Sony Xperia Z5 Premium Review
Let it be known that 2015 is the year when we saw the first-ever commercially available smartphone with a 4K display. That's a 2160 x 3840-pixel resolution crammed in a 5.5-inch screen. Of course, as you probably know, the smartphone in question belongs to Sony's flagship Xperia Z line and is called the Xperia Z5 Premium.
Xperia Z5, only with a larger battery and an extra-super-insanely-crisp display. But does it really deserve its "Premium" moniker and can it stand on its own two feet in the harsh battleground of high-end phablets? Let's find out!
When bigger is not better
We often speak fondly of Sony's bold rectangular design – an elegant shape, with stark angles that manages to strike the balance between sense and beauty. It has worked great for the Xperia Z line so far, the Compact models included, but if we are to be honest, it looks a bit iffy with the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium.
Naturally, the increased size of the Premium's screen demands a larger phone body, and large dimensions do not go well with the good old rectangle. We can see how keeping an uniform look between the 2015 Xperia Z handsets helps to define the brand, but in our experience with the Xperia Z5 Premium, we found the phone's ergonomics to be sub-par. It would've definitely benefited from smaller bezels and softer corners in the back to make it easier on the palm.
On its back, the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium does not have the matte Frosted Glass that adorns the Xperia Z5 and Z5 Compact, but a glossy, mirror-like finish. Described in one word – it's shiny! Place the phone screen-down on the bar, and everyone is going to know that you have something special there. But give us six words to describe it and we'll say it's an insane fingerprint magnet susceptible to scratching. And yes, we've complained about fingerprint smudges on devices before, but they are somewhat easy to live with when they're not too visible. Having a reflective surface will show all that grease your palm leaves on the device in its full glory.
On to the buttons, we have the new fingerprint-reading power key located on the right. It sits flush with the phone's frame, so looking for it by touch and pressing it is not the best of experience. As a biometric scanner, it's fairly fast and pretty consistent. However, if you choose to place a case on the phone to battle the smudges and potential scratches to the back, the power button becomes even harder to access, and the scanner becomes less accurate, as the skin on your finger gets deformed when you try to press through the case's opening.
The volume rocker is placed in an unorthodox manner as well, as it sits below the power button. This is a rather uncomfortable position, as it demands that we either adjust our grip to set the volume, or learn to use our ring finger for the task. In terms of feedback, it feels a bit spongy, but generally stable with a reassuring click behind it.
Of course, the Xperia Z5 Premium also rocks a dedicated two-step camera key. It doubles as a camera shortcut – just press and hold, no matter what state the phone is in, and the camera app will open. As far as use goes, we preferred not to rely on it, as it's a bit hard to press and would sometimes cause us to shake the device just as we are trying to take a snap.
Did we mention this thing has 8.3 million pixels?
Yes, let's get right to addressing the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium's most defining feature – the phone rocks a 5.5-inch 4K (a.k.a. Ultra HD) display. This means it is capable of reproducing images at a resolution of up to 2160 x 3840 pixels. The way we worded this is no accident – fact is that, for most of the time you use it, the phone will actually keep the display in a 1080 x 1920 resolution. And there is good reason behind that – running at 4K all the time will put the device's processor and battery in constant stress, severely reducing performance and battery life. That, and the fact that Android 5.1 Lollipop, together with most apps, currently don't support the resolution. Android 6 Marshmallow does support 4K, and Sony has confirmed that an update to the new OS is coming for the Xperia Z5 line, but we doubt that the downscaling will be removed. Right now, the drawbacks of having such an extreme resolution on a 5.5-inch screen at all times far outweigh the benefits.
So, how does one bask in the glory of 4K? Sony's proprietary Album and Video apps will open images and videos in 4K automatically. The extra-high resolution is also supported by Netflix and YouTube. And that's pretty much it – the screen does have nearly 8.3 million pixels, but as of this writing, these are the only four apps that actually make the most of them.
Of course, the question that must be on everyone's mind by now is "How noticeable is the difference?". And the answer is – not much. We ran a few tests with the screen, we squinted, we stared, and we compared with different phones and different pictures. This is the best way we can describe the experience – in normal viewing conditions, the extra details provided by the extreme resolution cannot be seen, but can be perceived. By this, we mean that the images look slightly sharper, not necessarily more detailed.
As mentioned, most of the time, the Xperia Z5 Premium's resolution is downscaled to 1080 x 1920 pixels. This still gives us a rather crisp density of 400 pixels per inch. Rest assured that you will have no trouble reading tiny text or enjoying visual content in apps.
In terms of color reproduction, Sony continues its tradition of shipping devices with a really cold display, and then giving us the option to fine-tune it with three RGB sliders in the phone's settings. The cold white point aside, colors tend to miss their targets consistently and easily go in oversaturation territory. On paper, the measurements, which can be seen below, may seem terrible, but we've found that the Z5 Premium's screen offers a very vivid, eye-pleasing picture, with only its reds sometimes bordering on being aggressive and unpleasant to the eye.
Out of the three Z5s, the Premium has the lowest maximum brightness, measuring at 593 nits, which is an amazingly good result. We took it out on a sunny day and used the phone with the sun's reflection blasting straight into the screen and found that we had no issue reading what's on the display. The minimum it would go to is 4 nits, which is not the best for night-time reading, but will not cause you to melt if you need to check your chat notifications late at night.