Does time polish or dilute a classic? We get to grips with Sony’s most edgy flagship smartphone yet in our Xperia Z5 review.
2016, so far, is an odd year in the rockstar world. As new names in the music scene rise and older names vanish into legend, its clear that this isn’t a dissimilar situation from which many manufacturers in the tech world find themselves. With an Xperia Z5 review ahead of us, it’s worthwhile to consider that like the rock legends of old, Sony finds itself moving to reclaim the space it was lauded for in its heyday.
The Xperia Z line has largely proven a critical success thus far because of two underpinnings; a great camera experience and a premium and uncomplicated design. Developing both into a motif that has largely kept the brand resonating with consumers – despite the extreme price of such products – Sony is now in a position to explore, become aggressive, and reinvigorate itself in-amongst a bolder Android market than in years prior. Read: Sony unveils a Rose Gold Xperia Z5
The Xperia Z5, then, arrives on the market in a manner not dissimilar to an elder gentleman rockstar re-taking the stage. The songs and sound are the same, but the artist is that much more refined and poised to enjoy the artistic space they’ve created. The real question is does the Xperia Z5 launch a rocking world tour, or retire into obscure success?
Out of the box, Sony’s latest affair is much the same. The Z5 feels more akin to a gentle refinement than a bold re-imagining, and while an exciting product to have, lacks an excitement factor.
With a 5.2″ 1080 display with a pixel density of 428ppi, 3GBs of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, and a Snapdragon 810 chipset, the Xperia Z5 doesn’t smart for performance, and a even a quick swipe through the device confirms the buttery experience Sony has crafted. Gone are the days of camera lag or slowdown; this is an Xperia Z at its most elegant form yet.
With the gold model in my hands, I grew to appreciate Sony’s additions to its omnibalance design language. While not a disciple of biometric security myself, the addition of a side fingerprint sensor is well placed and isn’t at all intrusive – HTC and Samsung could stand to learn from this approach. The overall design, slimmed down from earlier Xperia Z models, is sharper, crisper and more blade-like than anything that Sony have produced before.
With a slim build that’s wrapped around the edges by a sharp finish and rounded edges, this is a refinement to Sony’s design language that we’ve not yet seen before. External design is once again premium, and altogether rather boring. The omnibalance design language largely ensures that the Z5 fits amicably in one’s hand no matter the size of their digits, and few companies can replicate the feel of having a glass sandwich in your hand better than Sony, but the company’s focus on a metal back this time around leaves the Xperia Z5 feeling like a boring slab as opposed to something that’s cool to the touch.
Speaking of cool to the touch, the Z5 runs as smoothly as Daniel Craig’s James Bond in a firefight, and I experienced no overheating – something I was concerned about in my Xperia Z5 hands-on-preview.
UI and performance
Internally, the Xperia Z5 runs as the sixth version of the flagship model should – with no incident. Apps, UI elements and system features run, open and close with no issue, and precious little turbulence occurs while running Sony’s stock Android launcher. Performance is smooth across the board and Sony’s media apps shine as never before.
As I’ve said in Bandwidth Blog On Air, I’ve always felt Sony’s UI is by far one of the most graceful takes on Android. With little fuss, Sony largely stays out of Android’s trajectory and adds simple refinements and apps into the equation.
The real selling point of an Xperia Z handset has always been the model’s premium camera, and this time around doesn’t disappoint. The 23 megapixel primary camera is one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege of using – shots are immaculately detailed, colours vivid, and compared to my own Xperia Z1, the Z5’s camera offers absolutely no lag or any other performance issues.
Shooting in low light is once again a sore point, and again, Samsung has largely trumped Sony in this regard. However, the Z5 offers one of the better low-light shooters that is only pipped by the experience Apple and Samsung have most recently brought to the market.
The 5.1 megapixel front-facing camera is well-detailed and is slightly more accommodating in low light, and will more than likely sate all of your immediate selfie needs.
My largest gripe with the Z5, to return to the rockstar analogy, is that the Z5 is far too great a gentleman in an arena that at the moment requires the energy and voracity of a punk band. Everything about the Z5 – despite Sony’s expensive Bond branding campaign – is understated, simple and elegant.
Normally, I would be beyond thrilled to own such a product. But were this an elegant weapon for a more civilized age, times have changed. Sony is a company that in 2016 can’t afford to either play nice or conservatively – the company needs a bold product to disrupt a market space that is very quickly loosing interest in its products.
One route to do this would be to offer the Z5 at a far lower price point – one of our great loves in 2015, the LG G4, bore such an affordable price tag that we couldn’t help but sit up and notice. Similarly, South African market newcomer Xiaomi boasts a R4000 ZAR Mi 4 which, apart from its camera, offers a broadly similar spec to the Z5.
For a smartphone that retails (roughly, on average) for R10,500 ZAR, the Z5 is a great proposition, but is ultimately one that fails to excite nor reinvigorate the firm’s flagship line. To clarify, the Z5 is a great smartphone which I would heartily recommend to anyone interested in buying it. For a premium product, this a great value proposition and is one that is uniquely tipped to be a future classic in the Android world.
However, if you’re after something bold or exciting, this isn’t for you. The Z5 is an affair, to return to our analogy, that is much like the comeback tour of a formerly famous artist. The songs are the same, the sound is great, and the performance more refined than ever. However, there’s little excitement factor, and the Z5 leaves the impression that Sony came close to crafting a welcome return but ultimately settled for producing a mild comeback.
What are your thoughts on our Xperia Z5 review? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!