Update: The Sony Xperia Z5 finally launched in the US in February, with a few changes. We’ve revised our review to reflect this Android phone’s altered features.
Something feels different with the Sony Xperia Z5. After years of too-hasty handset updates from Sony with minimal enhancements (the Xperia Z3+ back in May was no exception), this finally feels like a worthwhile advance on the previous model.
The problem is, does anyone really need a new phone from Sony? The Xperia Z1 only launched in 2013, the same year as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. That’s not very long ago at all – one upgrade cycle for people stuck in two year contracts, who will now be getting a phone four iterations along the line if they stay Sony-loyal.
But the Xperia Z5 feels like a different tack from Sony, and after the mess of the Xperia Z3+ it’s good to see some real change.
Sony has also followed Microsoft’s Windows 10 example and skipped a number, for the non-Japanese market at least: the Xperia Z3+ was called the Xperia Z4 in Japan, a muddle that the company has now resolved by jumping straight to Z5.
In the UK, it’s had a pre-release price drop on Sony’s official store, from the original listing of £599 (about AU$1,249) to £549 (about AU$1,144). That original price may have been a placeholder, but it seems more likely to be a revision of strategy as it tries to land in a very congested flagship smartphone market.
In the US, there’s been no official price drop, since this GSM-only phone still costs $599 through several retail channels. But you can find it for $539 on Amazon. Just don’t go looking for a subsidized deal at Verizon or AT&T, because Sony launched this phone without carrier store support.
There’s a lot of hope resting on the Xperia Z5, but there’s a lot to be excited about with a new design, extra features and some other major improvements along the way.
Sony needed to fix up the design of its Xperia Z series and there have been some big changes this time. It’s still angular and glass-backed, but this time it’s a frosted material instead of the clear glass we’ve seen on every iteration since the Xperia Z1.
The edges have been rounded off a little more and the placement of the buttons on one edge has been switched.
Colour choices for the Xperia Z5 are green, black, gold and white – all of which look great, although the gold version in the most refined. I had the black and gold versions in for my review. Previously the backs of Sony phones have been fingerprint magnets, but this new frosted glass shrugs off marks and looks a lot classier from behind than the Xperia Z3+.
The branding is a little more tasteful this time. The Xperia name is etched into the side of the phone and I love the fact Sony has included the NFC logo here too. It makes it easy to know where to tap, and is a trick some other Android manufacturers could learn from (I’m looking at you, LG).
The camera sits at the top left corner with the flash just below it, and there’s also a little note of the sensor details.
Sony has smoothed down the edges on the Xperia Z5 as well. A couple of generations ago, these felt rather sharp on the palm of your hand, so this is a welcome improvement. Even though the design of the Xperia Z5 still feels blocky, it’s much more comfortable to hold than the Xperia Z2.
The corners also have caps that help to absorb the impact when you drop it – a feature that was introduced on the Xperia Z3 but still feels like a big advantage of the Sony Z series.
There’s only one flap on the Xperia Z5, and that’s to cover the microSD and nano SIM slots. The rest of the ports around the phone are waterproof and so don’t need the extra protection that Sony has applied with such zeal to earlier phones.
Fewer flaps is a great thing – you don’t have the nuisance of pulling them out to charge up your phone at night or need to worry about breaking them off (which does happen: I managed to do it quite easily to the Xperia Z2 Tablet).
Along the top edge of the Xperia Z5 is the waterproof 3.5mm headphone jack, and the bottom edge hosts the microUSB port for charging and data transfer.
The right hand edge is quite different to other Xperia phones. The power button has been moved down to halfway along the edge. It’s now silver and sits flush with the edge of the phone. This is also where the fingerprint sensor is – a great position for your right thumb when you’re holding the phone. Sadly, the Sony Xperia Z5 in US any sort of the biometric power button.
Down at the bottom of the right hand edge is the camera button. It’s in the perfect position for taking snaps in landscape, but not so good in portrait. Between those two is the volume rocker, and this really does feel badly positioned.
The volume rocker should sit above the power button, where it would be easier to reach. Every time I tried to change the volume, I’d lose my grip and the phone would almost slip out of my hand.
If you’re left-handed it might be a perfect position for your finger tips, although the rest of the button layout will be much less satisfactory.
Design on the front of the phone hasn’t changed much. The bezels at the side of the screen have been slightly slimmed down to allow a smaller phone without a change in screen size.
I wouldn’t have a problem with the thick bezels across the top and bottom of the screen if each housed speakers or had some other function. The top bar does include the front facing camera, flash and earpiece, but it’s not anything that couldn’t be included in a slimmer line.