Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review: Good performance – offeritems.com
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is a an expensive, no-compromise Android phone. It’s Sony’s equivalent to the iPhone 6S Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.
In terms of design, each of those phones has a stand-out feature: 3D touch in the iPhone; curved sides on the Edge. The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium vies for the spotlight with its 4K-resolution screen.
Yes, that’s right – this phone features the same resolution seen on the latest 65-inch TVs. From a pure numbers perspective, it’s dead impressive. The reality, however, is different: it’s largely pointless. Add to this a number of deficiencies elsewhere, and the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium stands little chance of outdoing rival top phones from the likes of Samsung, Apple and Google.
SONY XPERIA Z5 PREMIUM – DESIGN
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is a super-sized version of the regular Xperia Z5. In terms of build and style, the handsets look very similar.
Flat panes of glass on the front and back are held together by metal sides and plastic-like edge caps that ensure the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s glass exterior doesn’t shatter the minute it takes its first impact. What hasn’t made it across is the Z5’s frosted backplate. The one here is ultra-glossy, just like the earlier Xperia Zs.
To clarify: that’s a reflection, not a bizarre decal
The Xperia Z series has plenty of admirers, but I can’t say that I’m a fan of its design. All Xperia Z’s feel a little boxy, fundamentally as a result of their rectangular shape – and in this more sizeable handset, this boxiness is even more apparent.
It may be slim, with a footprint that competes well with its rivals, but the Xperia Z Premium feels awkward and is more of a trial for your fingers. I found both the Nexus 6P and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge slightly easier to handle, even though they sport larger 5.7-inch displays.
It isn’t only the shape that annoys either. The metal sides sit in a slightly raised position from the glass panels, and while this is sensible because it helps keep surfaces from touching the glass, the metal feels sharp. A softened or bevelled edge would have been better.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium feels expensive, but it doesn’t feel nice. While the engineering is perfectly decent, some consideration to what the handset’s frame is like to hold in the hand would have been welcome.
This isn’t something that you can appreciate from the specs alone: at 7.8mm thick and weighing 180g, the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium sounds on-par with the very best large phones, if significantly heavier than Samsung’s big phones.
The sharp feel casts a shadow on the great work that has been achieved elsewhere. For example, like previous Xperia Zs, the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is waterproof. It’s totally fuss-free waterproofing too, with no flaps on the micro-USB or headphone jacks.
However, Sony does now recommend that, even though the Xperia Z5 Premium comes with IP68 certification, you refrain from submerging the handset in water. It’s a pretty sensible reaction to the stories of other Z phones dying after being dunked, their seals having presumably failed at some point.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is still home to one rubber flap, which keeps the water out of the little plastic tray slot that holds the nano SIM and microSD slots. There’s another great little extra – expandable memory; the iPhone 6S Plus, Samsung Galaxy Edge and Nexus 6P all come without. The Z5 Premium comes with 32GB of storage as standard, so you may not even need a microSD.
SONY XPERIA Z5 PREMIUM – FINGERPRINT SCANNER
All of the above isn’t new to series, though. What does make its debut in the Xperia Z Premium, however, is the fingerprint scanner. See the big power button on the side? That’s it.
It’s an alternate take on the front and rear scanners seen on rival handsets, but the premise is much the same. Right now, its main use is for unlocking your phone quickly and easily.
Quick it is too. The Nexus 6P’s scanner is a shade more brisk, but the speed and accuracy on offer here is comparable to the scanners in both the iPhone 6S Plus and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge .
You might not be such a fan if you mainly tend to hold your phone in your left hand, of course, since your thumb will naturally be on the wrong side.
I prefer using both front and rear fingerprint scanners, as the move from scanner to screen is that bit quicker. However, it’s largely a personal thing, and the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s scanner is still an order of magnitude better than the early scanners that featured in the Samsung Galaxy S5, for example.
SONY XPERIA Z5 PREMIUM – SCREEN
Pretty much every Sony Xperia Z5 Premium feature pales in comparison to the screen in terms of its presence on the spec sheet.
Like “4K” TVs, the phone’s actual resolution is 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, known as UHD. It’s just a smidgen less wide than the DCI 4K standard used in cinemas. Anyone getting too worked up about the difference should probably relax and find a new hobby, however.
This resolution stretched across the Sony Xperia Z5’s 5 inches of screen results in an incredible pixel density of 806ppi. That’s just over double the pixel density of the iPhone 6S Plus, with four times the number of pixels across the whole screen.
It’s an amazing feat – but sadly, it’s also largely pointless. The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium actually renders at only 1080p 99% of the time, more-or-less doubling up on pixels as a 4K TV does when displaying 1080p content. True 4K images are reserved for displaying photos and 4K video.
It’s also worth examining the real limits here. For example, you can’t play YouTube’s huge wealth of 4K films because the app identifies the display as 1080p. YouTube, Netflix and so on aren’t primed to recognise when a phone is simply hiding its real resolution.
Playing 4K videos with the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is possible, but accessing them will be trickier than usual. It’s also a little amusing to note that when you’re flicking around the phone’s interface, its resolution is lower than that of the LG G4 or Samsung Galaxy S6. Phones that are generally available for hundreds of pounds less right now.
If you were hoping for 4K gaming, and 4K video streaming, then think again. It also means that there’s no benefit when using a VR app and Google Cardboard headset, for example. This is sad, since VR is pretty much the best excuse for such a high pixel density screen. If you’ve not tried it yet, even QHD phones look a little blocky when used with a VR headset.
So while the 4K aspect of the Xperia Z5 Premium’s screen is disappointing, elsewhere it performs well. This is a very vibrant-looking display; colours look vivid and intense without showing any signs of the oversaturation evident on the original Nexus 6, for example.
It really pops, helped by the good contrast and black level – for an LCD screen, at any rate. There’s no option to tone down the colours to get an sRGB-standard look similar to the Nexus 6P or top Samsung handsets, but you can tweak the white balance.
It isn’t the most user-friendly of interfaces, but it’s worth having a play. Like other Xperia handsets, the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium tends to lean towards being a little blue/cool in order to achieve an impression of higher brightness. A warm look is totally possible if that’s what you prefer.
OLED rivals such as the Edge+ and Nexus 6P seem to offer slightly better visibility outdoors. However, once you get over the virtually impact-less 4K resolution, you’ll discover that the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium really does have a decent screen.
SONY XPERIA Z5 PREMIUM – SOFTWARE AND PERFORMANCE
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium runs Android 5.1 Lollipop with the same custom interface used in the Xperia Z5 and Z5 Compact. The look is quite different to vanilla Android, but primarily because it doesn’t use the “white piece of paper” background style adopted by Google with Lollipop.
Sony style and apps are laid on pretty thick, but actually, it isn’t that invasive a UI. It doesn’t add too many ground-level functions, maintaining a fairly simple approach. For example, you won’t find whole new interface elements such as the HTC One M9’s BlinkFeed here.
Coming from the Nexus 6P, the Sony UI seems a little dated. However, with a few days’ use you’ll soon become familiar – as with all the better custom Android interfaces.
What may not find favour is the wealth of extra apps installed here. Perhaps the most important are Sony’s media apps, which let you download films and music. However, there’s nothing here that can’t be handled by Google’s own services, or any number of third-party alternatives.
The one part that is worth paying a little more attention to is Remote Play. This lets you wirelessly stream games from a PS4 to the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium using your home Wi-Fi network. It’s a great feature, although I expect that only around 5% of Xperia Z owners will actually use it with any regularity.
PS4 games aren’t exactly a dream to play on a phone screen, but you can hook up a DualShock 4 controller, making them far more appealing. Sony even makes a frame that attaches controller to phone – it’s been around for while, but should work just fine with the Premium.
While I don’t believe the software extras warrant picking the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium over a rival, its performance is very good.
It doesn’t benefit from the performance improvements brought by Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is pretty much lag-free.
Since reviewing the Xperia Z5, Sony also seems to have made an effort to resolve the overheating issue that I found so prevalent. I’ve had pretty much no trouble with the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium overheating. Sure, it becomes warm under pressure, but not when handling very light tasks.
Powering the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is the same hardware at the heart of the smaller Z5s. It uses a Snapdragon 810 CPU, an octa-core processor that’s been both widely used and reviled in 2015.
With the overheating issue under control, the Snapdragon 810 seems just fine in this phone – and it has plenty of power. All games ran without issue at their settings maxed, and in Geekbench 3, the Xperia Z5 Premium scored a solid 4,464 points.
The Xperia Z5 Premium’s performance is essentially on a par with the Xperia Z5. The difference between it and top-scoring phones such as the Galaxy S6/Note 4 is largely academic. I did notice that at times the Geekbench 3 result was a lot lower, suggesting that clever throttling of the CPU is being used to reduce overheating. It perhaps isn’t an ideal solution, but it works.
It won’t be all that long until the next generation of chipsets starts appearing, though. After all, even at the time of this review being published, we’re probably only three months or so away from the Samsung Galaxy S7’s announcement. However, the Premium’s performance won’t age too quickly.
Its solid speed is no doubt helped by the phone’s use of 1080p resolution for much of the time.
SONY XPERIA Z5 PREMIUM – CAMERA
Sony is responsible for many of the best mobile phone camera sensors, and it has kept hold of something a little special for the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium.
The Z5 Premium includes the IMX300 sensor seen on other Z5 phones. It may be listed as a 23-megapixel sensor, but be warned – for much of the time it actually takes photos at 8 megapixels. You need to switch over to 23-megapixel shooting manually, and note that when you do, you’ll be unable to use certain scene modes, including HDR.
As with the 4K screen, you may end up frustrated by the fact that the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium doesn’t really make full use of most of its hardware.
However, for the most part the camera is pretty good.
Use the default Superior Auto mode and the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium will do a fairly good job of choosing the right settings, including using an HDR-a-like mode when there’s a strong background light source. It also performs reasonably well in dark scenes.
Even in a virtually pitch-black room, the phone can brighten up the image to make objects clear. This is in contrast to other, cheaper phones that might leave the scene looking intensely dark. It rarely results in a natural-looking shot, but it’s a pretty neat party trick.
However, the quality of night shots is actually poor in this price class. I had a chance to go out shooting at night with the Z5 Premium, Nexus 6P, Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and iPhone 6S Plus, and the Z5 Premium was, by a clear margin, the worst performer.
From looking at the samples below, you may conclude that they look great. And they do. However, the level of detail visible up-close is significantly worse than OIS-equipped phones such as the Lumia 950, Edge and iPhone 6S. That’s whether you use 23-megapixel shooting or 8-megapixel shooting.
A closer look at the hardware reveals that the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium lacks optical image stabilisation, or large sensor pixels such as the Nexus 6P. As such, it generally needs to use higher ISO settings.
Night shots appear clear when viewed zoomed-out, but they don’t stand up to pixel-level scrutiny anywhere near as those taken with the Samsung Galaxy S6 family of phones, for example.
I also found that the phone’s 23-megapixel images tended to look a little scratchy and indistinct close-up, even in good lighting – which regularly destroys fine pattern detail. The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium displayed some of the ugliest noise-reduction processing I’ve seen in a top-end phone. The approach appears to be about making the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s photos clean at 8 megapixels, not at full resolution. I’d just stick to 8-megapixel shooting.
I should stress that all the criticisms I’m making are relative to its status as a top-tier mobile phone camera. In general it’s still a decent camera, offering very good detail in 8-megapixel images, superb colour, excellent contrast in most situations, and reliable metering.
Here are some shots taken with the camera:
Despite all my criticisms, it’s still a top IQ performer, especially for non pixel peepers
A few other areas where the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s camera doesn’t live up to its promises. For example: speed – the IMX300 sensor has an impressive-sounding 192 phase-detection points. Phase detection is faster than contrast detection, partly because it gets rid of the “back and forth” motion of contrast detection, which is what most phones use.
In theory that’s great. However, it doesn’t really add much here because the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium has a relatively slow camera. I found that there was a pause of half to a full second between pressing the shutter and a shot actually being taken. That’s serious lag, and it makes the camera much less fun and immediate-feeling than the best from Apple and Samsung.
It also doesn’t use phase detection all the time, despite having that huge wealth of focusing points. At times, there’s very clear focus seeking, which is an indication of the phone reverting to contrast-detection AF.
The app is a little fiddly too. Sony has just given its camera app a substantial re-vamp, with the main mode selection now living to the left of the screen. However, flicking between the modes still feels slow and awkward.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium offers many of the additional modes you get in other Z5s. This means plenty of augmented-reality nonsense, pasting 3D faces onto your own,, but no “proper” manual mode to provide control over focusing and shutter speed. There’s a mode labelled “manual”, but it’s simply a less heavy-handed Auto mode than the default one.
4K video is available, but you have to use the separate 4K mode rather than just switching to 4K capture in the default video camera section. It’s all rather bitty.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s selfie camera is nothing to get excited about either. It’s a basic 5-megapixel sensor whose photos are often pretty noisy and low on detail.
SONY XPERIA Z5 PREMIUM – BATTERY LIFE
One thing Sony Xperia Z-series phones have traditionally got right is battery life. I’ve seen an Xperia Z phone last for up to 16 hours when playing back video locally. Don’t expect that from the Xperia Z5 Premium’s 3,430mAh battery, though.
Even with the phone displaying at 1080p resolution instead of 4K, this screen seems to be a bit of a power hog. It lasts for 11 hours when playing back video, which is around 3.5 hours less than I squeezed out of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.
I did find that when not using the display as much, stamina is actually pretty good. Even after several hours of streaming Spotify and podcasts during the day, I was left with around 40% battery by bedtime.
But this will largely depend on how you use your phone. An hour of Netflix eats 18% of the battery, which is within normal limits but, as expected, not exactly impressive. And an hour of 3D gaming lops off 34%, suggesting you’ll get only around three hours’ use when really taxing the phone.
All told, though, the Xperia Z5 Premium’s stamina doesn’t reach the heights of some of Sony’s previous big-hitters.
You do get fast-charging support – although unfortunately, I didn’t get to try it out using a QuickCharge 2.0 charger. You can expect the phone to be fully charged in under two hours with one, though.
One area I haven’t yet covered is sound quality. While the headphone output on Sony’s higher-end phones is well-regarded, the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s speakers are fairly disappointing.
The handset uses a pair of front-loaded speakers, which is a good start, but the sound quality is nothing special.
Sony is falling behind here, as Apple and HTC have offered better-quality speakers for some time now, and this year’s Samsung phones are also significantly beefier-sounding.
SHOULD I BUY THE SONY XPERIA Z5 PREMIUM?
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium lays the weight of its hefty price on an ultra-high-resolution screen. And it doesn’t support the load well.
4K adds little to the experience, especially when the phone actually runs at 1080p for the majority of the time. The screen also robs the phone of the Xperia Z series’ well-regarded stamina for battery life.
Add to this a chunky, hard-edged design and a camera that doesn’t match most other top phones’ low-light photo quality and the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is hard to recommend. Most buyers would do better to check out the Nexus 6P or Samsung Galaxy S6.
|Sony Xperia Z5 Premium||Wholesale Price:$221.00|
Big, expensive and with a USP that falls flat, the Z5 Premium isn’t in the running for phone of the year.