It's a great time to be looking for an Android smartphone. The choice, and the quality, delivered this past 12 months is outstanding and some of the highest-end stuff is throwing in everything but the kitchen sink.
So, if you're considering either one, how do they stack up against each other?
Both pack plenty of hardware
It's of no surprise that two flagship class phones should be entering the market right now with some of the leading hardware available. If specs are your thing you'll find them in abundance whichever you go for.
If specs are your thing you'll find them in abundance
Internally there are some similarities between the two. Both use Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 CPU and both have 3GB of RAM. Both have pretty large batteries and large displays around the front.
To better compare, let's see the numbers side-by-side:
|Category||Nexus 6P||Xperia Z5 Premium|
|Operating System||Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow||Android 5.1.1 Lollipop|
|Display||5.7-inch 2560x1440 (518 ppi)
|5.5-inch 3840x2160 Ultra HD (806 ppi)
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 810
Adreno 430 GPU
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 810
Adreno 430 GPU
|SIM||Single Nano SIM||Single Nano SIM|
|Rear Camera||12.3MP, f/2.0
4K resolution video
|23MP, EXMOR RS
4K resolution video
|Battery||3450 mAh||3430 mAh|
Qualcomm Quick Charge
|Dimensions||159.3 x 77.8 x 7.3mm||154.4mm x 75.8mm x 7.8mm|
|Fingerprint scanner||Yes (Rear)||Yes (Power button)|
|Colors||Silver, white, graphite, gold (limited markets)||Chrome, gold, black|
While there are some things that stand out, the two phones are a lot closer matched on paper than you might first think.
Two high-resolution displays
The Nexus 6P packs a 2560x1440 resolution AMOLED display. Until now that would have been the top of the pile. LG started the ball rolling in 2014 with the G3, but since then 2K has been the cream of smartphone displays.
Or until Sony strolled up and said no. We're going to 4K. The world's first Ultra HD smartphone display.
However, before we all get too excited and run off to buy a Sony phone, there are some huge caveats that come with that kind of a display. The simplest way to describe it is that the Nexus 6P is using its 2K display all the time. The Z5 Premium is in 4K virtually none of the time.
Furthermore when the Xperia Z5 Premium is downgraded it doesn't go down to 1440p, it goes all the way back to 1080p — so you end up with each 2x2 block of pixels acting as one big pixel. So what you end up with most of the time is a larger version of the cheaper Xperia Z5. To view the glorious Ultra HD display in all its, well, glory, you need to be in the Video or Album apps. Sony says it upscales other content, but honestly, it doesn't make much of a difference.
Don't get swept up in Sony's 4K hype
The Nexus 6P on the other hand looks as sharp as a knife all day every day. It's not that media, apps or games look bad on the Z5 Premium, because they don't. They look very good. But arguably the 6P is just as good.
The differences only really lie in colors. The AMOLED on the Nexus 6P delivers deeper blacks, but the Z5 Premium offers more natural colors. Both are generally excellent, just don't get swept up in Sony's 4K hype.
Software, performance and battery
There's not much of a story to tell on software, frankly. The old tale of going Nexus if you want the latest, first, remains true. The Z5 Premium launched on Lollipop back at IFA and that is where it currently remains. The Nexus 6P has already been updated to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow.
Sony is at least actively testing Marshmallow so there's a hopefully speedy update path. And the Xperia isn't a bad experience, with some value added apps from Sony. There is some "bloatware" but a majority can be removed.
You'd be hard pushed to tell much of a difference in performance over the course of a day. Aside from some occasional jank in Sony's software, that is. Both run the Snapdragon 810 but use it in a different way. Sony seems to run from 5-cores most of the time while the Nexus 6P keeps all 8 chugging along. And neither gets particularly hot in regular use, either.
The Nexus 6P is a beast
In terms of battery though, there's a clear winner. Sony promises up to 2-days of battery life and is partly why the 4K display doesn't do 4K all that often, but in our experience it rarely achieves that. Battery life is OK, but not exemplary, and you're going to be looking for a charger at the end of the day for sure.
The Nexus 6P, on the other hand, is a beast. Features like Doze in Marshmallow really help string out the most possible use and you can expect 5+ hours of screen on time on a regular basis. Whether that translates to two days worth of battery life depends on your personal usage patterns.
And while you can use a regular battery pack with the Nexus 6P, you'll need to make sure you're bringing the right cable for compatibility with its new USB Type-C port. There's a USB Type-C cable and charger in the box, but it has the fancy new reversible connector on both ends. There is a very short Type-C to Type-A cable included, but for most use cases you'll want to pick up a much longer USB Type-C to USB Type-A cable.. With a QuickCharge compatible battery pack (and the right cable) you'll be able to top both of these phones up in a hurry.
The Nexus doesn't fall short on camera performance
One of the biggest let downs on Nexus phones of old was always the camera. The latest and greatest software is all well and good but if it takes bad photos or your kids, your pets, or your dinner you're going to feel let down. It was a pleasant surprise then to find out that the Nexus 6P camera isn't just better, it's downright impressive.
And Sony hasn't done a bad job, either. The camera on the Xperia Z5 Premium is the same shooter as you'll find on the Z5 Compact and the regular Z5. That is, it's a 23MP sensor that most of the time produces oversampled 8MP images.
Sony's camera app is arguably better than the stock Google Camera app you'll find on the Nexus 6P, it's certainly more feature-packed. Both have their faults, too. The Xperia Z5 in practice just isn't as fast as Sony claims and the Nexus 6P still chugs when processing HDR+ images. And sometimes it just completely forgets to save the photo you just took, which is unacceptable.
Sometimes the hardware is what counts
Where Sony does edge ahead is with its physical camera button. It's one of those things that once you have it, you love it and you can't bear it when it's not there. You get a two stage shutter action on it, so you half press to focus and then fully press to take the shot. It's so much more natural than jabbing at a screen and it allows you to better grip the phone while you're shooting.
One thing that neither phone can boast about having is optical image stabilization (OIS). And that makes us sad. The software can be as good as you like, but sometimes the hardware is what counts.
One of these costs a lot of money
Then comes the price. It doesn't matter which you'd prefer if you can't afford to buy, right? And that's where the Nexus 6P leaps ahead of the Xperia Z5. It's not even close.
In the UK the Xperia Z5 Premium list price is £600 (about $716 without the VAT included on UK prices) for the black model, £629 for the gold and chrome versions at current pricing. Six. Hundred. Pounds.
Compare that to the Nexus 6P 32GB model which costs a rather more reasonable £449 (now as low as $450 in the U.S.). The same base storage as the Xperia Z5 Premium and a saving of £180 over the top priced Sony. Better still, grabbing a 128GB Nexus 6P will cost you £579, still £21 cheaper than the cheapest Z5 Premium.
So you really have to like the Sony to hand over your cash. Well, all of your cash.
The bottom line
For the most part both of these phones will deliver a good Android experience with some of the latest and greatest hardware available anywhere.
But you have to be madly in love with the Xperia Z5 Premium to buy it. It's just so expensive with very little to warrant that outlay. Sure, there will be deals to be had, but Sony put a high price on this one. And 4K might be future proofing a little, but is future proofing worth handing over an extra £180 right now? You could buy a Nexus 6P and a back-up phone for the same money. Or just get one of the smaller Xperia Z5 phones. You don't lose much by going for one of those.