The furore over the Z5 Premium’s eye-watering 4K screen might have stolen the spotlight at IFA, but Sony’s standard Z5 is nothing to be sniffed at – and it might just take the fight to Samsung’s Galaxy S6.
Can the resolutely-rectangular Z5 land a punch on its round-edged rival? Until we put their brushed-metal bodies side-by-side we won’t know for sure, but a weighing of the specs might just give us some clues.
Sony’s hoping its new glass-backed mobile offering will be sleek enough to tempt fans of Samsung’s shiny flagship away from the S6 – and at 7.3mm thin, it’s not far off the Galaxy’s 6.8mm slender hull.
Whilst Xperia design hasn’t changed much through the various Z-iterations, with Sony’s get-up gurus stubbornly sticking to right-angles, the addition of a frosted-finish glass rear might be enough to add a distinguishing flourish to the Z5.
Still, given the ultra-classy metal and glass construction of the S6, with its slick curves and smooth lines, the Z5 might just divide opinion in Galaxy camps – even though it comes in green.
That said, in our brief hands-on with Sony’s new pocket-filler we found it to be a perfectly pleasant package; far be it for us to deign ourselves design deities, we’re leaving this one to the great weighing scales of the masses.
Show and tell
Despite eschewing its Premium sibling's fabled 4K whopper of screen, the Z5 is still likely to pack a punch with its 5.2in 1080p display.
Sure, it’s not the 577ppi of the S6, but it’s still plenty sharp enough to leave pixels invisible – and it means the Z5 retains Sony’s impressive two-day battery life. What’s more, Sony has also packed in hi-res audio with digital noise cancelling.
On the other hand, if sharpness is what matters to you most and you don’t want to shell out for the Z5 Premium, the S6 might just be the next-best bet, with its Super AMOLED smarts delivering ultra-vivid colours and brightness – and its speakers are pretty beefy, too.
On screen specs alone, the Galaxy does walk away with the pixel prize – but there’s plenty more to play for in the battle for handset glory.
Winner: Galaxy S6
As for what’s under the hood, the Japanese manufacturer has stuck with Snapdragon’s 810 chip for the Z5, which, provided its meltdown woes are a thing of the past, should be plenty fast enough alongside 3GB of RAM to run Sony-skinned Android 5.0 Lollipop (and Marshmallow, when it arrives).
Will it be enough to ape the Galaxy’s octa-core processor? The Korean manufacturer rejected the Snapdragon 810 in favour of its own Exynos beast of a chip for the S6 – and it proved anything but a layabout.
In our full review of the S6, we found the Galaxy’s processor to be a huge 20% faster than rival flagships packing Snapdragon 810 kit, suggesting the Z5 might suffer similar defeat – even if it no longer doubles up as a microwave.
With the Samsung handset also packing 3GB of RAM, the spec war has to go to the older S6, but the real-world performance comparison between these two super-smartphones will be oh-so-interesting.
Winner: Galaxy S6
Who’s in charge?
But what use are NASA-rivalling chipsets if your juice is all out before the bus even gets you to the shops?
The S6 is built on a 2550mAh battery, which isn’t shoddy, but it’s not game-changing, either.
Sure, it showed pretty solid stamina in our review, with 14 hours of video off a single charge, but with the Z5 drinking from a 2900mAh pack and Sony claiming the trend of two-day Xperia battery life is set to continue, the Galaxy might just have a fight on its hands.
That said, given that Man’s Greatest Invention, the plug, is rarely far away and the S6 can charge to 70% in 30 minutes, the contest might not be such a knockout, after all.
Winner: Xperia Z5
Can the Z5 edge the S6 in the snapper stakes? If megapixels are anything to go by (they usually aren’t), then it can: Sony have somehow crammed 23 of them onto the Z5’s Exmoor sensor – walloping the S6’s lowly 16MP front shooter.
But hi-def shots in a low-light wobbly world are no good to anyone. Hence, Sony promises the world’s fastest autofocus (which takes just 0.03s) and Clear Image Zoom smarts, as well as amped-up image stabilisation, on its new mobile masterpiece.
Without having had a proper go with the Z5’s new shooting kit it’s impossible to know how it’ll hold up against the S6 – but the latter has certainly set the benchmark high.
Yes, it has fewer megapixels, but the Galaxy really delivers on quality, particularly in low-light – largely thanks to its ultra-quick f/1.9 lens and Samsung’s HDR wizadry. In fact, we reckoned it was one the best smartphone cameras, ever.
In practical terms, the Z5’s lightning-fast autofocus is arguably the most relevant upgrade Sony have adorned its new handset with: 23MP doesn't translate well to Facebook compression and insta-sharing, but an in-focus shot of the moment a squirrel stole your shoe might just make the difference between viral victory and un-liked oblivion.
Until we put the Z5’s snapper through its paces it’s impossible to give a definitive verdict, particularly given the prowess of the Galaxy offering.
Android at home
So far, so we don’t have a clear winner – and that remains the case on the software front.
Both devices run Android-based interfaces, with Samsung’s TouchWiz remaining a slick, quick software offering, replete with far less bloatware than in years past.
Sony, similarly, has given its UI a minimalist makeover, cleaning up the app interface to deliver a far subtler, understated take on Android.
Preference is personal, but with Android 6.0 Marshmallow right around the corner, it might just be worth waiting to see whether there are any mallow-y surprises in store to set the two apart.
Best of the rest
Surely, we hear you ask, there must be something to choose between these two-so-different handsets?
Well, both pack fingerprint scanners, but Sony might have made quite a coup with the print-reader on the Z5: rumoured to have employed Tardis-tech to cram it into a tiny space, the Z5’s power button doubles up as the device’s reader, making for better placement and greater usability.
First impressions suggest side-mounting works much better than Samsung’s penchant for front-placement (except when the phone is lying down).
Both scanners seem to work exactly as they should, which is particularly good news given the enhanced biometric security elements suggested to be supporting Android Marshmallow, in light of the impending launch of Pay.
Anything else? Well, the Z5 has retained the water- and dustproof design smarts of previous Xperia iterations, meaning a dip in the desert should be no problem at all.
Winner: Xperia Z5
The Early Verdict
A quick bit of maths reveals this head-to-head to be a draw. While the Samsung wins on lots of the raw stats, such as power and megapixels, the Sony counters with neat little touches such as waterproofing and the cleverly positioning of its fingerprint scanner, not to mention what we expect to be greater battery stamina.
But this is just the weigh-in, a reading between the spec-lines, a gazing into the tech tea leaves - to reach a final verdict we need both phones in-hand, and the Xperia Z5 hasn't yet arrived to make that possible.
What's made clear here, though, is that it's got a chance. And that should prove very exciting for Sony and a little nerve-jangling for Samsung.