Is Sony's 4K HDR phone a stroke of genius or a sign of madness?

Stunning pictures in your palm - but what’s the point?

Smartphones should push the boundaries of technology - of that there’s no doubt.

But should they do it just for the sake of doing it? As in, should Sony really stick 4K HDR in a phone just because it can - even though no-one will buy the Xperia XZ Premium?

Sure, 4K HDR will likely look astounding on a 5.5in LCD - the kind of nice that’ll have fellow commuters reaching out to touch your phablet - but its very existence raises more questions than it answers.

"Who’s it for" is the first one. The answer? Sony, probably. See, the Japanese manufacturer has lost out in a big way to Apple and Samsung over the last decade and, while it’s smartphones still sell, its numbers are a long way off its rival flagships.

Its answer is to make incredible, relatively expensive phones that few people will buy - where the price tags are justified by features that don’t actually make your everyday better.

Is 4K HDR on the XZ Premium any different?

The future of phone resolutions

Just as Sony’s Z5 Premium was the first phone to squeeze 4K into a phone, only for the world to say “OK” and wait until Samsung or Apple did the same thing a couple of years later, so it will be with 4K HDR on the XZ Premium.

4K HDR is surely the future for phones, offering both incredibly sharp screen resolutions and a vast contrast range, delivering brighter highlights and deeper, darker blacks. We first saw mobile HDR on the Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s 2K AMOLED display - and boy was it nice.

Double the resolution and it stands to reason that things will look even nicer, still. It might not match the astounding contrast and saturation of a 4K HDR TV, but 4K HDR on a smartphone is still something that’s likely to blow you away - especially compared to phones from just a year or two ago.

The thing is, Sony’s doing it with the XZ Premium feels like an exercise in achievement. An “us first”, if you like. Where the Note 7 - while expensive, and then explosive - was a phone many people bought, Sony’s high-end handsets simply don’t have that kind of pull.

Why? Probably because it feels like Sony’s done it as a favour, almost as a “here you go” that no-one really asked for. It’s the sort of smartphone you’ll see on display and want to prod and poke, before going over to the normal phones that do everyday things better.

Content to wait?

The other question, of course, is what’s the point of 4K HDR on a phone. Is there any content out there to make use of it?

Well, some. Netflix India is the first to offer mobile HDR content, while YouTube has a dedicated 4K HDR app coming soon - and it’ll definitely look good.

All the same, it definitely feels like Sony’s jumped in before anyone is ready - or, indeed, interested. The XZ Premium is a smartphone made for the people who bought the first 4K TV and downloaded MacOS before any fix updates - rather than wait for a more useable, more sensible and more reasonable solution to come along.

Should you be excited about 4K HDR on your mobile? Absolutely. Should you be excited about 4K HDR on the XZ Premium? Not unless you’re ready to buy another phone in a year when Sony undertakes it’s next expensive, future-first experiment.

Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned battery life.