Yesterday we got a chance to go down to Sony Singapore’s launch of their recently announced Xperia Z5 smartphones (except for the Z5 Premium – that’s launching slightly later) and see just what Sony has pulled out of the bag this time. For more information on the specifications, what’s new in the three devices and what’s not, you can also check out our article on the IFA launch of the Z5.
All three of the announced devices have practically the same specifications – all that really changes is the display size/resolution and the corresponding battery capacity. As such, the experience with all three devices should mostly be the same (except for how large/small they feel of course) so let’s have a look at the general strengths and shortcomings of the Z5 devices.
Matte Backing on the Z5 and Z5 Compact
Gone is the pesky glass backing that contributed to unsightly fingerprints, or worse – cracked rear panels after a particularly nasty drop. In is a matte backing that feels extremely smooth to the touch, if still a bit slippery. However, the increased girth of the devices does make it easier to handle.
Fingerprint Sensor is pretty quick
While we didn’t bust out our stopwatches to time how quickly one could unlock the phone with the fingerprint sensor embedded into the power button, it seemed quick enough to rival Apple’s Touch ID. Finger recognition accuracy is also very good and did not require repeated attempts to unlock the device. Furthermore, the system works akin to Touch ID, where all you have to do is place your finger upon the sensor and press, which speeds up matters greatly.
23 MP resolution for Superior Auto unlocked
A minor bugbear since the days of the Xperia Z1, the Xperia Z5 now allows users to finally take advantage of the full camera resolution available in the Superior Auto mode. Previously limited to Manual mode, this unlock – which really should have come as soon as the Xperia Z2 – will make Superior Auto photos more detailed, though it also runs a risk of adding excessive noise.
Display is brighter than the Xperia Z3/Z3+
Visibility under the harsh afternoon sun should take a boost with the increased brightness of the Xperia Z5 and Z5 Compact over the Z3. Users of the Xperia Z2 will see an even greater difference between their devices and the Z5, for the display of the Z2 was notoriously dim. In terms of colour and viewing angles, the IPS LCD is still top-class even if Samsung’s Super AMOLED panels are a step ahead.
No flaps on the charging port
Sony has always been big on waterproofing their devices since the Xperia Z, and this continues with the Xperia Z5. However, since the Z3+ any pesky micro-USB flap has been absent, which increases convenience while charging, and removes the risk of your device losing its waterproofing if a flap falls out.
Volume rocker is too far down
The inclusion of the larger power button due to the integrated fingerprint sensor has seen the volume rocker in the Xperia Z5 get pushed down until it’s nearly touching the physical camera shutter key. While it certainly will contribute to easier zooming in and out in camera operation, it significantly increases the difficulty in increasing or decreasing the media volume. A better solution would have been to situate the volume rocker on the left of the device.
It’s still very slippery
Even if Sony has done away with the glass back seen in all previous Z-series smartphones, they still haven’t been able to make them less slippery. While it’s extremely nice to feel the smooth surface on your hands, there is always the danger of the phone simply sliding through your hands to embrace the floor below. A little rougher surface would have been perfectly fine.
RAW and manual camera settings are still missing
A feature now present in every single one of Sony’s competitors down from Google’s Nexus line to Samsung, LG and HTC (yes, even them), the implementation of the Camera2 API is still absent here in the Xperia Z5. Only in Sony’s offerings are you prevented from obtaining RAW images with far more detail than compressed JPGs, are denied the ability to choose your own shutter speed, focus distance and dial in a white balance number. Now, while this is already a pretty bad domain to be lagging behind your competitors in, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sony representatives at the launch event did say this functionality might come in a software update, but sounded far from optimistic.
There has been no improvement in the camera algorithm
While more in-depth testing with a review unit will reveal the extent to which the Superior Auto camera algorithm is still suffering, our initial usage of the Z5 camera shows that there is a ridiculous amount of noise reduction going on even under the bright lights at the launch event. Fine details were missing even in the 23 MP mode – zooming into faces more than 2 meters away yielded almost comically cartoonish features. This hasn’t really been an issue previously since the Manual mode of the previous Z-series devices has been very good, but now it seems to have regressed greatly.
The camera’s Manual Mode is now useless
Even without the Camera2 API, Sony previously allowed users to manually select the ISO at whichever resolution you fancied, so the shutter speed was forced to be reduced to bring in more light. This was perfect in those situations where you were confident of your steady hands or had a tripod to mount your phone upon, and didn’t want excessive noise in your images.
Well, it’s now gone. The Manual mode in the camera has just become utterly useless.
Now, Sony forces you to limit your resolution to 8 MP if you want to manually set the ISO, denying you the ability to take advantage of the full 23 MP or even 20 MP the camera can use. With Sony’s perennial issues with the automatic camera algorithm (which has not even been rectified), you now get photos with truckloads of noise when you select a resolution above 8 MP as you’re forced to use Auto ISO.
This is even more grating when you realise that none of the Z5 predecessors had this inane limitation. An owner of an Xperia Z2 myself, I’m confident in my ability to keep the camera steady even with the low shutter speeds that come about with low ISO selections – it is Manual mode after all. But with the Z5 that opportunity has been snatched away.
When we asked the Sony representatives their reasoning behind this limitation, they were at a loss for words before stammering out a rather unbelievable excuse that the sensor could not handle manual ISO at 20 or 23 MP, even though it was no problem at 20.7 MP with the previous Xperia Z devices.
To call this padded box “Manual Mode” is an insult.
Low-light performance has regressed hugely, and lags miles behind competitors
Previously the crowning jewel of the Xperia series, the camera now seems to have taken a thousand-mile leap backwards. Not only has it failed to include improvements such as RAW and manual settings – features present as far back as in the HTC One (M8) – removed any possible reason to call Manual Mode what it is called, but its low-light processing has also become much worse.
To show-off the “superb” low-light performance of the Xperia Z5, we were invited to a dark room where two Xperia Z5s were mounted on top of tripods, aimed at these miniatures of the Eiffel Tower. Light really was scarce – you could barely see your hand in front of you. We tried out the photography of the Z5, my Z2 and Timothy’s LG G4 and were shocked to see the Z5 performing the worst out of the three.
The white balance was not perfect, detail was a hazy mess, and there was ridiculous amounts of purple fringing in the image produced by the Z5. Even the Xperia Z2, with an obviously worse white balance selection fared better but the LG G4 simply blew the Xperias away.
The reason for this is two-fold:
- The Xperia Z2/Z5 is limited to 8 MP if you want to utilise the low-light scene, regardless if in Superior Auto or Manual mode. This is an obvious hit to the fine detail in the images.
- Manual mode at 8 MP, low-light scene, and ISO 50 (to reduce noise) produces a pitch-black image. This clearly highlights the shortcomings of the Xperia Z5’s camera algorithm, which looks to have become worse than its predecessors.
For a device that is touting its camera as one of its main selling points, this is an absolute disaster. Not only do its rivals leave it to choke in their dust, but so do the older Z-series devices (or at least the Xperia Z2). I’ve no idea what has happened to Sony Mobile’s camera department with the Z5, but it’s sure to torpedo any sales from photography enthusiasts.
Pricing and Pre-order Bonuses
|Product Model||Price||Availability||Pre-order Bundles|
|Sony Xperia Z5||SGD$998||October 2015||Pre-order available from 24 Sep to 11 Oct 2015
Free Micro USB Charging Dock DK52 (RRP $58)
PWP promotion of the new High-Resolution Audio Headset MDR-NC750 at SGD$49
|Sony Xperia Z5 Compact||SGD$828 (Single SIM)||October 2015|
|Sony Xperia Z5 Premium||SGD$1098 (Single SIM)||November 2015||–|
If you can’t be bothered with the quality of your photos from your phone and don’t do too much of low-light photography, then the Xperia Z5 should be perfectly fine for you. It should recover its legendary battery life that took a hit with the Xperia Z3+, and it still has a host of other strengths as listed above but if you find the restrictions and quality of images from the Z5 unacceptable, you’re better off looking at the LG G4 or Galaxy S6. Even the iPhone 6S is a better bet.
Even if you’re a Sony fan and are willing to turn a blind-eye to the camera’s shortcomings, I’d still hold off from pre-ordering the device until more professional and user reviews begin to roll in. The Xperia Z5 could have been the phone to get this winter, but it seems that Sony have shot themselves in the foot to deny any such possibility.