The Xperia Z5 Premium proves that Sony can let its hair down. Does this wild child impress enough to warrant its hefty price tag?
I’ve made little effort to hide my advocacy for Sony’s mobile phones. I’ve long appreciated the company’s simple yet beautiful design, Omnibalance design language, camera smarts, and perhaps, most importantly, the firm’s respect for Android with its lightweight skin. It’s greatly entertaining, then, to have a device in my hands that flies in the face of all of that with the Xperia Z5 Premium.
Previously, I likened the standard Xperia Z5 to a gentleman rockstar; akin to one of those musicians with the rarest of twin attributes; talent and humility. I stand by that. The Z5, despite its flaws, is one of my favourite additions to the Android market despite the fact that Sony has supplanted the Z range by the newer X series. Read: Sony Xperia Z5 Review: The gentleman rockstar
There was something serene, almost tranquil about the Z5; there was no maverick fare present, but enough hard-hitting chords to form a pleasant power ballad. Where the Z5 required fluidity, there was legato, and where there needed to be enough excitement, there was a staccato jump aplenty.
Now, let’s throw all of that aside, because today we’re dealing with something entirely different. This isn’t a refined affair for the pure hearted, nor in fact is it a smartphone I imagine many people will end up buying. We’re talking about the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium, and this is Sony’s wild side.
I’m almost refreshed to find Sony has one.
Many of Sony’s previous releases have been largely iterative, and this, in some ways, falls prone to that. In fact, there’s little I feel I can say about the Z5 Premium in technical terms that I haven’t already expressed in my standard Z5 review.
However, this isn’t just a large Sony Xperia Z5. Don’t make that mistake. The Xperia Z5 Premium is simply enormous; clocking in a chunky form factor with glossy feeling edges. Its back is as smooth as marble, its front display as bright as Gondor’s call for aid in The Return of the King.
Whereas the standard Xperia Z5 is a smooth affair all-round, Sony wants you to know that if you bear the Z5 Premium within your hands, you’re holding your money’s worth in smartphone gold.
To this end, the device’s back panel sits an uncomfortable millimetre or so beneath the depth of its sides; as a result, you feel less like you’re holding a smartphone and more like you’re holding the frame of Liberty Leading The People.
The same 23-megapixel camera as present on the standard Z5 reports for duty here, and is neatly tucked in the top left corner. On the left side panel (facing the front screen) is a SIM and MicroSD tray, and on the right, well, is a rockstar affair.
Why do I say this? Well, simply put, Sony’s Omnibalance design gives your thumb the gymnastic skills of Angus Young shredding guitar across the stage. From the bottom up – and in incredibly close proximity – is the camera shutter bottom, volume rocker, and finally, the power button and fingerprint scanner.
While I can appreciate the desire to keep things close at hand for those will shorter fingers, the placement of buttons here simply means you’ll either have to have digits make of elastic, a nonexistent palm, or live in perennial frustration. Why Sony couldn’t make better use of the Z5 Premium’s long, near-6″ side panel, I’ve no idea.
The top panel sports a lonely audio jack port, while the bottom sports a Micro USB port. Sony’s decision not to go with USB Type C is interesting here, considering the quick charging benefits it could bring considering that the Z5 Premium is tasked with an almighty duty to balance power.
With a 5.5“³ 4K display with a pixel density of 806ppi, 3GBs of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, and a Snapdragon 810 chipset, the Xperia Z5 is built for power.
Speaking of power, let’s get down to it, then – the main attraction of the Xperia Z5 Premium is, of course, its 4K screen.
What not a great many people are aware of is that Sony was the first manufacturer to set the precedent of including a 1080p display on a mobile device – a standard which is commonplace today. With the Z5 Premium, Sony hopes to set a similar standard with a 4K display.
Displays have long been an issue of contention in the mobile industry; Apple famously touts its Retina displays at exactly the precipice of what the human eye can detect; a threshold above what 4K can be shown as on a mobile device. Does the Xperia Z5 Premium offer any significant heft in this regard?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, to the fact that should you wrap your hands around this device, you’ll be using the brightest screen ever to grace (or is that burn?) my eyes.
No, to the fact that there’s little other means to detect you’re actually using a 4K screen. Sure, content may appear incrementally – almost minutely – sharper, though on a system level the Xperia Z5 Premium feels little different than from its standard forebear. Content shines, but don’t we spend more time navigating menus and home screens on our phones than we do actually watching video?
Whereas the Xperia Z5 ran with little to no incident, the Z5 Premium is an altogether different beast in the sense that it has a whopping screen to power. Across the system, subtle lag and hindrances are present that detracts from the overall sheen and lustre I’ve been spoilt to have experienced on previous Sony devices.
I still feel Sony‘s UI is by far one of the most graceful takes on Android, though this time around, it lacks the same fluidity.
Sony have long touted their immense commitment to battery life with the Z series, and one can seldom go wrong in purchasing a Sony device in that regard.
The Z5 Premium arrives with the same promise, then, that its 4K display won’t substantially decrease its battery life.
In fairness, that’s true, so long as you keep the device’s screen powered off. Running at full or even full minimal tilt, the Z5 Premium doesn’t bear the same stamina, and quickly drains out after a day.
As I said of the standard Xperia Z5, Sony’s commitment to imaging quality remains undoubtable with the Z5 Premium. Of special emphasis this time around is Sony’s BIONZ image processing technology, which offers crisper, tonally balanced images.
This isn’t the best option for low light photography, but Sony’s post-processing enhancements do a magnificent job of not only balancing exposure, but further, colour. In fact, this is one of the few devices I’d posit takes better pictures than your eyes can perceive.
The front-facing camera is well-detailed and is slightly more accommodating in low light, but is prone to overexposing and blowing out certain warm colours.
I’d like to take this opportunity to refer to the conclusion of my Xperia Z5 review, in which I said that:
My largest gripe with the Z5, to return to the rockstar analogy, is that the Z5 is far too great a gentleman in an arena that at the moment requires the energy and voracity of a punk band. Everything about the Z5 ““ despite Sony‘s expensive Bond branding campaign ““ is understated, simple and elegant.
I’m most grateful I wrote that paragraph, because now I have the opportunity to write a love letter in back in turn.
Where I said previously that “Sony is a company that in 2016 can‘t afford to either play nice or conservatively”, this is perhaps a magnificent example of being careful of what you wish for.
The Xperia Z5 Premium is a wild child device with a large bag of tricks which the staple reliability of Sony’s Z range ends up suffering for. Whereas the standard Z5 is smart and sophisticated, the Z5 Premium lets its hair down in many unsavoury areas. In many ways, this is a great advert for the original Z5, in the way of the old mantra: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
For a smartphone that retails (roughly) for R13,000 ZAR, this is a manic proposition best aimed at those who want to stand out, but don’t feel like carrying around the boardroom weight of the BlackBerry Priv.
The standard Xperia Z5, as I previously said, is a great phone, and I heartily recommend that anyone interested in Sony’s lineup take a close look at it. However, the Z5 Premium feels akin to the speed metal days of the late 1970s and 80s: a better flash in the pan than a long-term contender.
I love this device, in an unorthodox way. It’s manic, mad, and the wild child of the Sony family. Were someone to present it on a silver platter to me, I’d actually snap it up in a heartbeat. But for the everyday consumer, this is a mixed effort. Read: Sony Xperia M5 Review: The mid-range King or Jester?
To bring things full circle, the Xperia Z5 Premium is a breakneck tour of a newly-famous musician. The songs are new but familiar, and the performance wild and experimental. Where we’d normally like to see some semblance of conventionality, we only find – for better or worse – disruption. Score: 6/10
What are your thoughts on our Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review? Could you see yourself buying this hefty smartphone? Be sure to let us know your opinion in the comments below!
Follow Bryan Smith on Twitter: @bryansmithSA