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Sony Xperia Z5 review – hands on

It doesn’t seem five minutes since I reviewed the Xperia Z3+, but now Sony has just gone and announced the Xperia Z5 at this year’s IFA conference in Berlin, the next flagship smartphone in its line of water and dust-proof Z handsets. If you’re wondering what happened to the Z4, don’t worry. The Z3+ effectively was the Xperia Z4 in all but name, as it was only granted the official Z4 moniker in its native Japan. Everywhere else it was known as the Z3+.

The Z5 isn’t the only smartphone Sony announced today either, as it’s also going to be accompanied by the Xperia Z5 Compact, the successor to the excellent Z3 Compact, and the jumbo Xperia Z5 Premium, the world’s very first 4K smartphone. The latter will arrive in November, but the Z5 and Z5 Compact are both due in the UK next month. I’ve been hands on with all three smartphones ahead of their official launch to give you an early glimpse of what to expect from Sony’s next generation smartphones.

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^ The Sony Xperia Z5 (middle) is joined by the tiny Z5 Compact (right) and giant Z5 Premium (left)

For those that did just buy a Z3+, you only need to kick yourself a very tiny bit, as the Xperia Z5 is, once again, very similar to almost every Z phone that’s gone before it. It still has a 5.2in Full HD IPS screen, and it has the same octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor as the Z3+, so it’s speed and screen quality should be nigh on identical. This is no bad thing, though, as the Z3+’s display is one of the best LCD panels I’ve seen, and its excellent performance levels are second only to Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge handsets.

Sony’s also hoping the Z5 will be able to match the Z3’s two day battery life with its 2,900mAh battery. This isn’t quite as large as the Z3’s 3,100mAh battery, but it does support fast-charging, with Sony claiming that you’ll be able to get 5 and a half hours use from just ten minutes of charging, so it should be relatively easy to top-up if it does happen to run out midway through your day.

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^ Sony has refreshed its Android skin for the Xperia Z5, giving it an even more minimalist look than before

Instead, one of the biggest new additions to the Z5 is its super slim fingerprint sensor, which Sony has managed to integrate directly into the power button on the side of the phone. It’s certainly one of the neatest and most elegant solutions I’ve seen so far when it comes to fingerprint sensors, but it’s a bit of a shame Sony’s had to get rid of its beautiful round, machined-finish power button in order to make it happen.

The new, flatter power button, for instance, lies completely flush to the side of the phone, making it much more difficult to pick out by touch alone. It also didn’t give very much tactile feedback when I pressed it either, which is a bit disappointing when I couldn’t get the phone to unlock simply by holding my finger against the sensor. Instead, it only seemed to work once I’d pressed the power button to turn the screen on.

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^ Out with the old round power button (as seen above on the black Xperia Z3+) and in with the new flat fingerprint sensor

It also took rather a long time to set up the fingerprint recognition, as it took just over twenty presses to learn just one fingerprint. Still, it supports multiple fingerprints to make it easier to unlock the phone with your other hand, for example, and it’s great to see Sony’s finally getting on board with the likes of Apple, Samsung and Honor when it comes to mobile security.

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^ Sony’s new fingerprint sensor is present on all three Z5 smartphones and is located just above the volume rocker and dedicated shutter button for the camera on the right hand side

The Z5 also marks the first time we’ve seen a new flagship camera sensor from Sony since the Z1. Whereas previous models have always used the same 20.7-megapixel sensor, the Z5 family has been treated to a new 23-megapixel sensor with what Sony claims is the world’s fastest autofocus, clocking in at a lightning fast 0.03 seconds thanks to its hybrid AF system. This uses a combination of phase detection and contrast detection technology for extremely quick yet precise snaps. It also has a closed loop actuator for more precise lens control and robust video stabilisation.

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^ This is the first time Sony’s introduced a new camera sensor to the Z series since the Xperia Z1

The camera can also take advantage of Sony’s Super Resolution technology when zooming in, which should hopefully help improve image quality when using its 5x Clear Zoom feature. Likewise, Sony’s improved its low light capabilities to help it cope with even more kinds of lighting condition.

The Z5 also has a brand new design. It still has an aluminium frame and glass rear, but this time Sony’s opted for a rather gorgeous frosted glass effect on the back of the handset. Measuring 146x72x7.3mm and weighing 154g, the Xperia Z5 isn’t quite as slim as the Xperia Z3+, but the new finish makes it feel a lot less slippery than previous Z smartphones, and the very subtle rim around the edge of the phone catches in your hand to give an excellent level of grip.

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^ The new frosted glass effect on the back of the handset gives it a beautiful matt finish that keeps messy fingerprints to an absolute minimum

The Z5 also has reinforced corners like the Z3, but they’re much less obvious this time round as they blend in much more seamlessly with the rest of the phone. Personally, I quite liked how they stood apart from the rest of the Z3, but the Z5 still looks super classy regardless. A particularly great touch is the engraved Xperia logo on the bottom corner, as it not only makes it stand out from the rest of Sony’s smartphone line-up, but it also adds a bit of prestige to the handset that previous Sony phones have decidedly lacked.

I’m also glad to see Sony’s capless micro USB port making a welcome return from the Z3+, as this means you can use it underwater without worrying about damaging the handset. Likewise, its 32GB of storage can be expanded up to 200GB via microSD card.

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^ All three Z5 smartphones have an Xperia engraving in one corner (the Z5 Compact’s is on the upper left side), adding a subtle touch of class to each handset

For some, the Xperia Z5 will have come far too soon after the launch of the Z3+, but for me, it can’t have come soon enough. While it’s slightly disappointing that Sony continues to persist with the same screen size and resolution, it’s great to see the company finally moving the brand forwards with its new, innovative fingerprint sensor and all-new camera module. I’m also a big fan of the Z5’s design, as the new gold and green handsets look particularly stunning alongside the usual black and white models.

Of course, launching a new flagship phone at this point in the year always carries an element of risk, as it not only has to contend with this year’s flagships, but it’s also got to be futureproof enough to survive its overlapping with the launch of next year’s flagships as well, such as Samsung’s inevitable Galaxy S7. Still, from what I’ve seen so far, the Xperia Z5 has much more promise and potential than the Z3+, so I’ll be waiting with bated breath to see whether it can hold its own against the heavyweights of 2016.

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