Sony Xperia Z5 Premium – Time for a quick 4K

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It’s massive, it’s packed with speedy tech, it has the biggest mobile screen you’re going to see for a while and it’ll cost you around R13,000. Yes, we’re talking about the Xperia Z5’s bigger brother, the Xperia Z5 Premium, and while it certainly looks and feels premium you can get a better deal elsewhere. Confused? Don’t be.

The truth is that Sony’s monster Z5 is a largely pointless device, at least if you’re after the top end of the smartphone kingdom. Its key selling points aren’t really selling points at all, making the handset a bit of a white elephant. If you do splash out on the Xperia Z5 Premium, you’ll probably be wondering why you did that shortly afterwards.

As Attractive As Ever

Z5 RearWe realise that the opening paragraphs come off as quite harsh so let’s put something to rest right now. The Xperia Z5 Premium isn’t a bad phone. There’s a difference between ‘bad’ and ‘poor purchase choice’. If you do decide that you must have one, you’re going to have the very best that Sony can put in a smartphone, in your pocket. That’s not going to change.

The Z5 Premium is as attractive as Sony’s flagship line has always been. Even the very ostentatious gold model, which we received for this review, is attractive in its own way. The phone is dominated in front by the 4K display, which secures you bragging rights and nothing more, and by an unbumped rear panel. Metal and glass, because that’s the way Sony rolls – and because if the phone wasn’t, you know, premium, we’d have some serious questions for them.

The headphone jack lives on the top of the phone, on the curved strip around the handset’s edge. A large power button occupies the centre of the right-hand side, with the volume rocker and camera shutter button living below that. We understand the camera button’s placement but the rocker? Weird, but we can live with that. The upper left is where you’ll insert your SIM and a microSD, should you choose to use one. No problems in the looks department, in other words.

Screening Your Calls

Z5 EdgeThe Premium continues with enough specs to choke an iOS-using donkey. There’s a Snapdragon 810 in pride of place with its Cortex A53 and Cortex A57 quads (running at 1.56GHz and 2.0GHz respectively) powering everything you can throw at the phone. 3GB of RAM helps to keep Sony’s Android 5.1.1 reskin ticking over neatly and the phone itself operates like a dream.

There’s the camera, which we’ll get to a little lower down, and 32GB of storage out of the box. Well, the box says 32GB of storage. You’re actually getting 22GB and of that, 20GB is actually available before all the updates start downloading. At least Sony have given us the option of expanding storage.

Z5 FrontWhich brings us to that screen. That wonderfully oversized, 5.5-inch 4K (yes, the full 2,160 x 3,840 resolution) display that sets the Z5 Premium apart from other phones and, in the process, all but guarantees that you should look elsewhere for your smartphone. That’s because the 4K screen isn’t really 4K. Not all the time, anyway. The interface all defaults to a stock HD resolution, as do most services. The only time that the 4K resolution works at all is if you’re playing back 4K video content, either from a streaming service or that you’ve loaded into the phone.

There’s a reason for this. Even with Sony’s excellent battery-saving features the Xperia Z5 Premium will mow through that 3,430mAh battery like it’s tequila at the end of a night that started with a search for one drink. And that’s when the display, which looks brilliant even when in HD, is only running in HD. The down-scaling was implemented in order to save battery life, because powering a 4K screen with a smartphone… isn’t a great idea right now. So, yes, you have bragging rights but you’d better have 4K content on hand and all of the internet if you’re planning on streaming some.

Performance In Camera

Z5 CameraThe 4K screen is a disappointment. It looks gorgeous if you’re actually using it but using it is the problem here. Lack of content, specific methods to get 4K working (it has to be supported by Sony’s apps, for one), the battery drain… just… no. General performance, though… that won’t disappoint. It’s also not going to raise many eyebrows either, unfortunately.

The usual battery of benchmarks (both of em) gave us some encouraging numbers. The handset scored a 1270 for single-core performance in Geekbench 3, tipping the scales at 3,783 for multi-core. That’s about the equivalent of the Galaxy S6’s Exynos 7420 processor, in the first case, and on par with other Snapdragon 810s for the second. A burn through AnTuTu revealed some of the smoothest mobile frame rates we’ve seen in a while, popping out a 51,573 at the end of it all. Not at the top of the log, but respectable.

Happily, the other attractive feature also isn’t anywhere near as disappointing as the display. We’re talking, of course, about Sony’s always-excellent camera – in this case, the 23MP EXMOR RS sensor will make pocket photographers happy to see this phone. It’s the same hardware seen in Sony’s other two Xperia Z5 handsets, so if you liked those you’re going to be sold here.

The sensor and software are both fantastic, and Sony has software defaults so that all the fumble-fingered have to do is remember not to put a finger over the lens. That’s… not always all you need to be truly idiot-proof, but we digress. If you know what you’re doing, you can coax better shots out of it and you’ll also be able to shoot 4K video. That’s one avenue that you might be able to put that oversized display to but mind the battery.

If there’s a problem with the Xperia Z5 Premium’s camera it has to be that Sony haven’t yet implemented optical image stabilisation in their smartphones. They’re running behind the pack on this one as everyone else, from Apple to Samsung, have already included it. It’s time, Sony.

Verdict

As we’ve mentioned, the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium isn’t a bad phone, by anyone’s measurement. But it also puts us in mind of Samsung’s experimental handsets like the Galaxy K zoom that Samsung would probably rather forget about. The 4K display is something nice to put on the box but it’s not geared for any practical usage. The camera’s great but missing OIS and if you’re all about the performance, Samsung’s new toys have what you’re looking for. If you’re not wedded to the 5.5-inch screen size but must have Sony’s final Xperia Z, get the stock Z5 instead.

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