Sony Xperia Z Ultra in-depth review - Sony’s first phablet sports a beautiful slimline design and gorgeous HD screen

Look and feel

As with any Sony device, the Xperia Z Ultra looks drop dead gorgeous, rocking the same bold rectangular design as other 2013 models. However, it’s also comedically huge, and not suited to pockets or tiny handbags.

 

Ease of Use

The size of the Xperia Z Ultra makes it a pain to handle with one hand, but the spacious screen makes for comfortable media enjoyment and web browsing.

 

Features

A feature-packed eight-megapixel camera is sheer Sony genius as usual, and you get full NFC and 4G support. 16GB of storage space can be bolstered by memory cards.

 

Performance

The Xperia Z Ultra boasted the fastest processor of any mobile device at the time of launch, and it’s future-proof for gamers and media fans.

 

Battery life

You’ll get a full day of use despite the enormous screen, and a respectable 5+ hours of video playback.

 Sony Xperia Z Ultra Review - Sony’s first phablet sports a beautiful slimline design and gorgeous HD screen
4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,10/11/2013 2:42:17 PM

10

out of 10

Performance

7

out of 5

Look and feel

8

out of 5

Ease of use

10

out of 5

Features

7

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Gorgeous uber-crisp screen; Sexy Sony design; Mega powerful

Cons:

Absolutely massive; No camera flash

We’ve got to admit, we’re starting to worry about the rapid growth of smartphone size. Samsung started it all with the Galaxy Note ‘phablet’ and now every manufacturer’s throwing increasingly gigantic devices our way, until soon we’ll need enormous baggy clown pants or handbags the size of Scotland just to carry our phones around. Sony is the latest culprit, and its 6.4-inch Xperia Z Ultra is a whopper, far bigger than the Galaxy Note 3 (5.7-inch) and even the Samsung Galaxy Mega (6.3-inch). That casts it hilariously close to tablet territory (the likes of Google’s Nexus tablet are seven inches).

So, is that chunky build an acceptable price to pay for a gloriously spacious screen?

 

Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

 

Slender but tough

There’s (almost literally) no getting around it, so let’s talk about size. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is enormous, one of the biggest smartphones we’ve ever held, and a common question we’ve heard from friends and strangers is, ‘is that a phone or a tablet?’ And to be honest, we have to say it’s a grey area.

Like a smartphone you can make calls without using a headset, but like a tablet you’ll look rather silly holding it up to your face. We even felt rather conspicuous pulling it out on a train or bus. The Xperia Z Ultra is probably too small to class as a tablet, which tend to be seven inches or more, but the bulky frame only slips inside the most spacious of pockets. Even with our baggy jeans, the top of the phone constantly poked out and dug into our prostate (and other parts) when we negotiated stairs. You’re best off slinging it into a bag, unless you’re a masochist.

 

Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

 

That said, we love the look of the Xperia Z Ultra. Not surprising, as it rocks the same gorgeous Sony design as previous Xperias, including our five-star favourite the Xperia Z1. It’s a rectangular beast with a smooth glass finish on both sides, and a graphite-style texture to the edges. From the rounded aluminium power button to the incredible 6.5mm-thick chassis, the Xperia Z Ultra is an all-round classy gent, coming in white, black and purple flavours. Aside from its status as a fingerprint magnet, this is a truly gorgeous handheld device.

Xperia is getting a reputation as the tough kid on the block too. Like earlier models, the Xperia Z Ultra can take a pummelling from dust with no harm done, and even survive a trip into the drink for half an hour or so (maximum depth 1.5 metres). We’re not sure it’d survive a tumble onto concrete however, and imagine it would at least pick up a few scratches.

 

Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

 

Widescreen

The 6.4-inch Triluminous screen is, for want of a better word, bloody marvellous. It’s an almost edge-to-edge display, stretching practically the full width of the phone, and the fact that the Xperia Z Ultra is so thin means that the screen seems to hover on the surface, with no layer of glass between it and your finger.

With a Full HD 1080p resolution giving 342 pixels-per-inch (ppi), the Xperia Z Ultra’s screen produces crisp and clean images despite its gargantuan size. Part of this is down to the X-Reality engine, a clever bit of software that runs behind the scenes, keeping things blur-free and pleasingly vibrant. High definition movies really do look tremendous and action scenes in particular shine, with no ghosting or other issues. The Xperia Z Ultra’s screen is also powerfully bright on the highest settings, so you won’t have any trouble seeing in harsh sunlight.

 

Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

 

While phablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 comes with an attached stylus, the Xperia Z Ultra allows you to use any third-party stylus or even a pencil to scribble on the enormous display. We tested this out using the pre-installed Sketch app and it worked a charm. You don’t quite get the same level of control as offered by Samsung’s S-Pen stylus, which records how hard you’re pressing on screen, and we still prefer having a stylus hidden in the frame for easy access.

 

Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

 

However, the flexibility offered here is fantastic (no costly drama involved with losing a stylus) and we’re impressed by the responsiveness of the Xperia Z Ultra’s screen. You can doodle using standard art apps, and can even take notes during calls, for scribbling down phone numbers, addresses and other info.

 

Sony Xperia Z Ultra reviewJust call us the 'new Van Gogh'....

 

Power horse

Considering how slim the Xperia Z Ultra’s body is, we’re impressed at how much power Sony has packed inside. The 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor is one of the most capable around, comfortably handling HD video at the same time as apps and the latest games. You can sign up for a two-year contract confident in the knowledge that this smartphone shouldn’t be out-of-date come the end of it. It does heat up slightly near the top when playing games, but nothing too worrying.

We weren’t too confident about battery life when we started using the Xperia Z Ultra, given the size and intense brightness levels of that 6.4-inch screen. Thankfully it beats the original Xperia Z’s less-than-great longevity, and will happily last a full day even when regularly played with. That’s helped by its smart stamina mode, which means practically no life is drained when the phone isn’t in use. If you want to stream movies, expect over five hours of battery life – just above average for a smartphone, so very respectable for a phablet.

 

Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

 

Big shot

We’re big fans of Xperia cameras, and the eight megapixel effort on the Xperia Z Ultra is another feature-packed gem. As usual you get the brilliant Superior Auto mode, which takes account of lighting conditions to produce the best possible shot automatically. Our daytime photos were well lit, with realistic colour reproduction. Evening and interior shots came out reasonably well too, with less graininess than expected. Autofocus is fast and photos take the moment you tap the shutter button, and you can manually focus by prodding the screen for funky up-close shots.

 

Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

 

You also get a host of other modes to play with, including Burst (takes roughly ten photos a second for as long as you hold down the shutter button, with no apparent end), Picture effect (adds a filter to make everything look animated/distorted), Sweep Panorama and of course an HD video mode, which allows you to shoot home movies and snap one-megapixel shots at the same time. Full manual controls are available if you’re feeling adventurous, plus handy features such as timers and geotagging. These features are all neatly presented in the clean and friendly interface, so you don’t feel inundated when opening the camera app. A two-megapixel front-facing camera is also pleasingly sharp, and a great way to capture the perfect pouty profile pic or natter online with mates.

Only two unfortunate omissions keep us from fully commending the Xperia Z Ultra’s camera tech. Firstly, there’s no physical shutter button, so you have to tap the screen to take a shot. Secondly, and more importantly, there’s no flash. The Superior Auto mode is decent at capturing shots in low light, but when the lights dim too far you’ll get little more than a grainy mess.

 

Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

 

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra boasts NFC to connect up with other Sony devices, including TVs, headphones and backup servers. You also get full 4G LTE support, for speedy internet browsing.  Sony has packed 16GB of storage space into the slender body, and you get a microSD memory card slot to add extra.

 

The verdict

Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra is a gorgeous multimedia device and a highly satisfying way to take in movies, games and the web on your travels. However, it’s also trapped between the realms of the smartphone and the tablet, proving rather cumbersome for carrying around, even compared to phablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. We’d recommend trying before you buy, to see if the size puts you off.