Some phones just can’t be reviewed in a vacuum, the competition between them is so fierce – and their price tags so high – that they have to be compared against each other under a microscope to determine the best one for you. The Apple iPhone 6s and Samsung Galaxy S6 are joined by the Sony Xperia Z5 for this three-way fight.
The iPhone 6s and Galaxy S6 have the biggest mindshare amongst consumers and will report back the biggest sales. The Xperia Z5 doesn’t enjoy the marketing budget of those two, but is well-known by people interested in smartphones.
We’ll put the trio through various tests, covering all major functions. Armed with that info, you can pick the winner based on the categories that are most important to your daily routine.
Before we delve into the nitty-gritty, let’s do quick introductions for each phone.
The Apple iPhone 6s is almost like the gold standard for smartphones. A phone can have a better camera than the 6s or a worse camera, last longer on a charge or shorter, it’s what many people use it as the yardstick. And with good reason – how many of you don’t know at least one person with an iPhone? You’ve seen it, you’ve played with it, you probably know its strengths and weaknesses.
Android answered Apple’s challenge for specs superiority (issued with the iPhone 4) and indeed Samsung made it its guiding design principle for several years. With the Galaxy S6 it finally admitted that design matters too. Samsung’s manufacturing capacity and rich profits allowed it to splurge for the best hardware on the market. But has it nailed the ethereal “x-factor” that makes the iPhone transcend its spec numbers?
Sony’s breakneck “two flagships a year” pace was either going to wear out the company – and the patience of its customers – or it was going to result in the best phone ever. Due to the short schedule, new Xperia Z releases seem to bring only marginal updates. Still, we’re comparing against the iPhone and the Galaxy, not against the Z3 or Z4.
We have a mix of metal and glass for the exterior of the three. The Apple iPhone 6s is mostly metal (the sides and the whole back), using glass only for the front. Apple dropped Gorilla Glass (even though the Cupertino company is responsible for popularizing it) and went with Ion-strengthened glass.
The metal is 7000-series aluminum and has smooth, round sides and corners. The new material is slightly denser though the majority of the added weight seems to come from the 3D Touch display. Its glass has beveled edges, creating one smooth curve that goes from glass to metal.
The Apple iPhone 6s is shrouded entirely in aluminum and glass
The Samsung Galaxy S6 has a metal frame, which is exposed on the sides, and Gorilla Glass 4 on the front and back. The two glass panels have a slight bevel on their side, but the transition isn’t as smooth as on the iPhone. The metal sides are squared off too so that the side buttons do not sink into the body of the phone.
The Galaxy S6 is the thinnest and lightest of the bunch – 6.9mm and 138g. The camera module sticks out the back though. It doesn’t affect handling and it’s centered, so it doesn’t cause the phone to wobble like the iPhone’s camera.
The Galaxy S6 is more glass than metal
The Sony Xperia Z5 is all 90°. The metal frame makes up the sides of the handset while scratch-resistant glass covers the front and a unique matte glass covers the back. Both panes of glass sink into the metal frame, so you feel a sharp metal edge as you swipe from the side. This will keep the glass a hair off the surface the phone is lying on though, which will reduce the scratches a bit.
The Xperia Z5 is the thickest and heaviest of the three – 7.3mm and 154g. It has the biggest battery and features waterproofing, which is more than a fair trade off for the bigger digits. Also, the camera is flush with the back.
The Xperia Z5 also has glass on the back, but the frosting effect is unique
The three phones project a different image. The iPhone 6s is smooth and inviting, the Xperia Z5 has an aggressive, angular look, while the Galaxy S6 sits somewhere in between.
Angles aside, the Sony Xperia Z5 has the most extensive tooling. It starts with the stereo speakers on the front (the other two have just one speaker), an easily accessible card slot, then there’s a dedicated shutter key and a lanyard eyelet (which most other phones have abandoned).
It’s subtle but you can feel Xperia’s adventurous nature. You can secure the phone with a strap, take photos even when the screen is wet, store plenty of photos and videos on the microSD card, even the battery will last a long, long while. And if you’re starting a campfire party, you have a couple of good speakers available.
The Galaxy S6, Xperia Z5 and iPhone 6s side by side
The Samsung Galaxy S6 is a jetsetter. Gone is the rugged exterior of the S5, the S6 is all business on the outside. It matches your office building with a metal and glass exterior, the glass requires upkeep (wiping the fingerprints) like your tie requires straightening. The heart rate and blood oxygen sensors give you a read on your health, since diet and exercise is such a hot topic. If only the IR blaster could advance the slides of your PowerPoint presentation.
The Apple iPhone 6s is more solitary. It has a hardware Mute switch, so you can always make sure you’re not disturbed. It’s also the only one of the three that doesn’t have a dual-SIM version. It lives up to its household name with a masterful build, without being flashy.
The iPhone and the Galaxy share a number of design decisions like putting both the USB port and the audio jack on the bottom, the loudspeaker too. The Xperia stands apart and puts its speakers up front, the audio jack on top.
Winner: Sony Xperia Z5. We can’t judge aesthetics since those are purely subjective. In objective terms, the Xperia Z5 is the most practical with a waterproof body and expandable storage (we’ll look at the screen and battery separately). A camera that doesn’t protrude helps too.
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 6s. The only phone with an all-metal unibody here, indeed one of the few such smartphones in general.
While it may be one of Samsung’s most beautiful devices, the Galaxy S6 has a couple of rough edges – the glass on the back gets smudgy quickly (Xperia’s frosted glass handles it better) and the camera sticks out a good deal out the back. The Galaxy S6 edge has a lot more wow factor and would have topped the iPhone.
There’s been plenty of debate about the ideal screen size and resolution and even Apple changed its mind, despite having the strongest convictions on the matter. The iPhone 6s is below the average size for an Android at 4.7″ and the resolution is a result of a fixed pixel density (Retina’s 326ppi).
Samsung and Sony settled on almost the same screen size, 5.1″ and 5.2″ respectively, but you need to keep in mind that the Xperia uses part of its screen for on-screen buttons. Android is a lot more flexible about resolution than iOS, so each maker has their own considerations about the resolution they picked.
Samsung uses its in-house Super AMOLED, which was perfected over several generations. It has market-leading color accuracy and perfect black levels for a high-contrast image that pops. These displays use a different matrix arrangement though, which benefits from a higher pixel density. Then there are the bragging rights, of course.
Both Apple and Sony use IPS LCDs, the standard if you want good viewing angles, though both have additional features to improve the image quality.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 screen is both the dimmest and brightest of the three here. The difference comes from the setting – manual control gives you a maximum of around 470 nits, but if you leave the phone to manage the brightness it can go as high as 750 nits when needed.
The Sony Xperia Z5 and Apple iPhone 6s have roughly similar max brightness (the Z5 is mildly brighter on auto, 600nits). The Xperia, however, disappoints with its poor contrast, under 1,000:1, which is common among mid-range phones but not okay for a flagship. Sony’s improved Contrast filter that’s part of the display assembly is responsible for deeper blacks than before but it didn’t improve much about the contrast ratio.
The Apple iPhone 6 goes up to nearly 1,500:1. You need to be in a dark room to really see the higher contrast (theoretically infinite, but limited by reflections) of the Galaxy S6.
|Display test||50% brightness||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Contrast ratio||Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Contrast ratio|
|Apple iPhone 6s||0.10||148||1542||0.36||536||1481|
|Samsung Galaxy S6 (auto)||0.00||208||∞||0.00||753||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S6 (manual)||0.00||208||∞||0.00||473||∞|
|Sony Xperia Z5||0.10||90||900||0.59||583||986|
The Galaxy S6 brightness slider is fairly honest, but the other two do not affect brightness linearly. The Xperia is the worst offender here, giving you just 90nits out of a maximum of close to 600nits at mid position. This may sound like nitpicking, but it means you don’t have fine control over brightness – the first half of the slider handles a 90nit range, the second half handles nearly a 500nit range.
Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays are built to keep reflectivity low. Even on a bright sunny day the Galaxy S6 screen remains legible, it’s one of the very best we’ve seen in this category. And that’s on manual! The Apple iPhone 6s also is a great performer, but Xperia Z5’s poor contrast makes it pretty average.
Sunlight contrast ratio
- Nokia 808 PureView : 4.698
- Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ : 4.615
- Samsung Galaxy E7 : 4.485
- Samsung Galaxy A3 : 4.241
- Samsung Galaxy S6 : 4.124
- Samsung Galaxy S6 edge : 4.124
- Samsung Galaxy Note5 : 4.09
- Samsung Galaxy Note 4 : 4.033
- Apple iPhone 5 : 3.997
- Samsung Galaxy Note 3 : 3.997
- Apple iPhone 6s : 3.783
- Sony Xperia Z5 : 2.876
- Samsung Galaxy mini 2 : 1.114
The Samsung Galaxy S6 has several screen modes – one that aims for perfect accuracy and others that create a punchier image to various degrees. They boost saturation and contrast, which can look great for photos and in the general UI, but can annoy purists. Luckily, everyone can pick the mode they like best.
The Xperia Z5 screen scores above average in color accuracy, however the white balance is off with a purplish tint. Turning on X Reality and other image enhancement options makes the color accuracy a bit worse and reduces the max brightness slightly. You can fine tune the color rendering using the Red, Green and Blue sliders, but it’s not an easy thing to do and the UI does little to help.
The Apple iPhone 6s has more accurate colors than the Z5, average deltaE of 3.6 compared to 6.6. The white has a slight blue tint, also the red channel deviates more notably, but either way, it’s one impressively tuned screen out of the gate.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6. It’s the sharpest screen with the best contrast and sunlight legibility on the market, it’s got perfect color rendering as well. And in Auto mode it can be brighter than the other two when needed.
. We wish Apple would offer more screen size variety than just 4.7″ and 5.5″, but in terms of image quality the iPhone 6s display is more accurate and with better contrast than the Xperia. Outside it’s almost as legible as the Galaxy too.
Sony actually took a step back in contrast, the Z3+ did better than the Xperia Z5. Sure, the 5.2″ 1080p screen is bigger and sharper than the iPhone, but it’s not on par with it in the other tested areas.
Wireless connectivity on a GSM network is more or less identical. All three support Cat. 6 LTE speeds – that’s up to 300Mbps of download – in the few lucky regions that have these bleeding edge networks.
However, it comes with built-in CDMA support, which is essential in countries where some of the biggest carriers use that standard. The Galaxy has a separate CDMA model, while Sony stuck with just GSM (Xperias aren’t hot sellers in CDMA regions anyway).
Both the Samsung and the Sony have dual-SIM versions, Galaxy S6 Duos and Xperia Z5 Dual. Demand for a second SIM hasn’t gone away and it’s great that you can get it in a flagship package. Unless you want an iPhone that is.
If you need speed, Wi-Fi ac networks are another way to go. There’s also Bluetooth 4.1 (4.2 for the iPhone) and ANT+ for the Xperia Z5 and Galaxy S6. BT 4.x is essential for smartwatches – all three companies have their own – while ANT+ is for some sports sensors.
The three phones have NFC, but on the iPhone 6s it is used exclusively for Apple Pay. Samsung Pay is the competing service from the Koreans, while the Xperia will have to rely on Android Pay as Sony hasn’t entered the mobile payment market yet.
On the less common side of things, there’s an IR blaster on the Galaxy and FM radio with RDS on the Xperia.
For wired connectivity, Lightning is the One True Port as far as Apple is concerned. It is reversible and can handle charging, data and audio/video (there are even headphones that use it instead of the 3.5mm audio jack). Unfortunately, for the iPhone you’d always need to rely on iTunes for transferring files to your phone.
Neither Android phone has made the jump to the reversible USB Type-C, so they are at USB 2.0 too. The base standard has been souped up with USB Host mode for external storage and accessories and fast charging though the UI for that on the Xperia Z5 is hardly user-friendly. It does have MHL for wired TV out to make up for it, while the Galaxy S6 does not.
. Both come with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink in terms of connectivity options. Picking your own champion in this bout will essentially be up to whether you prefer to have FM radio or and IR port. The loss of iPhone is essentially a loss of the closed iOS platform by the open Android platform. Both Androids offer Dual SIM options, they allow you to use their NFC connectivity the way you prefer, and they offer seamless copy/paste functionality for transferring any file to and from the device.
Battery life is a matter of efficiency as much as total battery capacity. The Sony Xperia Z5 has the lead in the latter department with a 2,900mAh, while the Samsung Galaxy S6 comes in second with 2,550mAh. Only the Apple iPhone 6s seems to be at a deficit herewith 1,715mAh. It turns out the math is not so simple.
As it turns out all three phones have a weak battery endurance category of their own. For the Samsung Galaxy S6 it’s web browsing – 11 hours is a very respectable time, but the iPhone and especially Xperia Z5 blow it out of the water. The Galaxy won out the other two categories though, it showed an outstanding talk time and a great video playback endurance.
The Sony Xperia Z5’s weakness is video – some inefficiency drained its battery in 8 hours, a good 3-4 hours before the other two threw in the towel. It did win the Web challenge by a wide margin and did great for voice calls too.
The iPhone 6s weakness, surprisingly proved to be voice calls. It didn’t win any of the categories, but came in second in Web and Video. Still, the Endurance rating takes a hit. For identical usage, including 1 hour of calls a day, the iPhone 6s battery will hit 0% halfway through the third day, while the other two phones will make it to the end of the day.
By the way, since we do these tests with the brightness slider set to half, the Xperia Z5 got a huge boost from putting out only 90 nits, compared to 150 nits for the iPhone and 200 nits for the Galaxy S6. If we were to use 200 nits for the Xperia Z5 as well, its video test result would be abysmal.
|Samsung Galaxy S6||73h||19:48h||10:56h||12:12h|
|Sony Xperia Z5||73h||17:13h||14:35h||7:53h|
|Apple iPhone 6s||62h||9:41h||12:27h||10:46h|
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6. Fans riled when Samsung reduced the battery capacity compared to the S5, but the latest screen and chipset allowed the Galaxy S6 to stretch those 2,550mAh quite far.
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 6s. The talk time is a serious weakness, but at comparable brightness the iPhone 6s will outlast the Xperia.
Even if you don’t watch videos, you’ll probably keep the brightness at above 90 nits (the middle of the slider) and the Xperia Z5’s endurance numbers will drop.
Storage & Price
We’re comparing flagships here, so your piggy bank is already breathing heavily by the mere thought of you getting one, but rest assured you can load up the bill even further should you go for extra storage. Now that 4K video is commonplace – and microSD slots are inexplicably disappearing – getting 16GB storage is becoming increasingly impractical.
Think of it like this – if you have to delete files and uninstall apps before you head out for your vacation, you didn’t buy enough storage in the first place.
The Sony Xperia Z5 is partially exempt from this. It has a microSD slot (the only one here) and it comes with 32GB of fast internal storage for games (they’ll run from the microSD too, but with longer load times).
Both the Apple iPhone 6s and the Samsung Galaxy S6 have non-expandable storage, but you can splurge for a 128GB version. The iPhone starts at 16GB base storage (and it’s the most expensive phone here!), while the Galaxy S6 is much more reasonable at 32GB base.
|Apple iPhone 6s||Samsung Galaxy S6||Sony Xperia Z5|
|16GB||$650 / €740||–||–|
|32GB||–||$530 / €495||$660/€670|
|64GB||$750 / €850||$620 / €590||–|
|128GB||$850 / €960||$915 / €620||–|
Android and iOS are pretty even on basic features, but Samsung and Sony have tweaked vanilla Android to give their flagships standout features. Apple’s innovation in UI design has slowed down, but its commitment to a polished experience hasn’t wavered.
Anyway, we won’t go into details here, we’ll just compare the standout software features of three phones.
iOS is struck with the Jony Ive-approved look. While the Apple mobile OS has opened up to widgets, it still dumps all apps into a single drawer and offers only folders as the way to bring order to the whole thing.
Android is much more open in this regard, there are even widget kits that allow users to create a unique look (and share it with others if they feel like it).
iOS 9 • TouchWiz • Xperia UI
Both the Galaxy S6 and the Xperia Z5 support custom themes, which allow you to customize the look and feel of the OS more extensively than just changing the wallpaper. Themes can change even third-party apps for a more consistent experience.
Themes on the Galaxy S6 and Xperia Z5
For notifications and toggles, Android lumps them together in the notification shade on top, while iOS splits them into two shades. This doesn’t mean the iOS notification shade is less busy, it has to house widgets.
Notifications and toggles
Customization is again on the side of Google’s OS, letting you chose which toggles are available.
3D Touch has no analog on either the Xperia Z5 or the Galaxy S6, but it’s important enough to merit its own section. Currently it only works with some system apps, but it will be adopted by third-party apps too.
Pressing on an app’s shortcut harder than usual takes you to a half-open state – a small window pops up with just a few key features. This allows you to do the majority of interaction without opening the app. For example, you can create a new contact or call someone you talked to recently, all without digging through the Phone app.
3D Touch brings out additional info and controls
Samsung had something sort of similar with Air View – getting additional info by hovering over things, say viewing photos in a folder or additional details for a calendar appointment. This was dropped in recent Galaxys though, leaving only the S Pen features on the Notes.
All three phones feature a fingerprint sensor for secure unlocking. They are seamless and fast, but Android has a way to relax the security in safe conditions. Smart Lock can disable the fingerprint lock when the phone is connected to a trusted network (e.g. your home Wi-Fi) or a trusted Bluetooth device (e.g. your smartwatch).
Samsung takes things a bit further. Private mode is a special folder in the internal storage that is only unlocked with your fingerprint. This is a safe area to keep sensitive documents from work or private photos (so people can’t just swipe through your gallery, even if you give them your Galaxy S6).
iOS has encrypted its storage for years now, while Android is yet to make the jump. It will be mandatory with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but on Lollipop it is optional and turned off by default on phones like the Galaxy S6 and Xperia Z5.
Apple has been timid in adopting multitasking features, while Samsung has often been at the forefront. The Samsung Galaxy S6 is the most flexible device yet in this regard, rivaling even Windows 10 in this regard (at least as far as Modern UI apps are concerned).
You can have two apps share the screen with easy interaction between them, like copy/pasting text or dragging an image from one to the other. As an alternative, you can move apps into floating windows that you can resize and move freely.
iOS app switcher • Multi Window on TouchWiz • Small apps on Xperia UI
Sony Xperia Z5’s take on things is more similar to the latter – small, floating apps to augment the main app that covers the whole screen below. Of course, only supported apps can pull this off. Samsung has more in its stable, but Sony lets you turn widgets into small apps to make up the numbers.
The Apple iPhone 6s meanwhile allows only one app on the screen at any time. The iPads can split the screen, but Apple still doesn’t feel that even the 5.5″ iPhone 6s Plus is ready for this.
Search and digital assistants
Spotlight on the iPhone 6s mirrors the Mac OS experience with advanced search functionality. It can find files obviously, but it’s a general-purpose search tool – it will show relevant contacts, Wikipedia articles, IMDb pages, look through news sources and through Apple’s digital stores.
The Androids have Google Now for such tasks. It’s geared more towards searching the web and surfacing results with as few taps as possible, but third-party apps can provide search results. Local results from the phone aren’t always as good as what Spotlight can turn up, but search is a great way to interact with apps you’ve installed.
Siri • Google Now
Google Now is also the default digital assistant. Yes, the Galaxy S6 also has S Voice, but you have to launch it from the app drawer. Anyway, Now is intended to show the info you need even before you ask for it. When you do ask, Google’s knowledge engine kicks in and brings summarized info found on the web. Now will also execute voice commands.
Google Now on Tap is coming to improve the basic experience by making querying easier. The new feature just looks at what’s currently on the screen (e.g. a news article in the browser) and offers handy shortcuts to discover more. Eventually it will do more, like pop up buttons to reserve a table if you’re checking out a restaurant.
Siri can look for answers too, but its strength lies in doing rather than knowing. You can converse with it, asking it to toggle settings, send messages and yes, even book a restaurant.
Working with computers
Apple and Microsoft are coming up with new ways to smooth out the transition between mobiles and desktops, but Google is surprisingly lagging behind. Samsung had to come up with its own solution, Sony doesn’t have one.
Apple’s Continuity syncs what you’re doing between apps on the phone and your Mac. Typing an SMS on the iPhone 6s? You can finish it on the MacBook. Reading a web page on the laptop, but have to head out? Safari will remember how far you read, letting you continue on the phone. This works with Mail, Pages, Numbers, Keynote and Maps.
Samsung’s SideSync is similar as much as it is different. It handles the transition by showing a virtual copy of your Galaxy S6 on your computer’s screen. You just continue using the app on the phone – except now with a handy keyboard and mouse – and even copy/paste text and files between devices.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6. It allows extensive customizations with themes and the most advanced multitasking options. It also has good interaction with computers and added security with Private mode.
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 6s. You don’t get to decorate, but 3D Touch is an innovative feature, while the rest of iOS already offers a solid base. Continuity is a more elegant solution than SideSync, but multitasking can use more love.
Sony are behind Android’s recent adoption of themes, but other than that Sony doesn’t go a long way to provide features Google will not. This allows for quicker software updates for the Xperia Z5, but it’s behind on attention-grabbing features.
Cross-platform benchmarking is difficult, but we selected benchmarks that are available on both platforms. Even so, don’t take the numbers at face value but look at the practical implications behind them.
For example, the Samsung Galaxy S6 trumps the other two in raw CPU performance. Both it and the Xperia have eight cores, but the more advanced manufacturing process allows the Exynos chipsets to reach higher clock speeds.
Also, the iPhone 6s may only have two cores, but they are Twister cores that have stunning performance individually so just the two of them are enough for a competitive multithreading performance.
Higher is better
- Samsung Galaxy S6 : 5215
- Apple iPhone 6s : 4427
- Sony Xperia Z5 : 4017
AnTuTu 5 measuring the full system performance also gives the Galaxy S6 the lead, but this is a deceptively simple measurement.
Higher is better
- Samsung Galaxy S6 : 69396
- Apple iPhone 6s : 59074
- Sony Xperia Z5 : 50611
For certain tasks, like gaming, iPhone’s PowerVR GT7600 GPU offers developers much more horsepower to work with. This advantage is stretched further when you take into account the lower native resolution of the 6s screen.
The Mali-T760 and Adreno 430 are on equal footing, which is actually bad for the Galaxy as it has to render at QHD instead of 1080p. Some games will choose to render at a lower resolution and upscale to match the screen, which will even things out. Samsung released a tool to let users do just that recently.
GFX 3.0 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)
Higher is better
- Apple iPhone 6s: 39.5
- Samsung Galaxy S6 : 24
- Sony Xperia Z5 : 24
GFX 3.0 Manhattan (onscreen)
Higher is better
- Apple iPhone 6s : 53.6
- Sony Xperia Z5 : 25
- Samsung Galaxy S6 : 14
Lower is better
- Apple iPhone 6s : 1737
- Samsung Galaxy S6 : 4154
- Sony Xperia Z5 : 5635
Winner: Apple iPhone 6s. Apple continues to improve their chipsets each year and the tight integration between hardware, product design and software allow it to outpace Androids. Don’t use core count as a measurement of performance.
Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy S6. Qualcomm’s fumble was Samsung Semiconductor’s time to shine. And it does – the Exynos chipset in the S6 is still the best chipset available to Android phones. The GPU isn’t ready for QHD gaming, but will do fine if you settle for 1080p.
While Apple and Samsung both have their own chipsets to fall back on, Sony is tied to Qualcomm and the Snapdragon 810 isn’t the best. The Adreno GPU is solid, it’s the CPU side that lets things down.
Apple’s big photography update in iOS 9 is Live Photos, basically 3-second video clips centered on the time you pressed the shutter key. In other words, kinda what HTC did with Zoe, only this time the visualization is much more elegant and employs 3D Touch for playback. Our only gripe is that Apple hasn’t worked out a cross-platform way to share such Live photos, though this is pretty typical Apple behavior.
iOS 9 gallery
In terms of organization, the iOS gallery marshals images into Moments, Collections and Year. The search function handles dates and locations and you can use pinch zoom to change the scale, which makes navigating huge image collections a breeze.
Samsung also nabbed an HTC feature, Video highlights. Groups of photos get a mini slideshow to highlight the best moments captured in those shots.
The search function can track down photos based on people (using face recognition), time, location, event (time+location), category and so on. Pinch zoom also works here.
The Sony gallery is the only one that handles online albums (Facebook, Picasa, Flickr) after Samsung decide to drop that feature in the S6. The Xperia Z5 can also pin your photos on a map or a 3D globe so you can impress friends with your travels.
Photos can be sorted by people or location and you can use pinch zoom to adjust the size of the thumbnails. By default, the first thumbnail in the list (say, the last photo you took) is larger than the rest, to give you a clear view.
Apple has been selling music since before it had the iPhone, now it has moved into the music streaming business too with iTunes Radio. Despite the name, this service allows you to pick and choose the artists and tracks you like. Beats 1 is much more like a traditional radio (except broadcast over the Internet).
Apple music player and Beats 1 radio
The music player itself is tightly bound to iTunes and its store. If you want to load new tracks, even ones not bought on iTunes, you have to hook up the phone to the desktop iTunes app. Lossless audio is supported with Apple’s proprietary ALAC format, but FLAC files will need to be transcoded.
Samsung toyed with music streaming but is yet to find success. The TouchWiz music player is one of the very best for offline play, however. It supports a number of ways to enhance the audio experience ranging from simple to advanced, automatic to manual.
Samsung music player • equalizer in simple mode • automatic tuning of the equalizer
You have a 7-band equalizer, but you can let Adapt Sound test your hearing and your headphones to determine the best setting. A new feature is called UHQ Upscaler, which promise to improve CD-quality audio to 24-bit, 96kHz level. Or you can just use lossless FLAC files for guaranteed quality.
The music app on the Xperia Z5 bears the iconic Sony Walkman brand and also promises to catapult your CD-quality music to new heights. DSEE HX also aims to emulate 24-bit, 96kHz audio. Automatic Optimization analyzes your headphones and hearing much like Samsung to find the best settings for the 5-band equalizer.
The Walkman music player • Sony can auto tune the equalizer too
The Sony Xperia Z5 is the only phone here to ship with good old FM radio and it does so in a modern way. Basic RDS is expanded by TrackID, which will recognize the current song, bring it up in the Google Music store and even let you post on Facebook about it.
Recognizing a song on the radio with TrackID
The iTunes computer application is the gatekeeper for videos on the iPhone 6s. You have to transcode most videos (unless they were made specifically for the iPhone). That means you’ll probably stick to streaming videos as even the fastest ways to transcode a movie will still take half an hour if not more.
Subtitles aren’t supported either, so you’ll need a third-party player for foreign films.
The iPhone 6s video player is locked behind iTunes
Samsung’s video player is fairly simplistic. It has one unique feature, Pop Up play, which lets you multitask while you watch. It lets you do something else with the phone, without having to pause the video.
The hardware is fully capable to decode 4K video in most formats (including MKV), however it stumbles when it comes to multi-channel audio. Subtitles can be loaded manually and their appearance is fully customizable.
The TouchWiz video player is multitasking-friendly
Sony’s video player is dubbed Movies and provides an almost home theater experience. If you have movies or TV show episodes stored on your Xperia Z5, it will use Gracenote to find additional info – cast, crew, plot summary and more. With an appropriate TV out (wired or wireless) method, you can get a great big screen experience.
The video player itself supports videos up to 4K resolution and MKV files are okay. It has problem with multichannel audio like AC-3 though. Subtitles are available and customizable.
Sony went for a more cinematic feel
Winner: Sony Xperia Z5: Not the most innovative set of multimedia apps, but others focus so much on organizing photos that they don’t have much fun features. Like the Movies app, which is like a mini HTPC setup, the Facebook-enabled photo gallery, bringing FM radio to the Facebook age and so on.
The Galaxy S6 gallery may look better than the one on the S5, but it has fewer features. And “look better” here is dangerously close to “looks like the iOS 8 gallery.” The Xperia and the Galaxy S6 offer similar audio features – Sony borrowing the auto tuning feature, Samsung taking the audio upscaling.
You don’t always use headphones when listening to music or watching movies, so a solid loudspeaker is a great thing to have. The Sony Xperia Z5 boasts stereo speakers on its front, which make for a great multimedia experience. They are rather quiet though, which hurts their use for notifications… and starting parties.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 has a single speaker, but it’s loud. Well, louder anyway, a Good mark is far from the best we’ve seen, but it’s still better than the iPhone 6s.
Apple’s handset scores a Below Average, but unlike the Xperia it can’t say “well, at least it’s in stereo.”
|Speakerphone test||Voice, dB||Pink noise/ Music, dB||Ringing phone, dB||Overall score|
|Sony Xperia Z5||65.1||62.3||66.3||Below Average|
|Apple iPhone 6s||66.5||64.6||65.8||Below Average|
|Samsung Galaxy S6||68.1||66.3||73.7||Good|
Winner: Sony Xperia Z5. Assuming you don’t work on a construction site, the Z5 speakers will do enough to let you know your phone is ringing. The music and video experience is nicer in stereo.
Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy S6. “One but loud” has been Samsung’s strategy and while not ideal, it works quite well.
Apple never had the loudest loudspeakers and the iPhone 6s is just the last in a long line of Below Average scores.
All three contestants had excellently clean output when connected to an active external amplifier, with the iPhone 6s the only one to have a non-perfect reading with its average stereo crosstalk. The volume levels were pretty evenly matched too, so it’s all very close to a tie here.
Plugging in a pair of headphones hurt the Xperia Z5 the most, introducing the highest amount of crosschannel leakage, some intermodulation distortion and bringing down the volume. The iPhone 6s fared better only losing some stereo quality (but still remaining better than the Sony smartphone). Finally, the Samsung Galaxy S6 was the best in this case, showing virtually no degradation.
Anyway, here go the results so you can do your comparisons.
|Test||Frequency response||Noise level||Dynamic range||THD||IMD + Noise||Stereo crosstalk|
|Sony Xperia Z5||+0.01, -0.04||-95.5||89.5||0.0033||0.012||-94.8|
|Sony Xperia Z5 (headphones attached)||+0.22, -0.24||-95.1||89.5||0.0057||0.212||-59.8|
|Apple iPhone 6s||+0.03, -0.04||-93.5||93.5||0.0016||0.0075||-73.2|
|Apple iPhone 6s (headphones attached)||+0.10, -0.06||-93.8||93.9||0.0030||0.101||-68.2|
|Samsung Galaxy S6||+0.01, -0.04||-95.6||92.8||0.0024||0.0094||-94.5|
|Samsung Galaxy S6 (headphones)||+0.02, -0.05||-92.6||91.9||0.0025||0.042||-83.4|
Sony Xperia Z5 frequency response
Apple iPhone 6s frequency response
Samsung Galaxy S6 frequency response
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6. It was a close battle between three great performers, but the Samsung handset handled headphones much better than the other two, securing the win here.
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 6s. The iPhone started on the back foot here with its slightly disappointing stereo quality with an active external amplifier, but took advantage of the Sony slip in the second part and claimed the second spot.
The Sony Xperia Z5 is not a bad musician in any way, but in this elite company it had to settle for the last spot.
7. Camera features
Smartphone photography is a complex mix of hardware, innovation and software. These three companies are caught in a game of one-upmanship, so each year consumers get a baggy of cool new (some gimmicky) tricks.
Let’s start with the hardware. The Sony Xperia Z5 has the largest sensor, 1/2.3″, and the second widest aperture, f/2.0. The Samsung Galaxy S6 claims the reverse – the widest aperture, f/1.9, and the second biggest sensor, 1/2.5″. Apple is third in both categories and doesn’t care, previous iPhones weren’t technologically superior either, but were some of the best cameras around.
Sony boasts that its camera can get a focus lock in just 0.03s under perfect conditions. This is thanks to a hybrid phase detection AF system. Now phase detection was pioneered on smartphones by Samsung, and also Apple use it too. So rest assured, all three contenders make use of it already.
Sony also brags about Super Resolution, which offers up to 5x digital zoom and produces an 8MP photo from the 23MP sensor. Sony also claims that if you shot in 8MP resolution in Superior Auto mode, the camera will oversample the images, meaning that it will use the whole sensor for snapping those 8MP shots (how very PureView). Oversampling has many benefits, one of which is reduced noise.
Then there’s the latest generation Steady Shot, which will stabilize 1080p videos electronically (2160p videos don’t get this treatment).
PureView flashbacks continue with the hybrid sensor. It is almost equally as good as taking 4:3 photos as it is 16:9 photos. They come out with 23MP and 20MP resolution respectively. The Galaxy and the iPhone meanwhile are locked to 16:9 and 4:3 respectively. Switching to the other aspect ratio is rather costly in terms of megapixels.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 has electronic stabilization too, but it has optical image stabilization too. This can be used for photos as well as videos, which will improve low-light shooting even further (as if the f/1.9 aperture wasn’t enough).
Apple advanced past the 8MP resolution it has been using since the 4S and went with 12MP. Not very impressive by Android standards. The new addition is Live Photos, an HTC Zoe like feature that records 3 seconds of video when you press the shutter speed (starting 1.5sbefore you press the shutter).
Apple also upped their video game, the iPhone 6s generation is the first that can record 2160p video. The camera offers more modes than the Androids too, with 1080p videos at 30fps, 60fps and even 120fps.
The Galaxy S6 and Xperia Z5 meanwhile top out at 60fps for 1080p videos and need to go down to 720p to reach 120fps. Here the iPhone trumps them again with 720p @ 240fps mode.
8. Still camera: daylight
While the three cameras differ quite a bit in total camera resolution, it turns out they are very easy to compare.
The Sony Xperia Z5 has a big resolution advantage, but with a super wide 24mm field of view (FOV) its photos are so wide that when viewed at 100%, objects have roughly the same size as in the other shots. The Samsung Galaxy S6 has a wider FoV, but that’s because it shoots 16:9 photos. If you put it in 4:3 mode it drops to 12MP, and the FoV becomes comparable.
This puts the phones on equal footing – everything in the scene is drawn with the same number of pixels, so it’s down to the quality of those pixels. Processing also plays a huge role as we’re about to see.
Here’s a quick illustration of the difference in Field of View. The Sony Xperia Z5 can capture a lot more than the others. You can switch it to 16:9 mode and thanks to Sony’s multi-aspect sensor you will actually gain some ground horizontally (at the cost at vertical coverage).
The Samsung Galaxy S6 camera is fairly wide horizontally (its sensor is 16:9 natively), but lacks vertical coverage. The Apple iPhone 6s camera has an old-school 4:3 sensor and manages to capture a bit more than the Galaxy in 4:3 mode, but it’s not as you can fit as much horizontally if the Galaxy uses its full sensor.
One thing to note here is that Xperia Z5 suffers from edge softness. Basically, the quality degrades when you get far from the center, the very edges of the photo can be particularly messy. So it captures more of the scene, but don’t place objects of interest at the edge of the frame as you’ll lose detail there.
The Sony Xperia Z5 produced the sharpest photos, but also the ones that show the most signs of over-sharpening. The noise reduction isn’t great, leaving noise that gets sharpened afterwards, causing some noticeable artifacts when you view the photo at 100%. Most of the time, however, when you view the photos at a lower resolution, they look great.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 comes second in sharpness, its photos don’t have that processed look of the Xperia shots, but they are noticeably softer too. Just look at the trees, the text, the grey roof tiles. A curious experiment we undertook, we sharpened heavily the Galaxy S6 images and they actually came out looking exactly as the images by the Xperia Z5. So the look of the images is actually a conscious choice by the engineers who’ve produced these cameras and it would be up to you to decide whether you’d like a softer, more natural image or a sharper image with lots of sharpening artefacts and visible digital noise.
The Apple iPhone 6s shots were actually the softest of the bunch. If you look at the black wire though you’ll see there’s almost no sharpening halo. Apple’s processing leans more on noise-reduction than on sharpening (the exact opposite of Sony’s) and that does take away from fine detail in the trees.
In terms of colors, the Apple and Sony phones nailed the white balance, while the Samsung is ever so slightly on the cool side. Color-wise, the iPhone 6s does great for greens and blues, though the red looks a bit pale. The Sony messes up all three primary colors, while the Samsung does okay on all three without getting them just right.
Even in the previous crop you can see how each phone handles sun-bleached areas and deep shadows. We took a photo specifically to test the dynamic range. We shot in the default camera mode with no adjustments and HDR disabled. For the Xperia Z5 we used Superior Auto, which is slightly unfair to the others as on previous Z flagships Sony’s intelligent mode would activate HDR when needed.
We don’t think that it did turn on HDR mode in this case, even though it needed it – and badly at that. This photo captures the dark shadow cast by a tall building along with banners that directly face the sun, a worst case scenario for a camera.
While exposing the light part of the image correctly, the shadows on the Sony Xperia Z5 photo came out so dark that you can’t actually see the trees in the garden and most of the detail in the traffic signs is lost. The histogram shows that the software kept the darks above the minimum, but that didn’t help.
Something you may have already noticed is that the Xperia just doesn’t handle shadows well. Even when they are properly exposed, there’s much more noise and much less detail in them than in the rest of the frame. Just look at the shadowy areas of buildings. This is going to be a real problem in the low-light test.
The Apple iPhone 6s is surprisingly the winner here and pulled off a better dynamic range than Sony or Samsung. It managed to preserve some detail in the shade while exposing the highlights correctly.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 bumped up against both the lower and higher ends of its dynamic range (clearly shown in the histogram). It still kept some detail in the shadows though, unlike the Xperia.
Tie: Samsung Galaxy S6 and Sony Xperia Z5. It’s a choice between a softer, more natural image or a sharper image with lots of sharpening artefacts and visible digital noise. If you prefer it, the S6 can get there with extra sharpening in post-processing. The Xperia Z5 has a wider FOV but corner softness is severely pronounced, while the Galaxy S6 photos are sharp from edge to edge and have a similar horizontal FOV. The Xperia Z5 dynamic range is also less than stellar so in the end, despite its high-resolution sensor, we couldn’t whole-heartedly give it the top spot in the daylight photography.
The Apple iPhone 6s photos looked the softest and the 4:3 sensor feels out of place in the widescreen era. It showed impressive dynamic range though and photos are processed with a light touch, so no processing artifacts stick out at you when you zoom in to 100%. It’s also got the widest dynamic range of the three.
Still camera: HDR
HDR is a standard mode on practically all smartphone cameras due to its importance. Small camera sensors don’t have great dynamic range, but that’s a problem that can be solved in software. As we already saw, the Xperia could use help in this department.
Note: use the left/right arrows on the screen or on your keyboard to quickly switch between the HDR On and HDR Off crops for an easier comparison.
HDR off and on
The superior dynamic range of the Apple iPhone 6s gets it off to a good start. Even in the HDR off the clouds are developed well (even though the sun lights them from behind) and the trees in the shadow of the building look good. HDR more improves both highlights and shadows a bit, without overdoing it to crush the contrast.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 loses details in the clouds that it recovers when you flip HDR to on and brings in even more detail in the shadows than the iPhone. The processing makes the colors slightly artificial and flattens out the contrast.
The Sony Xperia Z5 needs the most help, but even with HDR on it still can’t render the clouds as well as the iPhone without HDR. The Z5 captures more in the shadows, but that wasn’t its problem to begin with.
HDR test: Galaxy S6
HDR test: iPhone 6s
HDR test: Xperia Z5
Winner: Apple iPhone 6s. The iPhone had the best dynamic range to begin with and the gentle massage of its HDR mode improves the picture without bringing in the unwanted “HDR” look.
Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy S6. HDR shows a definite improvement, though it reduces the contrast a touch too much.
For some reason Sony engineers still haven’t nailed a proper HDR processing, which would could have been essential for balancing out the relatively low dynamic range of the Xperia Z5 sensor.
Still camera: Panorama
Apple’s panorama skills were impressive with an 8MP sensor, now the 12MP sensor allows it to capture panoramas up to 63MP. In our tests the height of the image was around 3,700px, while Samsung managed a bit less at 3,200px. Sony hasn’t improved its panorama in ages and vertical resolution is just 1,080px.
Resolution is not the only advantage that the iPhone 6s has, it does what Apple calls “HDR panorama”. This is the same scene from the dynamic range test and you can see how well the camera handled both the dark shadows and the sunlit areas.
Panorama: Samsung Galaxy S6
Panorama: Apple iPhone 6s
Panorama: Sony Xperia Z5
Compare that to the Samsung Galaxy S6, which also does okay in the shade, but bleaches out the buildings ahead. Look again at the iPhone shot, those buildings are yellow, not white as the Samsung rendered them.
Sony couldn’t even get stitching to work without geometric distortion, which you can clearly see in the apartment building on the left and the grey wall of banners.
Winner: Apple iPhone 6s. It offers higher resolutions and HDR panorama can be a lifesaver. Panoramas are so wide that not capturing both sunlight and shadows is pretty rare.
Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy S6. A bit down on resolution, its bigger issue is that Samsung hasn’t learn the juggling act of simultaneous HDR and panorama.
It feels like Sony didn’t even try on this one. The panorama software hasn’t change since the early Xperia Z days and it’s comparatively outdated.
Still camera: low-light
Samsung’s camera and its wide f/1.9 aperture plus optical image stabilization make it the early favorite to win the low-light, no flash round. Sony’s large sensor and f/2.0 aperture should technically put it up there too, but we already see it struggle with lack of light. Apple’s improved dynamic range holds promise of a better sensor, though Apple didn’t improve the aperture or add OIS to the small iPhone.
The OIS let the Galaxy S6 drop the shutter speed to 1/20s, while the other two basically shot at 1/33s. ISO was kept at a relatively low 200 (we shot at dusk) and the end result is fairly sharp, no blur from camera shaking, little noise and a good deal of detail.
The Apple iPhone 6s also shot at ISO 200 but had to keep shutter speed faster to avoid camera shake, its tendency to reduce noise and to not oversharpen in postprocessing makes for some soft-looking shots (free of noise though).
The Sony Xperia Z5 had to boost ISO a touch, 250, but even at this low number the photo is a noisy mess. It does capture some more detail than the iPhone – look at the decorative railing on the terraces. The noise muddles it though, the building almost merges with the tree line in the background.
Next up we flipped the flash on and shot an up close subject. By the time we were don’t shooting the previous samples, dusk had almost turned into night. Still, both the Samsung and the Apple used the extra light to drop their ISO – to 160 and 100 respectively. The Sony catapulted its ISO all the way up to 1,000 in an effort to achieve a more even exposure between the close subject and its background.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 captured plenty of detail with little noise. The colors are off, its flash made the image warmer (this effect is amplified by the yellow flowers).
The Apple iPhone 6s was more accurate with its colors (thanks, dual-tone flash), but it settled on a much slower shutter speed, which made it prone to handshake. The yellow flowers aren’t resolved perfectly.
Which is still much better than the Sony Xperia Z5 photo, where noise practically blends all the petals into a big yellow tuft. That’s the price to pay for the high ISO, which however brought us one of the most balanced flash photo exposures.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6. With or without flash, the S6 camera hardware is better prepared to take night shots and the results are quite noticeable.
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 6s. It captured less detail than the Xperia in the “at dusk” shot but handled noise much better. It also has a definite advantage with the flash on.
The Sony Xperia Z5 tumbled from the top. The noise just becomes overwhelming at low light – even if there’s some detail hiding behind it. Nevertheless, it’s not afraid to pump up the ISO to achieve nice looking flash photos.
Still camera: selfies
All three phones have 5MP selfie cameras (okay, 5.1MP on the Sony), but they differ quite a bit in video abilities and field of view.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 has by far the widest camera and that’s without using the Wide Selfie mode, which gives you 120° coverage. Also, this camera has the widest aperture. The quality is high, photos are rich in detail (colors are a little too rich though) and there’s no discernible noise.
The Sony Xperia Z5 produced a slight purplish tint. There’s plenty of detail captured, though some of it is lost to noise reduction.
The Apple iPhone 6s selfie camera has the narrowest FoV and while it captures great amounts of detail, parts of the image look soft (mostly due to the iPhone’s usual reluctance to apply sharpening).
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6. The wide-angle lens is great both for group and for solo shots (so it will capture more of the scene behind you). Images are sharp and with reasonably accurate colors.
Runner-up: Sony Xperia Z5. Second in FoV, the Sony also captured fairly sharp images though the colors were off and the noise reduction again came on too strong.
It looks like the Apple iPhone 6s selfie camera is sharpest only up close. This creates a nice, soft background, but even at an arm’s length your face will go slightly soft. And since your face would easily fill up the frame, shooting a selfie of a group of friends would be a no go.
Video camera: 4K, daylight
We’ll keep these short as there are many combinations to cover.
The Sony Xperia Z5 produced at excellently sharp image (it resolved the blades of grass across the street) and preserved a lot of information as it shot at the highest bitrate, 56Mbps. Colors are a bit pale (like the still camera). A big flaw was the constant focus breathing while video recording – the video is “vibrating,” a very annoying effect.
Audio is recorded at 156Kbps/48kHz and sounds very good – ambient sounds are captured in detail and stereo separation is clear. It could use a bit more wind noise reduction though. Since audio capture is identical regardless of resolution, we won’t mention it in the other chapters.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 has a wider field of view, though the dynamic range is surprisingly worse than the Sony. This leads to a lot of lost detail in the highlights, also the color processing is unnatural. The focus was rock solid though.
Audio is recorded at a high 256Kbps and is slightly richer than what the Sony captured. Better wind noise reduction helps too.
The Apple iPhone 6s captured video at 50Mbps, the second highest bitrate here (the Galaxy is at 48Mbps). The image could use a sharpening pass, but the great dynamic range allows the phone to capture detail that’s almost completely missed by the Galaxy. No autofocus issues either.
The audio is a disappointment though. Apple remains the only company to record mono sound and then only at 80Kbps. The mics are decent – all three of them – with some wind noise getting through, but nothing major. Still, you miss out on directionality of sound, if you close your eyes all sounds seem to come from the same direction.
Winner: Apple iPhone 6s. Come on, Apple, would you switch to stereo sound already? But other than that, the image is detailed without being over-processed and the colors are quite accurate. If your TV has some sharpening applied (and chances are it does), iPhone videos will look great. The dynamic range helps a great deal as well.
Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy S6. We enjoyed the sonic experience, but the weak dynamic range and over-processed video isn’t enough to claim the top spot. The wide FoV afforded by the hardware image stabilization is a nice perk though.
The Sony Xperia Z5 could have won this if Sony’s vaunted new hybrid autofocus was on point. The image is very sharp (Sony’s usual noise reduction smudging notwithstanding), though the colors make the scene look a little bleak.
Video camera: 1080p, daylight
We’ll start off with 1080p at 30fps and then do the 60fps mode. The Apple iPhone 6s again delivers a detailed (if slightly soft) image. Part of that is the narrower field of view, which doesn’t stretch the pixel count over too many degrees. Colors and dynamic range are spot on, the audio is a bust, again.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 captures plenty of detail in the image (once you account for the wider FoV), though dynamic range and color rendering are not perfect.
The Sony Xperia Z5 must have been using only a small part of its sensor for 4K, because it has the widest lens here. And it shows in 1080p, it swings from a FoV equal to the iPhone to one wider than the Galaxy. This hurts it on detail, the 2 million or so pixels have to cover much more of the scene. Sony overcompensates by over-sharpening the image, which doesn’t look great. Focus hunting issues persist.
When shooting 1080p @ 60fps the Apple iPhone 6s loses a wee bit of sharpness, but almost unnoticeably so.
Doubling the framerate reduced the Samsung Galaxy S6’s already short dynamic range and the sharpness dropped. It’s good for action-packed scenes, but for calmer videos you would get better image quality at 30fps.
The Sony Xperia Z5 also lost some detail and compensated by dialing the sharpness even higher.
1080p @ 60fps
Winner: Apple iPhone 6s. Now, Apple, seriously, about that audio. That aside, the iPhone delivers a quality experience at 1080p – both at 30fps and 60fps.
Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy S6. Bleached out detail is not great and colors are off, but the image looks quite good and covers more of the scene. Going up to 60fps makes some issues more apparent.
The surprisingly wider FoV is great, but the Sony Xperia Z5 goes too wide and the processing makes things worse. 60fps hurts it too and the pain makes for worse processing.
Video camera: 4K, dusk
Viewed at 100% the 4K video shot by the Samsung Galaxy S6 looks soft, but almost free of noise. Still, we’re not sure it’s the best balance.
The noise in Apple iPhone 6s videos is much more noticeable, but the image appears sharper too. Until now the iPhone used sharpening only sparingly, but its tuning for low-light videos allows it to bring out some extra detail compared to the Galaxy.
The Sony Xperia Z5 brings the worst of both worlds – the noise is the strongest and the amount of resolved detail – the lowest. Keep in mind we were shooting at sundown, not even proper night. Sony’s inability to deal with low light strikes again.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6. The wider FoV naturally puts it at a disadvantage against the iPhone in resolved detail, but keeping the noise under control does a lot to make the videos look good.
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 6s. It had a leg up on sharpness, but the flickering noise isn’t becoming of one of the most expensive cameraphones here.
Strongest noise and weakest detail aren’t great compliments for the Sony Xperia Z5 camera and you can see that the autofocus is sluggish and uncertain when it comes to videos in the dark.
Video camera: 1080p, dusk
While the extra sharpening in the daytime 1080p test was a weakness, in the dark it proves to be a strength for the Sony Xperia Z5. The lower resolution allows it to keep the noise in check and with a pinch of sharpness the resulting image actually looks quite good.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 videos are again low on noise, but soft too.
The Apple iPhone 6s couldn’t bring the noise down, despite lowering the resolution and the videos appear quite dark too.
Winner: Sony Xperia Z5. The wonky autofocus does it no favors, but the processing here comes together just right. If Sony could find a way to combine 4K mode’s daylight performance and 1080p mode’s low-light performance, the Z5 could have been a great video camera.
Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy S6. The Galaxy was as surprised to lose its top stop as we were, but while the Xperia actually improved when going from 4K to 1080p, the Galaxy S6 kept the same quality.
The Apple iPhone 6s beat out the Sony in the 4K round, but like the Galaxy it did not benefit from the reduced resolution. Here even its narrower FoV isn’t enough to give it an edge in resolved detail.
Video camera: stabilization
Both the iPhone and the Xperia rely on electronic image stabilization (EIS), though the Sony has the support of some specialized hardware, which allows it to more accurately correct the camera shake.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 has both electronic and optical stabilization (OIS), though shooting at higher than 1080p disables the digital stabilization. We noticed the Xperia Z5 is smoother at 1080p too and this is Apple’s first 4K capable camera, so we picked 1080p instead of 4K to give the phones a chance to do their best at stabilization.
For this test we shot at 1080p resolution with all three phones simultaneously.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6. The Galaxy S6 was the only one to dampen lateral movement and overall found the best balance between smoothing out jerkiness and following our intended movements.
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 6s. The iPhone 6s did a great job for a purely digital solution, but it was a little too keen to keep the camera pointing in the same direction, which caused it to lag behind our movements.
The updated stabilization mode of the Sony Xperia Z5 is a big improvement over the Z3+ stabilization, but that’s not enough to beat the other two (especially when it comes to lateral movement).
Each phone managed to draw blood relatively early on, but the final score can’t simply be based on which phone took home the most victories.
Price is an important consideration as well, on that front the Samsung Galaxy S6 seems to be leading, even if you have big storage requirements and go for the 128GB model. For that price you get the best screen, software focused on multitasking and security and a camera that works great in the dark.
The Sony Xperia Z5 is pricey, but gives you the freedom to use microSD cards as a cheap way to add more storage. It’s ready for a trip outdoors or just lounging by the pool and during the day it captures impressive photos.
The Apple iPhone 6s is the most expensive, but also the only all-metal phone of the three. It brought some interesting UI features, amazing graphics performance and the camera impressed with its results (if not with its specs).
Even when money is no object, each of the three have unique strengths so it’s not obvious which phone is the best. Say you want to listen to some music – the Galaxy S6 player is feature rich and the hardware puts out excellent audio quality, not to mention the ease of simply copy-pasting your music on the phone’s memory.
The Xperia Z5 has the same set of software features with stereo speakers on top. But the audio quality for headphones isn’t as good. Then again, with the right (pricey) headset you get digital noise cancellation, which works quite well. And the iPhone gets the most love from accessory makers (it owns the best-known one) and courts musicians for exclusives. See? It’s a complicated question to answer even when we’re just talking music.
Finding the best phone is akin to a personality quiz. The Apple iPhone 6s has a mature classiness to it, it’s elegant without being showy. Things like 3D Touch allows you to interact with apps without the workaholic’s dream of split-screen multitasking. The camera produces impressive results in its default and only mode, the videos, panoramas and Live Photos turn out great.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 is “new money” so to speak, Galaxy S used to be utilitarian until the S6 changed majors to high fashion. Some software and hardware features were dropped in an effort to turn it from a geek’s dream to a businessman’s dream. The Galaxy S6 excels at multitasking and functionality straight out of the box and its camera is strongly geared towards low-light shooting. The multimedia suit is great too.
The Sony Xperia Z5 lost some of its perceived ruggedness when its parent company warned against using it for underwater photography. Sony’s focus this generation was solely on the camera as it’s the only major update over the Xperia Z3+ (outside the fingerprint sensor). And the camera did great on a bright sunny day, what it found hard was shooting in the dark. Still, as the only phone with waterproofing, stereo speakers and a microSD slot, it is a highly versatile and practical choice.
Apple iPhone 6s • Samsung Galaxy S6 • Sony Xperia Z5
The iPhone 6s and Galaxy S6 are bound to attract the most customers (at least in the 5″ size class), but popularity is not the same as quality. Still, Sony’s struggle to return to popularity isn’t helped by minor, incremental updates.
In the end the choice of phone probably depends on the phone you have right now. Most people will just get the 2015 version of the phone they own, but what can change the status quo is those who are disgruntled or just tired – of Apple’s walled garden, of Samsung’s desire to stand apart from other Androids, of Sony’s reluctance to break the mold, whatever your gripe may be. Whatever you choose, do chime in the comments to let us know.