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Sony Xperia Z5 U.S. review: A great camera can't save a compromised phone

Quick take

The Sony Xperia Z5 has a sleek look, designed with a metal frame and tempered fingerprint-resistant glass over the display. It delivers a decent display and a solid processor, with a battery that will definitely get you through the day. The real feature is the camera, and the ability to capture 4K video at a tap. But in the U.S. the Z5 is a lesser phone than overseas, and at its current price point is a hard sell.

The good

  • Awesome camera
  • Great battery life
  • Just updated to Marshmallow
  • Dedicated camera button

The bad

  • Feels fragile in your hand
  • Weird button placement
  • No stabilization for the camera
  • Fingerprint sensor removed

About this review

This is a review of the U.S. version of the Sony Xperia Z5 — we reviewed the European version in November 2015. I (Jen Karner) used the Sony Xperia Z5 on the T-Mobile network in Halethorpe, Md. It was used in the greater Baltimore area with good signal throughout. I was using the silver 32GB model running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, Build 32.0.A.6.209, for a week. During the review period it was paired with a 2015 Honda Fit, and with a Samsung Gear Circle Headset.

On March 14, 2016, an over-the-air update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow was received and installed.

Hardware

Lots of unrefined power

Sony Xperia Z5 Hardware

Category | Features --- | --- Display | 5.2-inch 1920x1080 IPS HD Processor | Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core 64 bit processor Storage | 32GB on device, 200GB expandable RAM | 3GB Rear Camera | 23MP with Exmor RS, Steadyshot with Intelligent Active Mode Front Camera | 5MP Speakers | S-Force Front surround Stereo speakers Waterproofing ] IP65 / IP68 dust-tight & waterproof Battery | 2900 mAh Size | 146 x 72 x 7.3 mm

154 g

The first thing you noticed when picking up the Xperia Z5 for the first time was how light and fragile it feels. Even though it's a metal frame with tempered glass, it doesn't feel solid. It's almost plastic-like. The desire to grab a case for it as soon as you pick it up is strong, more so than many other phones available right now. This 5.2-inch rectangular slab looks gorgeous when it's on the table, it just doesn't feel the same way when it's in your hand.

It's rocking a 5.2-inch 1080p IPS display that doesn't quite take up the whole front of the phone. It does the job quite well though, being easy to see in bright light, although there were some occasional issues with reflection even with the brightness jacked up to 100 percent. Indoors you get bright and vibrant colors that weren't oversaturated, which is a welcomed departure from current AMOLED experiences.

The display is surrounded by a white glass border on all sides; speaker cut outs are located at both the top and bottom of the front of the phone are small and discrete, but they definitely put out some serious sound. Some minor Sony branding sits directly over the display, flanked by the front facing camera and sensors. This is a Sony phone, instantly recognizable by the design language they've been relying on for years — even without the old round power button on the side.

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Headphone jack

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Nanosim slot

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Buttons

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Battery port

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Back of the Xperia Z5

There's a volume rocker, and then a dedicated camera button, all on the lower right side of the phone. The power button is flush to the phone, followed by the rocker, with the camera button at the bottom, so it's easy to navigate between your buttons by touch. However, if you're trying to use the Xperia Z5 one-handed it can be a weird stretch to try and hit the camera button. Putting that awesome camera button so far down that you can barely reach continues to be a weird choice for Sony.

You'll find a headphone jack on the top of the phone, and a micro-USB charging port at the bottom of the phone. On the upper right side is a pop-out panel for your SIM and microSD cards, along with some discrete Xperia branding near the bottom of the phone. On the back of you'll again find some fairly minimal branding with "Sony" across the middle, Xperia across the bottom. All of the branding on the Xperia Z5 is a metallic silver, and isn't actually too noticeable when you are out and about. The rear-facing camera is mounted flush to the phone on the top left.

It was strange to see that they didn't include a fingerprint sensor.

The Snapdragon 810 processor is generally able to take everything you threw at it. There was some lag initially while using Google Now, but otherwise there aren't any noticeable problems. Sony has clearly done some work to optimize this processor a little better than the early efforts with the UK release of the phone. The Xperia Z5 is also rated dust and waterproof which is a fantastic feature, especially if you've ever known the horror of dropping your phone in a pet's water bowl. Which I have, repeatedly.

It was strange however to see that they didn't include a fingerprint sensor in the U.S. model of Z5, especially since it was included in the European release. Fingerprint sensors are a nearly a must-have feature at this point, and to go out of their way to remove it from the U.S. release is just a really weird choice. Unless the fingerprint sensor wasn't working correctly, it seems counter intuitive to remove a feature that's available from their competition. The really unfortunate part is that a fingerprint sensor would have really helped to round the phone's features out a bit more, and even more so now that it's running Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Streamlined and simple

Sony Xperia Z5 Software

This review initially started while the Xperia Z5 was running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. But the phone received an over-the-air update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow during the review process, which was awesome to see. While running Lollipop isn't a deal-breaker for some, plenty of people want the most up-to-date software possible on their phones. Sony includes several of their own apps on the phone, most of which could be uninstalled.

Most of the software didn't exactly knock me out of the water with must-have features, but everything worked quite smoothly and without any noticeable lag. Sony's interface hasn't had any dramatic changes recently, and for the most it part stays out of the way of Google's design decisions. Since this is a Sony phone, there is an added benefit for any gamers enjoying their PlayStation 4. The Xperia Z5 comes preloaded with PlayStation Network apps, letting you access your system even when you aren't at home.

You can connect to your PS4 with remote play, see your notifications, and purchase new games.

In addition to the main PSN app, the Xperia Z5 also packs PlayStation Video and PlayStation Music. You can connect to your PlayStation 4 with remote play, see your notifications, and purchase new games. You can also see your PSN wall and notifications, amongst other things. The integration makes it easier for us console gamers to have games downloaded, even if we aren't at home or by a computer to give them a whirl. Just keep in mind that remote play is only available if you are using your phone on the same Wi-Fi network as your PlayStation 4.

While the Snapdragon 810 processor easily handled everything thrown at it performance-wise, we did notice that prolonged use made the entire phone heat up. This wasn't until we had been playing games for upwards of 40 minutes, but it got bad enough that just about anyone would have to put the phone down to rest, which was unfortunate. That said, it never actually produced an overheating alert, so the casing was doing its job in dissipating that heat. If the phone wasn't built so thin and light, it's possible the heat would never get to bother the user.

Camera

Beautiful shots day, or night

Sony Xperia Z5 camera

When it comes to the camera and its many options, it's very easy to see that this where Sony spent a lot of their energy. The focus is quick so that you can grab photos in the moment, and despite the lack of optical image stabilization you aren't likely to encounter issues getting a clear photo with the rear facing camera. Taking a steady selfie was a bigger problem, but still not unheard of considering the size of the Xperia Z5. The rear camera packs a 23MP sensor with incredibly fast autofocus, paired up with a 5MP front-facing camera for all your selfie needs.

Whether you're a casual photographer, or you like to have control over every aspect of your photos, Sony has you covered. The default mode is Superior Auto, and for all of your daylight pictures it has you covered pretty well without always delivering the absolute best photo available. Manual mode gets you access to all the bells and whistles from white balance to color saturation.

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While the Xperia Z5 does have the capacity for 4K video, it isn't your default. Instead the initial default is 30fps, although you can adjust that up to 60fps from the settings. To record 4K video, you'll need to use one of the camera apps that Sony throws at you, and booting that up will warn you about overheating your phone.

4K video isn't the only app available either. There are nearly a dozen camera apps on your phone by default, covering features like AR effects and panorama shots. Each app is built around one specific feature, so they're not all really worth your time, but they can become a fun distraction. Some of them are pretty processor intensive, so they may give you heat warnings when you launch them.

Now Sony did a fair bit of boasting about this camera, and it isn't at all unwarranted. When it came to taking low light photos, the camera pulls in a surprising amount of light. It doesn't have the best low-light performance around, but it runs with the vast majority of smartphones in its capabilities there. And the photos you take won't always be particularly high quality, but when choosing between grain and blurry or no photo at all, it's easy to see which direction Sony went. The low light pictures in the gallery above were taken well after midnight on the East Coast, with next to no useful light. Obviously, these pictures weren't as crystal clear as daylight photos, but that's understandable considering the difference in available lighting. Even the front-facing camera managed to catch some decent shots in low light, which was surprising.

Just a few of the wacky one-off camera app options on the Sony Xperia Z5.

Just a few of the wacky one-off camera app options on the Sony Xperia Z5.

The photos taken in full daylight are absolutely gorgeous. They're sharp and clear without any issues of oversaturation on the display. You also have access to specific options for each mode of shooting. These include the normal bits like whether you want to activate the flash, or the resolution that you shoot in. You can also play with color levels and brightness. If you know what you're doing it's easy to get lost playing with the camera for an hour or two as you find all of its quirks and features.

This may not be the best smartphone camera out there, but it's a contender. Sony's efforts in photography have always been exceptional, and it's great to see this phone continue to reflect that.

Battery stats

Powering the workday and beyond

Sony Xperia Z5 Battery life

You can have the best camera the world, or the fastest processor, or an incredible display, but it won't make much of a difference if your battery can't go the distance. While you won't find a massive hulk of a battery inside the slim frame, it will get you where you need to go. The Xperia Z5 has a 2900 mAh battery that easily got me through the day without needing to top off or charge up. On average, this phone would get upwards of 16 hours with four or more hours of screen on time. On a day of relatively low use, that was stretched to 30 hours with no problems.

This phone also charges quickly, though not because the charger in the box supports Quick Charge. You'll need a third-party charger to get those rapid charging times, but watching the phone go from 10 percent to 70 percent in under an hour is impressive all the same.

Bottom Line

Fun, but maybe not for you

Sony Xperia Z5: Bottom line

If you've been looking for a good phone rocking a fantastic camera, then you should definitely take a look at the Sony Xperia Z5. It's got a beautiful display, a long-lasting battery, and a design that's easy on the eyes — even if it doesn't always feel solid in your hand. The processor should easily handle anything you throw at it, both today and into the future.

With a $599 price point it's getting very close to competing with the new Galaxy S7, which starts at $649, and in that contest it falls behind. It has a smaller battery, arguably not as nice of external hardware, and lacks a fingerprint sensor in the U.S., but definitely has a leg up with its tamer software. The Sony Xperia Z5 has plenty of features from a crisp display that sweet, sweet, camera to expandable storage with an SD Card, and a battery that will get you through the day.

Should you buy it

Should you buy it? Do it for the camera

As usual, it comes down to the features that matter the most to you. The processor, display, and battery are all really solid, but it's the camera that really makes the Sony Xperia Z5 worth the price. With 32GB of onboard storage, expandable storage and the fresh upgrade to Android 6.0 Marshmallow, this phone is a competitor. It's really just a give and take, what you want out of a phone versus what you're willing to sacrifice. With all of that in mind, we definitely suggest taking some time to decide what the most important features to you are.

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Jen is a staff writer who spends her time researching the products you didn't know you needed. She's also a fantasy novelist and has a serious Civ VI addiction. You can follow her on Twitter.

59 Comments
  • I'm really enjoying my Z5. I have the Canadian variant with fingerprint scanner and it works great.
    I put a case on, as I would no matter what phone I own. The UI is fluid and snappy.
    I haven't used the camera much but the photos I have taken are quite nice. Posted via Xperia Z5
  • I have the Z5C running MM and the fingerprint reader is almost too fast. I don't understand why they got rid of it for the US models. And I agree, very snappy and fluid UI.
  • Sony is still one of the best when it comes to optimization - along side with HTC. VZW Moto X DE/N7
  • I love Sony's phones in theory. But it seems like in the US market they're really trying hard to fail. From the next to unnoticeable upgrade from Z1 to Z3, to the flawed upgrade to a Z5 with no fingerprint sensor, and a camera, which considering its made by the manufacturer of cameras for many of the best phones on the market, could be significantly better, especially considering the MP count. They need some US based product management if they want to have any impact in this market. Very strange decisions. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's unfortunate that the US market continues to get the short end of the stick when it comes to Sony. The Z5 is selling like hotcakes here in the White North. The Z5P.. Not so much. And the Z5C isn't sold here. Posted via Xperia Z5
  • "Trying hard to fail" is the perfect quote. There's so many people that want to like their phones, but it's like they go out of their way to come up small. Not one compelling reason in the US (for me) to give this phone a serious look, especially with the HTC 10 and so many more competitive phones to choose from.
  • I agree, the "Trying hard to fail" fits it perfectly. I have liked Sony products for years. But when it comes to smart phones there is zero innovation. To me, it seems like they just went to the standard parts bin, picked what seems standard and safe. Design never changes. A pretty good phone overall, although way overpriced. So much over priced that only hard core Sony customers will pay for it. Then they finally release something for the US and they take features away. Makes the S7 almost look like a bargain. Sony is not stupid, I just think they want to come out with a solid product (which they do) and make big money for just the brand name. Unfortunately, that is the path to death in cell phones. Sony is living in the days where technology was not well understood by the general buying public and it was like magic. Buyers today are very well informed and smart about technology and it doesn't take them long to figure out how over priced these phone are.
  • I love my Xperia Z5, UK version, but the Bluetooth performance has been atrocious since lollipop and is even worse on marshmallow. If you rely on Bluetooth, think twice about this phone. I'm likely to be swapping the phone if it's not fixed soon. It's such a shame as otherwise it's a solid handset, and I don't think it feels flimsy, mine is solid. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Huh, that surprises me. The Z3C had the best Bluetooth experience I've ever had with a mobile device.
  • Not surprising, since Ericsson invented Bluetooth technology (from what I remember). :) VZW Moto X DE/N7
  • You can find threads on the official Sony forums, and at XDA Developers. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I have had zero issues with Bluetooth. Posted via Xperia Z5
  • Sonys PS marketing team should lend a hand to their phone division bc they're doing a knockout job Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yup Posted via the Android Central App
  • Loving my Z5 almost as good as Z3 Posted via the Android Central App
  • "Putting that awesome camera button so far down that you can barely reach continues to be a weird choice for Sony." I'm sorry but I have a very hard time with this. Its the same place as point and shoot or dSLR. Don't understand where else it should go. With the current placement, it is familiar to anyone who's ever used a camera.
  • Heh. I was thinking that too. Camera buttons are there for two handed use. The design goal isn't for single handed use in portrait orientation. Respect to the author, though. Otherwise good article. Anyway, I dislike dedicated camera buttons on phones. Their action is rarely smooth and, due to a phone's shape and usage, it's hard not to induce camera shake. I always get better shots with the on screen button.
  • At this point, the Z5 is off my radar since Sony took so long to bring it over. The X Performance seems interesting, but with a summer release date, it seems like Sony doesn't want my money. Posted via the Android Central App
  • You might as well get the international version, it's actually cheaper than the US version (if you can deal with the lack of a warranty).
  • Interesting, I live in the US and just sent my international version in for screen repair under warranty. They said it would take longer to fix than the US version, because they had to import parts, but it never lost its warranty. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Great camera? I heard something else in other Reviews. Posted via the Android Central App - Galaxy S6 on Android M
  • "Awesome camera" Ahahahahahahah
    This is where I stopped reading the review. Either you have amazingly low standards or I don't know. The camera is precisely the worst part of the Z5 line (as it has been with the Xperia line for a while).
  • I used the Z5C. The camera was pretty awesome. Significantly better than the 6P. Google Nexus 6P
  • Not surprised that it's better than the 6P.
    I also the Z5C's camera but against the G4 and S7. It's utter utter crap. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Better than the 6P (a pretty good camera) but not as good as the S7 or G4 (the best cameras out there), still leaves the Z5 as a very good camera. "Awesome" would be a matter of opinion I guess. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Personal I love to camera, the color profile and and detail is amazing. By far the best camera I have used.
  • $599? What makes this better than the $425-$450 Nexus 6P? It's sounds like a bit of a fail, and nothing to help Sony with the flagging cell phone sales here in the USA. Why remove the fingerprint sensor, that's totally baffling Posted via the Android Central App
  • Expandable storage, superior camera, amazing battery life. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Storage and Batter life are only bettery if you need it. The 6p is generally not lacking in either, so it is a non-issue for most. As the camera, that is a matter of opinion, but I think they are equal. So again, why pay the extra $175?
  • There is no way I can agree with the 6P winning in camera, the Z5 takes 4:4:4 chroma video in 1080p60. Almost all professional photographers would disagree with the Nexus 6P even getting close to the Z5P.
  • Superior camera? Not sure I agree with that. I don't own either phone, but looking at the photos in this article and elsewhere, photos from the 6P look better to me. I see a lot of issues in photos from the Z5 including horrible sharpness at the edges of photos (sign of a poor lens), missed focus, motion blur (needs OIS with such small pixels), and just some generally mediocre processing in some photos.
  • 6P build quality is trash. Even a midrage sony phone has better build quality and waterproofing and an expandable storage too.
  • I see no point in buying the Z5 when you can better Android phones for much cheaper and omitting the fingerprint scanner is a stupid and questionable move made by Sony that will them in there ass. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Sounds like a great phone, only if Sony can market it better to the US market. Posted via the Android Central App
  • From the very little chitchat I could find on it, it seems the US versions do have the fingerprint hardware, but it is not activated. People report flashing a different region's firmware and it enables it. I bit on the z5c deal that BB just had, so I'll be testing that out when it arrives tomorrow.
  • All the bells and whistles like manual focus and shutter speed control in the native camera app? One picture at a time--LG V10
  • Nop. None of that. Manual controls are a joke on Xperia phones. Not only you have none of that but controls also disappear based on your decisions. For example, if you choose to shoot at full resolution, you can no longer control ISO values. If you have the V10 stay as far away from the Z5 camera as possible. It's absolute sh*t compared to LG's cameras. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Halethorpe, MD. We should hang out next time for a review. :) One picture at a time--LG V10
  • I have the z5 compact. The low light performance is significantly worse than galaxy s7. There is a camera thread about it on xda forums. Apart from that I am quite happy. Phone is very snappy with mm (was not with lollipop) . Bluetooth has some hiccups. I think it will be ironed out with future updates. Sony always takes some time but supports the phone very long with updates until it's perfect. Don't think it's the same with Samsung.
    US version I thought can enable fingerprint scanner by flashing non us rom. Posted via the Android Central App
  • No fingerprint scanner was a deal breaker for me. Was going to import one from the UK with fingerprint scanner but then x performance was announced so just going to wait for that now. Posted via the Android Central App
  • By what you define great camera? Judging by the pictures posted in this article camera is so so, specially in low light...
  • "Sony's efforts in photography have always been exceptional...". Not really. Sony has consistently botched the camera on every single iteration of this phone, despite the specs. They don't seem to understand how to process the photos properly and they are usually bland and filled with noise. Every single review I've ever seen on an Xperia camera pointed this out, not to mention the really bad camera app. I have personally owned the Z3 and Z2 and they did not take good photos at all.
  • Those enormous top and bottom bezels though. Looks like the Facebook phone.
  • OK, I guess I missed it. Compromised usually means something seriously wrong. But overall it seems like a really nice phone. I will say the review is compromised. How was it as a phone? I'd love to see a Z5v variant!
  • You tested the phone on T Mobile and no mention of Band 12? VOLTE? Wifi calling?
  • I am also interested in wifi calling on t-mobile.. But I know it already supports band 12.
  • I haven't bothered with putting a case on it and have never felt that I need to. Though I did look around for cases, but they were only bland and boring. However I haven't received the Marshmallow update yet, so I guess I have to wait for Vodafone. Posted from inside a Xperia Z5
  • - Feels fragile?? It feels very solid to me, and IP dust and water proof.. that is not fragile, its is industry leading durablity.
    - Weird Button placement?? The volume buttons are placed in lower down so that they are not accidentally pressed - and it works.
    - The camera does not have stabilization?? Yes it does - its called "SteadyShot" go into the camera or video menu and turn it on.
    - No fingerprint sensor. What can I say, it is a down point. But it is also not an essential feature... personally u turned mine off as I like using the pattern unlock.
  • the rear camera is just awesome!
  • You know that you can enable the fingerprint sensor by flashing international firmware, right?
  • Yep i think the camera is the only awesome thing about the sony z5 Posted via the Android Central App
  • Cheap on screen buttons no thanks. Expect on a low end phone but not on a flagship Posted via the Android Central App
  • That makes no sense.. Only Samsung uses hardware buttons lol. Fail
  • Google, LG, Huawei and other android phones does the same, you retarded donkeyballs.
  • Why are Sony smartphones always so damn expensive
  • It does seem a shame that for the US market they would remove something like the fingerprint scanner, is that just software, or hardware?
    I have the UK variant, which I bought to replace my Z2 (which was the best phone I've owned). The fingerprint scanner is brilliant, so quick and rarely can't read a print. As for the case issue, I agree with an earlier comment which said I put all my phones in a case, so this really isn't an issue. I would imagine most people on here would put there £500+ device in a case, its just common sense.
    Like some others I am confused as to where the reviewer would want the camera button placed, where it is seems the most logical place. When you hold the phone landscape to take a shot the button falls nicely under your right index finger, where I would want it.
    I am a big fan of this phone, as I was my Z2. When it came time to upgrade I only wanted the refinement of the Z5 over my Z2, nothing else appealed really. The big refinements being that the USB port is now waterproof, removing the annoying flap, and that fingerprint scanner. As for the camera, its only got better. I disagree with some other people on here who have said its not as good as certain other phones, but I think that comes down to what you expect. The Sony phones produce very natural shots, nothing over saturated or with odd colours. I suppose it depends what you want, but the idea of a clean picture which I can 'enhance' later if I chose is preferable over one which takes a shot you can't make look real.
    My only real gripe with this device is actually the battery life. With my Z2 I could easily manage 2 days of life, often 3 if I wasn't using it heavily. The Z5 while it does nearly always get through the day OK, is not what the Z2 was, and I hope for some optimization of this in a future update.
    Other than that this review sounds similar to most others I've seen of the Sony phones, can't really find fault (apart from minor, usually personal taste issues), yet a definite negative feel. I find this odd, as now on my 2nd Sony phone I am very happy with how they feel and perform.
  • Sony never seems to take the US market seriously. And they wonder why they are falling down so hard.... And no, this isn't the only reason. There's way more.
  • Dumbass
  • My wife has this phone and she really likes it she says that not having a fingerprint sensor kind of stinks so she downloaded this app that supposedly can take your picture and as long as it sees you it didn't matter to her anymore that there wasn't a fingerprint sensor but she says it download stuff really fast in one day she was on Facebook and she couldn't believe that the phone was just blazing through everything and this is coming from an LG G3 what she really like but the charging port always need to change out and repaired so but anyways don't be so mad it's only they're not the best but this phone is probably better than any Motorola or HTC and Alcatel is really stinky I don't remember having one of their phones and it got so hot it left a red mark on my butt I'm serious it was like so red it was so hot it could have cooked popcorn or a baked potato