The quick take
The marketing materials and the box might boast of the 4K display on the Z5 Premium. But what you actually get for 99 percent of the time is just a more expensive, larger version of the other Xperia Z5 phones. This phone is a little too far ahead of its time.
- Pretty good looking
- Decent camera
- Great fingerprint scanner
- Complete lack of 4K content made available by Sony
- Glossy fingerprint magnet
- Far too expensive for what you actually get over the other Z5 phones
- 5.5-inch IPS display
- 3840x2160 (4K) resolution
- 23MP Exmor RS rear camera
- 24mm wide angle G lens
- 4K video capture
- 5MP front camera
- 3430 mAh battery
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor
- 3GB of RAM
- 32GB internal storage
- microSD card expandable
- Fingerprint sensor
- Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
Sony Xperia Z5 Full Review
Sony is quick to boast about the world's first 4K display in a phone, but in truth it's something of a misstep.
The Xperia Z5 Premium completes Sony's trifecta of high-end Android smartphones for late 2015. As the name hints, this one is the range-topper, but for the most part it's the same as the other two Xperia Z5 phones where it really matters. The Xperia Z5 range goes from the 4.6-inch Compact now up to the 5.5-inch Premium, meaning that you don't have to have a large phone to also have the best hardware available.
But while the approach of a singular, consistent experience across multiple devices is one we applaud, that's not what Sony is shouting about with this phone. The Xperia Z5 Premium is the world's first smartphone with a 4K display, and it's that which you'll see across the marketing materials.
We've already spent some good time with the smaller phones in the lineup, so now it's time to see if Sony's Ultra HD Xperia is worth your time. Here's our review.
About this review
I (Richard Devine) have been using a UK retail version of the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium for about a week on EE using a mixture of 4G, 3G and Wi-Fi. The phone was kindly loaned to us by Clove Technology and you can buy your own here for £574.80.
Also, as many parts of this review mirror those already written within our review of the Xperia Z5 and Xperia Z5 Compact, this will be more of a mini-review referencing the previous coverage throughout.
Rip it out
Before we get too far along with the review, it's worth taking a look at everything inside the Z5 Premium's box. Let's unbox this thing, then get into the details in the review.
Meat and potatoes
Sony Xperia Z5 Hardware
For the most part the Xperia Z5 follows the same pattern as the Xperia Z5 and Xperia Z5 Compact. Much of the hardware is shared with the other two models in the lineup. Indeed, at 5.5 inches the Z5 Premium completes the size coverage too. Sony has 4.6-, 5.2- and 5.5-inch models of the Xperia Z5. Something for everyone.
As I originally pointed out in our review of the other two phones, this is a smart move from Sony and one that we welcome across the board. Generally speaking, the high-end goes hand-in-hand these days with large displays, but not everyone wants that. Whether you want a small phone, a large phone or something in between, Sony has you covered without having to sacrifice on specs or experience.
The Z5 Premium goes back to being a glossy fingerprint magnet
The Z5 Premium continues the "Omnibalance" design language we've been seeing from Sony for some years now, just as with the other Xperia Z5 phones. The one immediate difference this time around though is on the rear. While the other Z5 phones ditched the glossy back for a more understated yet still stylish matte finish, the Premium goes back to the gloss. And that means it will show up just about every single fingerprint you ever lay on it.
I've got the black one here, so it's at least not that noticeable in passing. That mirrored finish version, though, that must be tough to keep smear-free.
The black model is a very good-looking phone, though. It's black on black on black, with the only accents coming from the chrome camera ring and the matte silver power button. It's a good look. It also helps to distract from the huge top and bottom bezels that continue to be an Xperia trademark.
Also, as on the other phones, there's a physical camera button, which is still fantastic. The volume rocker is also down low on the right hand edge. Which I disapprove of less on this bigger model, since in my left hand I now wrap my fingers around the phone in such a way that my pinky can easily catch it. And of course, the fingerprint scanner is embedded within the power button half-way up the right side, just like the other phones, meaning you'll need very long fingers or just to use the phone right-handed to make use of it.
Weirdly, the larger model feels more comfortable to hold.
Weirdly, though, this larger model feels more comfortable to hold and use than the smaller ones. I couldn't tell you exactly why, and it makes little sense. It's a big, flat slab after all. But there it is.
The cameras both back and front are the same 23MP and 5MP shooters, respectively, as on the other phones, which includes 4K video recording capabilities on the rear one. And as we discovered previously, the overheating problems of old when it comes to actually shooting 4K video are largely gone. Which is important for this phone.
Because that brings me to the display. The world's first 4K display on a smartphone.
Nothing can take that away from Sony. It is an Ultra HD display and it is on a smartphone. But here's the kicker: it comes off as little more than marketing hype. I'll explain.
So many pixels
Sony Xperia Z5 Premium: The 4K display — or lack of
What Sony is doing with the Xperia Z5 Premium's 4K display isn't totally without sense and reason. Most of the time you're "just" looking at a 1080p representation of whatever is on the screen. As the official explanation goes:
"Xperia Z5 Premium uses its 4K display when you're viewing either the 4K content you've captured using your device or third-party 4K content from streaming services – all other content (including the homescreen and apps) are displayed in 1080p Full HD or lower resolution to simply optimize performance, power consumption and battery stamina so you can use the device for up to two days without charging."
No real issues there. If running a 4K display at 4K resolution is going to drain your battery as quickly as you can pour a bottle of water onto the floor, then it's no good. So, logic. But the issue is the complete lack of content that makes it worth even having a 4K display at all right now.
The issue is the complete lack of content
Some units sent to reviewers had a tiny amount of video pre-loaded to show it off. My retail unit did not. You can't get it from YouTube, Amazon or Netflix at this time (really, the only places you'll find 4K content worth watching right now), and you're limited to sideloading or shooting your own. I don't own a 4K TV or computer monitor so I also don't own any 4K content to try that with. So I shot a quick video. And truth be told I'm not sure my eyes could tell the difference between it on the Z5 Premium and on another 1080p phone I loaded it up on. At 5.5 inches it's probably overkill for video.
Photos, on the other hand, look gorgeous. If you're using the Z5 Premium in manual mode and shooting full-res 23MP images they look better on this phone than on any other I've seen recently. More clarity, more scope to zoom in, more detail, it's a superb thing for the keen mobile photographer. But while good it may be, it's probably not something that should make you throw your money at Sony.
Naturally the world will progress to a more 4K dependent one. VR will become more popular and more pixels are something you really want there. Eventually we'll be able to stream 4K video, but at this size, it's probably not going to be that much of a difference in what you can see.
What's it like to use
Sony Xperia Z5 Premium Software
As with the Xperia Z5 and Xperia Z5 Compact, the Premium comes out of the box running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with a smattering of Sony customizations sprinkled over the top. That's a good way to describe it, too, as Sony has come a long way from the Xperia of old where you'd be hard pushed some time to recognize the operating system beneath. What's on top is light, doesn't hamper performance and is mostly a pleasure to use.
You've got a mixture of regular Lollipop elements, like the notification shade and the task switcher, blended together seamlessly with Sony's launcher and custom applications. Speaking of, many of the pre-loaded applications, or bloat as we often refer to them, can be removed really easily. PlayStation fans are well catered for and naturally Sony has preloaded its own music and video services, too. It's important to also remember that you'll need to be within the Album or Video apps to view 4K content right now.
And as with all of Sony's other recent phones you might want to check out the Xperia Lounge. It's like an owners club for Xperia smartphones and offers up exclusive content only available through the app. Much of it may not interest you but there's always a chance you'll find something awesome in there.
The value add to Sony's software continues with things like built in screen recording and being able to live stream to both Twitch and YouTube whatever you're playing on your phone. You may never understand Twitch streaming, but if you're a keen Clash of Clans streamer, an Xperia Z5 might well be the phone for you.
Sony has also been pretty open so far with regards what its doing with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It's currently testing it semi-publicly on the Xperia Z3, so all signs should point towards relatively swift action. But until there's a date, there's not a lot to talk about.
Sony Xperia Z5 Premium Camera
Both the rear and front shooters on the Xperia Z5 Premium are the same units as on the other two phones in the range. Sounds familiar, right? That's not a bad thing since the camera is one other thing Sony makes big boasts about. The 23MP EXMOR RS sensor on the back will, for the most part, take oversampled 8MP images in Superior Auto mode just as previous phones before it have. For casual photographers this will be the best way to use it and you'll get pretty great looking shots out of it most of the time. In good light, it's up there with the best of them and it's not too shabby when things get a little darker.
If you're looking for a few quick tips and tricks to get yourself up and running with the camera on your new Xperia Z5, you're in luck. We've pulled together a quick five to get you going in the right direction.
But since it's the same camera as on the other phones one of our biggest criticisms carries over: There's no optical image stabilization. When Huawei, Samsung, LG and even Apple on the competing side are using OIS in their phones, why isn't Sony? For a claim such as the "world's best camera on a smartphone" it's something you'd expect to find. And as with the other Z5 phones, it suffers at times for lack of it. Software can only do so much and in non-optimal lighting conditions you'll soon find some less clear areas on your photos.
What we do now have on the Xperia Z5 Premium thanks to a recent software update is a new camera app from Sony. The essence remains the same as before, but it's cleaner-looking and makes getting to some key features that little bit easier than before. Of course, the best feature remains the hardware shutter button with its two-stage action. Half press to focus then plunge it down all the way to take the shot. Outside of some of Microsoft's highest-end Lumia phones, a physical camera button is something not often seen. And it's something we'd like to see more of as phone cameras continue to get ever more impressive.
But functionally it's the same. Which is good. Superior Auto will do a decent job at matching the shooting conditions with suitable settings, there are still a bundle of camera mini apps that you should or shouldn't use (seriously, don't use the AR effects, it's not worth the horrible performance issues), one of which is 4K video recording.
On the Z5 Premium, 4K recording is more of a big deal because you can actually see the content you shot at native resolution. I'm no JJ Abrams so my efforts on the whole are rather poor. but quality generally is just OK. Both in terms of what it's recording and the thing you're looking at it on. I was maybe ready to be wowed a little more, but the footage is shaky, not overly crisp and won't be replacing dedicated 4K cameras any time soon. And be prepared for the inevitable battery drain that accompanies it.
It can't go all night
Xperia Z5 Premium Battery life
While Sony used to be all about actual two-day battery life, truth now is it's about up to two-day battery life. You should be able to comfortably make it through a day so long as you stay away from things like 4K video. Expect around 4 hours screen on time in that, maybe more depending on your use, which isn't horrible.
The battery life is also one of the factors in Sony's decision to have its 4K display tuned down most of the time. If you're processing for all of those pixels all of the time, you're not going to see much battery past lunch time most days. So, aside from this, the battery life is OK. Just as with the regular Z5 and Compact, it's decent without being exemplary.
As with those other phones, Sony is doing a bunch of stuff to help you maximize your power. Stamina mode will allow for some user-defined presets on how the phone behaves away from the charger, and QuickCharge 2.0 will help you top up in a hurry. It'd be nice if Sony was including a QuickCharge power brick in the box with this reasonably-expensive phone, so bear that in mind if you want to juice up at warp speed.
Some folks will no doubt be able to make it through two days with the Z5 Premium. I'm most certainly not one of them.
Sony Xperia Z5 Premium: The bottom line
Anyone hoping for a real wow factor with this phone based on the specs or the marketing hype will be sadly disappointed. While the Z5 Premium isn't a bad phone by any stretch, it simply doesn't live up to that hype or the pretty steep retail price. With UK pricing set by Sony at £600 ($713 accounting for VAT) or thereabouts, the first thing we'd suggest is that you shop around for a deal. But above all that, it's just not worth it. Not unless you absolutely want a Sony Xperia Z5 and you want the Z5 with the largest screen available.
The 4K display is too far ahead of its time. We aren't yet in a world where 4K tablets with much heftier batteries are a thing, and there's very little use for one on a smartphone. But what about future proofing? OK, say that's actually a legitimate argument. The battery in the back of the phone probably won't cut it with more 4K more of the time. Software updates are one thing, but you can't upgrade the physical thing inside the phone. So honestly, I don't buy it. I'd go for a 4K TV before a 4K phone.
And that's the sad truth. The Z5 Premium is lost behind a whole lot of marketing spiel. It's easy to get swept up in the marketing and specs, but it ultimately leaves you, the consumer, a little short. What this is 95 percent of the time is a larger version of the Xperia Z5 that costs a fair bit more with the only gain being a larger, but still 1080p, display. The Premium in its name feels a little shallow.
Should you buy the Xperia Z5 Premium? No
There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting an Xperia Z5. But, honestly, we couldn't recommend you spending your money on the Premium unless you absolutely have to have a 5.5-inch display. What you should do is save your money and get either of the smaller ones.
Our recommendation still lies with the Z5 Compact. A high-end phone in a small body which is the cheapest of the bunch while being almost identical on the hardware front.
Where to buy
If you are wanting to pick up a Sony Xperia Z5 Premium for yourself there are a few places in Europe to get one from right now. Check out some of the links below to get your order on.
Much of the Xperia Z5 Premium is a shared experience with the Xperia Z5 and Xperia Z5 Compact. Sony's flagship comes in three sizes with a mostly consistent experience. So for a little background be sure to check out our review of these.