Sony Xperia Z5 Review

The Sony Xperia Z5.  IT was Sony’s flagship for almost a good 30 seconds but in was a high end device and with recent price snips, how is it holding up and maybe more importantly, how good does it sound?  Read on to find out.

2016-06-29 12.24.37 (Copy)

Thanks to Vodafone UK for the loaner.

First Impressions

Another loaner unit form Vodafone, so once more it’s been opened several times  before.  The insides though, ah we have a charger plug and a micro USB cable.  This time however it’s a real Sony charger but what does it matter, I’m sure we’ve all got several anyway.   The phone though, hmm on picking it up its noticeably thicker than the Z3+ was and the back is a very different texture.  It is I suppose more grippy on my desk but in my hand, it feels more slippery than the glass did.  Also I notice that the power button, that little round one that stuck out so it was easy to find with your finger.  Well that’s gone.  It’s been replaced with a flat rectangularish one.  Sad face.

Oh it’s still got the little lanyard loop, I really like that actually I wish more phones had them.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Powering it up and the screen, yeah its damned fine.  Mind you the Z3+ was awesome too so I expected this to be just as stunning.  Though it feels a little less wow, maybe I’ve just gotten used to the Z3+ screen?

Oh, that power button, that I didn’t like was flat, it doubles as a fingerprint scanner.  Hmm, interesting location.  Actually my finger reaches it much more naturally than the G5 one on the back.  Mind you the volume control, still in its weird lower position still seems as weird as ever.  It’s got to be for the camera zooming but really must it be down there rather than up at the top?  However as I skirt around the outsides I barely notice the sim / SD card slot. They really have made that door much more seamless this time, to the point that while my eyes can see it clearly, running my fingers over it I barely can feel it.  That’s a nice improvement.  This is a nice black monolith when you pick it up for the first time.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Hardware

On paper the Z5 is a high end powerhouse.  Just like the Z3+ before it was.  Sure it’s not the highest spec available with it being “only” a Snapdragon 810 and “only” a 1080 screen.  You know because your phone needs more pixels on it than your 50 inch TV does.  3GB of RAM again can be bested by others, the S7 or “10” having 4GB.  So if the spec’s are what matters to you then this just isn’t the very bestest best you can find out there.  However there is more the things than just numbers alone.  For a start none of those numbers express hew nice that screen is for example.  It’s very seriously nice looking.  Nor do the numbers capture how responsive the phone feels, nor how it feels in your hand.  Nor how bloody nice it is to have a god damn camera button.  Having a real camera button so you can hold the thing properly is such a tiny little detail and yet it makes such a usability difference.   It’s the little hardware nuances that Sony seems to be so good at getting right.  Such as the little lanyard loop, it’s not something I really think about and then once it’s there it seems like such a tiny spark of genius.  I find I’m then wondering why doesn’t every phone have it???

At this stage I cannot help but feel that all of the hardware attributes that make the Z5 such a nice device are all things that simply do not show up on a hardware list.  Its snappily responsive behaviour isn’t expressed by how much RAM or what CPU it has.  They are attributes you can’t really quantify, so at this point I’m going to say if you can, when you’re thinking of phone upgrading, try and get a hold of one.  A real phone, in your hand so you can see how it feels and how it responds.  The spec’s I don’t believe quite do the Z5 justice.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Screen

It may “only” be a 1080screen but it’s great.  The blacks on it are very dark, just excellent for an LCD panel, its colour reproductions are equally great.  It lacks a certain colour saturation of the Z3+ I think.  This one being the natural of the two and while that means it’s more accurate to life I do prefer boldness on a phone.  I mean it’s a phone, I’m not watching some cinematic masterpiece and demand its colour accuracy.  Viewing angles too are first class.  In a pitch black room I can notice some light output variation but with a light on, it looks flawless.  I’m talking near perfect, 180 degree even output.  Sony have been making displays for years and whatever they have done here it looks great.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Audio Software

You can of course install whatever you want but it being a Sony I have a certain level of expectation and they don’t disappoint.  Sadly they have tossed the “Walkman” brand and just call the app “Music” how very original Sony, did it take you long to come up with that did it?  However the app itself, is actually really impressive despite its moronic name.  It seems to be able to play most things, FLAC certainly, then what it does is really fun, it pulls in a bunch of data from Gracenote, not just album art though.  It also pulls in some related image, usually a photo of the artist or band.  Is it important?  No it’s obviously not but it feels like Sony have given some serious attention to things, to the app, to the phone in general.  These little things they get so right make me feel that the Z5 is a nicely polished device.

One feature I have grown to love very quickly is that you can set the phone to automatically start playing when you plug in something to the HP out jack.  A simple little thing but it pleased me.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Audio Hardware

I have no idea what’s in the Z5.  I tried googling but to no avail.  I don’t get why as Sony were once the kings of audio so you think they might want to mention what’s inside.  You know given the do make a point of telling you that it can play High-Res audio, it also can play DSD files.  I mean DSD files are pretty esoteric things so clearly someone at Sony has put a little bit of thought into the audio.  Sigh, oh well I guess it’s not what is in there anyway it’s how it sounds that matters, would just be nice to know though.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Lows

So as before I’m grabbing the MA-750i’s as they are good, not too expensive and pretty generally available.  I think they are a reasonable earphone to use and reasonable to think that they represent a realistically plausible earphone to pair with the Z5.  The lows, well they aren’t as abundant as they perhaps ought to be.  Hmmm they are pretty damn clean though, tightly nimble.  There is a lot of lower end control here at the expense of expansion.  They want to go clean and punchy and with the 750’s inclination for the same it’s a very agile performance.  It’s a little light though, the treble brightness is a touch over shadowing the bass.  The bass ought to be a little more powerful, a little more full bodied.  Given that Sony IEM’s tend to be a bit loose in the caboose as it were it’s not an unreasonable acoustic choice.  I’m going to have to look out the EX500’s aren’t I?  EX500’s in and they are much fuller in the bottom end, actually they pair really well, the earphones playing against the Z5 perfectly.  The 500’s adding the softness in the lows and filling out an otherwise rather clean presentation.  No doubt Sony have worked out what their phones are likely getting paired with and so have allowed a quite treble happy output to compensate.  Outright depth is a touch absent as the Z5’s output simply runs out of juice.  No doubt a consequence of making stupidly thin phones that you can’t fit bigger capacitors into but honestly, it’s a phone and for a phone it’s rather good.

Quantity wise, there may not instantly be that quantity that is wanted by its audience however you can always EQ a bunch more in and you can always pair them to same bassy flab cannons if you want.  More audio purists, so long as you don’t pair something needing power these offer you a very nicely clean presentation.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Mids

Mids are the most important bit to get right and are by far the easiest bit to get right too.  While the mids may lack a smidge of warmth I don’t mind.  The Z5 and the aging EX500 are a VERY good pairing vocally.  A highly warm earphone and the rather clean sounding Z5 are nailing it like Luther to a Wittenberg church door.  Fiona Apple, Tracy Chapman, you name it the vocals were really nice.  The 500 can’t eek out the greatest detail levels but for the Z5 it’s a really great showing.  It’s trying, trying very hard to be the very best it can.  Vocals sound somewhat detached though, there is a heightened level of instrument separation which makes the vocals sound a touch separate.  It’s a slightly unusual presentation but I rather like it.

Quantity wise it’s perfectly it the middle.  While the bass is a smidge less prominent and the treble a smidge enhanced the mids are dead in the middle.  They are a little narrowed and focused so they can appear to be a little more intensely prominent but they aren’t actually increased in volume.  Tonally with the EX500 is they site bang in the middle to but otherwise they tend to eek a little in the direction of light and dry.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Highs

The treble in on the whole quite prominent.  If you pair with earphones full of treble energy then it will make for a very bright sound.  However the likelihood of that is rather slight I think.  Sony DAP’s are normally warmer than this so either they just went with the stock Snapdragon whatever or they tweaked this to specifically pair with the sorts of bass centric earphones most users are likely to pair with it?  I can’t say, maybe both.  Still, while it has an abundance of treble, for a phone it may fairly detailed but when I slap in the IE8’s its rather noticeable that the Z5 can’t cut it with the finest outputs.  Maybe I’m being a little hard on the Z5 and Sony.  While I do recognise that for a phone it’s very good and I’ve been quite happy using it, I cannot stop myself holding Sony to a higher standard than I would Apple or Samsung.  Sony should be and could be if they chose to, wipe the floor with everyone for audio output.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Soundstage/Instrument Separation

Very good, the mids in particular often felt quite distinct and separate for the accompanying music.  This did mean that the level of acoustic integration slipped a little.  Acoustic stuff in particular sounded great.  Presentationaly it was in a good sized room, not endless but nice.  Vocals in particular though felt a bit more close to you, still out of arms reach but dead square in front of you.

Format Support

Basically it’ll play everything including DSD files.  Yeah because you’re going to use a phone to play back DSD files.  Hey at least the option is there right?

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Volume

They could go lounder than I ever wanted but……. they aren’t the most powerful beasts ever.  I was consistently playing at a volume level that was very near the top.  So if you have earphones that need gobs of power to sing then the Z5 (okay to be fair pretty much any phone) isn’t probably what you want to use.  Still for any earphone you should be able to get them loud enough to please anyone.

Speaker

It is actually not bad.  It’s not the loudest thing ever but its tone is not bad.  They I suspect are auto EQ’ing out a ton of upper end audio frequency’s so that the vocal and low ranges sound more realistic.  Not that you should ever use them for music but if you want to watch a little Netflix its pretty good.  It’s quite nicely clear and intelligible but remember, no music, it has no lows and no highs, just like every other phone.  Volume wise it was okay.  It really could have been doing with going louder if it’s for a kid watching something in the back of the car.  It’ll struggle to get over the road noise.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Battery Life

Pretty good.  Sony put a lot of effort into battery tweaks and while I really don’t want to use their stamina modes, they do work.  Personally I don’t see the point in turning off everything because if I’m going to do that you might as well just carry a dumb phone.  Anyway…. I got through a day with ease and even making it play video for a few hours didn’t do anything like as much damage to the battery as I thought it would.  Of course I’d have still liked a bigger battery, as even though I could get two days of light use out of it I still felt compelled to keep it charged up when I could.

UI

Woo hoo!!!  The stock UI on it is great.  No I’m serious, it’s really good.  It may not be stock but it’s almost perfect, in fact I’d say it’s better than Googles own launcher.  The launcher is pretty Nova / Apex like in its home screen and app drawer configurations.  Then the setting menu, it’s all in one great list like it’s supposed to be.  Everything is so easy to find and scroll through.  Not just that it scrolls through so insanely buttery smooth.  What have Sony done to it?  It glides like silk, I’m most pleased with its performance.  The UI is so smooth to use and so clean, no random OEM crap that gets in the way (cough Touchwiz, cough.)  Major kudos to Sony for taking the best bits of stock and not changing things just for the sake of changing them.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

In The Hand

I have mixed feelings here.  You see the Z3+ was stupidly thin and glass backed.  This is fractionally less thin and has a matte painted metal back.  The thickness is an improvement for holding the thing but the back, hmmm.  Well the back is better for not sliding of any surface you put it down on.  That therefore is an improvement but….. in the hand its more slippery.  The glass back my fingers gripped much better, this they just want to slide along.  More specifically the phone wants to slide right out of my fingers.  It reminds me of the back of the G5 which constantly wanted to fly out of my hand.  So if the Z5 was mine I’d be making use of the lanyard slot or slapping it in a case quick smart.  Actually I’d probably do both.  Other than that back, it’s a really nice object to hold, its feels sturdy and solid.  Its omni-balance feature though I didn’t care so much about, which worked for when holding in landscape (Netflix) it felt even but in portrait I just didn’t notice one way or the other.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Camera

Its camera spec has increased on the Z3+ but you know what, big whoop.  So we now have a 23 megapixel sensor.  Sony sensors have a great reputation but its software not so much, still while I freely admit that I hate taking photos.  That I am pretty crap at taking photos, my photo style is point the thing roughly in the direction of what I want and take a bunch of pics.  If you take enough snaps one of them has got to be alright hasn’t it?  So I’ve taken some pics and to me, they look alright but not great.

So I’ve taken some pics and to me, they look alright but not great.  Here are all of them.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/35082280@N03/albums/72157670782337045

Reception

Strangely the reception strength indicator would seem to drop down if you don’t touch the thing, when picking it up, it would still be low for a handful of seconds and then it would climb.  I have no idea why it did this but it seemed to have no real effect on its reception strength in use.  I noted that the Z3+ also seemed to be rather variable for no apparent reason.  Curious behaviour I felt.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Accessories

A charging plug and a micro USB cable.  Just what you would expect really and I can’t say I really want anything more.

The Good

Well the Z5 is a really nice phone.  Everything about it is really nice.  If you pick it up its really nice in the hand.  If you look its screen it’s really nice.  If you listen to its audio output it’s really nice too for a phone.  Every single aspect about the Z5 in fact is really nice.  Still coming after the Z3+ the Z5 feels just like a tiny little step and that’s because it is.  Why Sony felt the need to spit out new flagships every 6 months I have no idea.  Everything about the Z5 is nice.  I would be happy to have the Z5 be my main phone (but I’d have to root it first) as there is nothing I can say is bad about it.  It’s a great phone yet I’m not being particularly moved by it.  Don’t get me wrong, on paper everything is more than good.  In the hand and in use it’s more than good, visually, acoustically, then little things like that lanyard hole.  It’s all the little details that make this a really good device.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

The Bad

Sony and their marketing people.  The Z5 has been replaced as their flagship with the Z5 Premium.  What you mean the Z5 isn’t a premium device Sony?  Not only that but the Z5 Premium has in turn been replaced itself by the Xperia X Performance.  So you may look and think, replaced twice, oh the Z5 must be ancient and hopelessly out of date.  It isn’t but you could be forgiven for thinking so.  God damnit Sony, can I come over there and start punching your marketing people in the face, repeatedly?  Naming aside, to only thing I can say that verges on the “bad” is that slip out your hand rear coating.  I’d really like that to be some soft touch plastic and thus better grip.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Value

So the Z5 I can see coming in at £480.  So it’s a pretty high up there phone.  Mind you the Z5 Premium is £580 and the X Performance is £550 but then the X is £450 and the slightly older Z3+ is just £324.  That’s just looking at Sony too!!!  So is it worth its price?  Probably but is it £150 better than the Z3+, well no not really.  Top end devices always have rapidly diminishing returns so only you can say if its good value to you given the myriad options surrounding the Z5 and Sony’s extremely confusing line up of device names.  However I’ve just found it going for £400 on Amazon and that begins to make it a much more appealing device.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Conclusion

Aside from my wanting to go punch Sony’s marketing staff in the face the Z5 is a really lovely thing.  Its screen is lush, its audio quality is really quite good for a phone.  I means it’s getting towards separate DAP quality levels.  Okay so it’s not competing with a DAP that costs what it does but hey you get the idea.  I mean you really could use the Z5 as an audio source with some good earphones. (I presently have it running the Weston UM3x’s) and it’s doing a pretty bloody good job.  You know what though, the Z3+ was £150 cheaper and pretty much almost as good as the Z5.  This I think has been Sony’s biggest problem, their stupid naming and their making so many phones so similar to each other that I’m not sure I can really come up with a reason to buy the Z5 over the Z3+, which would then leave you enough cash to buy a really ass kicking pair of earphones.

Acoustically for a phone the Z5 is rather good.  I mean not many phones can encounter the notoriously source fussy UM3x’s and make them sing but the Z5 can do it.  Still that’s not what it’s likely to encounter and so long as you try to steer away from very treble heavy earphones you’re grand.  Something like Sony’s own earphones, of which I have very few but the aging EX500’s still paired up wonderfully complimentary. It shouldn’t be hard to find something warm and bassy to compliment the lighter and brighter Z5.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review

So should you/ would I buy one?   I have no idea.  While I can promise if you do buy one you won’t regret it.  Where it should sit in Sony’s very confusing line up, I don’t know.  Having not played with then all nor heard them all, they have just so many things of a similar price/quality level.  How does this compare to the X Performance?  Are you better going for the almost as good Z3+?  The only material difference is this has the fingerprint sensor.  Sony you are just too confusing.  All that said, I’m going to miss the Z5 when it goes back, while I find the line-up confusing there isn’t any doubt that Sony have produced a very fine device, with a very fine screen and for a phone, very fine audio quality.

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