Xperia Z Ultra review

Jordan O'Brien
November 22, 2013

The line is increasingly blurring between the definitions of phone and tablet, with the phablet form factor ever growing. It’s hard to believe that the phablets of yesteryear are now the normal sizes of today, with 5 inches and above dominating the lineup of top tier smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and LG G2. Sony’s latest phablet is hoping that people still feel that 5 inches is far too small for a smartphone, with the Xperia Z Ultra featuring a whopping 6.4-inch display.

The Xperia Z Ultra is not for the lighthearted, with the display dwarfing other phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the HTC One Max, which feature 5.7- and 5.9-inch displays respectively. Upon seeing this phone many people’s reaction is “that can’t be a phone,” but Sony is hoping that you can look past its large screen and be dazzled by the immersive display which has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, making it full HD. It’s not just about resolution with the Xperia Z Ultra either, with an almost 180 degree viewing angle — far superior to what we’ve seen on other Xperia devices, and even gives devices such as the Galaxy Note 3, which we noted for having a great display, a run for its money.

Whilst we didn’t notice any difference in terms of quality between the Xperia Z1 and the Xperia Z Ultra, it should be noted that the pixel per inch count isn’t anywhere near as high, with the Xperia Z Ultra having 341ppi, whereas the Xperia Z1 has 441ppi.

[alert type=alert-blue ]Design[/alert]

We would have much more to complain about when it comes to the display if the overall phone was made larger, but fortunately Sony has kept the bezels to a minimum, being just 2cm wider than the Xperia Z, despite the extra 1.4 inches of display. The Xperia Z Ultra is also incredibly thin, at just 6.5mm, which makes it thinner than the 7.9mm Xperia Z, and the thinnest full HD smartphone on the market. Unfortunately whilst the side bezels may have made the phone only a little bit wider than the Xperia Z, Sony has seemingly elongated the phone beyond our comfort zone, with it being a full 179mm long. Thankfully it is still lightweight at just 212 grams.

The design of the Xperia Z Ultra is extremely simple, it’s essentially a single black slab with it looking like minimal effort went into designing the phone. If we had to describe it in one word we would call it ‘industrial’, with sharp angular edges making it feel like a premium smartphone, but also making it more awkward to hold.

If you’re going to use the Xperia Z Ultra as your main smartphone then you may want to use two hands to operate it, one to grasp around the actual device, and the other to operate the screen. It is impossible to use it with just your one hand, unless of course you have giant hands. It’s also hard to get a firm grip on the device in just the one hand, something we experienced when trying to traverse a busy tube station with the device in our hands — it simply felt it was going to go flying after every bump. Of course you could just put in your pocket, which if you have deep pockets is absolutely fine, but if you’re wearing a mini skirt or anything with shallow pockets, you’ll have a much harder time.

[alert type=alert-blue ]Software[/alert]

With the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, you’ll find yourself needing a dedicated stylus to interact with the display — but Sony has done something special by allowing you to use just about any ordinary pen or pencil to draw on the screen. Whilst we were apprehensive of trying this out, given our fear of scratching the screen, we can thankfully say it works. You also have the advantage of nearly always having a pen and pencil to hand, whereas you won’t always have a stylus.

That’s not the only improvement Sony has made to the bog standard Android operating system either, with the Xperia Z Ultra running the just shy of latest version, Android 4.2.2. Sony has already promised an update to bring it bang up to date though, with Android 4.3 just around the corner, an update that should bring all new features such as autocomplete in the dial pad.

Sony, like Samsung and HTC, choose to redesign the operating system, although it’s no where near as extensive. You get some features such as settings shortcuts in the notification bar, but you’ll also have to deal with around 20 preinstalled Sony apps which we found ourselves using very rarely. Some of the apps preinstalled include one for PlayStation Mobile and a Walkman player. Of course you don’t need to use these apps, but you’ll find yourself limited on what you can uninstall.

[alert type=alert-blue ]Performance[/alert]

Under the hood of the Xperia Z Ultra is one of the most powerful processors currently on the market Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800, which you’ll also find in the Xperia Z1. That’s then paired with 2GB of RAM which makes the Xperia Z Ultra feel increidbly fast and capable of running intensive games such as Riptide GP2 without issue. Apps also opened incredibly quickly, taking just shy of one or two seconds on several occasions.

We’ve thrown quite a lot of tasks at the Xperia Z Ultra during our time with the device and have yet to see it struggle with absolutely anything, which means it’s a great gaming machine — especially thanks to its large full HD display.

Despite the large screen and powerful processing power, the Xperia Z Ultra still has impressive battery life — lasting longer than a full day even when connected to a Sony SmartWatch 2 via Bluetooth and seeing extensive use. The reason for this is the huge 3,050mAh battery that Sony has put into this phone. If you’re still not satisfied with how long the phone is lasting though, you can quite easily just turn o0n the Battery Stamina mode, which gives you control over what’s running in the background reducing the phone’s battery usage.

[alert type=alert-blue ]Camera[/alert]

Sony has kept things simple with the Xperia Z Ultra, putting an 8-megapixel snapper coupled with Sony’s Exmor RS camera sensor technology, which processes your photos to make them look even better. Unfortunately you can see some of the processing that has gone on, and it’s not as crisp as the likes of the Lumia 1020, but the Xperia Z Ultra still manages to produce some pretty decent photos — with a good amount of detail and vibrant colours.

If you’re hoping to take photos in low-light then be prepared for some grainy photos, as the Xperia Z Ultra struggles when there is a lack of light. Thanks to Sony’s exclusion of flash, you’re better off not bothering to take a low-light photo, as the quality is one of the poorest we’ve ever seen. The biggest issue seems to be with the white balance, although this setting and more can be changed in the settings, with ISO and exposure settings also changeable.

[alert type=alert-blue ]Verdict[/alert]

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a little too big for many people, it is approaching tablet size with its 6.4-inch display, but if you want a large screen phone which has a bright and vibrant display, as well as excellent processing power — the Xperia Z Ultra is our pick. Out of all the phablets currently on the market, the Xperia Z Ultra is by far the best, with powerful internals and an immersive screen. If we had to choose between the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, which is Samsung’s nearest competitor product, and the Sony Xperia Z Ultra we’d choose the Z Ultra every time. You will lose a bit of space in your pockets down to the sheer size of the device, but it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.

About the Author

Jordan O'Brien

Technology Journalist with an unhealthy obsession with trains and American TV. Attempts satire far too often. (+44) 020 7324 3502

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