Android is also a little scaled back compared to where Sony used to leave it, as Sony’s PlayStation-inspired Android overlay becomes a lighter and more like Google’s own implementation.
While we’ve liked Sony’s overlay in the past, the drop closer to stock Android is a good thing, providing still the multiple homescreens with widgets and a few settings options, as well as an app menu that now doesn’t require a swipe to a side menu to let you uninstall what you have.
Now, you just hold them down, wait for them to wiggle, and press the “x”. Likewise, adding them to the home screen is now written in plain English — “Add to home screen” — and you can even remove just the shortcut or the app itself from the shortcut on your homescreen. Neat.
You’ll definitely see stock Android in the notification bar, with the dropdown barely customised from what Google normally provides, except of course to give you bits you can add to the shortcut control bar, which this does offer.
Other than that, the Z5 feels like it’s running basic Android, and instead of speaking a different language or expecting it to imitate another phone brand out there, it generally feels good. Like Android.
Except, of course, for the bugs.
That’s the thing about the Z5: with the sort of bugs it has, it leaves you feeling that Sony rushed the phone out.
Take that slowdown of the camera we mentioned earlier, because now is the right time to talk about how slow the camera is to launch.
On the Z5, you’ll find — just like in past Sony smartphones — there are two ways to launch the camera, with either a shortcut on the phone or a button along the side. Camera buttons are one of those things we wish more mobiles had, and short of Microsoft/Nokia, Sony is the only one, with Samsung getting close providing a simple double-tap-home button shortcut in its flagships from 2015, including the Note 5 and S6 Edge.
Here on the Z5, you can either use that software shortcut or the hardware button. We usually figure that we don’t need a shortcut of a camera button on the main screen because there’s a dedicated camera button on the side, but if you run the camera between each, you’ll actually find the shortcut is marginally faster than the hardware button.
How much faster?
At a maximum, we found the shortcut could take between two and five seconds, while the hardware button generally would take as long as seven seconds to start up.
Seven seconds. For a camera. Seven seconds for a camera in a flagship phone.
That is insane, and it lets down an otherwise mostly solid camera, because by the time you want to take the photo, the moment may have gone.
And that’s not all.
Bugs are here in other ways, such as with Sony still not correcting an Exchange bug that stops people using the regular Office365 servers and forces them to switch to m.outlook.com, while a Bluetooth bug was even more bizarre, forcing us to control the volume of two separate headsets only on the headsets themselves and not making a dent when we turned the volume up or down on the phone.
Google Play Music had the occasional crash, too, and every so often, the virtual soft buttons at the bottom of the screen wouldn’t function, making the phone really difficult to use until it worked itself out.
You have to hope that these are all basic, and that Sony has a fix inbound, because these bugs shouldn’t be here, not on a final product, and a flagship phone with a flagship camera should be performing better.
We have heard that our review phone may not have the final software on it, and therefore these bugs may not be present in your device, but they have certainly made an impact on our review, which is a real shame given how good the previous Sony phone was.
Battery life could also do with a bit of an increase, which is interesting given the advertising claims Sony is making with the Z5.
Sony told GadgetGuy that up to two days could be supported with the Z5 smartphone, and we suspect the marketing you’ll see on buses will say much the same. That’s not far off last year’s claim that the Z3 could do the same, which with last year’s device wasn’t far off the mark, making around a day and a half in our tests, with Stamina producing a little more life.
This year, however, it’s a bit of a different story, and while updates to Android have no doubt helped the battery life across all devices, it’s not all peachy for Sony’s Z5.
For instance, the battery size has dropped in the Z5 compared to the Z3, with 200mAh making up the difference, as the Z5 sports a 2900mAh battery and the Z3 filled out the edges a little more with a 3100mAh battery.
Those two-hundred milliamps might have made all the difference as regardless of the test we ran — Bluetooth off and wired headphones or Bluetooth on with smartwatch and wireless headphones — we could only net a day of life without needing to switch Stamina mode on.
That’s a day of making and taking calls, sending messages, reading and writing email, listening to music, social networking, surfing the web, taking photos, and generally using the phone, and it’s not even a full 24 hours. Rather, this is a work day, providing battery life from 6 am to around 10pm: up in the morning, off to work, coming home and eating dinner, and then putting the phone on charge.
We’re not saying this is a bad performance, either; this is quite ordinary, however, and is in line with what the other smartphone makers are roughly offering, with “a day” being the new norm for smartphone makers trying to pack as much into a phone as humanly possible.
Switch on the Stamina mode and you might find you get a little more, as the power-saving mode switches on and pulls back on processing and calls to internet-connected services. In fact, in this mode, you have the ability to decide which apps frequently connect, so two days are possible in this mode, though again, unlikely.
Our test with Stamina mode on the Z5 revealed we might be able to get a day and a half, but it would be with the caveat of owning a Z5 that under-performs.
You can probably imagine that a power saving mode would lead to this, after all you need to cut processing down to get the battery life up, but the Stamina mode’s lack of performance appears to come with more bugs, as keyboards would randomly flicker in and out when we were using them on Stamina mode, entries through the keyboard weren’t accepted, and a Bluetooth smartwatch had quite a delayed communication with the phone, something we suspect is less a bug and more just Stamina choosing how often the phone communicated with an extra device.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the two advertised days, and short of a firmware update or patch or two from Sony, we’re calling the Z5 a little short from its advertising claims, especially in comparison to its brother.
Last year’s Z3 was a godsend in contrast, and while the Z5 cleans up the design some, it also lives in the shadow of its sibling.
Because of the bugs and battery life, it’s hard to fall in love with the Z5 the same way we did with last year’s Z3. Perhaps when they’re ironed out, we’ll find a phone that has the goods to really take on the competition, but until then, it feels a little rushed.
Sony has told GadgetGuy that what we experienced with the problems in the phone may be attributed to pre-production issues, so we’ll revisit this review when a fixed version returns to our desk (there are quite a few phones for us to get through at the moment, however, so we’re reviewing what we have).
Until then, however, it’s a good phone, but unless patches occur soon, it’ll only be a good phone and not the great phone its brother managed to be.
Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes
Beautifully designed and built; One of the most water resistant phones out there; Excellent camera (when it loads); Still supports upgradeable memory; Can be used to control a PlayStation 4; Supports a fingerprint sensor for enhanced security; Location of fingerprint sensor makes more sense than on any other phone out there;
Phone can get a little warm; Battery won't hit two days (as advertised) even with Stamina mode; Camera takes longer to load up than it should; Fingerprint sensor won't touch wet fingers; Bugs;