With its current flagship Z5 smartphones, Sony has taken a very clear strategy: offer a phone for every taste, with small (Z5 Compact), medium (Z5) and large (Z5 Premium) sizes.
This 5.5-inch Z5 Premium is designed to take on the likes of the iPhone 6S Plus, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note and Edge+ devices. Like its smaller siblings, it’s still a fairly frugally priced flagship, though; $1,199 nets you a 32GB phone that has a heap of bells and whistles.
It definitely feels premium in the hand, with tempered glass front and back and a polished metal frame wrapping around the outside edge. It’s not particularly light at 180g, but the iPhone 6S Plus is even worse at 192g.
Sony’s main pitch with the Premium is that it’s the world’s first 4K smartphone, with a screen resolution of 3,840 x 2,160-pixels — the same as the current range of 4K TVs in the market — which gives the screen an incredible 806 pixel-per-inch, a good 250-odd pixels above most of its competitors.
Arguably, the Z5 Premium’s best features are all ones available on the smaller Z5s: tempered glass, fingerprint sensor on the power button, fast charging, microSD slot (supporting cards up to 200GB) and a 23MP, f1/2.3 camera.
It’s also water- and dust-proof, and the USB data/charging port on the bottom is waterproof without needing a plastic flap to cover it — which is great, since on previous Z phones, the flap tended to break off from repeated use.
Calling this phone 4K is a little ingenuous. While that screen can technically display that many pixels, most of the time, Sony’s got it turned down to only 1,920 x 1,080 — the same resolution as the smaller Z5s.
The display only actually switches to 4K resolution in very specific circumstances — when showing photos or videos in Sony’s own applicable apps. To be honest, it’s hard to see the benefit that 4K brings on such a tiny screen — we had difficulty seeing any more detail on the Z5 Premium vs the Galaxy Note 5’s 2,560 x 1,440-pixel display.
We can only assume that there are speed and power-draw issues here that have made Sony take a more conservative approach — there are four times as many pixels in 4K vs 1080p, which is bound to negatively impact battery life and OS interface performance.
If you were able to use VR apps or games with a Google Cardboard headset, then that 4K res might come in handy. But Sony has locked the 4K feature down, so forget that…
The battery life was another disappointing element. When you push it, the Z5 Premium will die quicker than other flagships. It lasted just 5:12hr in PCMark for Android — 70 minutes less than the Z5 — and just 7:41hr in web video-streaming, two hours less than average.
In short, there’s too much compromise with the Z5 Premium for us to heartily recommend it. Samsung’s Note 5 or S6 Edge are still the best-in-show for big-screen phones, and the Xperia Z5 is still our recommendation if you want one of Sony’s latest.