Fast and high-resolution cameras, and a detailed screen, leave Sony ready to take on Apple

Berlin’s electronic extravaganza, IFA, swings into life later this week. One of the first companies to reveal its gadgets for the coming season was Sony. There was talk of new headphones, hi-resolution audio gadgets and new TVs. But a large section of head honcho Kazuo Hirai’s presentation was devoted to the company’s mobile phones.

Sony’s Xperia series of mobile phones sport a highly recognisable styling: metallic edge and toughened glass back and front. The aluminium chassis is protected by nylon corner pieces which are colour-matched to the metal’s shade. And the Xperia range has another special feature – the phones are waterproof. This autumn the company is launching not one but three new handsets, all with the same distinctive design.

The centrepiece is the Xperia Z5. Last year’s flagship was the Z3 but that was followed by a recent gentle upgrade, the Z3+. Since that phone was also known as the Z4 in Japan, this next one is number 5.

Like its predecessor, it has a 5.2-inch display that is sharp, vivid and blessed with natural colours. Among the upgrades this time around is the camera, raising the photographic game by leaping to 23 megapixels on a newly redesigned camera module. Sony claims this camera is fast, promising the fastest autofocus yet on a smartphone. In demonstrations it certainly seemed nippy, helping you to capture the moment you want. Sony says it focuses and is ready to shoot in a blistering 0.03 seconds. Most rivals are 20 or 30 times this.

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Almost no smartphone cameras have an optical zoom. This one, though has Clear Image Zoom. It’s digital zoom (essentially cropping the image) with sophisticated algorithms to enhance the result. Again, sample shots looked very impressive, but we’ll wait to try it to know better.

The Xperia Z5 is also the first Sony phone to feature a fingerprint sensor. But where on Samsung and Apple phones this is found on the front of the handset Sony has managed to put the sensor into its power button, perched on the side of the handset. This means that waking and unlocking the phone is performed in one smooth move – other phones require a touch to wake and another to unlock.

Sony made much of the battery life in the Xperia Z5, stressing that it should last for two days – I’ll get back to you when I’ve tested the phone properly. To be fair, recent Xperias have had strong battery life so hopes are high. Sony executives told me that one of the reasons battery life is good is that the screen technology used is thinner than most, providing more space for the cell.

 

The second phone to be launched was the Z5 Compact, a phone which promised not to cut any corners of the full Z5 experience but suit smaller hands. The 4.6-inch display isn’t as high-resolution as the bigger phone but still looks good. And that’s about the only element that’s not the same as the Z5 - same camera, fingerprint sensor and so on.

Arguably the biggest news from Sony Mobile was the biggest of the three handsets – the Xperia Z5 Premium. This clocks in with a 5.5-inch display, the same as the iPhone 6 Plus. But where Apple’s phone has a screen with 1080 x 1920 pixels, the big Sony has the first 4K display on a mobile phone, that’s 2160 x 3840 pixels. In other words, the resolution of a 4K telly, already four times that of an HD screen, but on a mobile phone. It looks pretty amazing, especially when you see HD and 4K content alongside each other. The camera on all three of the phones can film 4K footage, and you can see it played back in native resolution on the big one.

The Z5 and Z5 Compact go on sale in the next few weeks, with the larger Premium handset to follow. The design is as strong as previous Sony phones, the camera looks outstanding and the added benefit of waterproof finish helps Sony make a distinctive range of phones. Next week will, almost certainly, see the launch of new phones from Apple, so Sony has its work cut out.

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