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.
It's had a pre-release price drop on Sony's official store, from the original listing of £599 (about US$920, AU$1,249) to £549 (about US$843, AU$1,144). That may have been a placeholder price, but it seems more likely to be a revision of strategy as it tries to land in a very congested flagship smartphone market.
That means 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.
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.
Display and key features
A lot of the Android competition has decided to go for 2K displays this year. Both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the LG G4 have higher resolutions, but Sony has decided to stick with a Full HD display on the Xperia Z5.
Some will be disappointed that Sony hasn't upgraded the phone from the Xperia Z3+, but I think it was a strong choice to hold onto the 1080p option. For anyone who is really after those extra pixels, there will be the Xperia Z5 Premium coming in November with a 4K 5.5-inch display.
The Xperia Z5 has a 5.2-inch 1,080 x 1,920 pixel resolution IPS LCD display with scratch resistant glass and an oleophobic coating to protect it from damage and grease.
It looks even better than previous Xperia handsets. While there will be some who still want to hold out for the ultimate pixel count of the Premium, if you're after a phone that looks good without sacrificing battery, the Xperia Z5 is for you.
The other thing to note is the size of the screen. For me, the Xperia Z5's 5.2-inch screen is the sweet spot between a large phone for everything I want to do and a phone I can actually hold.
I'd prefer if Sony dropped those bezels so it could up the screen to 5.4 inches or maybe 5.5, but this phone sits perfectly in my palm. Bear in mind though that I do have fairly large hands, and if you don't, the compact might be more suitable for you.
Sony has given in and finally included a fingerprint sensor in the Xperia Z5, adding a level of security and preparing for the launch of Android Pay - you'll be able to buy things with your Xperia phone soon.
There will be a big push on mobile payments within Android, and Sony wants to futureproof its phone and make it secure.
Installing a fingerprint sensor makes your purchases more secure than a simple PIN. That easy-to-spot NFC logo will also help with knowing exactly where to tap for Android Pay to work.
The fingerprint sensor itself is sat inside the power button on the side of the phone, and to look at the button you really wouldn't know it. I didn't have any problems with how it worked though as every time I tapped the button with a registered finger it unlocked immediately.
It's a better position than Huawei chose for its phones, for instance, which have sensors on the back. However, it can be difficult here to get a good reading on the Z5 when your phone is on a table, although if you can't access the sensor you can just enter a PIN or password to unlock the phone.
Another key feature that many have forgotten is Sony has now upped its microSD support to 200GB. Not many Android manufacturers offer that and it's only Sony out of the big players.
There aren't many 200GB microSD cards out there right now, but that's sure to change in the coming months.
More space is always a great thing, and this means you can have up to 232GB of space on the Z5 – that's unheard of in a smartphone. I'd struggle to fill it but I'm sure there's someone out there who will try.
If you've got a 16GB iPhone 6S, someone with this phone could have 14 times the amount of storage space you do.
The waterproof design of the Xperia Z5 may not be anything new, but it's still be a big selling point for the phone. No other manufacturer has taken waterproof design in its stride like Sony has. And I do see some genuine benefits from the tech. Whenever I go back to using other Android phones I almost forget I can't run it under a tap.
It's useful if you ever get the phone dirty. You can just wash it off under a tap – I've done this multiple times, and there's no more need to place your phone in a bowl of rice when you've got caught in a thunderstorm.
But I also find myself taking my phone into the shower as well. Being able to listen to a podcast or some music as I clean up ready for the day ahead and not have to worry about my phone slipping into the water is a great benefit.
Sony doesn't agree with me though, and recommends that you don't do this kind of thing. A lot of the marketing material for previous Sony phones has shown it in water with people taking it into swimming pools to show the depths it can plunge. Now Sony has changed its stance.
On the official Sony website it reads, "You should not put the device completely underwater or expose it to seawater, salt water, chlorinated water or liquids such as drinks."
It's a strange move to now suggest it's not waterproof enough, but it's worth mentioning that excessive underwater use will void the warranty. I didn't experience any problems with the waterproofing technology though, and had no issues from giving it a plunge in the bath.
If you want a phone that survives a drop in the water and won't get angry if you take it to the beach, the Xperia Z5 is actually one of the suitable choices on the market – and that's a key USP Sony should be pushing more.
Performance and interface
We only gave the Sony Xperia Z3+ three stars out of five, and one of the key reasons for that was the awful processor problems the phone had. It would heat up to levels where you couldn't even hold it, as well as crashing apps.
The slightest tasks could cause this issue, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chipset inside the phone has been named as the culprit. That meant it came as quite a surprise when Sony announced the Xperia Z5 would once again host the same chipset.
It's identical: a quad-core Cortex-A53 clocked at 1.5GHz and another quad-core Cortex A57 clocked at 2GHz, as well as an Adreno 430 GPU. That's backed up by 3GB of RAM as well and nothing has changed on the new phone.
Sony claims to have sorted the issues ready for this phone. The truth is less resounding: after some intensive testing we can assure you the issues have been improved upon, but not solved.
I installed Real Racing 3 on the phone – a very graphically intensive game – crashed my car into a wall and left the game playing for an hour straight. It came out the other side quite hot but hadn't stopped the app like it would on the Xperia Z3+.
The Xperia Z5 definitely gets hotter than other popular phones on the market – it could really do with cooling down if you want to be holding onto it to play these games, but it's not unbearable like on the Xperia Z3+.
Bearable isn't really good enough here though. You should be able to play your favourite game for a few hours, stick it on charge and keep playing without having to worry about your fingerprints melting off.
Although this has improved quite a bit on last time, if you're thinking of using the phone for intensive activities you should be warned it's bound to warm up. Video also heated up the phone a little but no more than you'd expect it on other phones.
As for general performance, the Xperia Z5 is particularly slick at manoeuvring around all my apps. Multitasking has improved on previous Xperia Z phones, and sliding in and out of apps is satisfyingly quick.
I ran the GeekBench 3 software on the phone a few times and it came out with an average single core score of 1,312 and a multi-core score of 4,015. Once again, when you compare it to the Xperia Z3 (which came out with a multi-core score of 2,737) it sounds fantastic.
But then compare that to Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge, which scored 4,774 in the same test, and it makes the Xperia Z5 sound weak. It's not the best on the market, but that said, unless you're a really intensive user, it will provide exactly what you need.
Every time I review an Xperia product I feel like I'm moaning about the same thing, and it's the overlay that forces that anger. Sony is proud of it and how well it does for the company in Japan, but I've yet to see one Western tech critic say they enjoy the look on the brand's phones.
As more and more manufacturers drop elements of their UI to look more like stock – even Samsung has done it – it makes Sony look really outdated.
It made sense for Sony to have its own UI when stock looked rubbish, but now Google has improved the look quite a bit it's overtaken the look of the Xperia UI. Sony has taken on board some of the design changes such as the Settings bar coming down from the top – a lovely touch I wish was applied to the rest of the phone.
My main issue is with the individual app icons themselves. Once you jump into the apps, everything is looking good again with a Material Design influenced look. Just above you can see the phone app that looks clean and fresh.
I'm not a fan of the Sony keyboard either. I find the comma button is in the wrong place, so I always start adding in emoji at the wrong point, and a lot of the keys themselves are too close together. That's not really a major issue in this day and age when we have easy access to apps like Swype and SwiftKey that perform a lot better than standard options.
There's quite a bit of bloatware here once again as well with Sony bundling in generally useless apps such as News from Sociallife, TrackID and the Xperia Lounge.
It's not just stuff from Sony this time either – there's apps from Amazon, Dropbox and Kobo waiting for you. I personally don't like it being filled up with these apps when it's easy enough to download them when you need them.
There's an excellent interface setting up the fingerprint sensor, and it's a shame Sony doesn't mimic that across the board. It did feel a little patronizing with its "great, keep going" messages, but overall it was simple to set up.
The camera interface on the Xperia Z5 is nice as well. After using a Motorola phone for the past few weeks, I appreciated the camera app. On the Moto X Play you just tap the screen to take an image and I find it much better to have a clear button so you can use the tap function to focus the camera.
All the camera apps are easy to grab from the yellow button in the right hand corner, you can access your previous snaps in the top right and there's a record button just below the camera icon.
You have Android 5.1.1 Lollipop running here but Android 6.0 Marshmallow will be coming soon. Sony isn't exactly well known for its quick updates to its phones but it has confirmed it'll get the software at some stage.
Battery is the biggest bugbear for a lot of phone customers, and the Xperia Z5 isn't going to be their saviour. Sony has decided to shrink the battery yet again down to a 2,900mAh cell, as it clearly thinks the optimization on the phone is getting better and it's more important to have a slim device rather than a high battery life.
I'd disagree, and when you look at the lifespans I was getting out of the phone there's justification for downgrading the cell size. Sony should be upping it.
The Xperia Z3 came with a 3,100mAh battery which the Xperia Z3+ cut down to a 2,930mAh and now it's even lower.
The Xperia Z5 has some serious improvements upon last time. General life is definitely better than the Xperia Z3+ but it's not as stunning as Sony would like you to think.
On average, I get a full day out of the battery. On particularly heavy usage days, it would be about 7pm when the phone kicked the bucket.
I ran our 90-minute video test on full brightness with all connectivity options, and it came out with 75% of its life left. That's not fantastic, but it is a major improvement upon the last two phones from Sony. The Xperia Z3+ came out the other side with 62% whilst the Z3 had 69% leftover.
I ran the same test but with brightness down to half to see how much of a strain the screen is. This time it had 82% charge at the end of the video.
It's good, but considering the Galaxy S6 only dropped down to 84% on the full brightness test – and that's a 2K display – it's not the best you can buy right now.
When gaming, the battery drops more drastically. In an hour long test of Real Racing 3 the phone dropped from a full charge down to 59%. The Z5 can't match the five hours of gaming that the Samsung Galaxy S6 offers.
In summary the battery life has improved on the Xperia Z5, but it's not the best it can be. The competition is doing similar if not better and considering this is a big claim of Sony's latest marketing campaign I was really hoping for something better.
Sony has opted to leave out fast charging technology from the Xperia Z5 as well and I think that's a mistake. Manufacturers such as Samsung and Motorola have put a focus on fast charging technology to improve their battery reputation and it feels Sony is just sitting around waiting for something to help out.
The battery isn't impressive on the Xperia Z5 but it would have been vastly improved if I can get it to half way charge in 15 minutes of being connected to the wall.
Ever since the Z1 we've seen the same hardware camera set up on the Xperia line of phones with slight tweaks and new features added along the way. It's only now Sony has mixed up the hardware.
It's now a 23MP shooter, one that Sony is claiming to be "the worlds best smartphone camera" according to a batch of adverts scattered all over the UK.
Although the sensor now has a higher pixel resolution, the most exciting element of the new camera is autofocus. There have been some major improvements here and the new hybrid autofocus works within 0.03 seconds.
That's fast – and it means when you're shaking or you're taking a real quick shot you're going to get the best possible image. It's unlike anything else on the market at this speed and I'm really impressed how well it does when I'm flailing around with the phone.
I took that shot at night – but then tried moving really fast to see if the autofocus could handle it. The results prove this feature is just to combat the odd involuntary hand movement.
As for video recording you've got the same options as on previous Xperia handsets. You can film in 4K video on the rear camera, but it uses up a good deal of the space and there isn't really much point with a Full HD screen to watch it on.
If you're really interested in 4K video recording you may be interested in the Xperia Z5 Premium that is coming in November this year with a 4K display on the front.
Other video options are 1,080p at 60fps or 720p at 120fps. Other features on the camera also include face detection, HDR, an LED flash and phase detection autofocus.
One of the main problems I've previously had with photos taken on Sony phones is that they come out dull, as if their sensors couldn't absorb enough light. But the Xperia Z5 has improved here.
It's not at the same level as the Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6S cameras, but it does appear to be a lot better than on the Xperia Z3+. Zoom is much improved as well, now going up to 5x and keeping a lot of the clarity you don't always see on other phones.
On the front is a 5.1MP selfie shooter which is the same we saw on the last phone. Nothing seems to have been changed here but there doesn't really feel like much needed to be. It's going to film 1,080p video that looks great and is good for video chatting while there are a lot of pixels here to make your selfies look gorgeous.
Sony makes it simple with the Xperia series – you get one storage option and that's it. The rest has to be down to microSD. Some people don't like this, but I think it makes it easier on the user and Sony certainly offers a lot of microSD space to make up for a lack of a larger option.
The Xperia Z5 series is the first mainstream smartphone line to support 200GB microSD cards so you can fill it up with a load of different apps and media. There are only or two microSD cards that large in the world but it's good to see Sony offering support for them early, as the options will only increase in the coming months.
Some aren't a fan of the microSD route of getting more storage but I personally like it and being able to swap in and out my media is a big benefit.
LTE 4G is covered here so if you've got a 4G contract you'll be able to access the super fast internet speeds whenever you need them. You're not going to find any problems with internet here. You've got Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/c/n/ac that offers up the fastest Wi-Fi internet on a smartphone so far.
Bluetooth connectivity is the latest 4.1 technology. I did find a few issues when using a pair of Bluetooth headphones though, as I had to manually connect again every time I turned the phone off.
I'm used to just switching my headphones on and them automatically working and it was frustrating fiddling to set them back up on a regular basis - this is a definite bug though and one I'm sure Sony will fix soon.
Charging and data transfer is through a microUSB 2.0 slot at the bottom of the phone and everything seems to work just fine there.
Sony hasn't switched to USB-C and that's a shame. I now want to see USB-C technology on every phone, even if it's just so I don't end up scratching up the bottom of my phone trying to put the cable in.
There has also been a lot of hype around the front-facing speakers on the Xperia Z5, but these are something of a disappointment.
Ever since using HTC BoomSound speakers it will take a lot to convince me there's anything better out there, and the front-facing speakers on the Xperia Z5 are mediocre at best. There's nothing that makes me nod with approval sonically and I even struggle to hear audio when running a tap at the same time.
Phone calls were clear and crisp – there were no complaints from my recipients and I didn't experience any issues on my end either. That's probably down to the active noise cancellation with dedicated mic inside the phone.
Everything you need to have is here with the Xperia Z5. There are just a few more extravagant features I'd like to have seen, but clearly there's no desire to supply them from camp Sony.
Is the Sony Xperia Z5 not taking your fancy? Well there's plenty of competition out there whether you want something with an iOS flavour, another Android provider or something else from the house of Sony.
The iPhone 6S is one of the best smartphones on the planet. If you don't want to go with Android, it's worth a look. It sports a similar design to the iPhone 6 but comes with an improved A9 processor, an improved 12MP camera sensor and the newest iOS 9 slapped on top.
There's also a new screen technology called 3D Touch that can tell how hard you're pressing on the screen and gives you some new functionality to speed up your everyday productivity.
There's no hiding the fact we loved this year's Samsung flagship. The Galaxy S6 undid everything the Galaxy S5 did wrong and brought in a bunch of new high-end specs that actually surprised us.
The screen on the Galaxy S6 is just about the same size as the one on the Xperia Z5 but it's packed with a load more pixels, coming in with 577ppi. It does look beautiful and there's something similar between the new Sony Xperia design and the Galaxy S6.
The phone comes with a high-end Exynos processor, lots of storage options, a 16MP rear facing camera with gorgeous results.
If you're looking for higher pixels, you'll want the Xperia Z5 Premium. Although the phone hasn't launched yet, it's awfully exciting as it's going to be the first phone to market that features a 4K display.
It's much the same as the Xperia Z5 but it hosts a much bigger screen at 5.5-inches with a 4K resolution making it a mammoth 806ppi.
That's huge and looks beautiful, so if you're willing to pay £120 extra for a phone that just has a better front rather than more power under the hood, you'll be more than happy with the Xperia Z5 Premium.
Released in May this year, the LG G4 improved on quite a few areas of the G3 significantly. It certainly doesn't feel as premium as the Xperia Z5 with its plastic backing but it boasts similar specs.
That design also means it has a removable battery, which is handy if you're ever the kind to swap them when out on the go. It includes a 5.5-inch display, slightly larger than the Xperia Z5, but it's a 2K resolution offering a much higher pixel quality than the Xperia Z5.
Plus it does that with a similar battery life to Sony's offering and embarrasses it quite a bit in that department. In fact, it's even a similar size and comes in cheaper due to LG dropping the price so many times. If you're not sure about the Z5, this could be a better option.
Let's get this straight – Sony's Xperia Z5 is a world away from the Xperia Z3+. Now this phone is here, there's no reason for anyone to pick up the Xperia Z3+. The overheating issues were inexcusable and enough has changed on the Xperia Z5 that it's what you'll want in your pocket if you're a big Sony fan.
And the Xperia Z5 is one of the best Android phones you can buy right now. Sony has seen the lukewarm reaction to the HTC One M9, Xperia Z3+ and LG G4, and this time it has gone all out to beat the Galaxy S6.
I love the new design. It's a great improvement on the clear glass back and sharp edges of the Xperia Z2. The Z5 is lighter, it's thinner, and the frosted glass back is nothing short of gorgeous. I think it's up in the realms of the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6S for design.
The new fingerprint sensor is overdue but this is one of the best ways I've ever seen it included in a smartphone.
It feels natural to have it within the button on the side of the phone and it works like a dream. Looking back at how awful the fingerprint sensor was on the Galaxy S5 with a poor sliding action needed, it's good Sony's nailed this first time.
The camera is a curious one. It might not impress the average user every time, as some images can seem a little lifeless, but the technical ability (the zoom modes, the ability to tweak so many settings and the raw images you get) will impress the pixel perfectionists - you'll just need to be prepared to dig a little.
And the battery may not be incredible but it's a step in the right direction and much better than on the Xperia Z3+. If you're not such a heavy user, it may even prove better for you.
It still gets too hot – the Xperia Z3+ was unbearable and though this is much better it's still not good enough. Playing a game for an hour shouldn't make the phone unholdable, and Sony needs to rethink the processor for the Xperia Z6.
I really would have liked to have seen a major spec upgrade here. Under the hood it looks remarkably similar to the Xperia Z3+ and it would have been nice to get something that looks a little more impressive on paper.
Throwing in a 2K screen to show Samsung and LG how to do it would have really impressed and demonstrated exactly why Sony should be in this market - if it made it an improvement on 1080p, that is, and not just a spec bump for the sake of it.
The Xperia Z5 Premium hype seems to have done that to some degree, but 4K is still an issue when you realise the battery life isn't perfected, and you will need to shell out quite a bit of extra money to get it.
The Xperia UI isn't good enough either – it really undersells what Sony can achieve in the hardware department and forms an unnecessary barrier between the user and stock Android. It's not the be-all and end-all, but it's certainly disappointing.
If you're going to buy a Sony phone, make it this one. The Xperia Z5 is the best phone Sony has ever produced and it's up there as one of the best Android phones on the market right now.
After the abomination that was the Xperia Z3+, it would have been easy for the company to slip out of the market it was already struggling in. It might have just given up and walked out to sea if it had a similar experience here.
It's still expensive, and that's an issue. I can't help but feel if Sony dropped the price a further £50 on both this and the Xperia Z5 Compact, we'd see much better sales for their line of phones.
In the end, the Z5 isn't as perfect as it should be, but it does have all the right parts.