Sunday, 18 October 2015 14:40

Sony Xperia Z5 (review)

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Sony has released its new flagship Z5 series in a compact, regular and premium size. Every manufacturer has a flagship – these live up to that moniker.

This year it has focused on camera, design and two-day battery life. iTWire’s ‘first looks’ discusses the differences between the three models so I will not repeat what is there.

This review is for the regular model – the 5.2”, HD, Xperia Z5 that retails for A$999. The 5.7”, 4K Premium costs $1,199 and the 720p Compact costs $849.

My first impressions – it is a flagship model with a few flaws – certainly any identified are software/firmware based and should be fixable. The hardware is almost perfect.

Out of the box

For a premium product, the Z5 has a rather plain box – no fuss. The biggest issue is the apparent lack of buds/mic on the Z5 Compact and Z5 regular. The Premium version comes with Sony’s MDR-NC750 Hi Res Audio and active noise cancelling buds – apparently a $400 option. Admittedly, the product was supplied at the media launch so it may come with standard buds.

Setup is typical; Android and it really wants you to sign into Google – you can defeat this.

A Sony User Interface (UI) lays over Android Lollipop 5.1 and it has opted for less is more approach. A nice, easy to use UI that really should be abandoned when Marshmallow arrives.

Look and feel

It is premium quality, well built, and has IP65/68 water and dust proof rating that makes it a class leader. But the look is a little bland. It lacks the curves of the Samsung Galaxy S6 series, the immediately identifiable iPhone 6 looks, or Lumia’s colourful back covers.

It is glass slab – with scratch resistant (we could not confirm if it is Gorilla Glass) front, and frosted glass on the back. It is not immediately identifiable as a ‘Sony’ - it needs a signature design. Sony may argue that point but over the two-week review, no one asked if it was a Sony!

Gone is the round wake/home button of earlier models – it is now on the side and sports an oblong shaped power button with finger print reader. The reader is reasonably accurate but I kept turning on the phone instead of just seeing the notification screen.

It was very hold-able and had a nice feel. The Z5 is 5.2” at 146 x 72 x 7.3 mm and 152g - it perhaps is a tad heavier than expected. The 5.1” Samsung Galaxy S6 is 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm and 138g – you can feel the difference.

Buy the optional flip cover case (transparent window shows the time and other status) to protect your investment.

Display

The ‘Triluminos’, ‘X-Reality for Mobile’, ‘Dynamic Contrast Enhancer’, 1920 x 1080, HD screen was very good – the 4K on the Premium is better and the 720p on the Compact is adequate.

But, no amount of Sony’s famous marketing jargon however overcomes its use of IPS LED. It does not have the pure black characteristic of OLED, it has a slight colour variation when viewed off angle, nor its daylight readability great. Do not get me wrong – it is a good screen.

Video playback and sound quality from its two front facing S-Force speakers was excellent.

Note that the 5.7” Z5 Premium only shows 4K when using a native format movie or image – for everyday display use its lower than that.

Battery

The 2900mAh non-removable battery has a micro-USB charger rated at 1.5A. It supports Qualcomm fast charge but the 5V, 1.5A, USB charger supplied does not.

It is very hard to measure battery life because of different usage patterns. I got 12 hours playing a video loop, and two days of normal use – a refreshing change from the iPhone and Galaxy. I flogged it on one day (many calls, video, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi) and had about 35% left at bedtime.

I noticed that battery life was impacted by camera use – when I took the reference shots (probably 70 or so) and 4K video over a day the battery was nearly exhausted at bedtime.

This is class leading although Stamina mode (similar to Doze feature in Android Marshmallow) is recommended when you are travelling.

Cameras

On paper, this camera should blow all others out of the water. It does not and I am willing to put that down to early software.

The rear camera is a 23MP snapper with a 1/2.3” Exmore RS sensor. The f/2.0 rating and the 24mm equivalent wide-angle lens works well. Its SteadyShot digital stabilisation is not as good optical/mechanical stabilisation is.

Is it 23MP? In 16:9 it is actually 20.1MP and in the 4:3 its 22.8MP – splitting hairs I know. If you use the 5X digital zoom it delivers progressively lower MP - 8MP images at full zoom.

Sony claims the fastest autofocus - .03 second and its hybrid phase detection system monitoring 192 detection points gives good results. I concur.

I tested this on my reference range of daylight, interior, and low light shots. Some shots were excellent surpassing the current class leader – the Samsung Galaxy S6/Note 5, 16MP camera. But, many were not. I cannot explain the variation now – put it down to software.

Daylight shots were very good – the class leader – with consistently good, crisp, and clear shots. Colours were accurate and there was no perceptible noise.

Interior shots gave variable outcomes - usually good but slightly under the class leader. I suspect the 192 detection points are trying too hard. The common issued causing poor shots was when backgrounds varied from light to shadow.

Low light shots were very variable – perhaps due to the single pulse LED flash – but the ISO rating up to 12800 should compensate for that. It lacks optical image stabilisation and low light shots were often blurry.

But – and this presently a big turnoff - it can take several seconds for the camera app to load and that means lost shot opportunity. Swapping to the picture gallery can also be slow. Using HDR the shots can also be slow.

It will do 4K video recording and again this was excellent in daylight, average in interior and not so good in low light – just when you want to capture the child blowing out candles at their birthday.

The front camera is 5MP, 25mm equivalent wide angle and uses the Sony Exmor R sensor. It has ‘SteadyShot’ digital image stabilisation, and took acceptable selfies. It does HD video.

In summary – a great daylight, happy snapper, with good automatic settings. My pet hate is the camera placement – like the iPhone - its top left and it is very easy to accidentally place a finger over it.

Sony knows cameras and I suspect a few firmware upgrades will satisfy me.

Under the bonnet

It uses Qualcomm’s SnapDragon 810 – an eight-core, 64-bit, big/LITTLE processor (4 x 2GHz and 4 x 1.5GHz) and Adreno 430 GPU (SOC).

In GeekBench 3 tests, it performed marginally below (4212) the Samsung Galaxy S6 series (4438) that uses its own Exynos octa-core. It is way above the HTC One M9 that uses the same SOC that initially suffered heat issues and had to be throttled back. The Z5 gets quite warm too when streaming video and charging.

It has 3GB RAM (DDR3 – not the faster DDR4), 32GB storage (45MB/s write) and supports up to a 200GB microSD card.

It has Wi-Fi AC MIMO, dual band, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, ANT+ for wearable device support, NFC, and MHL 3.0.

It does not have various other sensors like heart rate – but supports chest straps etc.

Strangely, I could not get a definitive list of its LTE bands. I assume it will be comprehensive using the Qualcomm Gobi world modem but that is not confirmed.

Conclusion

This is a very good phone but it is not necessarily any better than the iPhone 6s/Plus, Samsung Galaxy S6 series, or the LG G4.

Most international reviews compare it favourably with Samsung S6 series, LG G4, Moto X Play/Style, and iPhone 6s/Plus. Techradar places it a number five out of the current crop and I think that is fair. It is not, as Sony likes to say, ‘the best smartphone on the planet.’ Perhaps the Z6 will be.

It has IP65/68 rating – that is unique.

The camera while very good is inconsistent indoors and in low light – for the most part the Samsung took better photos. The camera app is very slow to load. Software updates will fix all this.

Its software – and Sony has reminded journalists this is a ‘pre-production’ version - is clunky. It does not stop you using it and I am sure this will be fixed.

It supports PlayStation4 direct hook-up – no other phone does this. Its S-Force front facing speakers are very good.

With smartphone technology advancing so rapidly it is hard to get ahead of the pack. Sony, like HTC, is finding it hard to compete with Samsung and Apple but I hope that the new Xperia Z5 (especially the Premium version) will find its place. As flagship smartphones account for well under 10% of sales (except in Apple’s case) Sony must win across the board with a range of models for each price bracket.

A highly competent flagship device - it gets 5 out of 5.


Specifications and ratings

iTWire has developed a new paradigm for reviewing smartphones in their category – instead of comparing to other phones. The categories include:

  • Flagship phones – Apple iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S6, LG’s G, Sony Xperia Z3/Z5, HTC One M9, Lenovo Moto X, and Microsoft Lumia 950 (1020/930 series superseded), Huawei P8, OPPO Find 7, Xiaomi, ZTE and others have entrants in this category
  • Mid to high range – Huawei P8/Max, OPPO R7/Plus, Xiaomi, ZTE, Samsung A, LG L&F series, Moto E/G, Lumia 6XX. This may include Note/Phablets with Pen support
  • Mass market – Huawei Ascend Y/G series, OPPO N, ZTE
  • El-cheapo <A$100

Note the following specifications in grey are indicators of what comprises the majority of offerings in their respective categories.

Type

Flagship

Sony Xperia Z5

Rating out of 5

+ or – used

 

Screen

5”+

Note/Phablet 6”+

5.2”

Triluminos display for Mobile, X-Reality for mobile, Dynamic Contrast Enhancer

5

Screen type and quality

AMOLED or IPS

IPS LED

Some colour variance off centre viewing

 

5

Pixel per Inch

500+

428

5-

Glass (equiv)

Gorilla 4

Scratch resistant (no mention of Gorilla)

5-

Res

HD to QHD (4K)

HD 1920 x 1080

5

CPU

64-bit, 8 Core, Big/Little e.g.

Qualcomm 8XX or similar

Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810

Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2 GHz Cortex-A57

Adreno 430

5

Memory RAM

3GB

3GB

5

Storage

32GB

32GB

5

MicroSD

up to 128GB

Up to 200GB plus USB Host for external flash drive and HDD

5

LTE

Global bands. Cat 4+

LTE Cat 6

5

Dual SIMM

If available provides 2 x 4G slots

Single

N/A

Telstra Blue tick rural

Desirable

Not tested yet

N/A

Wi-Fi

AC dual antenna

Wi-Fi AC MIMO dual antenna

5+

NFC

Yes

Yes

5

GPS

GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, BeiDou, GAGAN, IRNSS, DORIS

AGPS

GLONASS

Beidou

 

5

Mapping software and maps

At least one free mapping system – Google or HERE

Google Maps

5

Bluetooth

4.1+LE

4.1 LE and ANT+

5

Sensors

G-shock

Gyroscope

Ambient light

Compass

Proximity

Accelerator

All plus things like

heart rate

barometer

 

Fingerprint

DLNA Certified

MHL 3.0

Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer

5

Battery

(Assumes Micro USB or Lightning)

2500mAh+

At least a day

Removable

Non-removable 2900 mAh

Claims two days use but that entirely depends on usage pattern.

5

Fast charge and/or Qi

Yes/Option

Qualcomm chipset supports Quick Charge 2.0 but the 1.5A USB charger supplied does not - disappointing

4

Camera Rear

16MP+ <f/2.2, OIS, A/F, Twin flash, BSI sensor, 4K record

1/2.3'' 23 MP Sony Exmor RS, Hybrid Auto Focus 0.03 sec, 5 x Digital Zoom, Wide angle G Lens (24 mm), ISO 12800 Photo / 3200 Video, SteadyShot digital and video stabilisation, 4K video recording

Single pulse LED Flash

5

Camera Front

>4MP+ HD

fill flash

5 MP front camera Sony Exmor R, SteadyShot with Intelligent Active Mode - video stabilisation, Wide angle lens (25 mm)

Full HD video

5

Screen to body ratio (higher better as it affects dimensions) or keyboard

70%+

69.6

146 x 72 mm

5

Thinness

7-8mm

7.33mm

5

Looks – highly subjective

Premium build and finishes

A glass slab – front and back.

Nice, quality build but bland

White, Graphite Black, Gold and Green

5

Weight

>150g (or 30g per inch of screen size)

154g

5

Operating system

Latest version with upgrades for at least 2 years e.g. 5.x and 6.x updates

Android 5.1 Lollipop

Upgrade coming to Marshmallow 6.x

 

5

User Interface (UI) Bloatware

Does the UI add value, ability to customise

The UI is good but I suspect this phone would be better using material Marshmallow and concentrating on developing the camera app more

5

Video, Audio codecs

Full suite

High-Resolution Audio (LPCM, FLAC, ALAC, DSD), DSEE HX, LDAC, Digital Noise Cancelling, Clear Audio+, S-Force Front Surround, Auto-headset compensation, Stereo Recording, FM Radio

5

Options

Premium head buds and mic

Standard set not supplied.

Hi Res, noise cancelling a ‘$400 option’

Not supplied

Innovations

Curved screens, HDMI out, voice/gesture control, docking, machine learning, payment systems, something different

PlayMemories

PS4 Remote Play

5

IP or ruggedized

Option

Yes IP 65/68

5

Warranty

2 years+

1 year

5-

Service in Australia

Yes very important

Yes

5

Price

A$800-1200+

A$999

5

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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