The time has come to put Sony’s finest under a microscope and to see what you are getting when you plonk down £610* on the counter. We know that the camera is meant to be the best thing since they made the camera obscura back in the early 19th century. We also know that it will be okay if you take it for a swim, as long as you wash it and treat it tenderly whilst in the water. What else can we find out, join me in the review below to get answers?
*Can be bought on contract for much cheaper.
My colleague Mostafa is also doing a comparison review of the Z5 Compact (Z5C). So we have collaborated on this review, hence why you will see it chop in and out a bit, Mostafa’s comments are in italics.
I have had the Z5 Compact for just over two weeks now and have given it a good thrashing ready for this review. The Z5C is pretty much a shrunken version of the Z5 for those who prefer the phone to fit in a shirt pocket or prefer to use a phone with one hand. The Z5C cost me £414 so is significantly cheaper than the Z5 and the Z5 premium.
The Z5 follows the same design language as that of its predecessors, and that is a good thing as if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. From the first moment I picked up the phone at the stand at IFA, I was very impressed with it. It felt nice in the hand and that new back is a big improvement over the glossy glass on the Z3/Z3+.
The Z5C carries on with the previous omnibalance design which is nice and clean. I have compared it to my old Z1 compact as well a friend’s Z3, and whilst things have evolved little, overall you can see that they share the same DNA.
If you want to see what I think of the device in video, have a look at this unboxing vid from a few weeks back:
I was going to do an unboxing video, but the box and the contents are pretty much identical to Garry’s Z5, it would be difficult to tell the videos apart if I used the same background and lighting (might even get some complaints that it’s the same video ;) ).
Let’s have a tour around the phone. What better place to start than up front with the glorious 5.2″ TFT display with Triluminos technology. Yeah, the very same as used in the Sony Bravia TV line-up (OLED TV’s excluded for obvious reasons). We also get the Bravia display engine on here too which will kick into effect if a correctly processed video file is found. The colours are very rich and vibrant and the lighting settings aren’t too bad either. The reds and blues really do pop with or without the bells and whistles being added.
The screen on the Z5 Compact is a much smaller affair than the Z5 and the Z5 Premium at only 4.6”, yet the IPS panel also comes with Triluminos technology. Whilst, not a full HD panel, my “old” eyes can’t see any difference between the detail on the screen compared to the wife’s LG G4 screen. Before anyone says I must be really old, my last checkup from about 9 months ago came up with 20-20 on the left eye and only a slight reduction in the right eye. I even closed my right eye to do the comparisons of the screen detail with the G4 and still couldn’t tell the difference.
Flanking the top and the bottom of the screen is a pair of forward facing speakers, which whilst not immensely loud they do serve their purpose very well. It is good to see that Sony has decided to keep using front facing speakers as it makes a big difference for using the device for multimedia. The top speaker also doubles up as the earpiece when you are on a call.
The Z5C has a pair of front facing speakers, one at the top (also the earpiece) and one at the bottom. This is a nice touch which gives additional volume which is no longer muted out by the hand over the bottom facing speaker when holding in landscape in the older generation Z series phones.
Next to the top speaker we have a 5.1-megapixel selfie camera to the left and the light and proximity sensor to the right as well as a small notification LED next to the sensors. The LED doesn’t look as good as the old Z1 Compact LED which lit up the whole earpiece.
The usual “Sony” branding just below the top speaker as has been in place since the first Xperia phone came out.
Next up is the power key on the right side of the handset. This is not just a simple power switch though, as I would expect. No no no, this is also a Fingerprint reader. It does take some getting used to, but over time it does become fairly useful.
The power button with built-in fingerprint scanner is in the same location as the Z5 and previous generation phones – about half way up on right-hand side and is now an oblong button rather than a small round button. Whilst being the same design as the Z5, the fingerprint reader is easier to use with either hand due the phone width being smaller. In fact I regularly swap between hands depending on what else I am doing. Unfortunately, the scanner is only used for unlocking the phone at the moment. I am hoping that a few of the apps will start making use of it soon to aid in speeding up things like banking or even the Android Pay solution which have yet to see in the UK (come on Google, hurry up!). I fully expect that once Marshmallow hits these devices, Sony will take advantage of the Imprint/touch API’s and we’ll see the fingerprint reader become even more useful.
Below the power key, you will find the volume rocker which is as you would expect, firm to touch and has a positive action when used.
The volume rocker is lower down on the left under the power button. It is a lot further down than in previous generations and can be difficult to press as you have to move the thumb down a lot lower than before (if you’re right handed of course). I suspect this is to ensure that you don’t accidently kick off the fingerprint scanner when you’re trying to put the volume up.
Under this is the camera shutter key, this has a few functions; one of which will allow you to launch the camera from when the phone is locked. It also has a two stage press, allowing you press to focus – then press harder to capture the picture. This works in conjunction with fast focus speeds of 0.03 milliseconds, which means you will be able to get quick shots easily perfect for getting pictures of little ones.
Next down on the right side is a camera button, which works in a similar way to a proper camera, half press to focus and full press to take the shot. Pressing the camera button (even if the screen is off) will kick off the camera app ready for you to take a picture. This is a great button that Sony has stuck with through the generations and is something that I miss when I use other phones.
Around the bottom of the phone you will find the Micro-USB charger port, this is now an uncovered port meaning that Sony have had to make it waterproof. This is a nice touch and an improvement over the flimsy flaps seen on all the previous Z range (with the exclusion of the Z3+). You will also find one of the pinhole mics down here as well.
The bottom of the phone has a Micro-USB port for charging and data connection to a PC/laptop. It can also be used in host mode to connect USB storage devices and keyboards if you wish (I haven’t had a chance to test this feature). Whilst the port is waterproof, after getting the device wet it does need to be thoroughly dried out before charging. Sony have also changed the language of how the waterproof the device is compared to previous generations. In previous generations the USB port was fully covered and the device could be used in fresh water. For the Z5C, it now says it should not be completely submerged or be exposed to saltwater or chlorinated water (see the bottom of http://www.sonymobile.com/global-en/products/phones/xperia-z5-compact/ for full details). Personally I am a little disappointed as I regularly took my Z1 Compact in the swimming pool and the sea whilst out snorkeling on holiday. Looks like I will have to keep the old phone around for such occasions (well at least until the warranty on the Z5C runs out). The bottom also has the main mic.
Along the left-hand side, it is pretty bare, apart from the “Xperia” engraving and the sim & microSD card slot. Within that slot you can also see that there is a yellow button with ‘off’ written next to it. This allows you a quick and easy way to do a soft reset should the phone ever need to turn the phone off if it freezes. This is something I have yet to encounter, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
The left-hand side has the flap cover for nano sim and microSD slots, a lanyard hole and engraved across the top left-hand side is “Xperia”. The engraving is a nice touch which I like, not overly garish but showing off the Xperia branding to the wider world. The nano sim sits in a little tray which then slides in. The microSD pushes with the usual push to eject mechanism. There is a pull-out label with the phone details and a little soft reset button. My old Z1 Compact had this button too but was not used once in nearly 2 years.
On the top of the phone, we find the 3.5mm headset jack which is HDR Audio and noise cancellation compatible, assuming you have the required headphones from Sony. Whilst it is a shame to see such proprietary usage of this port, it is understandable. The good news is that you can use any and all headsets with this port… just be aware that headsets marked “Made for iPhone” do not allow for the headset function of volume up and down to work. They use a different standard.
The top of the phone has the 3.5mm headphone port (which has worked with all my headphones without any problems). The top also houses a secondary mic for noise cancellation purposes and to record sound in stereo with video recording.
On the back of the phone, we have a “frosted” glass rear which goes a long way to prevent your phone becoming a fingerprint magnet in mere seconds. It also has a perceived grippiness, which I do feel but can’t explain how it occurs. One minor complaint here is that the edges on the back side of the phone do feel that they are a bit rough, not to the level of being annoying, but I thought it best to mention it.
The back of the phone is covered in frosted glass, with the flash to the right of the camera (when held in portrait position) rather than below it. There is the usual NFC symbol on the back that Sony has used in many of their other phones.
On thing that is missing from the whole phone is any indication of how it is all put together, therefore I am going to say that this is glued together. That brings me to an important point. Those of you who have been following the news about the Xperia Z5 may be aware that Sony changed the small print on what is covered (which Mostafa has covered earlier) by the warranty. Whilst I have been assured that the warranty has not been changed, the rewording did upset a fair few people. So in a sudden burst of journalistic integrity I decided to investigate. I contacted all my sources within the industry and after sifting through the “slush” of info I found what I think may be the cause.
It seems that Sony may be concerned that the glue holding the backplate on may be subject to heating too much during usage of the phone over time. This phone is, of course, packing the OG Snapdragon 810 processor v2.0, which has been known to get a bit toasty. So say this scenario were to happen: sustained usage over time heats the glue, then the glue would weaken and when it is under water that tight waterproof seal fails. This would be particularly true when the user is engaging in horseplay… Or at least high-resolution videos of horses playing in the water.
So there we have it, what seems to be a possible explanation of the change of warranty details. I do want to reiterate that I have had no issues with heat and water with my phone and that I am confident in its water resistance as much as I was with any of my previous Z series devices (props to Gavin Fabiani-Laymond of Gavin’s Gadgets for the explanation of the possible suspect).
Overall the build quality is what we have come to expect of any Sony device and I am extremely happy with it. I feel that the angular design of the phone has not become stale and the addition of the fine design details such as the “Xperia” engraving adds a touch of class.
Overall I really like the evolution from the previous generations and it’s good that they have done away with the USB flap cover. A few niggles with the volume rocker and the “waterproofness”, otherwise nice clean lines and a solid build (quality is really up there with the best of them). I am a little disappointed that the grey band around the phone is now made of plastic, rather than the nice metal band in previous Compact generations and the full-sized Z5 and Z5 Premium.
Here are the specifications for the device
64-bit Octa Core processor Snapdragon 810
Adreno 430 GPU
5.2” FHD 1080p display (1920×1080)
3 GB of RAM32 GB storage
23-megapixel main cam
5-megapixel front cam
2900 mAh battery
Waterproof and dust tight (IP65 and IP68)
microSD expandable up to 200 GB
Google Android™ 5.1 (Lollipop – Marshmallow upgrade has been announced)
Available in: Graphite Black, White, Gold, Green
Xperia Z5 Compact
64-bit Octa Core processor Snapdragon 810
Adreno 430 GPU
4.6″ HD 720p display (1280×720)
2 GB of RAM
32 GB storage
23-megapixel main cam
5-megapixel front cam
2700 mAh battery
Waterproof and dust tight (IP65 and IP68)microSD expandable up to 200 GB
Google Android™ 5.1 (Lollipop – Marshmallow upgrade has been announced)
Available in: Graphite Black, White, Yellow, Coral
The UX that Sony has put onto the Z5 is not vastly different from anything they have used on their phones in the past, however this time out they have made a few tweaks to improve the experience. On the front end, it looks very similar to a Nexus running on Android 5.1.1, albeit with some tweaks. The main difference that is instantly visible is that the launcher has a carousel-like feel to it, and that swiping to the far left will not enact a Google Now page. By default the phone has 5 launcher pages, and these are populated with the mainstream apps that you would expect from Sony. It also uses some proprietary widgets for things like the album and music player. The additional preloaded apps can, on the whole, be uninstalled, so you can get a near stock feel for the phone, but not totally. I really like the launcher and it is one of the best and most uncluttered implementations outside of the stock experience.
When loading the app drawer, you will notice that it again has adopted a different approach. Unlike the Google launcher which was (at least for 5.1.1) a side-scrolling affair on a white background, Sony has allowed you to customise the launcher with the inclusion of folders. The app drawer is also searchable (this is something you can now do on Android 6.0). When you go to uninstall and app you will notice a change that Sony have made from their previous iteration. Gone is the pop out tray from the side, and it has now been replaced with a drop-down menu enacted by pressing the 3 dots in the upper right corner. This will allow you to customise the drawer in various different orders etc. Again this feels more fluid and it is an improvement in that it makes the drawer seem less cluttered.
Sony is working on the Android 6.0 Concept software for the Xperia range and it is currently being tested by Z3 users. Regrettably I am not able to test this anymore as I don’t have a Z3 now (I have replaced it with this Z5). More info about this test can be found here. We hope to see the rollout of Android 6.0 in the very near future. At the very least, if we don’t get 6.0 in a timely matter, it would only be because Sony knew something we didn’t and have decided to go to the as yet unannounced 6.01.
UPDATE During the writing of this review, Sony have asked me if would like to test the Xperia Z3 with the Android 6.0 Concept. This may come as a shock to you, but I said yes, so there will be an upcoming review of that soon.
I have done a video giving an overview of the UX here and this was recorded using the screen record option on the phone
The OS is pretty much standard Android 5.1.1. The launcher is slightly different and has its own options to categorise apps based on your own preferences. TBH, I prefer the Google Now launcher, so have set this as my default home app. A number of the Sony-specific apps aren’t too bad, but as I already make use of Google Music, Photos and Flickr along with Netflix, most of the Sony apps remain unused. The only Sony specific one I really make use of is Sony Connect, which allows you to control certain WiFi enabled Sony cameras. It allows you to change the focus point, zoom and shooting mode (pretty much anything you can change on the camera itself) as well as giving you the ability to take the all import shot as well. This is a great app as it allows you to take family pictures with you in it on a proper camera (sorry even with the 23mp camera, a decent dedicated camera still wins out on the photo quality front).
Another feature that makes the Z range unique is the ability to utilise its brethren Sony products in the form of the Playstation 4. Yes, like all the Z series, ranging back to the Z2, you can utilise the remote play function of the Playstation on your phone, creating a second screen gaming environment. Very useful at this time of year when your TV seems to be stuck on Strictly Come Dancing!! I don’t own a Playstation, so I’m unable to test this one in a real world scenario. I have been reliably informed that it works very well and that given a fast broadband connection, it has minimal lag. To give you an idea of this in action here is a video from Sony. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a video showing the Z5 so we used one showing a Z3!
Hardware and Performance
I have deliberately left this section until after the Software one as so much of this is software dependant. The hardware on this phone is not unique. In fact, you will find the guts of this phone in many other high-end devices. What is unique, is how Sony have addressed the overheating issues that were commonplace with the Snapdragon 810 v2 Processor.
The Z5C has the same Snapdragon 810 v2 CPU as the other to Z5 models but only has 2GB of RAM. Whilst the phone does get warm to the touch on occasions, I haven’t had any issues with the device itself slowing down or freezing up on me. The lower amount of RAM also hasn’t caused me any problems that I have noticed with the numerous apps I have running in the background. It also comes with 32GB of storage, but can also take a micro SD to boost this by a further 200GB (largest available card at the moment).
Sony has borrowed some of the technology that is now standard in laptops to aid with the cooling of the Z5. This is in the form of heat pipes and it has 2 of them! They have also made sure to spread the heat load across the phone. Unlike the Z3+ which had all the heat generating components localised to the top third of the phone, they have now been spread out through the phone. These components have then been connected to large heat pipes to allow the phone to dissipate the extra heat that the chips generate. The result means that although the phone will get hot, it will not falter due to heat restraints. As a test of this, I recorded 4K video for as long as I could. Now on the Z3+, this was stopped at 5 minutes due to heat concerns and throttling. On the Z5, it happily sailed through the 10-minute mark with no real issue. Yes, the phone did heat up a bit, but not to the point where I ever became concerned. This is commendable work and it was an area that did concern me when going into buying the phone. Good work, Sony.
The battery is another area that concerned me. Again, I needn’t have worried, as true to Sony’s claim, this can indeed achieve 2-day’s battery life on a single charge. However in my real world testing, I was getting closer to one full business day (which for me starts at 5 am). By the time I was getting to bed, I was still showing about 25% charge. I am what I would call a heavy user, and I use a lot of apps throughout the day. I have three email accounts syncing, and I do use music and YouTube on my morning and evening commute to work. During the day, I will run my hotspot for at least 10 to 20 mins, and these things are generally not kind to the battery. I was getting the same longevity from my Z3 when I was using it in the same manner, so I’m still pleased with my battery life. This is made even more impressive when you realise that the battery capacity has gone down to 2900mAh from the previous device.
The battery on the Z5C is down to 2,600mAh compared to the Z3 Compact’s 2,700mAh, and the claims of two-day battery life have in some instances worked for me – but in other instances failed miserably. This may be down to the apps I have, though, rather than the phone. I’m a fairly heavy user with three email accounts and cloud backups of my photos on both Google Photos and Flickr. Other than that, I try not to use my phone all day: I have got lots of people looking for my attention, so can’t afford more than two hours of screen on time a day; most of which is on the train or just before going to bed. On some days, the phone gets me to about 5 pm (with about 10% left) after having taken off from charge around 7:30 in the morning. Other days it gets to about 55% by the end of the day at around 11 pm. So I am sure it’s an app or two causing the problem rather than the phone not coping. There are a number of power saving modes that can be used with the Z5C which can extend the life of the phone. The first is the Stamina mode, which stops various things when the screen is off. There are other options to slow down the performance and queue data requests so as not to hammer the data requests all day long. There is a special ultraStamina mode which really comes into its own when it comes to battery life. When enabled, the phone becomes a very basic device with all of the “smart” parts of the device turned off, so just the basic phone calls, text messages as well as a few basic and non-intensive apps, such as calendar, album and calculator. Note the lack of camera app in ultraStamina mode. This can give you an impressive battery life of up to a week.
Onto the actual benchmarking: For this test we put the phone up against the Z3 and the Huawei Mate S and here are the results:
|Sunspider 1.0.2||Quadrant||Antutu||Ice Storm Extreme|
|Huawei Mate S||1387||5053||46960||9563|
|Xperia Z5||653||27508||54792||Maxed Out|
|OnePlus 2||1544||29608||49985||Maxed Out|
The Z5 Maxed out the Ice Storm Extreme test so I ran the Ice Storm Unlimited test and here is the result. 26474 as a comparison the Xperia Z4 Tablet scored 24419. The OnePlus2 scored 22643.
It is hardly surprising that we see the Z5 perform faster than the others devices here. What was a surprise was that it was significantly faster than the OnePlus2. A mention for the Z3 seems relevant here as that coped admirably with the test’s as well, and is still a cracking deal if you are looking to save some pennies.
This is one of Sony’s big selling points for the Z5 range and all of them share the same features. Now, I have not tested it in the same way as the professional tests do, but I can say with confidence that in the right conditions, you can get some very good results. Is it night and day between this and the previous flagship the Z3? The simple answer is… no, but when you really drill down into the settings, then it’s obvious that there are improvements. The first big change is the ability to use the full resolution when taking pictures using the Superior Auto mode, unlike the Z3 where all images were oversampled 8MP size. You can now get either 23MP (in 4:3 aspect ratio) or 20MP (in 16:9 aspect ratio). This makes a big difference to those of you wanting to capture more detail. Then there is the 5 times lossless zoom, allowing you capture clearer zoomed images. It does this in a slightly different way to the previous super zoom champ, the Lumia 1020.
Where the Lumia 1020 used PureView technology to allow you to zoom in after the picture was taken, the Z5’s make you zoom in before you take the shot. I did find that you needed to try and keep the camera very still unless you wanted to get a blurry mess. However, if you make the effort, you can get very good results as shown below.
If you are someone who prefers to have control over the settings manually, then there are more settings in here than you can shake a big stick at, to the point where it can seem quite overwhelming for those not in the know. I would have liked to see Sony provide some sort of instructional aid like you can get on the Lumia’s, to allow this to be easier to use for the new user. But at least they have implemented live preview of what will happen to the shot, which helps. Other camera modes are abundant here, and if the preloaded ones are not enough then you can get more from the Play store. I particularly liked the timeshift mode that allows you take 30 pictures in quick succession and then choose the best one.
One area that is a bit weak – and this surprised me – is the night scene mode as I was able to get better results from my Huawei Mate S. That being said, it was better than the Z3.
In my normal usage, I was just happy using the Superior Auto Mode, and in this set up I was able to get some very nice shots. It is definitely a viable replacement for carrying a compact camera. If, however, you require the ability to zoom into far away subjects, then you will need a proper camera with optical zoom.
The front facing snapper has been ramped up to use a 5mp sensor and it is about time as this was an area that the Z range was severely lacking in comparison to the competition. It does not, however, have a flash so make sure your selfies are well-lit.
One last thing. The ability to use the camera shutter button is a big win for me. I hate using the on-screen capture button, so I am very pleased to see that Sony has included it, on the whole, range. Please take note Apple and Samsung, we want this feature
Here is a selection of pictures taken on both the rear and front-facing cameras for you to check out the results yourselves.
The video camera is a just as good as it was before, and now you will be able to record as much 4k video as you can store (assuming you are using a fast microSD for storage). I particularly liked that you can stream the content straight to YouTube if you so desire. Be Warned, though, this does require a fast data connection and it consumes a lot of data. You even have the ability to timeshift video capture here, allowing you to capture 120fps for slow motion shots and it is a joy to use. Here is some footage of me not quite playing in traffic!
The Z5C camera is the same module as that found in its bigger brothers. A step up from the previous models in terms of megapixels, and a great focus system which seems to work very well in good lighting conditions and reasonable well in darker scenes. The superior auto mode now allows you to take full sized 23MP pictures, unlike the older models which restricted this mode to 8MP. However I found that in low light conditions, the 8MP superior auto shots had better detail (see sample shots later on). There are a (large) number of other settings that can be tweaked, but for most shots, superior auto does a very good job of managing these settings for you.
Digital zoom is also available up to 8x, and on the 8MP photos these seem to work very well compared to the older Z series models.
Whilst photos came up with a lot of detail in decent light scenarios, in low light situations the photos don’t look as good as those from an LG G4, where they tend to be brighter. It’s only when you zoom into the photos do you find that the Z5C has better levels of detail in the pictures. But as most people will look at the photos on the phone or share them with Facebook or WhatsApp or [insert your favourite sharing method/app], the level of detail is lost and the most vivid photos tend to be more pleasing to the eye.
Full HD recording is available as standard in the camera app, whereas the 4k recording option has to be selected on each occasion by selecting the 4k camera app. A warning about overheating comes up when selecting this app, not that I have had any problems. A number of other camera apps are available, most of which are a bit gimmicky for me.
The front facing camera also does a reasonable job of taking photos, with an option for soft skin effect to hide all the minor blemishes on my face.
Sony, being the media magnet that they are, have made a big effort on the multimedia aspects of the phone by including the option of HDR Audio playback with active upscaling of existing tracks. To reap the benefits of this, you do need to get some HDR compatible headphones which will come at an extra cost (Amazon link for HDR headphones) They’ve also bundled a Xperia Privilege app that gives you access to some films for free and the good news is that these can be stored to microSD as well (however they must be used on the device, not another one). Sony has also allowed Google’s cast API to be used meaning that you can stream to your Chromecast with nary an issue. Another app that I have grown to like is the Movie Creator which will take your picture and make small montages of them for you save if you want. You can edit these manually or just have them as they are. You even throw in your own soundtrack to personalise. The algorithms used do seem to pick all the pictures I would have chosen myself so pretty neat.
That about brings us to the end of the review, and this gives me the chance to summarise what we have here. I think what Sony have done with the Z5 range is exactly what was needed to keep them relevant and up to date. The design language may not have changed that much, but if it ain’t broken then why change it? I am sometimes critical of Apple for not changing the design on their phones and the same could be said about Sony. However, although the design is very similar to what has gone before, the way the phone feels and works has been improved in every iteration, so they are doing enough to make it worthwhile to upgrade. If you own a Z3, you may not notice a huge leap here but anything before that and it is definitely worth the upgrade. The same is true of the Compact and it is a big jump from the Z1 Compact, but not so much over the Z3 Compact.
A lot of this is down to the increase in power. Not meaning to sound like our favourite idiot from Top gear, but more power is a good thing here as this phone flies and rarely has any cause for hiccups. The good news is that once Android 6.0 hits these phones, they will go from good to awesome. Having the extra headroom afforded by the 32GB onboard storage is also brilliant as it means that you can go app crazy without having to worry too much about space. If you are going to be using the cameras and why wouldn’t you, then get a fast microSD card as this will certainly help – especially with 4K video.
Well, that’s the end of my review of the Z5C. In summary, the phone is a great upgrade from my Z1 compact in pretty much every department, but it is not without a handful of faults and is not such a significant improvement from the Z3 compact. So if you already have a Z3 compact, then you might be better off waiting for another iteration. I have to say that having the level of performance in such a small package is a real winner for me and a lot of other people who are fed up with mini versions of their flagship phones from other manufacturers which are mediocre at best. I can’t wait for the Marshmallow upgrade which should really show off the power available from the Z5C and you never know, Google might include Android Pay for use in the UK by then.
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