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Sony Xperia Z Ultra Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Extremely powerful

The Bad

  • Ports under flaps
4

Why so much fuss over the Sony Xperia Z Ultra? Because it’s a beast – big, bold and beautiful.

Interestingly though, Sony is touting this thing as a large-form phone, launching alongside the flagship 5-inch Xperia Z1.

It’s very capable on paper. 6.4-inches of Full HD Triluminous OptiContrast display meet one of the thinnest bodies out there, not to mention quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 internals, Android 4.2 and waterproofing. 

Pegged as a multimedia powerhouse though, there are some key ways this thing needs wow us to pull off its scale. It has to have a jaw-dropping screen, it needs great gaming chops, not to mention easy access to plenty of eBooks and entertainment on the go. 

Most importantly though – it needs to be worth wedging into our lives – a big ask for such a beastly beauty.

6.5mm. Wow.

This is the best design we’ve seen from Sony to date.

The Xperia Z Ultra is a total novelty – bigger than any phone we’d want to use – but we still want to use it.

By coupling beautiful styling with a lithe frame and incredible build quality, Sony makes an inconvenience, instantly desirable. And did we mention it’s waterproof?

6.5mm thin, squared off corners, metal frame, the Xperia Z Ultra is a series of clean lines and refined details. These include a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top right, directly below which sits a microSD and a microSIM card slot, both under one flap. Below is a round, metal power button, underneath which sits a volume rocker.

No one likes a side-mounted headphone jack, admitedly. It didn’t affect us though and we doubt it will affect you, given the fact the Z Ultra is too big to pocket anyway. It’s best used with a Bluetooth receiver like the Sony SBH-52.

At the base of the Z Ultra is a lanyard dock and loudspeaker, while to the right is a charging dock connector and a microUSB port, the latter residing under a flap.

Ergonomically, the Xperia Z Ultra can be used in one hand, with the other swiping and tapping very comfortably. Trying to use it totally one handed is a clumsy experience, even with large digits. Does this make it a bad phone? Yes. But it doesn’t make it a bad device – far from it.

6.4-inches. Wow.

In the Xperia Z Ultra, Sony has bettered its entire back catalogue of displays including the flagship Xperia Z1. 

For starters – 6.4-inches is a perfect size to show off all those pixels. While pixel density isn’t as high as 5-inch Full HD phones, it’s still iPhone 5S beating at 344 pixels per-inch. This means everything not only looks pin sharp, the size means you will actually appreciate the detail.

Viewing pictures makes the Z Ultra look like a window into a lilliputan world, video grapple-holds you and games are complemented perfectly by the slight bezelling and light weight.

As for display quality, it’s very good. The picture doesn’t look bland or washed out, viewing angles are great and saturation is good. We would have liked a little bit more backlight oomph out of the box, but a simple toggle of Sony’s power saving display setting, “Optimised backlight” will supercharge things for a light and colour that glow and pop.

Same Sony inside, only bigger.

Running Android 4.2, the Xperia Z Ultra gives you access to the Google Play Store as well as a familiar array of home screens and menus, spread across 6.44-inches of stunning screen. It’s also operable with a pencil – taking super sensitive touch to the next level.

This pencil operation isn’t just a novelty; coupled with accurate handwriting recognition, it provides an alternative means of inputting text that works relatively well. Using apps like Sketchbook Pro and Photoshop touch benefit significantly from the more precise input a pencil delivers.

Skinned with Sony’s user interface, it’s virtually identical to the Sony Xperia Z1. This means clean icons and typefaces, a range of colour-centric themes and Sony’s Entertainment Network enhancements deeply integrated into the music and video players. The apps tray has also been updated to allow for quick uninstalling and app discovery, as illustrated above.

These media apps are all deeply integrated into Sony’s Music and Video Unlimited services, perfect for anyone with a PS3 or intent on getting a PS4.

The up scaling of the UI to accommodate for all those extra inches means you can fit up to 36 icons in a single home screen. There’s also a landscape homescreen view, blurring the UI lines between tablet and phone. 

A highpoint of the Xperia Z Ultra is the smoothness and stability of the UI. Along with the UI of the Xperia Z1, the Z Ultra packs Sony’s only silky smooth interface we’ve seen to date.

While the 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor likely has something to do with it, Sony’s efforts at optimising Android shouldn’t be overlooked, with other equally powerful phones juddering more.

Our one real criticism of the new Sony interface on the Xperia Z1 and Z Ultra would be that it isn’t particularly new. With any luck, Sony will get a little bit more radical with their next flagship.

Ultra in all areas (aside from camera)

An 8-megapixel sensor and no flash come together to deliver a very mediocre camera, considering the price of the Xperia Z Ultra.

Even in good lighting, shots from the Sony Exmor RS sensor appear fair from a distance, but gritty and processed up close. Drop the lights and noise quickly sets in. The results are good enough for Instagram filters and Facebook, but nothing too fancy.

The lack of flash ensures very low light shots are totally out of the Xperia Z Ultra’s reach, so anyone thinking about picking up the phone cum tablet needs to be okay with this – or pick up a Cybershot QX10 / 100 to go with it.

Full HD video fairs slightly better, benefiting from great digital image stabilisation, though it still buckles under the pressure of low light.

But who really cares when …

… movies, eBooks and games look this good? We don’t.

This thing isn’t a camera phone; it isn’t even a tablet, it’s a true portable media player. At 6.4-inches, the Xperia Z Ultra’s screen shows Full HD resolution off better than virtually anything else we’ve reviewed.

It does films justice, making it the perfect companion for a long plane journey or a daily commute. Thanks to the powerful processor, whether you’re flicking through PDFs or eBooks, everything renders quickly and zooming in and out of magazine pages is a breeze.

Gaming is also perfectly suited to the Xperia Z1 thanks to its light weight, comfortable amount of bezelling and stellar screen / performance combination.

The only downside to the multimedia experience is the loudspeaker. Not only is it not all that loud, it’s also very easy to cover up when holding the Z Ultra in landscape. 

Plugging in a set of cans does help make amends, with fantastic audio quality, as does the aptX support for some lossless Bluetooth audio. 

The Xperia Z Ultra also has 16GB of internal memory with optional expandability up to an additional 64GB via microSD card.

LTE, NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 etc etc 

Suffice to say, the Xperia Z Ultra offers pretty much every connection you’d expect, aside from an IR blaster. It also makes phone calls, and does a good job of it, provided you don’t mind holding a slate to your face.

This all comes together to make for one incredible piece of technology. As for what type of device it is – we’re not going to harp on trying to categorise it.

Sony combines stellar design and waterproofing with an unparalleled multimedia experience. Android and the Google Play Store ensure the Xperia Z Ultra will be a versatile gadget, and the screen and size will definitely garner attention for anyone seeking it.

This is therefore one for the gadgeteers. You will need to fit the Xperia Z Ultra into your life, and the inclusion of a smaller secondary handset wouldn’t hurt. 

If you do, you’ll get to indulge in something ingenious and novel, a multimediaphile’s dream – a gadget in the truest sense of the word.

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