Sony's 4King with us now: Xperia Z5 mobe has UltraHD screen, cam

High-res audio too, but will users care?

Sony President Kazuo Hirai holds up the Xperia Z5
Sony President and CEO Kazuo Hirai holds up the Xperia Z5

IFA2015 Sony announced the Xperia Z5 series mobile phones at the IFA consumer electronics event in Berlin, including the first smartphone with 4K video playback and capture.

The Xperia Z5 Premium, set for release in November, has a 5.5-inch 4K UHD (3840x2160) display with 806 PPI (pixels per inch). This is accompanied by a 23MP rear camera with 4K video support. Auto focus in a claimed 0.03 seconds shortens the time between firing up the camera and taking the shot.

The operating system is Android 5.1 Lollipop, and the processor an 8-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 with an Adreno 430 GPU. There is 3GB RAM and up to 32GB flash storage, plus a microSD slot. You can unlock the phone using the fingerprint sensor, and a 3420 mAh battery gives power for up to 2 days, according to Sony.

Alongside the Xperia Z5 Premium are two other models, expected in October. The Xperia Z5 has the same processor, GPU, and camera but with a 1920x1080 display; it can still capture 4K video.

Speaking at IFA, Sony President and CEO Kazuo Hirai also talked up the audio performance of the new mobes, all of which support high resolution (high-res) audio, meaning audio at a higher resolution than the 16-bit, 44.1 kHz offered by CD.

Now with high res, audio artists can deliver their music with all the intended nuance, soulfulness, and intimate detail," said Hirai. "Recent surveys show that sound quality is one of the most valued features for digital music subscribers. People of all ages who have experienced high-res audio have told me they would never be able to go back to MP3. The convergence of mobile technology with our focus on a superior listening experience is a key differentiator for Xperia.

The Z5 series also supports DSD (direct stream digital), the same format used by Sony's SACD disks. Sony also announced new headphones and noise-cancelling headsets, which it also describes as high-res.

Sony's new Xperias look good, with their understated design. A better camera is always welcome, though whether 4K video on a 5.5-inch display has much real-world value is open to question. The specmanship question is even more to the point when it comes to audio, with the value of high-res dependent on the controversial theory that although humans cannot hear frequencies above 20 kHz or so, their presence somehow improves the listening experience.

This makes hi-res audio weak as a point of differentiation. The biggest sources of distortion in the audio chain are the transducers: the microphones used to record the music, and the loudspeakers, ear buds, or headphones used to play it back.

The broader question is whether there is too much spec-bumping and not enough innovation in Sony's new Xperia range. Perhaps so, but that does not make them bad devices, just unexciting. ®


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