Sony Xperia Z5 review: An ageing beauty

£521
Price when reviewed

Latest news: 2016’s Sony Xperia Z5 is no longer Sony’s flagship smartphone. It’s still available to buy, however, and with 2018’s handsets costing more than ever, it’s certainly one to consider.

At the time of writing, the price of the Sony Xperia Z5 had dropped to a very reasonable £325. That’s compared to this year’s offering from Sony, the Xperia XZ2 ­– which will set you back £699.

You’ll find Jonathan Bray’s original Sony Xperia Z5 review below.

Sony Xperia Z5 review: In full

When it first launched, the Sony Xperia Z5 represented the culmination of 18 months of incremental improvements for Sony’s range of Xperia smartphones, and now even more than a year on it remains one of our favourite smartphones.

That’s despite the appearance of two other versions of the Z5: the diminutive Z5 Compact, and the slightly larger Z5 Premium, which is almost identical, the somewhat superfluous 4K screen aside. And then there’s the more recent Sony Xperia X, Sony Xperia XA and Sony Xperia XZ, two phones that would seem to signify a move away from the Z series as the firm’s smartphone standard bearer.

All those phones offer a variation on the Xperia theme, but none of them quite manages to match the Xperia Z5’s combination of superb design and all-round competence. Grab it for under £450 on Amazon UK (or for about $479 on Amazon US).

Sony Xperia Z5 review: Design

That’s why, for me, it’s the Xperia Z5 that deserves its place at the head of Sony’s smartphone range – despite its age – and it all starts with that gorgeous, almost-all-glass design. Although Sony has stuck with the design language that has stood it in such good stead over the past few years (so the phone keeps the trademark Xperia glass-slabbed front and back and squared-off profile, and it remains both water- and dust-resistant to IP68), it is different and chock full of refinements that really make a difference.

The aesthetic alterations are the most subtle: there’s a new engraved Xperia logo on the left edge; the Xperia Z5’s metal frame has been squared off ever so slightly; and Sony has swapped the glossy glass rear for a smooth-to-the-touch frosted glass plate. Surrounding the screen at the very edge is a slightly raised lip, a design feature intended to prevent the phone slipping off inclined surfaces. And in each of the white, “Graphite Black”, gold and green colour options, it looks simply gorgeous.

As with all glass-backed phones, however, if you buy one of these, you’ll need to be careful how you handle it. I dropped my review sample from the height of around 30cm onto some gravel, and it shattered the rear into thousands of tiny shards. That wouldn’t have happened to a phone with a plastic or metal rear casing. I’d advise using a case, or at the very least a screen protector applied to the rear, just to be on the safe side.

The biggest departure in design terms, however, is the look of the power button. Sony’s trademark protruding chrome-effect circle, which has been around for years, has now been replaced by an elongated lozenge, slightly inset from the edge to prevent you accidentally pressing it.

This seems a frivolous change on the surface, but there’s considerably more substance to it than first meets the eye, since  the button hides one of the Z5’s big new features: a fingerprint reader.

So far, most smartphones with one of these components have opted to pop it beneath the home button, or on the rear, both approaches that have their problems. The front reader can be difficult to reach with a one-handed grip, and you run the risk of dropping the phone because you’re holding it right near the bottom edge. Rear readers are better for one-handed use, but you can’t use them to unlock a phone while it’s sitting on a desk.

The Sony Xperia Z5’s is the best compromise I’ve come across so far. It can be used on a desk or in your hand, and its positioning is such that it naturally falls under your finger or thumb when you pick it up. It works reliably and quickly, too. It’s the best-thought-out fingerprint reader yet.

The one design change I’m not entirely sold, however, on is the repositioning of the volume rocker from just next to the power button to lower on the right edge, right above the camera shutter. It’s a baffling design decision and makes it tricky to adjust the volume one-handed with your thumb. 

Sony Xperia Z5 specifications

Processor

Octacore (quad 2GHz and quad 1.5GHz), Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 

RAM

3GB

Screen size

5.2in

Screen resolution

1,080 x 1,920, 428ppi

Screen type

IPS

Front camera

5.1MP

Rear camera

23MP (f/2, phase detect autofocus, OIS)

Flash

LED

GPS

Yes

Compass

Yes

Storage

32GB

Memory card slot 

MicroSD

Wi-Fi

802.11ac

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 4.1, A2DP, apt-X

NFC

Yes

Wireless data

4G

Size (WDH)

76 x 7.8 x 154mm

Weight

180g

Operating system

Android 5.1.1 Lollipop

Battery size

2,900mAh

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