Introduction and design
Sony has gone and done it: this is the first ever 4K screen on a smartphone. That’s the big headline for the largest of the Xperia Z5 family, and it’s a truly remarkable feat from the company.
It’s no secret that Sony has been struggling in the mobile phone game for quite some time, and the Japanese company has come back strongly with its new Xperia Z5 series.
The family includes the Sony Xperia Z5, which has a 5.2-inch Full HD display, a new frosted glass design and a fingerprint scanner. Then there’s the smaller sibling of the Xperia Z5 Compact that boasted a similar set up, but with a 720p 4.6-inch screen and a much smaller design.
And now the newest, and largest, member of the Z5 family is hitting the shelves: the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium. It’s the first time we’ve seen a large-screen Sony phone since the Xperia Z Ultra, which came with a mammoth 6.4-inch display; the Xperia Z5 Premium is measly in comparison though, with a 5.5-inch offering.
You can pick up the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium for £629 / AU$1199 (about US$953) and that’s after a last-minute price drop from Sony. It’s certainly not the cheapest phone you can buy, but this top-end tech does cost money.
And this is the go-to Sony phone for those who love larger handsets, and those who want the latest and greatest thing. The Xperia Z5 Premium has received a lot of hype for its headline 4K display, but a lot of other features need to be present and correct if this phone is to live up to its high-end billing.
Sony has its own particular design philosophy, and has generally stuck to it ever since the original Xperia Z, making only minor changes with each new iteration.
The Xperia Z5 and Xperia Z5 Compact are especially notable for the way the rear design has switched from clear glass to frosted glass. Sadly, Sony hasn’t seen fit to do the same for the Xperia Z5 Premium.
Instead, Sony has decided to keep the clear glass back of the Xperia Z3+, and as before this picks up fingerprints as soon as you touch it.
The Xperia Z5 Premium is much heavier than you’d expect a phone to be in 2015, coming in at 180g but feeling even weightier in the hand – it was the first thing I noticed when I picked it up.
Weight isn’t always a bad thing, of course – it’s good to know your phone isn’t going to fly off in a gust of wind. But the Xperia Z5 Premium is large all over, and sometimes it’s difficult to use because of its sheer size – and I don’t have particularly small hands, so anyone with smaller mitts is going to struggle.
Sony has gone for plastic edges on the Z5 Premium – I much prefer the metal edges on the Xperia Z5, and it’s a real shame Sony hasn’t included them here.
It means the Z5 Premium doesn’t have a convincingly ‘premium’ look, and it also feels a little slippery in the hand – I sometimes found when holding the phone that I was nervous it was going to fall out of my hand.
Sony has included the reinforced corners also seen on the Xperia Z5, which are designed to prevent the phone from breaking if it lands on one of them.
On the right-hand side of the phone, about halfway down, is the fingerprint sensor, which doubles as the power button. It’s a sensible placing, and makes it really easy to unlock the handset.
The volume rocker is just below this, and if you’re right-handed it can be quite difficult to get used to it being so low down. I’d rather it was placed above the power button, where my fingers could reach it a little more easily.
Below the rocker is the camera button – again, this is well placed, as you won’t accidentally hit it when you’re using the phone, and it’s in easy reach when you want to take a shot in landscape orientation.
Previous Sony phones have been covered in fiddly little flaps that are prone to breaking off, and thankfully the Z5 Premium has just one, on the top-left edge.
It’s easier to use than previous examples – and the slot beneath houses the microSD and nanoSIM cards, so you won’t need to play around with it very often anyway.
And it also means you won’t be losing that really useful waterproofing technology. Being able to take your phone into the shower with you is one of the pure joys of owning a Sony handset.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s headline feature is that 4K display. It looks gorgeous at 5.5 inches and an incredible 2160 x 3840 pixel resolution.
If you do the math, that works out to 806 pixels per inch, that’s massive, and it makes the quality of everything you see on the Xperia Z5 Premium the best it can possibly be.
I was impressed with the Samsung Galaxy S6’s display earlier this year, and to put that into perspective that phone only has a 571ppi display.
I’ve been watching a lot of 4K video on the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium to assess the quality of the screen and it truly is stunning. However, I also have to admit that in practical terms it doesn’t offer that much more than the competition.
If you watch videos on the Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4 and Sony Xperia Z5 Premium it’s very difficult to discern the difference in quality. Yes, I know it’s 4K – but 2K at these screen sizes looks just as good, and isn’t such a major drain on the battery.
It’s nice to know that you have the highest pixel density going on a phone, but you can’t help but feel that Sony did this because it wanted the distinction of offering a 4K display under its belt, rather than because it wanted users to enjoy very marginally superior images.
If you’re after lots of pixels, the display on the Galaxy S6 looks quite similar – it’s not as large, but then there’s the Galaxy S6 Edge+ if you think bigger is better.
That said, the Xperia Z5 Premium’s screen is gorgeously bright, and I’ve found myself disappointed whenever I had to turn the brightness down – it looks relatively dull at anything below 60%, and it’s a true shame when I have to turn it down to save on battery.
Viewing angles are excellent, even though Sony isn’t using its Triluminous screen tech in the Xperia Z5 Premium.
Overall the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s display is superb – it’s just not quite as breathtaking as I’d have liked it to be, and it doesn’t stand out enough from the 2K competition to make it worth the extra power it uses.
Sony has included a fingerprint sensor on its Xperia Z phones for the first time with the 5 series, and on the Xperia Z5 Premium this is integrated into the power button on the right-hand edge of the phone.
This is an interesting placement that no other manufacturer seems to be doing right now. The metal button sits flush with the side of the phone, and has a nice feel to it – it must be a pain for left-handed users though.
I found it easy to set up the fingerprint sensor, and it’s very responsive – perhaps too much so sometimes.
I recommend registering all the fingerprints of your favoured hand, because if you tap the power button to check the time this can sometimes be interpreted as a failed attempt to unlock the phone – and three of those means you need to use your PIN on the front screen.
I also find it quite irritating to unlock the phone on a desk when TouchID on the iPhone is just there on the front waiting.
PS4 Remote Play
Everyone seems to forget that Sony phones now include PS4 Remote Play – and it’s really one of the biggest selling points of the Xperia range. I love it – it means you can wirelessly connect your DualShock 4 controller to your phone, and use it as a screen for your PlayStation 4 games.
If someone else wants to watch TV, and you want to get on with Star Wars: Battlefront but you don’t want to leave the room, you can sit on the sofa and do both.
The problem is that at the moment your phone has to be on the same wireless network as the PlayStation console, so you can’t use the feature at a friend’s house, for example.
I found the connection on the Xperia Z5 Premium just as good as with the other Sony products I’d tested. I don’t have the strongest internet, so I don’t always get the full experience – but when it’s working it’s fantastic.
I much prefer the PS4 Remote Play experience on the Xperia Z4 Tablet with its 2K large display, but it’s much easier to play fiddly games on the Xperia Z5 Premium’s generous screen than on the Xperia Z5 or Xperia Z5 Compact.
I can’t wait for Sony to go the whole hog and enable you to play games wherever you are. Playing Rocket League on my commute might well be all my dreams come true.
Like the other phones in the Xperia Z5 series the Z5 Premium is IP68-rated, meaning it’s dust-proof, and water-resistant up to 1.5 meters for up to 30 minutes.
This means you can use your phone in the rain, or take it into the bathroom, without worrying about it getting damaged – you can even run it under a tap if it gets dirty and not have to worry about the internals getting frazzled.
No other phone manufacturer is offering this technology in such a way right now, and it’s easy to overlook how useful it can be.
It’s something you don’t really appreciate until you lose it – I’m always conscious when I switch to a non-Sony phone that I’ll have to be more careful around water.
Specs and performance
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is currently running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. It’ll be upgraded Android 6.0 Marshmallow at some point, but when that will be depends on what network you’re on, and when Sony gets around to it; it’s not likely to be anytime soon.
Sony adds its own UI over the top of Android, and it doesn’t look anywhere near as nice as the stock version of Lollipop.
I’ve often complained about the styling of Sony’s phone UIs – the app icons and interactions with the different stock apps don’t look nice at all, and make the interface’s feel dated compared to the fresh look of some other manufacturers.
I much prefer the look of Android’s stock applications rather than what Sony is trying to do here with its own design.
There’s no noticeable lag when skipping through different applications at speed, and that’s down to the strong Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor with 3GB of RAM inside. It’s snappy, and apps load quickly.
Web pages load quickly too, and multitasking with a variety of apps open works smoothly.
I never had to wait long for an app to boot up, and that’s exactly what you want from the top of the line phones. Games sometimes took a bit longer to boot than I’ve found on other phones, but it’s not anything in particularly to worry about.
I personally get very fustrated with the Sony experience due to the amount of bloatware applications on the Xperia Z5 Premium. Samsung’s TouchWiz software has dropped a lot of its bloatware apps in recent iterations but Sony shows no sign of letting up by seemingly adding even more for this latest phone.
Sony throws in apps such as Kobo Books, Amazon, Dropbox and AVG protection that just take up space on the Xperia Z5 Premium. You can delete these, but they shouldn’t be taking up space on the phone in the first place.
Then there’s a huge variety of Sony-specific apps, such as PlayStation, Xperia Lounge and TrackID, which take up more space again.
If you wanted any of these on your phone you could download them very easily from the Google Play Store, so I can’t see why Sony feels it has to force them on us.
And the irony is that Sony hasn’t included its best app here – you have to manually download PS4 Remote Play, which is the most useful and innovative app Sony has released so far.
Speaking of gaming, mobile titles run smoothly on the Xperia Z5 Premium with no processing issues. However, as with the Xperia Z5 there are some heating-up issues with the Xperia Z5 Premium. It’s especially noticeable when I’m gaming, with the phone becoming hot to the touch.
If you’re looking for a phone that can handle intense gaming, I wouldn’t recommend this one. It can handle it, but the Xperia Z5 Premium heats up way too much for it to be a pleasant experience. The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ doesn’t get anywhere near this hot when gaming.
This is an issue Sony really needs to sort out in its next phones, although the heating is nowhere near as bad as it was with the Xperia Z3+.
I ran some GeekBench 3 testing on the Xperia Z5 Premium, and got a single-core score of 1,262 and a multi-core score of 4,073. That’s quite an impressive result – the Xperia Z5 came out with a multi-core score of 4,015, so the Premium is similarly powerful.
It didn’t come out with anything like the score of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ though – that phablet managed to score an incredible 4949, a similar number to the iPad Air 2‘s.
Sony has put a lot of effort into refining its camera experience for the Xperia Z5 series. It has offered one of the best shooters on the market for quite some time, and it’s now been upped from a 20.7MP sensor in the Xperia Z3 series to a 23MP unit in the Z5s.
And it’s pretty impressive – it’s not going to satisfy the DSLR lovers among us, but as a standard point-and-shoot affair with a few extra modes to make pictures look great, there’s not much wrong with it.
The pixel quality is incredible, and there’s no better way to admire your shots than on the Xperia Z5 Premium’s 4K display.
When you launch the camera in auto mode the Xperia Z5 Premium will limit you to 8MP photos by default to save on space, but it’s easy enough to switch to manual and up the quality to the full 23MP, or something in between.
I’ve been zooming in on a lot of the photos I’ve taken in 23MP mode, and been very impressed.
There’s a new 5X zoom feature on the Xperia Z5 Premium’s camera, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with it. I kept finding myself struggling to focus in on particular subjects, and not getting a particularly impressive image.
On the other hand the brand new autofocus system on the Xperia Z5 Premium’s camera is quite impressive, and comes in useful when you’re taking photos in quick succession.
It doesn’t work so well for taking photos of moving objects, however – I’ve tried with cars, trains, animals and and I’m still not getting good results. Check out this shot of a passing cyclist…
I still have some issues with Sony cameras – I find that the images I take tend to come out looking a little duller than shots taken on other Android phones. There’s not enough colour in the images, and it makes everything look a little dreary.
This is a shame, as otherwise it’s a pretty good camera – but I really don’t believe this is “the world’s best smartphone camera”, as Sony claims, and if you’re a true pixel perfectionist then this probably isn’t the phone for you.
As for video, there’s Full HD recording as well as 4K – and now you can actually watch the 4K video you’ve recorded in the quality in which it’s meant to be viewed, courtesy of the 4K display.
The ability to record in 4K has felt a little superfluous ever since it started appearing on phones, but now that you can play it back in all its glory it’s quite exciting. Be warned though: it’s going to take up a lot of space on your phone.
On the front of the Xperia Z5 Premium is the 5.1MP selfie shooter. It’s fine for quick snaps but it’s nothing stunning – the OnePlus X, by comparison, boasts a 8MP front-facing unit, which goes to show what’s now possible with a secondary camera.
Overall, you’re unlikely to be disappointed with the Xperia Z5 Premium’s camera. It can produce incredibly detailed images, but there are a few little problems that make me feel it’s not the best it can be – and not as good as Sony’s marketing claims.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium comes with a 3430mAh battery pack, which sounds like quite a lot – and it is compared to some other smartphones. But remember, this phone has the highest-resolution screen on the market, and that demands some serious power.
That poor little cell has to power all those pixels over that 5.5-inch display, and even if you just turn on the screen briefly to check the time everything needs to light up.
It’s four times as much work than that on a Full HD phone – and the Xperia Z5 Premium doesn’t offer good enough battery life to match that 4K display.
I regularly finished the day without any charge left in the Xperia Z5 Premium – most days it would die on me around 9pm, and that wasn’t after particularly high usage during the day.
If I’m just listening to music and keeping the connectivity options on without lighting the screen, then the battery life is about what you’d expect from a current phone – but if I do anything that involves having the screen on, it drains quite quickly.
Put through techradar’s standard 90-minute video test, the Xperia Z5 Premium came out with a disappointing 69% of battery power remaining, a drop of 31%.
For comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge+ boasts a 5.7-inch 2K display and completed the same test with a drop of 23% – and we were disappointed with that score at the time.
Add into the mix the iPhone 6S Plus, which lost 22%, and the Xperia Z5 Premium’s showing starts to look a little embarrassing.
I then ran the test again with brightness at 60%. I wouldn’t usually watch films at such a low brightness setting on the Xperia Z5 Premium, as the picture is nowhere near as vibrant, but we run this test to see how much battery life you can save by turning down the screen brightness when maximum brightness isn’t essential.
The Xperia Z5 Premium disappointed again here, coming out with 73% of its battery left for a drop of 27% – that’s a bigger drop than the Galaxy S6 Edge+ recorded in the full brightness test.
Given such poor battery performance, it’s a good job that Sony has at least included fast charging technology in the Xperia Z5 Premium.
You’ll need a special charger to be able to use this – however, you don’t get one with the phone, and we didn’t receive one with our sample handset, so we can’t comment on its efficacy yet.
It’s disappointing that a fast charger isn’t included in the box. When you’re asked to pay this much money for a phone you’d expect Sony to stretch to an accessory that’s integral to a good experience with the device.
If you want to buy the fast charger it’s called Quick Charger UCH10, and you can get it from a few sources, including Sony’s website, for £19.99 (about $30, AU$42).
According to Sony, fast charging brings your battery up to 60% in 30 minutes, and if that’s true it certainly makes up for the shortcomings of the battery, and will enable you to enjoy the 4K display without worrying about running out of juice.
Sony has also – yet again – left out wireless charging technology. This was really the time for Sony to include the technology in its phones, with charging facilities starting to appear in coffee shops, cafes and bars in many cities.
Battery life is proving to be the biggest concern for mobile users, and it’s a real disappointment that Sony didn’t go further in offering more and better charging options before amping up the screen resolution.
It just goes to heighten the suspicion that Sony has made a 4K phone simply to enjoy the bragging rights that come with having the highest-resolution screen in the mobile world.
Music, movies and gaming
There no built-in storage variants with the Xperia Z5 Premium – it comes with 32GB as standard, with microSD support for up to 200GB. This gives you up to 232GB of space, and the basic software starts eating into that fairly quickly.
When you first boot up the phone, Android takes up some 10GB, leaving you with around 20GB to play with before you’ll need a microSD card.
I found myself filling that up quite quickly with music and apps, so I’d certainly recommend getting a card – the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium can accommodate the biggest cards available, so lack of space isn’t going to be an issue.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium comes with Sony’s own Music app preinstalled, so any music you load onto the phone will play through this. The app has sections for podcasts, genres, albums and songs, and it’s easy to scroll through your tracks.
You can’t easily access Sony’s PlayStation Music service through the app any more – it’s just listed as a service at the bottom of the app screen, and boots up a separate app when you select it.
It’s the same for Spotify, or any other streaming service you’re signed up to.
The Xperia Z5 Premium also comes with Google Play Music, enabling you to download a wide variety of albums and songs.
The front-facing speakers on the Xperia Z5 Premium aren’t the best money can buy. They get the job done, but they don’t impress as much as HTC’s BoomSound speakers, for example.
There’s a separate Video app on the Xperia Z5 Premium, which comes with Sony’s branding all over it and a few video clips to get your started.
Some 4K videos are included, so you can show off that 4K screen straight out of the box, without having to shoot your own footage or download videos.
Which brings us to another issue with the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium: even though you have a gorgeous 4K screen, it’s hard to get hold of content to watch on it.
You can head to Netflix for 4K content, but this is restricted to a number of the service’s own shows, such as House of Cards or Daredevil.
There’s no specific 4K streaming service, and it would have been nice for Sony to offer a few ultra-high-definition movies on its own video service.
PlayStation Video is fine, but without that standout high-resolution content you’re not going to lure people away from streaming services, or from buying content through Google Play – and Google’s service only goes up to Full HD right now.
With a strong processor setup and 3GB of RAM, the Xperia Z5 Premium is great for gaming.
Playing through Real Racing 3 and Hearthstone were both a breeze, with none of the stuttering you can experience on many phones.
As mentioned, there’s also the option of hooking up PS4 Remote Play, which means you can enjoy your PlayStation 4 games on the phone – and performance will depend on your internet connection, obviously.
PS4 Remote Play is a great selling point for Sony’s devices, and it’s only going to get better as Sony expands the service, eventually enabling you to play games without your phone having to use the same internet connection as the console.
Here’s a look at the phones we see as being the main competition for the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium…
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+
Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge+ impressed us with its 2K 5.7-inch curved screen. It catches the eye, and it looks very different to everything else on the market.
The screen isn’t quite as good as the Xperia Z5 Premium’s, but those curved edges are truly innovative. You’re also going to get a much better battery experience with the Galaxy S6 Edge+.
Put this phone down on the table at the pub and it’ll get a lot more attention than the Xperia Z5 Premium, that’s for sure.
- Read our review of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+
Moto X Style
The Moto X Style sports a 5.7-inch 2K display, and it looks great in the hand. You can also customise the handset using the online Moto Maker tool, so you don’t have to stick to the basic design, as is the case with the Xperia Z5 Premium.
There’s a 21MP camera as well, although it’s not quite as good as the 23MP shooter on the Xperia Z5 Premium.
By far the most impressive thing about the Moto X Style is its price. You can get the 32GB version for £360 / $450 (about AU$615) – almost half the price of the Xperia Z5 Premium.
- Read our review of the Moto X Style
iPhone 6S Plus
Apple’s second phablet incorporates its new 3D Touch screen technology, which gives you different functionality depending on how hard you press.
It’s a great innovation, and offers new ways to interact with your phone – the tech hasn’t been exploited by very many apps so far, but that will change.
The 5.5-inch screen is the same size as the Xperia Z5 Premium’s, but the screen resolution is nowhere near as high, with the iPhone 6S Plus only managing 401ppi. That said, images still look great, so if you’re into iPhones then this could be the phablet for you.
- Read our review of the iPhone 6S Plus
Sony Xperia Z5
Sony’s Xperia Z5 is a great new addition to the Sony family, and gives you the impression that for once the company has stepped it up a gear and really improved its flagship phone range.
The glass back is frosted, and there are metal edges that make the design feel much more premium than previous Z-series phones.
The battery life of the Xperia Z5 is much better than the Premium version’s, but the screen display isn’t anywhere near as good, with only Full HD on offer here. But this phone is much more affordable, so don’t go for the Premium until you’ve checked out little brother.
- Read our review of the Sony Xperia Z5
Sony’s Xperia Z5 Premium is clearly an experiment with the top-end specs we’d love to see every phone include one day.
The 4K display really does deserve a round of applause – if you’d asked me 12 months ago I wouldn’t have said Sony would be the first to break the 4K barrier.
But there are still some big issues with the Xperia Z5 Premium, which mean it’s not the best phone money can buy right now.
The display technology is a step forward for the mobile phone industry. The Xperia Z5 Premium’s screen looks gorgeous, and it’s something I didn’t think we’d see for at least another year.
It might not look all that different to the 2K displays we’ve seen on a few flagship phones, but those who love to be first with the new tech will be delighted that Sony has jumped the 4K barrier and planted its flag.
The fingerprint scanner on the Xperia Z5 Premium is excellent, and I can’t think of another company that has got its security tech right so quickly; even Samsung and Apple had to have a few tries before they got it right.
PS4 Remote Play and waterproof designs aren’t a new thing for the Xperia brand, but we’ve never seen a phone this big include them.
The ability to enjoy your PlayStation 4 games on a 4K display while in a different room in your house is a great feature, and for gamers this alone is a good enough reason to buy a Sony phone.
Sony has claimed this is the best smartphone camera setup in the world. I don’t think that’s quite true, and there are some big issues with the camera, but it’s a big improvement on previous Xperia shooters, and it’s great to see Sony break new ground with this tech too.
The design of the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is pretty lacklustre. There’s nothing inspired, like some of the flourishes on the Xperia Z5 – I don’t understand why Sony didn’t decide to frost the glass on the back, as on the main flagship.
The plastic edges especially feel cheap, and a step backwards from the design of the Xperia Z5. The fact that this phone weighs so much more, and is thicker, only adds to the disappointment.
Sony’s UI isn’t anything impressive either. There’s no step towards improving it over the offering on the Xperia Z3+, and if anything it feels like there’s even more bloatware on this phone.
Heat-up issues continue to plague the Xperia Z family. The problem is nowhere near as bad on the Xperia Z5 Premium as on the Xperia Z3+, but no one wants their phone to heat up alarmingly while they’re playing a game or just watching a video.
Battery life on the Xperia Z5 Premium just isn’t good enough either. The cell isn’t that much bigger than the one in the regular-sized flagship, which is a problem given the 4K display it has to power.
A long-lasting battery is one of the main features people look for in a phone, and Sony hasn’t managed to make serious progress in this area before ploughing ahead with cutting-edge screen technology that we don’t particularly need right now.
There’s no denying that Sony was chasing headlines with the Xperia Z5 Premium. We should all applaud Sony for what is has achieved in putting a 4K display in a smartphone, but feels like this hasn’t been done with the right intentions.
Battery issues were inevitable, and I’d really hoped that Sony had a plan to improve the battery life in the Xperia Z5 Premium. Instead, Sony has just hoped its battery would be sufficient and run with it.
This suggests that the Xperia Z5 Premium is more of an experiment than an attempt at making the best phone on the market.
The general specs of the Xperia Z5 Premium do impress, though. If you can live with that below-average battery life, and don’t mind spending a bit more on the fast-charging adapter, you’ll have a fantastic experience with this phone.
Sony has proved that 4K in a phone is possible, and I look forward to the next version – we’ll hopefully be able to appreciate that display even more when some of the other issues have been ironed out.
It might not be as stylish a handset as the Xperia Z5, or as easy to hold as the Xperia Z5 Compact, but the Xperia Z5 Premium is the go-to phone for enthusiasts who want the next big thing.
It’s just a shame that it’s not a more rounded package that everyone else can get excited about.
- Read our review of the Sony Xperia Z5
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