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A Review of the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium smartphone with 4K display

by on September 17, 2015
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Overview

After the release of the slightly disappointing Xperia Z3+, Sony has really pulled out all the stops with its latest and greatest flagship phone, and taken some parts of it to new heights that no other phone at all yet matches. We are of course talking here about the 4K ultra HD display that the Z5 Premium comes with.

The 4K screen was a major generator of buzz in Sony’s favor after first being announced at IFA 2015 and this buzz was only boosted by all the rumors that had circulated well before the formal announcement of the phone and its turbocharged display specs. To Sony’s credit, the company has taken a bit of a risk with the addition of a 4K screen and while some critics have called out the arguable ridiculousness of adding so many pixels to a screen as tiny as a smartphone’s, no users are likely to complain given the simple show-off factor involved.

However, the Zperia Z5 isn’t just about its 4K chops. This phone is an awesome piece of technology in a number of other respects and deserves credit for more than just how many pixels it packs onto its screen.

The Good

For starters, in a design twist that some have actually criticized already, Sony has decided to make the Z5 a phone whose 4K display doesn’t deliver 4K visuals across the board. While the UHD graphics get activated when video content and photos are being viewed on the phone, regular Full HD is the standard resolution for pretty much all display graphics, apps graphics and conventional web browsing on the Z5. If you’re wondering why this seemingly half-done 4K resolution is a good thing, the answer is obvious: despite the excellent battery of the Z5, running 4K at all times is really heavy on processing power and battery life. With only selective 4K at play for when you would most want it, the Z5 can manage a very solid battery life of 2 days without a charge.

Furthermore, we should note that the Full HD resolution of the more conventional display aspects in the Z5 is almost indistinguishable from 4K when it appears. In a phone with a screen size of 5.5 inches, the casually visible differences between UHD and Full HD are essentially null.

Moving along, the Z5 also lets you film 4K videos and then view them without compromise on the devices screen. Furthermore, because you’re actually viewing full ultra HD video recorded with the Z5’s camera in native 4K, the zoom capacities for the clips you capture are spectacularly good. This is a device that will let you get up close with the footage you capture through its camera in unrivaled fashion. The same applies to photos taken with the excellent and immensely powerful 23 megapixel camera of the Xperia Z5. All those pixels can be much better appreciated right on the screen thanks to the amount of clear zoom that 4K UHD-level pixel density offers.

Finally, before going into much further detail down below in the other sections, we’ll state that the overall processing power and physical design of the Z5 are both superb. While some users might prefer the look of Apple’s iPhones or Samsung’s less boxy designs, the burnished metal body of the Z5 is both solid and rather elegant looking in its own minimalist way. Furthermore, you couldn’t possibly expect a phone with a 4K display to not have some serious computing chops to boot, so almost needless to say, the Z5 excels in the CPU and internal storage departments.

The Bad

The Z5 Premium is a phone that some users might consider more of a gimmick than a practical device. This is in our view something of an unfair generalization of the device since it does sincerely deliver some awesome display and processing specs alongside superb shooting features and other added technologies.

However, a couple of things to play to the perception of the Premium as a slightly tacky gimmick. For starters, its overall design doesn’t help the phone. The Z5 is not only very large (which some people will love), it’s also covered in an extremely reflective shiny metal body that can come in black, silver and gold colors. All three are seriously reflective and the silver variation in particular is almost mirror-like. This is something that didn’t look too cool to us and the more modern, muted designs of the two other Sony Z5 models (not to mention the designs of Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Apple’s iPhone 6) look much better overall. Furthermore, the Z5 Premium is very boxy, too boxy in our books and this further takes away from the look of this model.

Finally, that 4K display that the Premium offers can indeed drain even this phone’s powerful batteries quickly. Users who spend a lot of time playing around with their photos, capturing video and watching their footage on their phone will do well to remember that they’re not viewing all that content in normal HD. At 4 times the pixels of HD, the 4K resolution can quickly kill the battery of the Z5 if overused.

Final Opinion

The Xperia Z5 Premium is your classic “gotta have it” phone for those who really love the latest and coolest new specs in their hands. This means a high price and perhaps a bit more flash than some users might like. That said, the phone is indeed one very powerful piece of hardware and features what are some of the best specs on the market today. It’s camera in particular is awesome. In other words, while we have a few reservations about the Z5, it’s definitely a device worth recommending.

Specs

Display size: 5.5 inches
Resolution: 3840 x 2160/ 1920 x 1080
Processor: 64-bit Octa-Core
RAM: 3GB
Front Camera: 5 megapxiels
Rear/Main Camera: 23 Megapixels
OS: Android 5.1 Lollipop
Internal Storage: up to 32 GB
External Storage Capacity: 200 GB micro SD card
Battery: 3430 mAh
Dimensions: 154.4 x 76.0 x 7.8 mm
Weight: 181 grams

Design and Build

The Xperia Z5 Premium is distinguishable from its two other Z5 cousins that have also been released at the same time by its larger size and different outer metal surface. The Premium is the largest of the three phones with its 5.5 inch display and it’s also the only model that comes with a shiny metal surface in black, silver or gold.

In basic terms, the Z5 Premium is a slightly boxy, slightly utilitarian looking fusion of pure metal and glass with hardly a single plastic point to be seen across its body. Nonetheless, the boxy look isn’t all sharp angles –quite the contrary, in contrast to older Xperia models, the Z5 series of phones comes with rather gently rounded edges and sides, for a comfortable feel despite the rectangular body. The thin edges of the phone come with burnished metal in one of the three colors we described above while the back of this model is completely polished to a mirror-like shine. As for the front, it’s entirely taken up by the glass screen cover with black internal edging along the top and bottom of the display when the phone is vertical.

In our opinion, the mirrored back surface of the phone is a bit on the gaudy side, but some buyers might absolutely love this look, so we’ll take it with a grain of salt and call the whole thing subjective. After all, the really important stuff is what lies inside this little machine.

We should also mention that the Z5 Premium has been built to be pretty solid against penetration by water and dust. The phone is in fact considered essentially waterproof against any kind of rain or even being put under a tap to clean it off. However, exposure to salt water and chemically modified water will eventually ruin the surface and could penetrate the device. Also, whatever degree of waterproofing you get from the Z5 only works if all port entries are sealed up.

Software and Features

Sony’s version of the Android UI in the Z5 Premium is pretty minimalist, not as good as some other versions of the software that we’ve seen but nonetheless very solid and without too much bloat on the part of the manufacturer tacked onto it. In this case, we’re dealing with Google’s Android 5.1 Lollipop mobile OS and all the connectivity and goodies it comes with.

That aside, the Snapdragon 810 SoC and 3GB RAM that have been crammed into the Premium both work to offer plenty of processing power for just about anything you might need to do with this phone. These two specs are not only excellent for all sorts of normal processing and lightning fast graphics rendering, they also do a superb job of handling the phone’s 4K graphics whenever you need to deal with them. In fact, the Snapdragon 810 chip from Qualcomm has been specifically built with 4K displays in mobile devices in mind, so it’s good to finally see it working as expected in the world’s first 4K smartphone.

The Z5 Premium also delivers the benefits of a very useful (for a 4K phone) power saver mode that does a lot to help the mobile device live up to the lengths of its formally 2 day charge-free battery life and Sony has also included its own Remote Play technology for enjoying PlayStation 4 games on the phone when you don’t have a TV handy.

4k Video and Camera

The Z5 Premium comes with two cameras and both are pretty damn good at their jobs. The front facing 5 megapixel camera is a powerful little piece of shooting technology for basic shots and mainly for selfies but it still comes with better photo quality than that found in many main cameras on lesser phones.

However, the real winner of this particular phone is its insanely powerful rear camera with its 23 megapixel resolution. This shooter is truly something that has to be seen to be believed. The clarity of the images and 4K video it can produce is superb and with a 0.03 second autofocus, the rear camera will capture a decent, clear snapshot of pretty much anything you use it for, even in very low lighting conditions. In basic terms, the rear camera is likely to be a market leader and we’d definitely call it one of the absolute selling points of this phone.

The rear camera also comes with a lossless digital zoom and some pretty solid stabilization technology, both of which work to make sure even difficult photos turn out great, with some very realistic color rendering.

Display

The overwhelming majority of all flagship phones come with a display resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels –and we’re talking here about flagship phones, regular phones by most brands usually offer only 720p HD or even lower resolutions—while the LG G4 managed to up things to a quad HD resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels. However, none of these can manage the sheer pixel density of the Xperia Z5s 4K ultra HD display resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which on the phone’s 5.5 inch screen amounts to a whopping 806 pixels per inch (ppi). In comparison, the iPhone 6, Apples current flagship phone, manages only 326 ppi.

On the other hand, for practical reasons of battery savings and a lack of need to keep everything 4K, the Z5 Premium also switches over to a Full HD resolution for all of its OS interface graphics, apps graphics and for normal web browsing. The 4K resolution is something that activates only when photos and video content are being viewed on the phone.

As for the quality of the display, regardless of which resolution it’s using, we’d argue that this particular variant of the Z5 series of phones is slightly less vibrant than its two smaller HD cousins the Z5 Compact and Z5. Possibly this is the case because Sony has had to push the phones backlighting through so many pixels, we’re not sure yet but overall, the color palette of this model is notably dimmer. Though you could also argue that this also makes it more realistic. On the other hand, the sharpness of the onscreen images that do get viewed under 4K is absolutely stunning with such a tiny display. Even under the absolute closest scrutiny, we doubt even the most sharp-eyed user will be able to see so much as a single pixel.

Battery Life

Considering the power needs of the Z5 Premium’s 4K screen and massively powerful Snapdragon 810 processor, the battery life of this phone is naturally going to come under some heavy internal pressure. Well, we’re happy to say that overall performance is rather admirable all things considered. The 3430mAh battery manages to hold out for as long as 2 days without being charged when the phone is used without too much playback of content that provokes its 4K resolution. Furthermore, Sony’s power saving technologies include features that shut off the CPU while static content is being viewed and when the phone isn’t in use. This bonus spec really helps prolong power from the battery.

The Not so Great

Few things about the Xperia Z5 Premium seem to be less than superb so far. On the whole, Sony has done a remarkably good job of making this very first ever phone with a full 4K display work remarkably well. However, to summarize briefly, we’d argue that its polished metal back and overall boxy design could have been toned down a bit for something less clunky and, dare we say, gaudy looking. Furthermore, for those of you who think 4K in a tiny phone is just a silly and pointless gimmick, then this model is not your best choice because that 4K screen is part of the reason why the Z5 Premium costs so much.

Price

The Xperia Z5 Premium smartphone from Sony is certainly not cheap and while we don’t yet have a formal price tag for this new flagship model, we can say with near certainty that it won’t be retailing for less than $900 as a standalone phone.

Positives

• Massively powerful Snapdragon 810 processor
• Great 3GB RAM
• Incredible 23 megapixel camera
• 4K display
• Surprisingly long battery life
• Great OS and power saver features
• Good connectivity

Negatives

• Boxy design
• Mirror-polished back looks a bit gaudy
• Dimmer than expected display graphics
• expensive

Editor Rating
 
Battery
A

 
Design
B+

 
Performance
A

 
Software
A

 
Display Quality
A-

 
Pricing
A-

Total Score
A-

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User Rating
 
Battery
B

 
Design
B

 
Performance
B+

 
Software
B

 
Display Quality
B

 
Pricing
B-

User Score
45 ratings
B

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