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A Solid Device with Some Tough Competition
While I found myself liking the Xperia Z5 more than I expected after several weeks of regular use, Sony is going to have a tough time convincing consumers to purchase their handset over the latest Nexus devices or the Samsung Galaxy S6. Although the Z5 comes with a decent feature set, it doesn't achieve the same level of polish as the best devices on the market.
On the upside, Sony has finally perfected the waterproof smartphone design, leaving both the 3.5mm audio jack and micro-USB charging port uncovered. The Z5's appealing glass-cross-metal design improves upon the Xperia Z3 from a visual perspective, though falls slightly behind in ergonomics. The new fingerprint scanner performs well, though it's far from perfect.
In short, it's a classic Xperia design that continues to have a place in the 2015 market.
The 5.2-inch 1080p display is acceptable, particularly from a sharpness and brightness perspective, making the panel easy to read in all conditions. Color quality and accuracy isn't fantastic, as there's a noticeable blue tint as well as moderate oversaturation. However, tweaking some settings can improve this, and visually the display can look great in situations that demand a boost in vibrancy.
The Xperia Z5 is the fastest Snapdragon 810 device I've reviewed in terms of raw performance, only falling slightly behind the Galaxy S6. In general usage the performance is good, but it comes at a cost: heat output. The Z5 is a pretty warm smartphone during normal usage, often to the point where it's uncomfortable to hold in some positions while running performance intensive tasks (such as gaming). Ideally I would have preferred to see a Snapdragon 808 in the Xperia Z5, which doesn't have the same heat issues, though I appreciate features such as fast LTE and microSD card storage.
One of the standout features of the Xperia Z5 is its camera, which Sony has improved compared to last year's Xperia Z3. Many of the issues with the software have been addressed, and although the camera isn't the fastest going around, the quality and especially the detail of photos is very good. The lack of OIS hurts in low light and during video recording, leaving the Z5 slightly behind competitors such as the Galaxy S6, but in general the Z5 is a great, accurate and even water resistant portable camera.
Coming from the Xperia Z3, the Z5 is a disappointment in the battery life department, failing to replicate the excellent stamina of past Xperia devices. Whether it's the smaller battery capacity or the more power hungry chip, the Xperia Z5 is an average performer, and I can't see anyone reaching Sony's claim of "2 day battery life" in typical usage.
Launching the Xperia Z5 without Android 6.0 is a disheartening move by Sony, and I hope they will push an update to the handset in the near future – though I'm not holding my breath judging by their track record. To be fair, the Z5's Android 5.1 software skin is a big improvement upon previous versions, getting a huge visual overhaul that more closely matches stock Android, but I just wish it was running Marshmallow out of the box.
The Xperia Z5 isn't the easiest smartphone to recommend this year, which may come as a surprise considering it's arguably the best device Sony has produced. But with great devices in the market to choose from like the Galaxy S6, iPhone 6s, and new Nexus devices from LG and Huawei, being merely 'good' isn't enough to take out the win.
Pros: The best water resistant design yet. Great camera with superb accuracy and detail. Sony resisted moving to 1440p, resulting in decent performance. Includes a microSD card slot.
Cons: Disappointing battery life. The Snapdragon 810 runs warm. Display isn't too accurate. Didn't launch with Android 6.0 on-board, and Sony's update history is poor.