XPERIA Z5: The Best phone you never heard of
Sony’s Xperia line has remained a small player compared to giants Samsung and Apple. In Q4 of 2014, Samsung and Apple both shipped 74.5 Million units compared to Sony’s 11.9 Million. In Q1 of 2015, the gap widened even further with Samsung jumping ahead with 83.5 Million, Apple falling to 61.2 and Sony dropping to a meager 7.9 Million units. With the release of the Z5, Z5 Compact and Z5 Premium, Sony made their strongest push yet for a larger share of the mobile market. In this review I’ll be covering the Z5, the middle model.
Update: It’s been brought to our staffs attention that you can currently get the Z5 at a pretty substantial discount right now by clicking here to view the discounted, unlocked version on Amazon.com
The Z5 brings almost nothing new to the table with the aesthetics of the handset. If you’ve owned an Xperia device before, this one will feel nearly identical. Retaining the same form factor as the previous models, the device mirrors its predecessors. Thin at 7.33mm, the device still manages to feel solid. The Z5 does round down the edges compared to the previous models, opting to include tipped corners for increased drop protection. Switching from the Note 3, I was very surprised how light the it seemed to be at just 5.43 ounces. The Z5’s all glass surfaces retained a premium feel compared to the plastic of my Samsung. The smooth front glass is nicely contrasted by the frosted back glass. It has the same black bezels that blend seamlessly with the screen when not in use, accented by a metal frame around the device as a whole.
On the right side, the Z5 power button is now a little less than halfway down the device. This includes a fingerprint scanner for additional security. The volume rocker has been lowered as well, while the camera button remains in the same spot in the lower right corner. While slightly awkward to use with my right hand, the buttons synched very well with the fingers of my left hand. Index rests naturally on the power button, middle can easily manipulate the volume keys and ring worked the camera without any issue. If they released a version with the keys on the left that would be preferable, but it’s a very minor flaw in an otherwise fantastic design.
On the upper left is the only flap on the device. It covers the nano sim and micro SD slot. The sim tray was a little confusing at first but once you find the little tab, it’s very easy to use. Taking a page from Apple’s design, the tray comes out all the way and has a slot for the Micro SD card for easier insertion. The flap itself feels somewhat flimsy, so I’d avoid changing sim or memory cards too often. If it breaks the phone would no longer be IP68 Water resistant so caution is very advisable.
The top holds a waterproof 3.5mm standard headphone jack and the bottom has the charging port.
Boasting a 5.2in IPS screen with 1080×1920 resolution, the screen may not be the biggest or highest definition on the market, but it certainly does the job. The Z5 Premium includes a 4k display that in my opinion is entirely unnecessary. On your TV or Laptop 4k is certainly worth having. On a phone, it’s nothing but a battery drain that has very few actual uses.
Colors are vibrant and whites were white even compared to a sheet of paper held next to the screen. Blacks were dark with a nice, deep feeling. Display settings are very easy to tinker with if the colors or saturation aren’t to your liking.
Dropdown menus were smooth and crisp, with all icons and text appearing with perfect clarity. Playing Max Payne on my Xperia, the colors and animations felt very fluid. Video playback was perfect. While watching graphically intense scenes from a few movies the CGI was precise and crisp on the screen.
The overall brightness of the phone was above average and to be very honest, I found myself lowering it to around 75% to keep from being TOO bright. It was much better and brighter than my Note. Even in direct sunlight I had no problem reading text or watching videos.
The Z5 Camera is an updated 23.7mp with auto-focus and an LED flash. It’s capable of filming in 4k at 30fps or 1080p at up to 60fps. I did get a warning while filming 4k that if the battery got too warm filming would stop. But even after 10 minutes it never became a problem. The camera also features a slow motion capture option. Slowmo is available at 60fps for 720p or 30fps for 1080p. It was excellent for action shots and easily competed with Apple’s slowmo capabilities. Sony’s camera suite offers everything from AR modes that let you film dinosaurs, dragons, ninjas and fish super imposed on your surroundings to an audio mode that allows you to record sound and take a still image. The superior auto mode makes taking pictures easy and manual settings mode allows you to go from the full 23.7 MP to 2mp with quite a few options in between. The Background defocus app allows you to take incredible shots with just a few taps of the screen. When partnered with the Google Camera software I was able to take full sphere photos that exceeded every expectation I had.
In bright lighting the Sony takes pictures almost on par with a pocket digital camera of similar MPs. My photos are bright with rich color tones. Even when viewed on a 4k TV, the photos were crisp with nice lines and no visible pixelization. The many modes ensured nothing was washed out or over exposed. The 1.2/3” sensor makes for excellent shots and it’s easy to see why Sony is renowned for their cameras. My only regret is the lack of image stabilization. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a feature that’s nice to have.
In medium and low light, you will start to lose details but the results are still far above expectation. Noise was a little more obvious when the shots were blown up on an HDTV, but for your average facebooker or instagramer even these shots would be absolutely fine. The front facing 5mp selfie cam took great impromptu shots even in low light but the details were more muted although that was to be expected. I was pleasantly surprised by the Z5s ability to take photos underwater. Shots were only limited by the clarity of the water itself.
The 810 Snapdragon in the Z5 is partnered with 3gbs of Ram and 32gbs of onboard memory. The CPUs are a 1.5mhz and 2mhz Quad core Cortex models. The GPU is an Adreno 430. The phone feels great, I encountered no hang ups or slow down running as many apps as I could while gaming and playing music at the same time. I did notice after extended use on graphically strenuous apps it did grow warm but not uncomfortably so. I’d heard about the heating issues with the 810 but luckily so far I’ve yet to experience any.
If 32gbs of memory isn’t enough for you, the Micro SD slot supports up to 200gbs of expanded memory and it had no issue reading my 128gb card.
The Z5 packs your standard Wifi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, LTE and NFC support. NFC worked seamlessly with Google Wallet in a few tests and the Bluetooth paired up well with my home stereo. Range was excellent, with the phone capable of broadcasting to it from 20 feet away with no interruptions.
The battery is a 2900mhz with an astounding 540 hours standby. While this claim sounds too good to be true, I fully believe it as I left the phone unused and untouched for two days straight and didn’t lose a single percentage of battery. If I enabled Ultra Stamina mode, the phone informed me it would last 24 days, or 12 days with use. While gaming I averaged about 10% battery an hour, while watching media stored on the device it was about 6%. Streaming content brought that up to 8%, still well within acceptable limits for me. Using the phone for music netted me a 3% loss of battery after 5 hours (hooked up to an external source for speakers). The best feature of the Z5 battery though has to be the Quick Charge feature. From a fully drained battery after a 15 minute charge the phone had a 22% charge. After 30 minutes, It was at 55%. Fully charged took 152 minutes. As the battery charge gets higher, it charges slower. Using stamina mode you could easily extend that 20% into a full night of light use. The only downside is the battery is not removable, so when it starts to reach end of life it will need to be professionally replaced. It also does not support wireless charging, but that’s not a huge issue for me. I’d personally pick quick charging over wireless charging any day of the week.
The Z5 launched with Android 5.1.1 with an update in the works to bring it up to 6.0 Marshmallow in the next few months. Due to the lack of carrier support, the Z5 actually has the notable benefit of being free from the usual carrier bloatware. Sony’s contributions to the Android experience aren’t as extreme as some other manufacturers and unless you buy a nexus, it’s the closest thing to a pure android device out there. As is typical of Sony handsets, there’s a notable lack of root support. I have to say though, there isn’t much reason to actually root it though. In the past I personally rooted devices purely for screen capture or to remove system apps I didn’t need as well as for the excellent recovery options. With Android 5 screen capture became an included feature and as I’d previously mention, the Z5 is unburdened by bloatware. The Xperia comes with a native backup feature that saves Media, System and Downloaded apps and their relevant data. So in all honesty, there’s really no reason to root it. Everything you could possibly want is already here either as a native feature or as an optional play store download.
One of the best features is Playstation Remote play. You can sync your Z5 to a playstation 4 console to stream and play games from anywhere. Grand theft auto V was beautiful on the 1080p screen. The onscreen buttons didn’t let me play online versus very well, but for tooling around in single player it was more than sufficient. When paired with my PS4 controller, I was easily able to play online even doing some racing that requires minimal lag. This used about the same amount of battery as streaming video. Perfect for gaming on your lunch break at work.
Sony included their own apps like Album, File Commander, Movie creator, Xperia Lounge, Walkman (now Music), Movie maker and their own Video Unlimited service. Music offers some interesting features such as specific settings for a few models of Sony headphones and the ability to download track information and album art for songs. Clear Audio+ was perhaps one of my favorite features, automatically optimizing your music. With a variety of songs from different genres tested, it excelled at enhancing vocals at a slight sacrifice to bass and deeper tones.
Is it worth it?
Plain and simply? Yes. The Xperia Z5’s only real flaw is the high price tag, which is currently at $559 Unlocked for T-mobile or AT&T or any number of MVNOs. While you won’t be able to buy it in any stores, it is available through most popular online retailers. Without a contract or the discounts that carriers provide, you do end up shelling out the full amount for the device. That said, it’s well worth it for the price. It may be a few hundred more than an iPhone or S series, but the decidedly premium feel and features of the Z5 make up for it.
Having upgraded from a device at the end of its life cycle, the Z5 feels like a breath of fresh air. If you’re on a newer device, I’d still say give Sony a try. Packing excellent features into a beautiful housing, the Xperia experience feels like one of the best on the market. Having used both a Samsung note and an iPhone 5s, the winner every time for me would be the Xperia. It has everything you could look for in a phone. A solid device for demanding consumers, the Z5 could easily be one of the most popular handsets on the market if people would only give it the chance. The problem is Sony’s low market share and lack of carrier support. A good portion of consumers make their decision in the store after testing out the demo handsets. Without being able to handle an Xperia before you buy it, it does seem like a huge risk when you can easily play with an S6 or iPhone 6s and get a feel for the device before you open up your wallet. With that being said, I would say if you want a phone that looks good, runs better and feels like the Ferarri of Smartphones it’s the device to pick.