How good a screen do you really need to read e-books? Ars Technica is carrying an Ars Technica UK article reviewing Sony’s newest smartphone handsets, the Z5, Z5 Compact and Z5 Premium. The 5.5” Premium sports what may be the highest-resolution screen ever put to a smartphone—a fully 4K-compatible 3840×2160 display, sporting a remarkable 806 pixels per inch.
Just to be clear, I’m typing this on a desktop-sized 1080P monitor, which means it has 1/4 the overall resolution at a lot larger size. I’m too lazy to find exactly how many inches it is and work out the precise pixel per inch count, but suffice it to say, it’s a lot less.
The Sony Z5 Premium overall has pretty decent specs, but any new phone will these days, so I’m not as concerned with those. What I am concerned with is the sublimely ridiculous idea of putting a 4K display on a 5-inch device. Home theater sites are replete with articles explaining that you don’t need a 4K television screen, because you’ll never notice the difference unless you have a spectacularly large one and plan to sit incredibly close. Of course, most people do hold their smartphones close to their face to watch movies, but how close is close enough to notice that kind of difference on a screen that small? The screen size charts in those articles don’t tend to go down to 5 inches.
What’s more, there’s not even much 4K content available if you do have one—and if there was, how would you watch it on your phone? A recent leak of a 4K Breaking Bad episode from Netflix revealed that a single episode weighs in at 18 GB—and that’s without commercials. You certainly couldn’t fit any amount of that kind of content on the Z5 Premium’s own 32 GB memory. Even if you used a micro-SD card, you might manage to hold one or two movies per card, and that’s some pretty expensive storage space at micro-SD prices.
As for streaming, there’s no way you could cram that through a cellular connection, and while WiFi might do it, you’d need to have a pretty fat pipe—which you’re not going to find at most Starbucks or McDonalds. So you’d be pretty much limited to watching 4K content at home, where you could just as easily do it on your TV instead.
That said, 806 PPI is considerably higher than the 600 dots per inch that laser printers can produce. I imagine the Android icons and apps on the Z5 Premium screen look super-sharp—though many will be designed for larger screens at lower resolutions, so it’s possible there may be a lot of teeny-tiny print to deal with. As for e-books, that is a fraction of a point there: this could well be the first color LCD screen capable of looking truly better than print. (It’ll certainly look better than an e-ink Kindle, which only has a 167 PPI display!) I’ll admit I’m rather curious to see what it would look like. Sure, it’s better-than-print resolution on a screen the size of a memo pad, but more and more people are reading e-books on phones these days, so why not?
It’s just amusing to consider that modern e-books originally got started on a device with a 160 by 160 pixel LCD display. On the Z5 Premium, that would be less than a quarter inch on a side.
The UK pricing for the Z5 Premium is expected to come in at £650 (€800), which works out to between $840 and $890 (though the pricing will probably be different if it launches in the US, given the different economy). If they can cram a screen that big into a device that small and still price it about the same as an iPhone, I suppose they might as well. It’ll certainly sell well to people who have to have the highest possible resolution on their handset, even if they don’t know what they’ll possibly do with it.