Blame it on the likes of OnePlus, Xiaomi, Lenovo and co, but any phone that is released with a price tag in excess of Rs 30,000 these days has its task cut out in terms of justifying what it’s delivering for that much. And one of the latest to be placed in the “is it worth that much” section of the mobile consumer court is the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium, which charges a hefty Rs 62,990 (~$900) for the goodies it offers.
Now, yes, we can appreciate the irony of the situation. For, well before the likes of Apple and Samsung made their mark in the phone business, it was Sony (Sony Ericsson in those days) that used to be considered the benchmark for ‘premium’ phones. The brand’s phones always seemed to be a bit on the expensive side, but always seemed to deliver some extra design and performance bang for those extra bucks. And of course, there was the amazing assurance delivered by those three magical words (well, in the world of technology if not of sentiment): “It’s a Sony.”
Those days, alas, are long past and the Xperia Z5 Premium comes into the market at a time when rumor is rife that Sony is even thinking of exiting the phone business (something that has been denied officially, but then tongues do tend to wag). And it comes burdened with a lot of expectations, given the fact that the Xperia Z4 was not released in India at all and that the successors of the first Xperia Z (which grabbed headlines for marrying decent design with good specs with dust and water resistance) had been seen as marginal upgrades, rather than radical makeovers.
Looks a bit different
With the Xperia Z, Sony had established a sort of template for the series with a slightly boxy flat front and back look and glass on the back and front – it looked great but was a tad prone to smudges and fingerprints. Well, this time the back has a mirror finish and does not pick up smudges, even though it does let you see yourself reasonably clearly on it. The edges have been flattened just a bit more, but the sides curve out gently. We got the gold model and the sides were a tad too shiny for comfort, but all in all, the phone cut a smart figure, with its 5.5 inch display in front, even though there is a fair bit of bezel around it – at 7.8 mm, it is reasonably slim and while it is on the larger side at 154.4 mm in length, it is shorter than the 158.1 mm long iPhone 6S Plus, which has a display of the same size. At 180 grams, it is on the heavier side, but nevertheless has a very solid feel to it.
The buttons for power/display, volume and camera are on the right side of the device. And while we have no problems with the first and the third of these, we must confess that we found the placement of the volume rocker at the lower right part of the display a bit odd and difficult to reach. Using the volume buttons almost seemed to unbalance the phone in our hands. I dare say one could get used to it, but it is nevertheless an odd location. The SIM card and memory card slots are on the left of the device, the micro USB port (Sony did not go with a Type-C port for this one) on the base, and the 3.5 mm audio jack right on top. Looks wise, this is a slightly tweaked page from the book of Xperia Z design – there is no way you could confuse it with its predecessors but there is no way you could mistake it for being anything other than an Xperia Z series phone. Predictable? Somewhat. Good looking? Definitely. Premium (well, it is called that)? Well, it is going to depend on your tastes. Those liking a bit of glitter will definitely take a shine (pun intended) to the gold model. Those preferring something subtler might prefer the other shades (it is also available in chrome and black).
The spec edge – hey 4K!
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium comes packed with very good hardware – pretty much on par with what is on offer from other Android flagships in town. So you have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 3 GB RAM, 32 GB storage (expandable by 200 GB using a microSD card), a 23.0-megapixel camera on the rear, a 5.1-megapixel camera on the front, the power/display button is also a fingerprint sensor, high resolution audio and connectivity options that include 4G, NFC, GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Running on top of this is Android 5.1 with Sony’s UI on it, which is more colorful than stock Android even though it is not as comprehensively different as Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense. Ensuring that everything keeps ticking for a while is the task of a 3430 mAh battery. And in best Xperia Z series tradition, the Z5 Premium too is dust and waterproof.
Yes, we left the best for last – that display. The 5.5 inch display is the first with a 4K resolution that we have seen on a smartphone – with a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels crammed into that display, one ends up getting a staggering pixel density of 806 ppi. That is a resolution far higher than what you would get on most televisions and computers. For instance, even the MacBook Pro with a Retina display has a resolution of 2880 x 1800. And the dazzling display of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 was a 2560 x 1440 one with a pixel density of 518 ppi. There’s no dodging it – in terms of sheer spec muscle, this is the best display we have ever seen on a phone. And does more than anything else to justify the “Premium” tag slapped on to the device’s name.
A killer proposition?
In terms of performance, the Xperia Z5 Premium certain delivers a performance worthy of the hardware within. Those specs mean that the phone can pretty much handle any app or game around on Google Play with a degree of ease. The display is one of the best we have seen on a handset and is great for reading (oh those sharp fonts), playing games and watching films. Sound quality is very good too, especially on headphones (we wish the loudspeaker mode was a touch louder, though). We do have mixed feelings about the 23-megapixel camera, though – yes, it did take some very good photographs but we found that it tended to over saturate colors on many occasions, resulting in rather too vivid pinks and blues. No, it does not win back Sony the title of “best camera phone” – it is a clear notch below the likes of the Galaxy S6 Edge, the LG G4 and the utterly consistent iPhone 6S Plus – but yes, it is a very good camera, and Sony as usual has thrown in a number of apps to allow users to get more out of it, from basic edits to adding objects to your shots. Yes, the heating issues that plagued the Xperia Z5 (a trait of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chip within, we suspect) do dog it as well, especially if you take plenty of pictures or play a high-end game for a while. Interestingly, it did not heat as much when we were watching 4K videos on it – and just for the record, 4K and even full HD video looks brilliant on that display.
The problem is that while it does look brilliant, 4K content does not look too different from the quad HD or even full HD content that we have seen on other powerfully specked phones. For instance, the display of the Xperia Z5 Premium should have blown away the likes of the OnePlus 2 and the iPhone 6S Plus but that, alas, is not the case. Yes, when you do look carefully, you will notice the slightly richer colors and detail on the display of the Z5 Premium, but you do need to look out for the differences. We showed a film on the display of the Z5 Premium and one the OnePlus 2 to a number of people and all – ALL – could not spot any discernible difference.
And it is this “lack of obvious superiority” that hurts the prospects of the Z5 Premium. For while there is no doubt that the display is technologically the best that is there on any phone out there at the moment, its superiority is not immediately apparent. The absence of apps that make the most of that magnificent display also works against it – if all you are doing is browsing the Web, checking mail and looking up Facebook and Twitter, you will be hard pressed to notice that the display you are looking at is special.
Battery life really depends on your multimedia use. If you go easy on the photography and gaming front, you will see off a day and even more of use. Push it in those departments and we would advise you to not drift too far from those power outlets or keep a power bank handy.
P for Premium, P for Pricey!
All of which makes the Xperia Z5 Premium one of those products whose impact is likely to be felt more in history books than in the market place. Ten years down the line, people might remember it as the first smartphone with a 4K display, but in the current market scenario, where it is possible to get comparable hardware (barring that display) for less than half its price, it has its work well and truly cut out against some very formidable opposition. Yes, it is well designed (that supremely eccentric volume key apart) has a display that cannot be matched on paper, but then there are other devices that will claim to trump it in the areas of camera, storage and RAM, and in the case of the (very good) Galaxy Note 5, even in terms of added functionality – that S-Pen stylus does stick out more prominently than the 4K display. Truth be told, we think that for most general high-end smartphone users, the water and dust resistance of the Z5 Premium will count for more than the display, the way matters stand today.
So should you be investing in the Xperia Z5 Premium? Well, definitely, if you are one of those people who are fanatical about video quality and want nothing but the best in that department. But otherwise? Well, while the Z5 Premium Dual does turn in a very good performance, we must confess that it does not really stand out from some very tough competition. And at its price of Rs 62,990, there are some very powerful alternatives available, including the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge, LG G4 and the iPhones. The Z5 Premium comfortably holds its own against them – and more than matches them – when it comes to display, but step away from the 4K, and the battle gets tougher. It is a tough being a high-end phone these days…