Reportedly one of Sony’s last chances to make it in the phone industry, late 2015 saw the iconic company release three smartphones alongside one another: the Xperia Z5 Compact, Xperia Z5, and the flagship Xperia Z5 Premium. All three phones are similar, or the same, in many aspects, and vary mostly in size and screen resolution.
The Premium is the first phone in the world to hit the market with a full 4K display. That’s the same resolution as that 4K UHD TV you’ve been eying off. It’s roughly 4X the number of pixels found on a 1080p screen, over 2X the pixels on something like a Galaxy S6 (1440x2560), and a whopping 8X an iPhone 6s Retina Display. It’s a great marketing angle, but it’s also tech you pay for.
Thanks to its 4K crown, the Z5 Premium is the most expensive flagship on the market by a long margin. Is it worth paying extra for the upgrade? Not really; unless you have the eyes of a hawk.
So, what will 8.3 million pixels get you in a phone these days? Not too much more than half that will, it seems. Currently, most Android flagships run a 1440 x 2560 resolution, AKA ‘WQHD’, which offers about 3.6 million. That in itself is about double the 1080p HD resolution of most big-screen household TVs. 1080p is also the maximum resolution of Blu Ray discs and most video streaming services.
The problem is that, while some people can spot the difference between a 1080p and WQHD display on a smartphone, it takes near perfect vision to notice the jump from WQHD to 4K. Human eyes seemingly aren’t that good.
Pretty much the only way you’ll ever be able to tell that your phone is or isn’t packing that full 4K glory is by holding a WQHD phone like the Galaxy S6 or LG G4 next to the Xperia Z5 Premium and staring at the home screen icons on each. Yes, 4K is ‘better’, but these days higher pixel density is a game of decreasing-returns, and probably not one worth paying through the nose to play.
As for how the screen function as an actual screen, it’s pretty much OK. It’s fast, smooth and crisp. Colors come out well and contrast is deep. But maximum brightness is a little low and the screen cover is so reflective that viewing it outside on even a moderately glary day can be a chore.
Moreover, the screen panel itself ends up catching the light, meaning you see small, reflective lines appear from behind your screen image – not something you expect from any premium device, let alone one sold purely on its display quality.
All in all, the Z5 Premium’s display doesn’t offer enough to justify the jump in price, and is behind the competition in basic things like outdoor visibility. It’s fine, but for the price it needed to be outstanding.
The Z5 Premium is a powerful flagship Android. Unsurprisingly, this means it offers a great user experience. Love or hate Sony’s user interface (UI) design aesthetic, it works well and we never had any dramatic crashes, nor did we encounter bugs or lag.
For day to day stuff, or even the more hardcore end of the mobile gaming spectrum, it handles everything without any fuss.
The only problems we encountered were thanks to the physical design. Being made of glass front and back, the Z5 Premium is exceedingly slippery. Try sitting down for more than a few minutes and there’s a good chance it’ll slide right out of your pocket, at which point the glass construction comes back for a second punch as it’s more likely to shatter once it hits the floor.
This slipperiness is also a problem thanks to the phone’s large size. With a 5.5 inch display, it’s not the biggest smartphone on the market, but it’s above average. Normally it’s no problem, but when it’s tough to grip it becomes a problem pretty quickly. You could both this issue, and the pocket-slipping one by grabbing yourself a case, which is a good idea anyway, but keep in mind it’s a necessity here, rather than a wise decision.
Unlocking the Z5 Premium is pretty easy thanks to the lock button, which has a fingerprint scanner built right in. That is, it’s easy if you’re using your right hand. Lefties will have difficulty getting their stretched forefinger to register.
Moreover, if you pick the phone up and happen to be holding any part of your skin over the button, it will continue to vibrate and fail fingerprint scans until it locks the function out and asks for your pin. This happens a surprising amount.
What we originally thought would be a fantastically-placed feature turned out to be a hindrance just as often as it was a virtue. As it turns out the old front-located home screen button scanner on the iPhone and Galaxy S6, and the rear-mounted scanners of the 2015 Nexus and Huawei flagships turn out to be the better options.
Yet another area where the Z5 Premium would be good enough, if not for the killer price tag. The camera isn’t quite as good as the Galaxy S6 or LG G4, but it’s still pretty decent.
Day shots come out pretty well, but that’s to be expected with a modern flagship. However, be sure to spot that patch of glare in the top left of the photo above. The sun was behind the camera when that photo was taken, so the glare is from a regular patch of sky; not from a direct light source.
These days it’s all about low-light shots.
And night shots.
These the X5 Premium handles pretty well, but once you zoom in, or blow the pictures up to full-screen (just click any image), it's clear that the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, Samsung Galaxy S6, Galaxy Note 5, and LG G4 are all far better once the sun goes down. Everyone of these phones is cheaper than the Z5 Premium.
This phone has a huge battery; at 3550mAh (compared to the GS6’s 2550mAh), you’d think it’d just keep going. Well, it does, depending on how much you use that hungry 4K display.
Being such a battery hog, the screen makes the Z5 Premium somewhat unique in terms of how often you’ll need to charge it. On a day with even medium screen-on time, you’ll definitely be searching for an outlet before day’s end, if not earlier.
However, if you stick to thinks like listening to music, or have a couple of days of low usage, then you can make two days easily.
The Z5 Premium was a bit of a let-down. It’s a good phone, sure, but it doesn’t justify its high cost. If you’re choosing between the Xperia Z5 and the Xperia Z5 Premium, then our advice is to save yourself the cash and go for the Z5. It may be “only” 1080p, but you’re not going to notice a massive difference in quality and it’s pretty much identical in every other way.
If a 5.5 inch Android is what you’re after, hit up the LG G4. It’s still one of our favorite phones on the market, and will probably continue to be until the G5 debuts later this year.
Alternatively, the larger 5.7 inch Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a great phone, and surprisingly not all that much larger in terms of physical dimensions.