For the last couple of years it has been my belief that the Xperia Z series has offered a phenomenal package for smartphone buyers, class leading in many areas and for a large number of users the best choice of all round capabilities in a smartphone.
Some areas where Sony has excelled have been camera performance, battery life, environmental protection and build quality. Sony has also been pretty snappy with its releases of Android updates
The Z5 is the latest handset in the line and one that changes the game, but not in the way that you might expect.
The Z5 could easily be mistaken for most of its predecessors at first glance. It sticks with Sony's Omnibalance design - glass front and back, narrow radius corners and monolithic appearance. In the hand there are some differences. The magnetic charging port has gone from the left hand side, the micro USB port has moved from the side to the bottom and is no longer covered and the power button has changed from a small round protrusion to an elongated oval that is slightly recessed.
The last change has been made to accommodate the fingerprint reader, a must-have for premium devices now. That Sony have decided to mount this on the side of the device has some interesting pros and cons. The reader falls where you'd naturally grab the phone when picking up, so requires minimal extra effort to unlock the device over waking it.
However I found that picking up the device from a flat surface, removing from my pocket or even waking it in the car were all sufficiently different that the reader didn't always work without a second try.
That's something which may be resolved by familiarity with the setup, but on brief acquaintance I'd have to say that the front mounted sensors of the iPhone and Galaxy S6 work better for me.
The camera has been upgraded to a new 23mp sensor, which offers more pixels over the outgoing camera allowing tighter crops. There's also phase detection autofocus, which improves the speed of focus. No OIS though, Sony sticking with its BIONZ digital stabilization. In low-light that may not be sufficient to compete with cameras with proper stabilization.
Sony has changed its message on waterproofing with the Z5. Whereas previous Zs were advertised as being suitable for an active lifestyle in the water - swimming pools featuring heavily in the marketing for those handsets - in the Z5 marketing material you'd be forgiven for not knowing it has any kind of environmental protection.
IP65/68 are there in the specs though. However Sony is making a point if telling customers that its for protection only and not for the kind of use it was promoting for the Z1/2/3. A sign that the waterproofing wasn't up to the marketing message perhaps?
The open micro-USB socket is probably one of the reasons for this change. That's a poor trade-off. As is the loss of the magnetic charging connector, which allowed easy charging of the older Zs. No sign of wireless charging either.
In use the Z5 performs well. Applications open snappily and are smooth in use. The phone doesn't get excessively warm in normal use, but I suspect game playing sessions could keep your hands nice and toasty.
The screen is a 5.2" 1080p panel, which is the same as the Z3, which would normally be considered a good thing. However since the arrival of the Z3, QuadHD has become something of a standard for premium devices - Samsung, LG and Google all offering the higher quality without compromising battery life. Sony will be offering the first 4K display, but only on the Premium version of the Z5, which will be even more expensive.
The problem for Sony is that side by side with a Galaxy S6 Edge the Z5's display looks lifeless and dull. That's true of pretty much every phone except other QuadHD Samsungs, however other phones have a price advantage to balance out the difference. The Z5 doesn't have that luxury.
For now we come to the biggest problem with the Z5: its price.
At NZ$1199 the Z5 is the same price as the Galaxy S6 Edge and in no way justifies that comparison.
Sony recently said that it was giving up chasing sales volume in order to focus on profitability. A laudable aim. However the price for the Z5 is unsustainable and I'd suggest that at this level Sony won't be just giving up sales volume, they'll be giving up sales full-stop.
The Z5 is $150 more than the outgoing Z3's launch price, the Z5 Compact an unbelievable $250 more. In a market where competition is getting fiercer Sony has missed the target with both its upgrades and its pricing.
If you want a premium handset and are looking to spend this sort of money there are plenty of better choices. My recommendation would be to pick up the Galaxy S6 Edge, which has a significantly better screen, wireless charging and a far nicer build.