While we may never know exactly what major shake-up was being described, Cut/Copy has arguably, years earlier, defined that which Sony brought forth at its IFA 2015 conference last week. Indeed so minute a mention was it given during their press event that if you dared shut your eyes for even a split second, you’d miss it entirely: The Xperia Z5 Premium has a 4K display. Yes, a 4K display. This is big if not positively enormous. In fact, the only thing small about what’s going on here is a diminutive 5.5-inch screen that will house such a pixel perfect panel.
Ahead of IFA, the tech world has been up-in-arms over the possibility of Sony’s “surprise” with many doubting the possibility of such. As it now official, we take a look at Sony’s motivations for going 4K and whether such a jump was really needed.
In Sony’s defense, we can see at least four reasons why going 4K was the right move for the company. Let’s run through them:
Sony has, for reasons seemingly unknown to the public, opted to avoid including QHD displays on any of its phones. This includes, for reference, the Xperia Z4/Z3+ that was, until recently, a “new” phone having been released only in June. Indeed Sony Mobile Taiwan openly proclaimed the OEM had no plans to offer such a panel for the future. The sole white unicorn in the pasture, the Xperia Z4v, which does make use of QHD, hasn’t even been released yet by Verizon Wireless, and was inevitably a strict demand the carrier placed on condition of selling the device.
If Sony simply stepped up to QHD for the Xperia Z5 Premium, it would be seen as simply one of the crowd. No one really cares about quad HD these days, given that it’s become a status-quo for most top-level flagships. The sure-fire way to get people talking, to turn heads, and to make an impact for the immediate future was to announce a product that packs a true punch, and one that has never been seen before on a commercially released smartphone.
A premium product
The second major reason Sony had to include a 4K display was to literally give the Xperia Z5 Premium a reason to have such a name. Given that all other specs not related to the resolution or screen size are exactly the same as the two “lesser” models, what real selling point could there be for an extra few fractions of an inch? By bumping things to a truly eye-searingly high resolution, the Z5 Premium appears more than worthy of the lofty name.
While Japanese customers may be reeling over the idea of a new Xperia flagship so quickly after the last one released, in other parts of the world the Xperia Z4 was never branded as such, rather it was a mere intermittent update known as the Xperia Z3+. For all these markets, Sony has yet to release a halo product this year and hence the Z5 -all three of them- are filling a great void.
Aside from this, there is the additional consideration that Sony itself basically “forgot” the phablet form factor with respect to flagships. The original Xperia Z Ultra released years ago at this point. Even though there were phablet-sized phones released from the Japanese manufacturer in the time since, none of them were Z-class. The Z5 Premium, therefore, represents a true return to form. And of course there are already rumors swirling of an actual Z5 Ultra, though it may be some time before anything more is known in that regard.
Sony to be taken seriously
It’s no secret that Sony’s smartphone brand isn’t a big seller globally. While the company has, and will continue to have, its fair share of devoted customers, the masses just don’t care. Well, the Japanese do, but for everyone else, Samsung and LG have far more relevancy. There has been a great deal of analysis on this matter, largely boiling down to poor choices regarding carrier exclusivity and downright poorer marketing.
With the golden halo of a 4K display tacked onto a product, Sony is undeniably going to be taken seriously. OEMs around the globe are no doubt still in a state of shellshock. Samsung in particular, which has been touted with having the best displays of any smartphone on the market and has been pushing curved SAMOLED QHD panels, is suddenly not the brightest star in the resolution wars. Neither, for that matter, is LG, who was the first big name OEM to bring QHD to the masses last year with the LG G3.
4K: What to make of it
So it’s done and dusted. Sony has changed the mobile marketplace, as far as display prowess goes. And yet, something feels quite off. In fact, despite the reasons for why it made sense for Sony to jump into the 4K ring, we can also think of a new of reasons why the implementation here seems a bit odd.
A curious strategy
The Standard Xperia Z5 has but a plain FHD panel. Now let’s clarify for a second here, Full HD is actually a fantastic resolution for something hovering around 5 inches. With that said, Sony has created a very peculiar status-quo. The standard Z5 will inevitably cost a fair sum of money, Sure it comes with a fancy new camera that can take better pictures and a nice sound system. But so does the Z5 Premium.
In fact, it’s hard to even see why Sony even made the standard Z5 period when the Z4 exists. Instead, it could have released a Z5 Compact and Z5 Premium, much like how it only had the Z3 Tablet Compact last year, no large-sized one. The answer would be simple: customers who wanted the benefits of the Z5 could just select from the two new options, and those who wanted more of a standard affair could go for the Xperia Z4 which, we point out again, is not even three monthsold.
The benefit here would be twofold: (1) the Xperia Z4/Z3+ would still be of major appeal to anyone who wanted the mid-sized offering and would not be cannibalized by sales of the new product, and (2) the Xperia Z5 Premium and Z5 Compact would thus be truly different from the previous release due to their sizes and the camera resolution increase.
Performance: will there be problems?
While it’s too early to make and final judgments about the performance of the Xperia Z5 Premium, let’s consider for a second that the Xperia Z4 has problems. Major problems, and they relate to overheating. So bad was this, that Japan’s largest mobile carrier, NTT docomo, actually placed warning papers in stores to inform customers about the Snapdragon 810.
So now, Sony has unveiled a 4K display that will also run on a Snapdragon 810. And it will use a 3430mAh battery. Take this, and now couple it with the most fundamental question possible: can a new version of Qualcomm’s maligned chip effectively support 4K display resolution without any throttling or major heat issues? The phone only has 3GB of RAM: how far will that go? And the battery, it has enough power for two days of use?
Sony wants the world to believe the answer is ‘yes’ to all the above, but something just doesn’t add up. Will the battery life take a hit? Will the product overheat severely? Will the 4K pixel power be reserved for specific media playback functionality, as some have claimed it would? How can this product possibly have the same performance as the smaller variants despite having a larger, more pixel-packed display?
In recent days, a reported teardown of the Z5 Premium was done and claims to show Sony had taken measures to avoid overheating. Additionally, over at XDA Decelopers, a story was published that indicates the phablet isn’t actually displaying 4K all the time. The latter issue in particualr would definitely seek to explain just how all this marketing claim “magic” is possible. At the same time though, it also would serve to suggest that while the Z5 Premium has a 4K display, many users unaware of the back-end “wizardry” will just assume their device is running at the resolution all the time when in fact it’s usually just FHD.
Is 806ppi even tangible?
There is a large collection of critics who feel that QHD is absolutely overkill on a display measuring under 12-inches, if that. Still, companies around the world have pushed forth the advent of such saturation and used it to market with mucho gusto. For reference, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 has a 5.7-inch screen and the LG G4 has a 5.5-inch screen. Both are of QHD resolution. Take a good, hard, headache-having look at them: are the pixels discernible?
Now basically double that number but don’t do so with the screen size. Is there actually, truly, a point to this other than for marketing purposes? Will any mainstream customer be able to even notice the Xperia Z5 Premium has such a dense display? And what of the fact it’s still LCD? How will the color tones and saturation compare to Samsung’s SAMOLED panels? There will be a horrible irony at hand if consumers still perceive the “lesser” QHD OLED phones as better when compared to Sony’s 4K offering.
The “missing” PR the Premium deserved
Think back to the opening of this piece, at the song lyrics. They were used to illustrate the point that Sony glossed over the 4K aspect of the Z5 Premium with the same amount of disinterest as Tim Cook showed to last year’s iPad Mini 3. In fact, going by various live streams of the press event, it was difficult to even understand there was a Z5 Premium given how it, and the Z5 Compact, were basically tossed in as afterthoughts.
Sony’s PR event was based more on a self-conscious attempt to try and tell the world it’s still relevant rather than unveil some truly impressive, unprecedented products. With respect to mobile, Kaz Hirai spent almost the entire time discussing the camera and the audio features, and essentially referred to a single “Xperia Z5”.
Companies like Samsung may be over the top at times with their PR excess, but they actually unveil products, not preaching platforms. Even marketing spin doctors like the late Steve Jobs knew the whole point was to sell, and therefore the actual item had to be the center-point of the entire experience. Sony should have, and arguably needed to, systematically introduce the Xperia Z5 and then go into specific details about the abilities, uses, and unique selling points of each.
It’s truly difficult to understand what to make of Sony’s 4K bombshell. What should have been one of the most jaw-dropping moments in mobile tech history by the company that arguably defined it for so long, was glossed over like so much fluff. Sony wants the world to take it seriously, to buy its products, and to fall in love with it again.
Sure the fantastic new camera on the Z5 is worth mentioning, but it’s one part of the phone. Then again, save for the camera, the Z5 has very, very little to differentiate itself from the Z4/Z3+. With this in mind, all eyes should have been on the Premium and Compact offerings, and fostering a reason for their existence.
Regardless of if the display prowess was truly necessary, or if a “plain and simple” QHD screen would have sufficed, the Z5 Premium will be a phablet-sized flagship from Sony, the first in quite some time. It has a lot of potential, and stands to go head-to-head with the latest offerings by Samsung, and in a few hours, Apple as well. Hopefully the Japanese conglomerate can market the device aggressively and get it released on multiple carriers in the USA and Canada.
What do you think? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.