Sony’s Xperia Z range is in the 5th year now, and I’ve been lucky to try out phones from every generation. Call it perks of the blogging. In all these years, Sony’s flagships have never been on my recommendation list for a variety of the reasons except for the Xperia Z3 Compact, which I’d still recommend if there’s a great deal. Sony has added new tricks to its Xperia Z5 line-up. And did I tell you there are three variants?
Sony was generous enough to send me the Z5 Premium, the one with everything, for review and to let me play with it for enough time. So, is it the one I will recommend?
Sony’s still stuck in 2010 when it launched the first Xperia Z series phone. Since then the design for the flagship has been more of incremental updates. It all depends on how you see it. Some might see it as repeated and boring while other may see it as consistent improvement plus the identity of the brand. One thing that I always liked is waterproofing in Xperia Z series. Sony has been just making it better every year and now at this stage except for the SIM/sd card tray everything else is exposed to water. I make sure that I expose Sony’s phones to water just to check its claim, and they never failed me and put me in trouble. I should be thankful for that.
One thing Sony still can’t get rid of is the thick bezels. Although somewhat reduced compared to earlier iterations, they are still significantly thicker compared to the competition. The gold version I’d for review no doubt looked stunning, but I wish if it had a lighter shade of the color. I was expecting to get the chrome variant which is pure swag.
The glass back panel makes the phone slippery. I’d to be extra careful while pulling it out of the pocket. Sony knows this and as a remedy, there’s a lanyard socket where you can fix a hand strap. The Xperia Z5 Premium is considerably thick at 10mm.
All the keys are on the right side. However, the placement of the volume rocker is inconvenient as it is close to the camera button, that is near the bottom. The ideal placement would have been just above the power button. The power button is placed exactly where it should be. Sony has even integrated the fingerprint sensor in the same button.
I’ve been saying this for long and will say it again, the placement of the camera is just too wrong. That’s the case with all Sony phones. I had to be careful to not to block the view of the camera.
Hardware, Performance and Battery:
Sony has opted to use the Snapdragon 810 SoC in the Xperia Z5 series. As even the non-techy folks know by now, Snapdragon 810 is notorious for overheating problems. But the phone makers didn’t have any other options, too. Sony has decided to stick to 3GB RAM, which is not bad at all even though others bringing phones with 4GB RAM.
The Xperia Z5 Premium also happens to be the first phone smartphone to boast the 4K UltraHD display while the competition is still at 2K QuadHD. But there’s a catch. It doesn’t render the content in 4K UltraHD all the time. It uses the high resolution when the content itself has 4K UltraHD resolution. Otherwise, it uses 1080p HD resolution. That’s like having a AWD car with auto or shift on fly functionality. Power is transferred to other two wheels only when it is really necessary. This way you save the fuel. That’s exactly how the battery is used optimally in Xperia Z5 Premium. It switches to 4K only when it’s really needed.
When the Z5 Premium was my daily driver, I didn’t see any issue with the performance. On few, rare occasions I did faced some hang-ups or stutter, but that is more about the software optimization than the hardware. So, I don’t see it as a negative point.
Sony’s phone never had any issues with delivering the battery performance. The Z5 Premium easily comes near to the company’s claim of 2 days, which is pretty good. If you use it conservatively with STAMINA mode, you will not have to worry about the battery dying on you in the middle of the day.
The camera has seen some changes on paper, at least. The older 20.3 MP camera module is now replaced with the upgraded 23MP one. However, the sensor size still remains the same at 1/2.3 inch. This simply means there will be more pixels to accommodate resulting in the smaller size of the individual pixels.
Traditionally, Sony’s cameras have been utter failures except for the Z3 Compact, which clicked great shots in my tests. I never liked the bigger Z3 and couldn’t test the Z3+. Sony is as usual boasting about the improvements in the camera but is Z5 Premium worth it?
Sony says it has used PD-AF (phase detection auto-focus) which is better than the traditional AF systems. In our experience, however, AF was slow to respond and far from accurate. It was useless for close-up/macro shots. At this price point, Sony could have easily included Laser AF. The LG G4 has already shown how effective the laser AF is.
From the resultant images, I can surely say Sony’s cameraphone is headed in the right direction. While the Z5 Premium does capture a significant amount of details, it stays behind the phones like LG V10 in terms of sheer amount of details. Color saturation was a bit on higher side.
The one area where Sony’s phone disappoints is the camera controls. There’s no difference between the controls you get on sub $300 phone and what Z5 Premium has to offer. Actually, even sub $300 are getting better at this. Competing devices offer a lot of controls to play with.
The low light and even night time performance were stellar. You rarely get the chance to use the adjectives like this. The details Z5 Premium captured during low light was impressive. The high ISO levels (12,800 in auto) surely helps. Even more impressive was the fact that even in low light photos the noise levels were quite low which is rarely the case.
It’s great that Sony has actually launched a dual SIM variant of Xperia Z5 Premium. In a country like India dual SIM support can be a deal-maker or deal-breaker. It’s not the only flagship to have this feature, but nonetheless, it’s good that makers have accepted the usefulness of dual SIMs on flagships. Along with this, there’s obviously 4G LTE connectivity on both the slots but you can use it only on one of them at a time. Bluetooth, NFC, WiFi even need a mention?
Do I recommend or not?
Well, that’s a tough question like it has always been. Sony’s smartphones efforts are looking better than ever with the Xperia Z5 series or that’s what the Z5 Premium indicates. While Sony has a lot to catch up with in camera, its phone still delivers the overall performance good enough for a flagship. The IP68 rating is a cherry on the cake. But the price tag of Rs.57,000 (~$828) is exorbitant, to say the least. When compared to the similarly sized Samsung Galaxy Note 5 which has a stylus to improve productivity or the iPhone 6s Plus (16GB) which people usually pick-up for sheer brand value, Xperia Z5 Premium doesn’t shine strong. The Note 5 is cheaper than the Z5 Premium and just a bit costly than the smaller Z5.
Although I haven’t reviewed the smaller Xperia Z5, considering the fact that it shares everything with the Z5 Premium, it is better value for money at Rs.44,000 ($639). Indian pricing is for the Z5 is still $100 more than US ($539 at B&H). Sony isn’t even selling the Z5 Premium stateside, so the only options are Z5 Compact and Z5. Actually, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G5 are a lot cheaper than the Z5, which tells you Sony’s has messed up the pricing big time.
It is only because of this ridiculous pricing that Xperia Z5 phones have less value-for-money score. But if you’ve been a loyal user of Xperia series and don’t mind shelling out few extra bucks, there’s almost nothing that will go wrong with your decision.