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Reviews and Information on the Latest 4k Smartphones and UHD Cameras – Covers Sony, Iphone, LG, Motorola, Nokia & More.

Latest Update: November 22, 2016

One of the most recent frontiers in 4K ultra HD display/recording technology landscape has been the smartphone. Now, while some people might view the idea of either a camera with 4K video recording or a display screen with 4K resolution in a phone as ridiculous symbols of technological overkill, we disagree.

The same could have easily been said for Full HD display and video capture in the smartphones of last year and if you were to go further back and tell someone from, say, 1996 about all the processing, storage, video, photo and internet access technologies any modern smartphone has, they’d practically balk at the sheer power crammed into those 7 by 3 or 4 inches of electronic gadget in your pocket.

As far as any true fan of technology should be concerned, if a consumer-friendly new technology is possible and if someone might want to have it in their hands, there should be no need to criticize it as “too much”. This is a very subjective bit of thinking and proves itself to be consistently limiting as new developments arrive on the scene.

With that said, here is our overview of the 4K smartphone landscape as it stands right now, with a description of the technology in its different variations, what it entails for users and what its near future might hold for the consumer. Following this overview, we’re going to take a brief look at several major 4K smartphones which come with the ability to capture video footage in the resolution or, in one case only so far, actually come with a 4K ultra HD display built right into them.

Let’s get started.

4K Smartphones today

Mobile phones with the ability to shoot 4K ultra HD video are indeed a relatively new development but they’re also hardly something that’s just barely come into existence. In fact, they’ve been around commercially since 2013, when the chipmaker Qualcomm launched their powerful Snapdragon 800 chipsets and gave phone makers the processing ability to create 4K ultra HD video inside a device as tiny and highly versatile as a phone.

Now of course, in 2015/2016, 4K video recording has gone from being a deeply exotic feature to something that pretty much every truly high-end flagship smartphone from a name brand “must have”.

And the recording specs of these 4K UHD cameras in the smartphones we’ll be covering in just a bit are no slouch either: While 4K resolution technically refers to “True 4K” at 4096 x 2160 pixels, its more practical manifestation comes in the form of what is called 4K ultra HD, at 3840 x 2160 pixels.

This is the most common recording resolution for even many high-end 4K cameras and it’s also the same resolution at which all current smartphones with 4K cameras record. What’s even more impressive is that these phone cameras, despite their absolutely tiny size, manage to capture some impressive ultra HD video at frame rates comparable to those of many great 4K DSLRs, camcorders and prosumer video recorders. That is, at about 24 to 30 frames per second. Thus, the current high end phones with 4K video from brands like Apple, Samsung, Sony or LG feature not only all their normal rich connectivity technology but also pack in video camera power that’s in a certain way superior to that of many rather expensive Full HD video recorders and camcorders!

As for 4K display in smartphones. We can safely say that the technology does indeed have a future, but as a current consumer feature of smartphones, it’s far less developed than 4K video recording in these devices. Specifically, at least as of the end of 2015, only one single smartphone model with an actual 4K UHD display exists, and it belongs to the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium phone, which we’ll cover in more detail further down. However, we expect this to change in 2016, even if some brands are rumored to be ignoring 4K phone display.

Sony's Xperia Z5 phones, one of which comes with 4K display

Sony’s Xperia Z5 phones, one of which comes with 4K display

What 4K means in a smartphone: current pros and cons

It’s one thing to have a 4K camera or display in your phone so you can brag about it to your friends, and it’s another thing to practically use this technology and see how it affects phone performance.

This is in fact where the main catch of 4K video recording and even more-so, 4K phone display lies: The processing power and consequently battery capacity needed to render and capture all those 8.29 million pixels of 4K video are not light and phone makers have to look at innovative new chip technologies and processer architectures in order to make either UHD display or video shooting work in a consumer-friendly way in their phones.

This is an issue that’s obviously still being resolved and while it’s come a long way for 4K video shooting in particular, problems for both 4K cameras and display still exist, along with the benefits of so much power. Here’s a breakdown:

4K display resolution in a phone will plough through battery power

4K display resolution in a phone will plough through battery power

Pros

  • Exquisite video quality from a device that you can carry everywhere in your pocket or purse
  • Bragging power
  • 4K video can be disabled while the phone still runs with all the processing technology needed for it
  • You can even produce professional video with just a phone (the iPhone 6S Plus has been used to film documentaries already)
  • Extraordinary levels of detail in photos and video
  • 4K display creates razor-perfect video and image quality

Cons

  • Both display and video recording technologies in phones are still expensive
  • Some phone models can quickly overheat when filming UHD video
  • Battery life can be seriously affected
  • 4K display visually indistinguishable from Full HD display in a tiny 5 to 6 inch screen
  • A serious lack of 4K UHD video content which can be viewed on a 4K smartphone display

As you can see, while 4K smartphones definitely come with their benefits, there are still plenty of kinks to work out in them before the technology becomes easy enough to build that phone makers include it as an afterthought. However, we’re virtually certain that this is exactly what will eventually happen; phones with both 4K recording and display will absolutely become as common as HD-equipped smartphones are today.

A quick look at the future

The future of smartphones holds plenty of promise. We ourselves certainly think this technology, for both phone cameras and their display specs, is an inevitable part of what will become standard for many phones within the next 2 to 3 years. The main hurdles lie in making both 4K UHD technologies easy to install and run in a phone, and cheap to boot. Once these two problems are solved (something we might see happen by the end of 2016), 4K phones will become as common and “why not?” as HD phones have been for the past couple years.

Even if 4K now seems like “overkill” in a phone, consumers certainly won’t mind having it if they can enjoy it without too much usability hassle or a steep price tag.

The Top 11 4K smartphones today (and several honorable mentions)

Now that we’ve covered our main views and philosophy around 4K smartphone technology, let’s get down to the phones themselves. The following are several of the main phone models with 4K video recording ability and (in the case of just one model for now) 4K ultra HD display as well, grouped either into brand families or individually listed here.

Also, be sure to check out our reviews of the two arguably most interesting 4K-capable smartphones on the entire market: the Xperia Z5 Premium and the iPhone 6S duo, linked to below in their subtitles.

 Sony Xperia Z5 Premium Smartphone

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium 4K phone

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium 4K phone

The biggest and most flashy of them all, the Zperia Z5 Premium is the top dog phone in the Z5 family of new Sony phones that also includes the Z5, Z5 Compact and the Premium itself, which is the one and only phone on the market right now with both a 4K ultra HD video recording camera that can shoot at 30 frames per second and a 4K ultra HD display that lets you watch your home 4K movies right on the device itself after you’ve shot them.

This camera’s photo capture capacity is also downright impressive, sitting at 23 megapixels thanks to the phone’s ½.3” Exmor RS sensor and also including Sony’s SteadyShot Intelligent Active Mode OIS system and an insanely fast hybrid autofocus system.

So far, no other phone on the market offers both technologies and the latest rumors from Sony’s main rivals like Samsung, LG and Apple seem to indicate that there will be no other phone with 4K display for most of 2016.

The Xperia Z5 Premium is big, bad, flashy and definitely not cheap, though it’s not as expensive as we’d have expected either at less than $700.

It’s also worth noting that while Sony already had 4K UHD video shooting in their older Z3 mobile phone, the 4K video we’ve seen from the Z5 Premium is much better than that of the previous model.

iPhone 6S and 6S Plus

the iPhone 6S Plus and 6S phones with 4K video camera

the iPhone 6S Plus and 6S phones with 4K video camera

This powerful duo of phones from Apple represent the very latest in the company’s iPhone line. Currently, both together hold position as Apple’s “flagship” phones and both come with 4K ultra HD video recording on top of a 12 megapixel photo capture sensor.

We are of course expecting to see the new iPhone 7 come out at some point in early 2016 but for now, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus duo are the only Apple phones with native 4K video shooting ability.

Furthermore, they can manage their 4K UHD video ar 30 frames per second, 1080p video recording at 120 fps and 720p HD video recording at a very hefty 240 fps. It’s also worth noting that these phones have actually already been used to film mini documentaries in 4K UHD, so their video chops are quite proven even if their price tags are quite steep at roughly $830.

Samsung Galaxy S6 group of phones and Galaxy Note5

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and S6 Edge Plus

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and S6 Edge Plus

Samsung, in true style as a leader in innovating with 4K technology across the board, was also one of the first companies to jump on the Ultra HD bandwagon with phones. Thus, that their 2015 flagship devices should have 4K recording is hardly surprising.

This is why all four of the company’s best mobile devices of 2015, the Galaxy S6, the Galaxy S6 Edge, the Galaxy S6 edge+ and the Galaxy Note5 all offer robustly powerful 16 megapixel sensors which offer some excellent phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilization and the internal ability to capture 4K ultra HD video with superb color and dynamic range at 30 frames per second. The continuous autofocus on these four phones is also fantastic.

LG Nexus 5X and Huawei Nexus 6P

LG Nexus 5X on left and Huawei Nexus 6P on right

LG Nexus 5X on left and Huawei Nexus 6P on right

Both of these Nexus phones, the 5X from LG and the 6P from Google and Huawei, come with some serious video recording kick in the form of sensors with the ability  to capture 4K ultra HD video at a truly astonishing 60 frames per second. The problem with this is that many current smartphone SoC chips like the Snapdragon 808 and even the more powerful Snapdragon 810 are pushing their very limits if trying to handle 4K video recording at 60 frames per second.

Nonetheless, the fact that two mere smartphones are technically capable of capturing 4K video at a better frame rate than that of numerous high-priced 4K video recording cameras is impressive. Furthermore, both of these Nexus phones come with 12.3 megapixel Sony sensors with apertures of f/2.0 and some large 1.55-micron pixels.

Motorola X Pure Edition (2015)

motox-hero

The Moto X Pure Edition offers not only 4K UHD video capture but also offers a non-4K UHD screen resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels. It’s not the same as the 3840 x 2160 of the Sony Z5 Premium but on a 6 inch display, it still looks spectacular.

As for its video shooting chops, the Moto X Pure Edition offers 4K UHD video at 30 frames per second, Full HD at 60 fps and 720p recording at 120fps. It’s photo resolution sits at a massive 21 megapixels and one of Qualcomm’s powerful Snapdragon 808 SoC chips is built into the Moto X to make sure the 4K video offers minimal processing problems.

Nokia Lumia 1520

Nokia Lumia 1520 phone with 4K video camera

Nokia Lumia 1520 phone with 4K video camera

We finish up our rundown of some of the best 2015 4K smartphones with the Nokia Lumia 1520, Nokia’s “best” 4K ultra HD-capable smartphone.

Once again, we have a mobile device which depends on one of Qualcomm’s powerful Snapdragon SoC chips to handle its 4K ultra HD video recording, though in this case, the chip in question is a slightly older and weaker 800 instead of the more robust 808 or 810 chipsets.

Nonetheless, the Lumia 1520 offers a 20 megapixel photo camera with some superb optical image stabilization specs, face detection software, a digital zoom, shutter speed control and even a burst mode. As for its video capture chops, we get 4K UHD video at 30 fps, Full HD 1080p video at 30 fps and 720p video also at 30 fps. These specs aren’t as superb as some we covered above but they’re still very decent for a high-end 4K-recording smartphone.

 

A Final Word on 4K smartphones

The above devices only represent the very best 4K-capable smartphones on the market for each of the major brands we’ve covered. The actual range of phones with 4K video built into them is quite a bit broader and includes several fantastic models such as the following honorable mentions:

  • Motorola Druid Turbo
  • LG G3
  • Sony Xperia Z2
  • Motorola Moto X Style
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
  • Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
  • LG G Pro 2
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3
  • Xiaomia Mi 4
  • OnePlus One
  • ZTE Axon Pro
  • Meizu MX4
  • Sony Xperia Z3

 

 

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