As a weak photographer, I often trust my smartphone to produce far better images than I'm capable of achieving with hours of fiddling in the settings. Thankfully, the Z5 can either take you in hand and do the legwork for you, or give you plenty of additional control in the manual mode. If you're a smarter shooter than me, then you'll be able to pick and choose between various scene options, as well as tweaking the white balance and exposure compensation.
As for the pictures themselves, they're some of the best you'll find on a smartphone and whatever I could throw at this lens, it was able to deal with. Sure, on a bright, clear day, the shots that I took have beautiful, subtle colors and sumptuous amounts of detail. On a walk through the graffiti-covered streets of East London, the Z5 was able to pluck out plenty of neat little details and even that 8x digital zoom produces shots you'd be happy to upload to Flickr.
It's the phone's night time performance that's more special, and while the images are still plenty noisy, it's still capable of capturing a lot of information. Take some of those shots of the night-time sky where you can actually see definition in the cloud and the different shades in the night. Even in a dark auditorium with only minimal edge lighting, the phone was able to produce images that may even beat the classic Nokia 1020. In fact, if Sony produces another QX10-style portable lens camera, it could do worse than just shove the Z5's sensor into a device the size of something like the Narrative Clip. I know I'd struggle not to buy one.
Performance and battery life
I've never been a huge fan of benchmarks, since an artificial number can only hint at how your device will behave in the real world. A lot of the time it's a false measure, since how a phone works when grinding fake pixels isn't at all similar to making sure that Instagram refreshes properly. That prelude aside, here are the boring bits: The Xperia Z5 packs an octa-core Snapdragon 810 chip paired with Adreno 430 graphics and 3GB of RAM, putting on the same level as the Nexus 6P. If you won't be satisfied until you've seen some hard numbers, the benchmarks are listed below. For everyone else, rest assured, this phone is pretty damn fast.
Each app loads within a second, there's no slowdown or jerkiness and you won't be left grunting in annoyance at the device, no matter what you're doing with it. If the benchmark for taxing apps is to play a demanding game like Asphalt 8 with the graphics turned way up, then the fact that the Z5 rarely dropped frames should be encouraging. The only thing that's worth mentioning is that the device gets appreciably warm when you run a performance-heavy app for a prolonged period of time.
Sony's Xperia Z5 comes with a 2,900mAh battery and a promise that the device will last up to two days on a charge. That's certainly the case if you're only using it casually, although playing some of those demanding mobile games will reduce its lifespan by quite a measure. In day-to-day use, I got down to 40-or-so percent by bedtime with a usage pattern I'll call "Engadget Editor at Home." Our standard rundown test involves playing an HD video on repeat with the brightness set to 50 percent; under those conditions, the device lasted seven hours and 19 minutes. If I'm honest, that's a little less than I had expected from a battery of this size. For comparison, Samsung's Galaxy S6 managed to last for 11 hours under the same conditions on a 2,550mAh cell.
Sony may want to sell its devices through a US carrier, but can't seem to get the networks excited enough to try. The launch of the Verizon-exclusive Z4v was a will-they, won't-they until the moment the pair ultimately decided to cancel the launch, not long before the arrival of the Z5. There's no guarantee that the Z5 will ever reach the US, but it's currently on sale, SIM-free in the UK for £549 ($843). That figure includes the country's 20 percent sales tax, so we'd assume that if it ever made the trip across the pond, it would cost somewhere in the region of $500. That, at least, is the best guess we can make in order to suggest to you some comparable devices.
For that sort of cash, you could pick up the Nexus 6P, which has the same Snapdragon 810 chip, Adreno 430 graphics and 3GB of RAM. The 32GB edition is priced at $499, putting it roughly on par with the Z5, at least in our guesswork. The key differences between the two is that the 6P has a bigger display and battery, but arguably a weaker camera. For $429 you could pick up the Nexus 5X, which has reduced internals but a camera that we described in our review as "pleasantly surprising." If you're reading this before the end of November 7th, you could also do worse than picking up a 32GB HTC A9 for $399. It's less powerful but also a pretty sweet handset for a lot less cash, which is something.
In all of the areas where Sony has a long and storied history of producing products, the Xperia Z5 is able to show its strengths. The camera has a fair claim to being one of the finest mobile lenses on the market today, and there's already a rumor that Samsung wants it for the next Galaxy. Same for the display, which I'd quite happily stare into for hours at a time, not to mention the performance, which stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its Android contemporaries.
But it's in those areas where Sony has less experience that things become problematic, like the battery life which can only be described as lackluster. If you judge your phone's longevity on how long it's likely to last during a long-haul flight, then the Xperia Z5 will barely get you from London to New York without a spare battery. Same too for the speakers, which aren't powerful enough for you to use your phone as a portable audio player without headphones. The same goes for software, and it's ludicrous that Sony would lag behind the curve here, considering Android M has been publicly known for months now. Even if the company was totally isolated from Google and wasn't given a heads-up beforehand, it's still had since June to get the latest version working on the Z5. No, software development isn't as simple as just installing a ROM onto your phone, but Sony can't claim to be an amateur here.
I guess it boils down to the fact that Sony is an engineering firm, and that engineering-led approach means that the Xperia Z5 is a beautifully constructed piece of hardware. The downside to that is that the device lacks any sense of personality, and that puts it behind some of its more popular rivals. It's certainly a good phone, but I'd struggle to say that it's a great one.