xperia Z5 in black or green now at Vodafone UK for free from £49 giving you unlimited texts, unlimited minutes and 4 GB of data. Also included is free access to a choice of Netflix, Spotify Premium, Sky Sports Mobile TV or a NOW TV Entertainment Pass for 6 months. 

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