Sony Mobile to focus on premium range, rationalise portfolio

  • Newly launched Xperia Z5 series crucial to Sony's comeback plan
  • Packed with premium specs and outdoes competition in terms of hardware
Sony Mobile to focus on premium range, rationalise portfolio

JAPANESE technology giant Sony may still be losing money in the smartphone business, but it’s far from down and out.

Its handset division, Sony Mobile Communications launched its latest premium range of Xperia Z5 smartphones at a splashy event on Sept 23 in Singapore, replete with an entire hall of demonstration counters to highlight the features of its upcoming devices.

The Xperia Z5, Xperia Z5 Compact and Xperia Z5 Premium were on showcase in the region following its debut at the IFA consumer technology show in Berlin in early September.

Sony Mobile to focus on premium range, rationalise portfolio

Announcing the pricing and availability in Singapore, Sony said both the Xperia Z5 and Xperia Z5 Compact are now open for pre-order at local Sony retail outlets and will go on sale in October.

The Xperia Z5 will retail for S$998 while the smaller Xperia Z5 Compact is priced at S$828.

The larger Xperia Z5 Premium meanwhile, which garnered the most headlines at IFA due to its 4K display (referring to the horizontal resolution of 4000 pixels) – a world’s first – will be available in November for S$1098.

Sony Mobile to focus on premium range, rationalise portfolio

Despite having just launched the previous model, Xperia Z3+ just 4 months prior in May, Sony’s head of markets unit Oceania, John Featherstone (pic above) said the new Z5 series is a real step up in technology from the previous Z series.

“We brought on the guys who created PlayStation, they’re doing the software design for mobile, we’ve taken guys from the mirrorless camera division and they’re doing hardware and they’re re-inventing what is mobile for us as a company,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) at the sidelines of the event.

However he admitted that the company is streamlining its product roadmap and plans to release a new version every 9 months, citing operator customers’ concerns that “one year’s too long, but six months is too short”.

When asked what was Sony doing to turn around the loss-making unit, Featherstone pointed towards cost cuts, simplifying the portfolio and focusing on being successful in the high-end segment.

“You’ll see some rationalisation, probably more at the bottom end [of the portfolio], the entry level stuff.

“The plan is to concentrate on the premium range, which we need to do,” he revealed.

IDC Asia-Pacific analyst for client devices Kiranjeet Kaur believes Sony will need to get several things right.  "It’s a combination of the hardware specs, product differentiation, and brand strength that will help any vendor command a premium for its products,” she told DNA in an e-mail.

Sony’s comeback plan includes covering all the bases by offering almost the same product in three different screen sizes.

Sony Mobile to focus on premium range, rationalise portfolio

Both the mainstream 5.2-inch Xperia Z5 (pic above) and the 4.6-inch Xperia Z5 Compact (pic below) look similar to the Xperia Z3 when it comes to design but feels nicer to the touch, thanks to its frosted glass enclosure, which also gives the colours a unique matte finish. 

Sony Mobile to focus on premium range, rationalise portfolio

The Xperia Z5 Premium (pic below) on the other hand, takes some design cues from the Z3+ with a high-end mirror-like design.

Sony Mobile to focus on premium range, rationalise portfolio

All 3 models now include a fingerprint sensor on the enlarged power button for unlocking the phone and support upcoming (but unannounced) mobile payment services.

The IP68 waterproof and dust-tight rating is still there, even though it now comes with an open micro USB port and audio jack, which is pretty impressive (like the Z3+).

Sony was keen to highlight the significant upgrades in terms of cameras and audio performance.

The rear camera comprises of a brand-new 23 megapixel ‘Exmor RS’ sensor and a bright f2.0 aperture lens, leveraging technologies from Sony’s imaging sensor and camera divisions.

It claimed the camera on the new Z series provides the fastest autofocus speed in a smartphone at just 0.03 seconds, when compared to other leading brands.
Incorporating the autofocus algorithms from its ‘α’ brand of cameras, Sony said capturing fast-moving subjects is now more accurate and reliable.

It also enhanced the image stabilisation function especially for recording videos.

In the audio department, Sony said the Z5 series provides support for high resolution lossless (uncompressed) music files and will upscale the audio fidelity of existing music tracks.

It can also enable digital noise cancellation when used with its new MDR-NC750 headset to reduce ambient background noise.

For gamers, the ability to connect to Sony’s PlayStation 4 videogame console and stream and play on the Xperia Z5 continues to be one of its exclusive features.

Sony Mobile to focus on premium range, rationalise portfolio

Powered by Qualcomm’s high-end Snapdragon 810 processor, the Z5 series comes standard with 3GB of memory and 32GB of storage, as well as support for microSD cards up to 200GB.

This same chipset is currently employed in the Xperia Z3+, but unfortunately in our tests, caused the device to overheat and become too uncomfortably hot to handle.

Featherstone said the Xperia Z5 would fare much better since it contained additional heat dispersion methods (pic below) aimed at keeping the device cool.

Sony Mobile to focus on premium range, rationalise portfolio

As for battery life, Sony is promising up to 2 days of usage without requiring a recharge.  This even applies to the Z5 Premium, which comes with a more power-hungry 4K display.

At the event, Sony showed the difference between the Z3’s Full HD (1080P) display and the Z5 Premium’s 4K screen.  The higher resolution screen of the Premium showed better colour saturation, though the sharpness between both was hard to discern.

“Clearly the new smartphones from Sony are packed with premium specs and outdo the competition in terms of hardware,” Kiranjeet acknowledged.

But are they enough to justify their premium price points?  Fortunately we won’t have too long to wait to find out if consumers agree.

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