With no fewer than 30 devices in the Xperia smartphone range, Sony certainly isn't shy about releasing a wide variety of Android devices. This year's flagship Xperia Z competes well with heavyweights from Samsung, HTC, and Nokia, while other phones like the Xperia SP and Xperia E offer consumers options in the lower end of the market. And let's not forget tablets like the Xperia Tablet Z, which has been praised by many for its sleek design and water resistance.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra – $ 679 (Unlocked)
- 6.4 inch LCD display 1920 x 1080 (344 PPI)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset
- 2.2 GHz quad core CPU, Adreno 330 GPU, 2 GB RAM
- 16 GB internal memory, microSD slot
- 8 MP camera, Exmor RS sensor, f / 2.4 lens, 1080p video
- IP55 / 58 waterproof
- 3,050 mAh, 11.6 Wh battery
- LTE, Wi-Fi AC / A / B / G / N, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
- Android 4.2 "Jelly Bean"
- 212 grams, 6.5 mm thick
Nothing Sony has released so far can compare to the Xperia Z Ultra.
For the first time, the Japanese company has released a phablet that really crosses the line between high-end smartphones and small tablets. A gigantic 6.4-inch display and a powerful Snapdragon 800 processor offer a list of the top-end specs in a case that is easily the largest, but also the slimmest, I've ever seen.
The phone isn't alone in the large display market, however, and it competes against a seasoned competitor in the Galaxy Note. A new version will be released in just a few weeks.
Is the Z Ultra a worthy competitor? Or is this device just too impractical for everyday use?
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The Sony Xperia Z Ultra device used in this test was kindly provided by MobiCity. Check out the latest smartphones that are unlocked and without a contract.
If I had to describe the Xperia Z Ultra in two words, it would be “wonderfully massive”. On the one hand, Sony has developed an amazingly beautiful smartphone that combines a slim design with high-quality materials. On the other hand, the device is ridiculously large, pushing the boundaries of a phone and making it difficult to use.
But I'll start with what I like about the Ultra. The entire build of the phone is minimalist, sleek, and responsive, which makes it perhaps the best Sony design to date.
From left to right: Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, Sony Xperia Z Ultra, Nexus 7 (2013)
At just 6.5mm thick, the phone feels very comfortable to hold and while it's only a few millimeters thinner than a phone like the Galaxy S4, there seems to be a big difference. Sony used glass for both the front and the back of the phone, which improves the overall build quality but can also make it a sizable fingerprint magnet.
The model I received for review was jet black. Thanks to Sony's efforts to hide elements such as sensors and speakers, the clear design looks undeniably classy and high-quality. The front speaker and microphone are held in small lines at the top and bottom, while the main speaker is just another line at the bottom. Branding is also kept to a minimum as some Sony logos, the NFC logo, and the Xperia logo are scattered across the otherwise bare design.
At the edges on the top left there is a concealed micro-USB port and a dock port halfway up. While the connector is magnetic, it's strange that it doesn't go flush with the edge. Instead, you get a small burr that can be uncomfortable when you hold the phone normally. It doesn't quite fit the design either: when I took the device out of the box for the first time, I thought that the volume rocker was missing.
On the right side are the remaining buttons and ports, including the exposed 3.5mm headphone jack, covered microSD and micro SIM slots, the small power button, and the volume rocker. Although the power button is relatively small, it's in the perfect spot as it usually falls exactly where your fingers are holding the device.
Despite the appeal associated with the sleek, slate-like design, I'm a little concerned about its strength. Sony claims that the phone is "extremely robust", but has a small amount of flex both lengthways and diagonally, which stresses the large panes of glass on both sides. Unlike the solid Xperia Z or HTC One, there is a chance the Z Ultra could crack or tear under the wrong circumstances, e.g. B. if you accidentally sit on it or bend it in your pockets. Sony's decision to avoid significant gain has kept the device relatively light for its size, which improves its portability.
While the phone's strength is a little questionable, clumsy people will be happy to know that the phone is waterproof up to 1.5 meters and protected against low pressure water currents for 30 minutes. Sony coated and sealed the Xperia Z Ultra to achieve IP55 and IP58 protection. This is also one of the reasons the device has flaps that cover all ports except the 3.5mm headphone jack. While the phone is not protected against salt water, this IP rating in theory means that if you wish, you are welcome to use it in a swimming pool.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to operate the capacitive touchscreen while the phone is submerged or partially submerged in water. This limits the usefulness of the water resistance as you cannot use the camera underwater or any other function of the phone. For example, the only real benefit of IP55 / 58 is the protection against accidental water spills or the phone falling into your bathroom. This makes the feature more of a minor asset than a major selling point.
The biggest annoyance about this phone is undoubtedly its size: it's inconvenient, unnecessary, and sometimes downright frustrating to use. The Ultra is limited to two-handed operation most of the time, as you'll be in good luck managing the massive keyboard or notification area with one hand. Often times, the phone is awkward to hold and manage because of its large width, and the 5mm bezel on either side of the mammoth display doesn't help in any way. It takes practice to manage the phone in one hand without fumbling it, and that's not a good thing.
Even more worrying is the phone's 180mm vertical height with a 17mm bezel above and below the display. The unnecessarily large vertical bezel poses a lot of problems when the device is in your pocket. The first time I checked a smartphone, I was physically restricted in everyday activities because I was carrying the Z Ultra. Even when I wore jeans with pockets deep enough to hold the entire device, I was prevented from putting on shoes that were restricted when climbing stairs and uncomfortable when sitting. It gets worse when you don't have pants that can hold the entire device – a situation that is quite likely – because they stick out and cause all sorts of nuisances.
I am stuck in an unusual situation with the Xperia Z Ultra. I love the sleek, minimalist design and premium construction, but I also hate how impractical it can be in so many circumstances. If only Sony kept the display at 6 inches or less, because if it did, we might have a real winner on our hands.
Display: A full 6.4-inch
The Xperia Z Ultra's biggest selling point is its massive 6.4-inch 1080p display, which is perfect for content consumption. Sony hasn't specified exactly what technology is used in this display, but my instincts tell me it's a larger version of the E-IPS TFT LCD panel used on the Xperia Z. E-IPS is essentially a low-cost version of full-IPS panels with reduced viewing angles, but largely the same color output and clarity as you'd expect from a high-end display. At 1920 x 1080 this display comes with a pixel density of 344 pixels per inch (PPI).
Sony likes to use a lot of marketing terms like "Triluminous Display with X-Reality", "OptiContrast Panel" and "Mobile Bravia Engine 2" to describe the display of the Z Ultra. In fact, these only relate to a number of basic functions of the display and in all fairness Sony doesn't have to use such jargon as the display is very good.
Although you get a screen area of 113 cm² (compared to 69 cm² on the 5-inch display of the Galaxy S4), the high resolution still makes the panel very sharp. It's maybe only 334 PPI, which is low compared to the 450+ we see on the latest high-end devices, but the text looks amazing and you can fit plenty of it on the Z Ultra's display, while it still remains legible. Thanks to the combination of high resolution and gigantic size, the pictures look fantastic.
Often times, the rendered UI elements don't do the ad justice, as I've found a number of applications – including those provided on the phone – not delivering 1080p assets. It's an unfortunate situation when you have such a beautifully large display, and it's really only the first time I've noticed a lack of 1080p elements, but it's something that hopefully will resolve on its own over time .
The Xperia Z Ultra's display is by far best used for movies, pictures, and games. There is simply no other device that offers a high quality video experience and still fits (almost) in your pocket. I was even surprised at how well the Bravia Engine 2 (a software display optimizer for pictures and videos) works, popping colors a bit more than usual. And let's not forget about gaming, which is downright amazing on this large, high-density panel.
The color rendering of the e-IPS is not as good as that of the Super AMOLED of the Galaxy S4 and especially the Super LCD 3 of the phenomenal HTC One, but it is still very attractive. The contrast is very good, as is the white values, although, like the Xperia Z, there are no viewing angles. You want to look directly at this phone from the front or it will turn gray slightly, but luckily this isn't a huge problem.
I was impressed with the brightness and readability of the Z Ultra display outdoors, which is undoubtedly enhanced by Sony's "OptiContrast" panel, which essentially eliminates the gaps between the glass and the display. The maximum brightness is sufficient to view the display in full sunlight and I have found that the automatic brightness will adequately select the appropriate brightness based on the ambient light. Of course, it's best to keep the brightness to a minimum, as high backlighting can drain your battery significantly thanks to this huge display. something I'll explain in more detail in the battery life section of this review.
Aside from the display itself, the Xperia Z Ultra has an interesting touchscreen feature that lets you use the phone's display with virtually any conductive material, including pens. While the phone doesn't have a pen or pen slot in the case (which some may consider a disadvantage), a pencil is a really good replacement and offers surprisingly quick and accurate input. I also found the digitizer to work well with third-party pens (excluding plastic pens for resistive touchscreens) and essentially metal, although ballpoint pens typically don't work due to the insulating nature of pen ink.
If you are worried about scratching the display with a metal pen substitute or pencil, then you shouldn't, as the Gorilla Glass 3 is extremely sturdy and resistant to marking. If you use a pencil on the Z Ultra, some graphite will build up on the glass. If you wipe the screen like removing fingerprints, all traces of pencil contact will be removed. Same goes for pen ink if you can find a pen that works well with the touchscreen.
The ability to use essentially any pen or pencil with the Xperia Z Ultra is great because it lets you bring what you find most convenient in everyday use. However, a direct comparison of this solution with the Samsung Galaxy Note II shows some disadvantages. A pen is generally more comfortable to use than the Galaxy Note's small pen. However, it lacks the additional button that can be useful for certain tasks (e.g. cropping screenshots). There is also no hover mode with the Z Ultra that gives you guidance on where to position the pen above the display, which is helpful when sketching charts.
Overall, however, I was impressed with the Xperia Z Ultra's display, which offers a substantial amount of screen real estate thanks to a relatively high quality panel. I was surprised at how smooth it was to use a pen on the screen to note and navigate, and the automatic brightness is a standout feature in managing the brightness levels. It's just a little unfortunate that when it's so good for things like watching movies and mobile games, the screen size is so cumbersome in some situations.