Sony's mobile division has been in a rut for a while. If IDC's latest report is anything to go by, dominance by the likes of Huawei and Lenovo is only adding to the company's woes. Rather than sticking with the standard formula of yearly refreshes, Sony decided a few years ago to try bi-annual refreshes in order to keep things exciting and hopefully drive up sales.
Our last outing with Sony's flagship smartphone was the Xperia Z3+ (Review | Pictures) , which didn't exactly blow our socks off. This was just three months ago, and today, we already have its successor in the form of the Xperia Z5 Dual. Our first encounter with the phone was at IFA 2015 where the company announced it along with its two siblings - the Xperia Z5 Premium and Xperia Z5 Compact.
(Also read: Sony Xperia Z5, Xperia Z5 Compact, Xperia Z5 Premium First Impressions)
The Xperia Z5 Dual is on sale right now at Rs. 52,990 and will compete with flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Apple iPhone 6s, to name a few. Sony is also in competition with itself here as its previous flagship is virtually identical to its new offering on paper and retails for a lot less now. Let's see if the company has managed to fix the nagging issues we had with the old model which could nudge prospective buyers into taking the leap this time around.
Look and feel
The Sony Xperia Z5 Dual looks practically identical to its predecessor, which is something we like. The phone is a tiny bit thicker at 7.3mm and a tad heavier too at 154g. The rounded edges are less pronounced, so the phone fits in your hand better. The metal frame is still very slippery though and the phone can easily slide from your fingers.
In the front, we have a 5.2-inch full-HD IPS display with scratch-resistant glass. Thankfully, Sony has done away with the silly screen guard on the display, which spoiled the otherwise premium look of the Xperia Z3+. There's a front-facing 5-megapixel camera, the usual suite of sensors, and a notification LED in the upper left corner. You also get stereo speakers placed on the top and bottom, facing you.
The phone retains its IP68 certification making it dust and water resistant. The slots for the two SIM cards and the microSD card are on the left, covered by a flap.
The power button has been redesigned with an integrated fingerprint sensor so it's flat and sits flush with the body instead of the older circular design. The volume rocker is still inconveniently located on the lower right side, which means you have to shuffle the phone about to reach it with one hand. The camera shutter button sits just below it.
Sony has gone with a frosted glass for the back, which looks and feels really good. It also attracts fewer fingerprints and is easier to keep clean. Here we have the new 23-megapixel camera and its single LED flash, followed by some branding and the NFC logo. Sony is probably one of the few phone manufactures to still include an eyelet for a lanyard.
The Xperia Z5 Dual is a very pretty phone. The gold variant that we received looks particularly good and will certainly turn a few heads. We didn't get a retail unit so the headset was missing, but the charger and cable that come with it are made well and should last.
Specifications and software
The spec sheet of the Xperia Z5 Dual is virtually identical to that of its predecessor. The phone is powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC, and has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage (expandable up to 200GB). You also get Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, USB OTG, GLONASS, NFC, FM radio, and a 2900mAh battery.
The phone also has dual-SIM support with LTE for both SIM slots. It's nice to see Sony adding this functionality to its flagship models. The E6683 variant sold in India supports LTE for Band 40 and 3 but only up to Category 4 (150Mbps). The single SIM variant (E6653) supports LTE Category 6 but that hasn't been launched here. This is a bit disappointing since most other Android flagships today support the faster LTE specification.
USB OTG support is present but will only work if you tap 'Detect USB device' in the USB section of the Settings app, else your flash drive won't show up in file managers.
The fingerprint sensor is easy to set up and works as you'd expect. Since it is on the side, you'll most likely to use your thumb if you're right-handed or an index/ middle finger if you're left-handed. The placement of the button is good, however since it's flat, it can be a little tricky to find at night. The volume rocker and camera shutter buttons on the other hand operate as usual.
The phone supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 and ships with the UCH10 charger which supports output at 5v, 9v and 12v. We tested this by charging the phone for 30 minutes when the battery was bone-dry. We repeated it with the phone switched on and off, and the battery was charged up to exactly 26 percent each time. This should be enough to get you through at least your morning commute to work.
Sony ships the Xperia Z5 Dual with Android 5.1.1 and its custom skin layered on top. You'll find glimpses of the stock interface but it's mostly customised to pack in all of Sony's enhancements. Most of them are similar to what we've already seen in the Xperia Z3+ but we'll skim over the notable ones here.
Themes lets you change the icons and look of the interface, but there isn't much choice and the good ones are usually paid or not available for India. The Display sub-menu lets you toggle Sony's image enhancements, X-Reality, and Super Vivid mode. Enabling this simply boostscolour saturation which gives pictures and videos a very unnatural look.
The Audio sub-menu offers a ton of customisations for listening to audio through headphones. There's something called DSEE HX which helps up-sample low-resolution audio files. It's useful if you have a lot of these in your music library but is otherwise best turned off as it has a negative effect on high-quality files. You'll want to leave ClearAudio+ enabled as it boosts the low and mid-range frequencies in audio.
Sony also bundles its own suite of apps and adds plenty of functionality to existing Android apps. The album app for instance neatly organises your pictures and videos so you can sort them based on favourites, geo-tagged location, camera effects, faces, or people in your home network. There's also Facebook, Picasa and Flickr integration. Similar functionality is also found in the file manager and music apps. Finally, Smart Connect lets you automate things based on events or which accessories you use with the phone.
Along with the useful stuff, the phone is also burdened with unwanted bloatware that, thankfully, can be uninstalled. There are trial versions of games such as Real Football 2015, Thor, and Modern Combat 5; there's Hungama Play for renting movies and Jive for streaming music; News from Sociallife is a news aggregator; Sony Liv lets you watch local Sony Television shows once registered; and What's New lets you purchase themes, games, console games and music.
You also get Kindle, Clean Master, AVG Protection, File Commander, Sony Lifelog, Sketch, Live Screen Streaming, Movie Creator, OfficeSuite, TrackID and PlayStation store pre-installed.
Sony is running a few offers with the phone which can be claimed through the Xperia Lounge app. You can claim a Smart Cover for the phone, plus download content worth Rs. 4,000 from the preinstalled Hungama Play and Jive apps.
The Xperia Z5 Dual is a true workhorse and steamrolls over anything your throw at it. The only time we noticed some lag was when using the augmented reality (AR) camera apps. Call quality is good and so is the audio from the earpiece. The raised edges on the bezel of the phone help protect the display and frosted glass on the back from scratches when placed on a flat surface. However, they also make the phone a little difficult to hold and can get uncomfortable if you're on a long call.
The display has good brightness levels, and colours are punchy. It does wash out a bit under direct sunlight, but is otherwise very legible for the most part. For a flagship phone as per today's standards, the resolution is a little low, but at 5.2-inches, full-HD is still enough to make pixels indistinguishable to the naked eye.
Sadly, the phone still heats up very quickly with even trivial tasks. We noticed that it started getting hot around the NFC logo on the rear, even when taking no more than two pictures. This was noticeable even in an air-conditioned room and it only got worse when we used the camera or played games outdoors. With the kind of weather we usually have to deal with in India, be prepared to carry a hot slab of metal in your pocket.
The stereo speakers are a marked improvement from earlier Xperia Z models. Incoming notifications and calls are clearly audible and the volume level is loud enough for music or videos. The sound quality is not the best but we won't fault Sony too much here since they had to go through some level of waterproofing. With headphones, the audio quality is simply superb. Since we didn't get a bundled set, we tested this with a pair of Cowon EM1 earphones and were very pleased with the results. The highs and mids are very detailed and there's a very satisfying thump in low frequencies too. You can customise this further by tinkering around with the EQ settings to suit your taste.
The phone posted some impressive scores in synthetic benchmarks. We got 50,872 points in AnTuTu and an impressive 52fps in GFXbench. 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited threw up a score of 25,020 which is higher than what the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 managed. The scores varied quite a bit depending on how hot the phone was so we had to let it cool down before getting the desired result. This strong performance is reflected in real-world apps too, and taxing games such as Dead Trigger 2 played without a hitch.
(Click to see full-size image)
The Xperia Z5 Dual gets a new 23-megapixel camera sensor which performs well under most lighting conditions. In daylight, landscapes and macro shots have very good detail and colours captured are quite accurate. You also get a very satisfying depth-of-field effect in close-up shots. The dedicated shutter button comes in handy for quickly launching the camera app and snapping pictures. Landscapes and close-up shots pack in good detail with accurate colours. Low-light shots are also decent but there's a noticeable purple hue in dark areas of the picture. The phone heats up rather quickly and you'll get warning messages every now and then that the app might close in the event the phone gets too hot. In fact, you'll be inclined to stop shooting pictures way before the app can close as the phone gets uncomfortable to hold beyond a point.
(Click to see full-size image)
We noticed that the phone takes about a second or two from the time you press the shutter to when the image is actually saved. This is a rather slow when you compare the near-instantaneous post-processing of the Galaxy Note 5 or the iPhone 6. It also explains why Sony has quietly removed burst mode from the camera app. Even the 'Timeshift Burst' add-on is which was present by default in previous offerings, is absent. We found 'Superior Auto' to be the best mode to shoot in. You can choose 'Manual' to select the type of scene but you'll have to drop the resolution to 8 megapixels to use it. We would have liked a professional mode which lets you control the aperture and shutter speed. Sony is reportedly planning to overhaul the camera app so hopefully, we'll see these features added to the new layout.
With 5x digital zoom (Click to see full-size image)
Sony is also touting its 'Clear Image Zoom' feature, which is supposed to deliver clear pictures even with a 5x zoom. In reality, this works to an extent but pictures are noticeably less sharp and colours get muted. The front-facing 5.1-megapixel camera does a good job at selfies under natural light but indoors, under artificial lighting, pictures get a little noisy. Video recording quality is also good and you can switch between full-HD 30fps and 60fps. The phone does a good job with 4K video recording as well, with good detail and a steady frame rate.
Coming to battery life, the Xperia Z5 Dual packs in just a tiny bit less capacity than its predecessor. The phone lasted around 10 hours and 47 minutes in our video loop test, which is more than what the Xperia Z3+ achieved. Withregular use, we easily managed to go a little more than a day before having to turn on the Stamina or Ultra Stamina modes. Sony's battery saving modes continue to be some of the best out there, and really help to prolong battery life even when the levels are critically low.
Sony's new flagship comes just a few months after its previous flagship so we didn't expect much to change and truth be told, very little has. Sure, it is slightly better looking and the battery life has improved a bit, but you'd have to be a die-hard Sony fan to pay this much for it, especially when there are much better alternatives going for a whole lot less.
The Xperia Z5 Dual feels like a forced update from Sony given the phone is nearly spec-for-spec identical to the Xperia Z3+, which wasn't a show-stopper begin with. In order to compensate for this, Sony is throwing in some limited time freebies to tempt buyers but we're not sure how well that will work out.
For this money, you can get the Samsung Galaxy S6 64GB, which is a much better all-rounder. If you want to spend a bit less without compromising anything, then how about the Huawei Google Nexus 6P 64GB for Rs. 42,999? Our initial impressions of the phone are positive, and we'll have a full review of it soon.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Dual would have made a great flagship a year ago, but with the competition being fiercer than ever, it simply feels dated. Even if you go purely by specifications, the phone is underwhelming compared to others in its price range and even lower. Plus, the overall experience doesn't really bring anything new to the table and we still have to live with the shortcomings of previous Xperia flagships. What we need from Sony is something fresh; something to get excited about again. Until that happens, it's back to the drawing board.
Sony Xperia Z5 Dual in pictures