We’ve seen display technology make some dramatic jumps over the years with some of the biggest milestones being the arrival of 720p, 1080p, and QHD mobile displays. Now that QHD has become the standard for flagship devices, we were all wondering when the next evolution in resolution would arrive, and what company would be behind it. As it turns out, the answer to the question comes from an unlikely source, with Sony and their new Xperia Z5 Premium.
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Despite a reluctance to embrace QHD in previous flagships, Sony’s “premium” variant of the Z5 makes a massive leap forward to 4K, but do we really need a 4K display on a smartphone? How does it impact battery life? Also – is 4K set to become the new standard for smartphone panel definition? Let’s find out in this full review of the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium looks much like the Xperia Z5 and Xperia Z5 Compact… and pretty much every other Xperia phone, really! Sony’s design language has changed very little in the past years, which means Sony fans will feel right at home. The rounded corners, glass back and weight will also provide a comfortable, yet solid experience.
The front of the device is dominated by that 4K display, which happens to be flanked by a couple stereo speakers. The bezels on the side are small, but Sony balanced that out with much thicker bezels on the top and bottom. And there’s a well-sized LED light on the top-left corner, letting you know whether there is a reason to turn your display on or not.
On the right-hand side we can find all the buttons. Sony sure found a way to pack as much as possible on the bottom half of one edge of the phone, but that effort proved to be worthless, at least if you have big hands. Maneuvering the device can prove difficult in this case. Not only is there a dedicated camera button and volume rocker, there’s also the now larger power button that has a fingerprint sensor hidden inside of it.
The left edge houses a microSD card slot and a SIM tray under a single flap. I happen to like this set-up, as there is no need for silly pins or weird tools in order to reach any of these components. It’s very handy and keeps everything well protected. And of course, the bottom houses the microUSB port and a 3.5 mm headset jack.
At 7.8 mm of thickness and 180 grams, the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is definitely not the lightest or thinnest, but it doesn’t really aim to be. Sony makes up for this in plenty of ways. The phone feels and looks elegant, especially with the inclusion of the gorgeous glass back.
As you would expect, that 4K display is definitely the biggest selling point of this phone. But it’s also the most controversial aspect of the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium. We’ll start by saying it was an accomplishment, and Sony does deserve mad props for being a first, but it’s certainly not perfect.
We don’t only mean that in the usual way we complain about unnecessary specs. There is a real flaw here! It turns out all the pixels in that 4K panel are taken advantage of only when there is a 4K video playing. Android Lollipop doesn’t yet support 4K definition natively. And get this, Sony is running this thing at 1080p (not even QHD) whenever there isn’t 4K content to be played. To make matters worse, when 4K content actually is playing, it’s not running natively, it is being up-scaled. This translates to lower quality. Isn’t that confusing?
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium comes with a 5.5-inch 3840×2160 screen. This happens to be an exact multiple of 1920×1080, which is the reason why Sony has opted for 1080p, as opposed to QHD (2560×1440) when it comes to everyday tasks. Regardless, you will just have to use local 4K content, so either record it or download it.
At 806 PPI (Pixels Per Inch), most people would argue that there’s no way you can see a difference, but recent studies would disagree. Apparently the human eye can notice up to 700 or 800 PPI, depending on how good your vision is. We tested the same soccer video in this screen and a 1080p one. The results were clear: there is definitely a difference, even if both looked great.
There’s also the fact that Sony is using LCD instead of the more popular AMOLED panels. What is the difference? Well, the key factors are that LCD panels require the entire screen to be turned on and filters blue light to be turned into white back light. On the other hand, AMOLED panels use individual LEDs that display an array of colors. As a result, colors can be a bit more washed out in LCD panels.
But what about the colors in the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium? We tested these and can tell you the phone has very accurate color reproduction… except for when displaying white, which had the largest delta error in our testing. White comes off with a blue tint, which can explain why colors may appear a bit washed out.
Sony has done a great job making a 4K display that fits in a 5.5-inch panel, but it doesn’t come without compromises. One is that it had to be an LCD panel and the other is the lack of 4K content. Neither are deal breakers necessarily, but definitely something to keep in mind.
Hardware and performance
Without a doubt, the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium comes with all the necessary specs to offer premium performance. Packed inside is a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and 3 GB of RAM, which places it right in line with other high-end smartphones in the market. The Z5 Premium also features 32 GB of internal storage and a microSD slot (which happens to be a rare thing nowadays). With the ability to expand storage by 200 GB, you can have up to 232 GB of total storage, which will definitely be enough to keep plenty of 4K videos around.
A key feature that sets Sony apart is definitely waterproofing. The Z5 Premium takes advantage of an IP68 rating, which allows for 1.5-meter submersion for up to 30 minutes. And maybe you don’t need that much protection, but a regular phone could get damaged by simply being used in the rain. The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium negates this issue and brings forth the peace of mind you need.
On paper, the front-facing dual speakers should translate to much better sound, right? We put this to the test through measured testing and found out sound quality is on par with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. It is also below the LG V10 and ZTE Axon, though. That’s just numbers and stats, though. We decided to also let our resident audiophile Rob take the phone for a spin. He says it’s a sound bass lovers will definitely be fans of; it thumbs on kicks, but isn’t over-bearing, and it provides great mids, as well as highs.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium also comes with a whole array of connectivity, including Bluetooth 4.1 with apt-x, WiFi n/ac, NFC and FM radio.
This is all powered by an ample 3430 mAh battery. Now, that may sound like a very large battery, but the phone certainly needs it. Our tests show the phone can last up to about 8 hours doing web browsing on a single charge. And because this phone is all about the screen, we also tested it playing video continuously. The Z5 Premium can last about 5 hours and 38 minutes playing 1080p video, while upgrading to 4K takes that number down to 3 hours.
I was able to make the phone last almost two days, but only sometimes. And that’s the disappointing part – it seems to be a hit-or-miss type of deal. Some real-life scenarios seemed to make very little sense. Take video calling as an example: the other day I did a 90-minute call, which took the battery from 88% to 2 percent.
But at least there is Quick Charge 2.0 for the times when the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium can’t hold a charge. The only caveat is that a compatible charger is not included, so you must get a Quick Charge 2.0 charger separately. If you do have it, though, it only takes about an hour to get to 60%, and around 90 minutes to hit the 100% mark.
The phone runs on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, with a planned upgrade to Marshmallow. I can say the overall experience is effective, but lacks that wow factor we all look for. The system has its own tweaks, including some changes to the home screens, app drawers, settings and more.
Sony’s interface has always been quite pleasing to the eye, but I have also realized it can be a bit sluggish. The UI looks sleek, but apparently that’s only a facade. There are noticeable delays when opening games or operating some apps, particularly the camera (slow picture-taking).
Overall, Sony’s interface on the Xperia Z5 Premium is identical to the one found on the Xperia Z5 and the Xperia Z5 Compact, and while it’s definitely functional, the Marshmallow update is when the Xperia Z5 Premium will really shine. It’s unknown whether support for 4K resolution in Marshmallow will mean the Z5 Premium runs natively in 4K all the time, but either way, 4K support should mean a larger array of mobile optimized content.
One of the biggest changes in the Xperia Z5 line is the camera. The new 23 MP sensor has auto face detection, HDR and a plethora of camera features, as well as the ability to record in 4K. But we have already covered all this in the Xperia Z5 and Xperia Z5 Compact reviews. Instead, we will walk you through some of the images we have taken with the phone.
There’s no denying Sony’s camera can produce some impressive results, but I personally wouldn’t say it’s the best of the best. How would I know? Well, we did put the phone directly against the very best camera phones out there and it seems to be close to them, but definitely not in the top 3.
For me, the biggest issue was inconsistency. In some instances the results were stunning, while in others images were over-processed and seemed to lack detail. There’s not much room for wildlife and landscape photographers here, but it does well for snapshots to share on social media.
All of our pictures were captured in Sony’s Superior Auto mode, which is the default mode, and the one that most people will use the camera in. For those who need more customisable options, Sony has also included a manual mode that allows you to tweak the white balance and ISO. It doesn’t come with the full array of manual controls found on other smartphones, but it should be good enough for most people, save for professional photographers.
|Display||5.5-inch 4K display with 808 PPI|
|Processor||1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810|
|Storage||32GB with microSD|
|Network||LTE, LTE Cat6, GSM GPRS/EDGE (2G), UMTS HSPA+ (3G)|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, A-GPS / Glonass, USB 2.0|
|Camera||Main cam: 23MP cam with Exmor RS sensor, fast autofocus, 4K video capture and output, 23mm wide-angle G Lens, 5x clear image, HDR, ISO 12800 photo / 4000 vide, Steadyshot tech|
|Software||Android 5.1 with Sony UI|
|Dimensions||154.4mm x 75.8mm x 7.8mm, 180 grams|
Innovation certainly doesn’t come cheap. As you might expect, the world’s first 4K smartphone comes with a hefty price tag, but it’s not too far out of reach. The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is priced at £600, and while not officially sold in the US just yet, you can find it on Amazon for just a little under $700. This will probably price it out of range for most people, but for those willing to spend this much, is the phone worth it? In comparison, the Xperia Z5 costs about $150 less, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a couple of hundred dollars less.
That’s a great question. As far as flagship smartphones go, the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is definitely up there with the best. Whether it’s worth it or not depends on why you want to buy the Z5 Premium. If you are doing it purely for the 4K display, I would honestly say you should not… or at least give it more thought. After all, it is running at 1080p around 90% of the time. You are probably better off getting a QHD screen that is running a higher definition at all times. However, if you are in the market for other features, such as waterproofing, a good battery life and a great build quality, this is a phone that ticks all the boxes. That said, pretty much all other current Sony devices do, as well.
The real winner in the Xperia Z5 premium specs is the larger display, which some of you may prefer. Just make sure you understand the compromises that the 4K display has to make. Not to mention the fact that you are paying a much higher price for it.
We’ll leave you with this – innovation spurs further innovation. While the 4K screen on the Xperia Z5 Premium is first-generation technology, the world of Ultra HD and beyond on your smartphone is certainly looming, and Sony can safely say it was the first.
Next – Sony Xperia Z5 review