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Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review

 Review: November 2015  
 

Rating: 5 stars

In a nutshell: The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium's headline feature is its 4k screen - the first in any smartphone. But look beyond the headline, and you'll find one of the most glamorous phones of 2015, with killer features all round. Our heart was won over by the near-perfect design and mirror chrome finish. Our head was won by the Snapdragon 810 processor, 23 megapixel camera and ample storage. Overall, it's one of the very best phones of the year.



 

The world's first 4k smartphone

The Sony Z5 Premium features the first ever 4K display on a smartphone. 4K on a smartphone? Dat be crazy! That's why you're here of course. You want to know if an insane 806ppi resolution really makes a difference.

It does, of course, despite whatever Steve Jobs may have said on the subject. If you have good eyesight, you can just about pick out detail that fine. But that is irrelevant. You're asking the wrong question. The real question is, does UHD content exist for smartphones yet? And the answer is largely no. There's a smattering of YouTube videos, a smidgeon of Netflix shows, and those 4K videos that you shot on your smartphone last summer. But all of that content is compromised by compression artefacts, bandwidth issues, and the vodka Red Bulls that you consumed just before shooting the video. So can you really tell the difference? Probably not.

If you've been following our UHD TV reviews, you might be aware that we're not even convinced that a 4K TV is a necessity in 2015. In 2017 or 2018, probably. But not now.

But phones are different. Phones are personal. We want our phone to be the best. And there is a certain logic of inevitability that will surely drive all smartphone makers towards 4K during 2016/2017. So why not be the first? Just do it, and don't look back.

The real story

So, 4K, whatever. We're so over that already. Let us tell you the real story behind the Sony Z5 Premium.

The first time we picked up Sony's original Z series phone back in 2013 we fell in love with its super-premium, super-thin, iconically rectangular and uncompromising design. We loved it. That love affair continued until the disaster of the Z3+. The Sony Z5 restored our faith to some extent, except that the matte finish of the Z5 left us feeling a little jaded. We missed the glamour of sparkly glass. And we needed that in our lives, especially at this time of year when the days are short and the nights dark and cold.

Now, that glamour has returned with the Z5 Premium.

The Z5 Premium is a little larger than the Z5, thanks to the slightly larger 5.5 inch screen. It's a tiny bit thicker, and a fair bit heavier, and that's because of metal. Unlike the restrained matte glass finish of the Xperia Z5, the Z5 Premium has gone for broke with a mirror-effect chrome finish. It's brought a little light back into our hearts, and quite a few fingerprint smudges too. It's as premium as it gets, and we adore it.

The button layout on the right hand edge of the phone follows the pattern on the regular Z5, with the power button doubling as a fingerprint sensor that can be used to unlock the phone. The positioning of the volume rocker below the power button isn't to our liking so much, but we thank Sony for keeping the dedicated camera button.

Despite its large size and weight, this phone feels really good to hold. The weight makes it feel solid, and the rectangular flat styling gives it a purposeful, serious demeanour. The phone is waterproof and dust tight, certified to the IP68 standard. It's available in a choice of Chrome, Black, or Gold. Did we mention that we love it?

Snapdragon 810 is snappy

The rest of this review risks becoming boring, because the internals of the phone are the same as the regular version of the Xperia Z5. We'll just run through it again, in case you haven't read that review.

Any phone with "Premium" in its name needs a superfast processor to power it, and so the phone comes with Qualcomm's mighty Snapdragon 810. This 8-core monster, coupled with a massive 3GB of RAM is capable of munching its way through any flimsy app that comes in its path. That means that the latest 3D games will all run at full throttle, and you can multitask like you just don't care.

There's an issue with heat dissipation when the processor is running at full speed, but it's much less than in the ill-fated Z3+ and not anything that will actually stop the phone from shutting down.

The phone has a generous 32GB of flash memory, and accepts microSD cards right up to 200GB. That's a lot of storage, and a definite advantage over fixed-storage rivals like the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6s.

The phone runs Android 5.1 Lollipop.

23 megapixel camera

With a 4K screen, you'll definitely want to be shooting 4K videos and capturing hi-res images on your camera. The Z5 Premium is happy to oblige.

The main rear-facing camera has a new 23 megapixel Exmor RS sensor, and is able to take pin-sharp images that can be zoomed several times before any softening or grain is visible. Colour accuracy is good, and in HDR mode, very high quality images can be captured, even in poor lighting. The camera uses a new hybrid autofocus system, making it incredibly fast to focus on subjects.

And of course the camera can also record UHD 4K video, with video stabilisation. One advantage of 4K video is that you can pull out any frame as an 8 megapixel still shot. It does require a lot of storage space though - good job that the Z5 Premium has plenty!

The front camera has 5 megapixels and uses an Exmor R sensor. It can capture 1080p HD video.

Connectivity

The Z5 Premium has all its connectivity bases covered, with the exception of USB Class-C, which is starting to appear on phones like the Nexus 6P.

As well as 4G, Wi-Fi, GPS and the usual array of connections (see specs below for full details), the phone talks nicely to a compatible TV, letting you show your photos and movies on the big screen.

Battery life

Tricky. The Z5 Premium has a much larger battery than the normal Z5. In fact it's one of the biggest on any smartphone. But that 4K screen is a greedy gobbler of power, and does its very best to drain the battery. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Seemingly, the two forces balance out, and the Z5 Premium delivers a full day of battery power. The phone's Stamina mode conserves power when the phone is in standby, so light users can expect to get up to two days between charges.

But it's all about the screen. Use the phone continuously and the battery will drain quickly.

Fortunately the quick charger will pull back a few hours of power in just 10 minutes of charging.

Conclusion - we love it!

The Z5 Premium surprised us. On paper, it's a fail. It costs more than the - already expensive - Xperia Z5, for the almost-certainly pointless addition of a 4K screen. Surely a fail?

And yet. In the flesh, it's so much more than an expensive phone with a headline-grabbing gimmick. It's the superphone of 2015 - the phone that can match, or beat, every other phone in every single category. Screen - obviously. Performance - as fast as anything. Camera - easily up there with the best. Memory - more than most.

But for us, it's the look and feel that won us over. Compared with this, the Galaxy S6 is flimsy and lightweight and the iPhone 6s looks more than ever like a kid's toy phone. Admittedly, we also love the Galaxy S6 Edge, and we still hold a torch for the HTC One M9. But the Xperia Z5 Premium is as good as any phone we've seen in 2015, and is a match for all.


Sony Xperia Z5 Premium features include:

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