Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review

One of the surprise announcements of IFA 2015, back in September, was Sony's Xperia Z5 Premium which is the first 4K smartphone to make the light of day. After some proper time with the new phone, here's our full and in-depth Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review.

Also announced at IFA 2015 by Sony was the Sony Xperia Z5 and the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. Sony faces tough competition in the smartphone market and the unique selling point of the Premium is something which it helps will differentiate it from rivals such as Apple and Samsung.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review: Price and competition

As you might expect from the world's first 4K phone, the price of the Xperia Z5 Premium lives up to its name. Sony's official price for the handset is a whopping £629. This makes it one of the most expensive phones on the market along with the iPhone 6S Plus which costs up to £789 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ which can set you back up to £719 - the Z5 Premium doesn't even include headphones either.

You're better off buying the Xperia Z5 Premium elsewhere as Clove is selling it for £600 with free accessories while Amazon has it for a fairly reasonable £576.

Sony Xperia Z5 phone range

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review: Design and build

This is the most recognisable of the Z5 range with since it’s the largest of the three and, oh yeah, it's shiny mirrored finish. The device will be available in Chrome, Gold and Black options and we took a look at the very bling Chrome option. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.

It might make the device look fancy and you can check your makeup or do your hair my looking in the back, but you'll be forever polishing it to get rid of fingerprint marks and smudges which appear the first time you pick it up.

Things go from gleaming to grubby in a matter of seconds so we prefer the frosted glass of the other Z5 phones.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review design

If you can bear owning a phone this shiny then the Z5 Premium has the same design features as its smaller counterparts. This means its waterproof with only a flap to cover the slot which houses the SIM-card and Micro-SD card slot.

It also means the Z5 has a new power button so the iconic round one is gone and has been replaced with a flat rectangle. Sounds a bit boring but it's because it now has a fingerprint scanner built-in. We've tried it out and it's fast, accurate and is placed on the phone better than any other we've seen exactly where your thumb naturally lies.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review fingerprint scanner

At 7.8mm, the Premium is a little thicker than the regular Xperia Z5 but it's not that which we're worried about. The phone weighs 180g which is pretty colossal and more than other phones with the same screen size – even the brick-like OnePlus 2 is lighter at 175g so this is a serious drawback of the Z5 Premium.

We can understand why Sony has kept the same rectangular shape for the Premium to match the other Z5 phones, but at this size it makes for a rather uncomfortable and unwieldy experience.

A smaller problem is that the volume rocker is situated below the power button which makes it pretty awkward to use. That's the same as previous Xperia handsets but it's lower down this time around.

As usual, one of the key selling points is that the Z5 Premium is dust- and waterproof to an IP68 rating which is great to see. There is only one flap, too, making life a lot easier.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review: All about the 4K screen and content

Let's jump straight into the most exciting section of the Xperia Z5 Premium's spec sheet which is that 4K screen. Sony has skipped Quad HD entirely and is the first manufacturer to bring us a resolution on a phone which most people don't even have on their TV or computer monitor yet.

That's right, the Xperia Z5 Premium offers a 2160x3840 resolution on a 5.5in, meaning a jaw dropping pixel density of 806ppi. That beats the Galaxy S6 by a long way which has touts 577ppi.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review 4K screen

Sure this phone has some serious top trump credentials in this department and people at the pub might not even believe that it's Ultra HD but the numbers on the spec sheet make up a very small part of the full picture here.

In comparison with the regular Xperia Z5, the premium model doesn't have as much brightness available and colours are slightly less punchy – the latter is more a personal thing and I actually prefer it a bit more laid back.

You might be surprised to hear that the Xperia Z5 Premium is actually using a Full HD resolution the vast majority of the time so you're not getting what it's capable is of. It's not quite false advertising but it's certainly a misnomer if you ask us.

There's a good reason for this and you can probably guess what it is. Driving all those pixels 100 percent of time would result in a serious dip in both performance and battery life. The other reason is that Android 5.1 Lollipop doesn't support 4K resolution.

The latest, 6.0 Marshmallow, does and an update is coming but even then it's designed for up to 640ppi which Google describes as 'extra-extra-extra-high density' which is a fair way off the Premium's 806ppi. When the update does arrive, we doubt Sony will simply remove the downscaling.

So when exactly do you get 4K on the only 4K phone around? Well not often; you need to open Sony's own Album, and Video apps which will display content in the full resolution. This means you're most likely to see 4K when viewing photos and videos you've captured with the phone. Third party services such as Netflix and YouTube have 4K content but this isn't what you'll get on the phone.

Our conclusion on the 4K screen of the Xperia Z5 Premium is that thing can look great on it with excellent amounts of detail. However, it's extremely limited and really not that different compared to Quad HD phones.

At the moment, 4K on a phone is simply a mismatch and we think the need to downscale proves this.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review: Other hardware and specs

So is there anything else other than the 4K screen to tempt you to buy the Premium model over the other Z5 phones on the hardware side?

Well not really, the Xperia Z5 Premium also has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB internal storage and a Micro-SD card slot for adding up to 200GB more which is the same line-up as the regular Z5 – the Compact is only different with 2GB of RAM.

As you can see below the phone benchmarked almost identical numbers to the regular Z5 due to the downscaling of the resolution. We've found the phone to be smooth and responsive in use.

The battery is larger, since there's more space for it, but battery life is similar to the Z5. The 3430mAh capacity provided five hours and 49 minutes with a score of 3491 in our Geekbench 3 test. Not a bad result but still two or three hours behind the leaders.

As you would expect from a phone which costs over £600, you get a lot of the latest tech on-board. The Z5 Premium features dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX, NFC, GPS and support for 4G LTE networks.

Sony has opted against a Type-C reversible USB port for now but that's not the end of the world at the moment. The Micro-USB port is at least waterproof without a flap but we'd like to see wireless charging included for such a high-end phone.

Like the other Z5 phones, a big addition is the fingerprint scanner. But we don't mean in size as it's somehow squeezed into the power button on the size. The scanner is quick and accurate and has the best placement on the device we've experienced. It's even easy to use with the Z5 Premium on a flat surface without picking it up.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review camera

It's also got the same camera which is a new 23Mp sensor with some improvements too such as faster auto focus (just 0.03 seconds according to Sony), x5 digital zoom without a loss of quality and the best low light performance.

We love that Sony has kept the physical two-stage camera button which makes photography that bit easier and feels more professional. The focus is amazingly fast and is easily one of the quickest we've seen helping you shoot more freely.

Be default the camera shoots at 8Mp, not the full 23Mp, so that the extra pixels can be used for oversampling. We're not convinced by the Clear Image Zoom feature and while low light performance is good, the lack of optical stabilisation is a big omission here and something we'd expect Sony to offer.

The camera is very good but just not as good as Sony makes out. At the front is a 5Mp camera which is about as good as you might expect - good but nothing out of the ordinary.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review camera

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review: Software

There are new Nexus phones running Android 6.0 Marshmallow now but the Z5 Premium comes pre-loaded with version 5.1 Lollipop. As mentioned earlier, an upgrade will come but we can only review it like it is now.

Sony hasn't really done much on the software side so it's really about the design and hardware here. Previous users, and even those coming from a different Android manufacturer will feel at home.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review software

As with previous Xperia phones the user interface is fairly vanilla so Sony has decided to use the stock Android Lollipop notification bar and recent apps menu. But it does add all the Sony style like normal including wallpapers, widgets, floating apps and own-brand apps like Walkman and PlayStation.

All the Sony Xperia Z5 phones come with Xperia Lounge Gold access but they come pre-loaded with some third party apps like OfficeSuite, AVG, Dropbox and Facebook. These do take up space and we'd rather choose what to install but Sony does allow you to uninstall them so it's not so bad.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium: Specs

  • Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • 5.5in 4K IPS (2160x3840, 806ppi)
  • 2.2GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 CPU
  • Adreno 430 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB internal storage
  • microSD slot (up to 200GB)
  • 23Mp rear camera AF with LED Flash
  • 5Mp front camera
  • Video recording at up to 2160p
  • Wi-Fi up tp 11.ac
  • Bluetooth
  • NFC
  • 4G LTE Cat 6
  • Nano-SIM
  • 3430mAh battery
  • Dust and waterproof (IP68)
  • 76x154x7.8mm
  • 180g
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • 5.5in 4K IPS (2160x3840, 806ppi)
  • 2.2GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 CPU
  • Adreno 430 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB internal storage
  • microSD slot (up to 200GB)
  • 23Mp rear camera AF with LED Flash
  • 5Mp front camera
  • Video recording at up to 2160p
  • Wi-Fi up tp 11.ac
  • Bluetooth
  • NFC
  • 4G LTE Cat 6
  • Nano-SIM
  • 3430mAh battery
  • Dust and waterproof (IP68)
  • 76x154x7.8mm
  • 180g

OUR VERDICT

A 4K smartphone might seem like something you want but you really don't need it and it's an expensive card to play in order to trump your mates. The device is also big, uncomfortable and brash. Hardware is the same as the regular Z5 so it really comes down to the screen, which doesn't even display 4K much of the time. We strongly recommend steering clear of the Premium which is this year's most unnecessary phone and sticking to the regular Z5 or one its alternatives.

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