Sony Xperia Z Ultra review (video)

August 14, 2013
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sony xperia z ultra aa design standing

There’s no question about it – the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is one might impressive ‘smartphone’, though some may consider the 6.4-inch display a tad too large. However, that doesn’t stop the Z Ultra from being a really nice and slick device.

One of the most impressive things about this handset is that Sony opted for the Snapdragon 800 processor over the Snapdragon 600 we’ve been seeing in most flagship devices launched this year. How does the Xperia Z Ultra stand up against the competition, though? Find out in our review!

Specs

  • Colors: Black, white, purple
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 2.2GHz quad-core CPU
  • Chipset: Qualcomm MSM8274 or MSM8974 Snapdragon 800
  • CPU: Quad-core 2.2 GHz Krait 400
  • GPU: Adreno 330
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Dimensions: 179.4 x 92.2 x 6.5 mm
  • Weight: 212 grams
  • OS: Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
  • Cameras: 8MP rear, 2MP front – no flash
  • Display: 6.44-inch 1920×1080 TRILUMINOS display for mobile, touch panel cover glass with Super Hard Coat ASF
  • Storage: 16 GB (up to 11 GB user-accessible memory), microSD expandability up to 64GB SDXC
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth v4.0 with A2DP, NFC, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot
  • Networks: UMTS HSPA+ 900 (Band VIII), 2100 (Band I) MHz, 850 (Band V), 1900 (Band II), 1700 (Band IV), GSM GPRS/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz, 4G LTE
  • Battery: Non-removable Li-Ion 3050 mAh battery
  • Waterproofing and dust resistance: IP55/IP58-rated

Design

sony xperia z ultra aa design

Put frankly, Sony’s Xperia phones look really stylish, and the company seems to have found its groove for its Xperia lineup, as the general design elements remain the same. It’s a pretty sweet looking theme among these devices. That said, and putting the size aside for now, we see elements of the Sony Xperia Z in its rigid corners. As you can see, the entire front is made of the screen, and the back has the standard ‘Xperia’ logo with the 8-megapixel camera in the top corner.

sony xperia z ultra aa stock (15)

The button layout is standard for Xperia devices — big, silver power button atop the volume rockers, which are positioned right where your thumb would land. As we’ve all come to expect with Sony phones, the IP certification means that every port is covered with a small piece of rubberized plastic, effectively making the device dust-proof, and water resistant. And for anyone that’s ever lost a smartphone to a toilet or any of the other myriad water-based opportunities, this should certainly come as good news. Why can’t more smartphone manufacturers do this?

sony xperia z ultra aa stock (6)

I did see a problem with the SIM and microSD card slot cover — no matter how much I tried to get it to feel secure, it just didn’t. Finally, after exerting a bit more effort, I was able to make it completely secure and flat with the rest of the side, instilling more confidence in the device’s resilience.

sony xperia z ultra aa design in hand

Nonetheless, the Xperia Z Ultra is one of the most attractive phones ever. The black slate design is in full force here, even with this white edition. At 6.5mm thin and 212 grams light, the Z Ultra is a featherweight of a phone that feels quite light and svelte, despite being absolutely massive. 

sony xperia z ultra aa stock (2)

Sony has always had a knack for making sleek and somewhat futuristic looking devices, and the Z Ultra is yet another testament to that. In the hand the Xperia Z Ultra is a tablet, especially when holding it in landscape — there’s no other way around it. The Xperia Z Ultra is simultaneously the biggest phone and at the same time, the smallest tablet. That said, using the device in a single hand can be difficult, but it’s certainly possible.

Turning the phone on its side and working landscape gives you a much more natural feeling since the bezels on the top and bottom are large enough for thumbs. Ease of use in landscape makes the Xperia Z Ultra feel good and make it quite like a personal assistant in that regard.

sony xperia z ultra aa design in pocket

As a phone this is far from an easy thing to bring around. While thin enough to fit in most pockets, it is so tall that it will stick right out. Then, there’s the fear that any awkward tilts or bends will snap it in two. It’s not that fragile, by any means, but you can’t help but feel that way with such a tall and thin device.

Attractive, huge, practical one day, fun another, and then just plain odd to handle yet another day, there is only one way to describe this monster. It’s altogether the toy we dreamed of as kids, but then often think of as overkill as adults. Luckily it manages to please both those sides in all of us.

Display

sony xperia z ultra aa display specs

Coming in at a whopping 6.4-inches, the Xperia Z Ultra’s display is one of the largest you’ll ever see, on a, er, smartphone. While some displays (Nexus 10, Sony Xperia Tablet Z) are surpassing that 1080p resolution, the Xperia Z Ultra stuck with the tried and true. Sporting 1080p resolution, it features 334 pixels per inch. It’s definitely one of the most impressive with its Triluminos feature and the X Reality engine.

sony xperia z ultra aa display text

Display wise, the Xperia Z Ultra is a great improvement over the Xperia Z. Speaking of the Xperia Z, if you remember, the viewing angles weren’t the best, but in the Xperia Z Ultra, they’re at least decent. The enhancements bring a good level of contrast among the colors, too.

sony xperia z ultra aa in hand front

Watching videos makes you feel like you’re holding a small Sony BRAVIA TV. In broad daylight, however, the brightness leaves something to be desired. Ultimately, it’s a screen made for mostly indoor usage, partially due to its lack of true brightness, but also because of its sheer size. When it is done right, however, this is a really fun screen to use.

sony xperia z ultra aa display key

The other enhancement to this screen is its ability to register touches from a myriad of metal surfaces. This is most practical with, say, the back of a pen, perhaps the tip of a pencil, a key, a headphone plug, the corner of your sunglasses…

Performance

sony xperia z ultra performance specs

Probably the most important part of the Xperia Z Ultra is the performance. No, we’re not looking at the S4 Pro packaged into the Xperia Z or the Snapdragon 600 found in most 2013 flagships. In the Xperia Ultra Z, we have the top dog of mobile processing — the Snapdragon 800. Clocked in at a impressive 2.2GHz, this package is backed by the Adreno 330 and the standard 2GB of RAM.

sony xperia z ultra aa antutu

As you might expect with such impressive specs, scores were incredibly high in AnTuTu, and Epic Citadel flowed as beautifully as I’ve ever seen. I don’t even have to mention how fast and easy it is to fly through the Xperia Z Ultra’s interface. Multitasking with Small Apps is even more impressive.

Hardware

sony xperia z ultra aa hardware

Looking at the Xperia Z Ultra’s hardware, it has 16GB of onboard memory along with a microSD slot to allow yourself more storage space. As we mentioned earlier, the Xperia Z Ultra has IP-58 certifications for water and dust resistance.

As far as sensors go, the Xperia Z Ultra actually falls a bit behind the competition with the lack of an IR Blaster. So much for controlling things in your living room with such an advanced handset. A shame, really, but not necessarily a feature that many users will take advantage of.

Furthermore, various versions of the Xperia Z Ultra are available for various networks and LTE connectivity, so be sure of what you’re getting for your respective network.

Battery

sony xperia z ultra aa battery

A very thin 3,050 mAh battery is packaged inside the Xperia Z Ultra. With such a large capacity, it’s supposed to get this incredibly large phone through an entire day of work and play, and it seems successful at doing just that.

sony xperia z ultra aa battery power saving

In my battery tests, I watched a couple of episodes of Top Gear — that’s two hours of high quality programming — and after 2 hours I got to 70%. That would put the battery in straight media consumption crack up to 7 hours. In a full day’s work, the good standby time and power saving features help the phone get through that full day you need. If you use it like a tablet with a lot of continuous usage, you’ll get tablet-like longevity.

If you use it less intensively and more like a phone, then you’ll get more out of it.

Camera

sony xperia z ultra aa camera

Pretty much every tablet we’ve seen, the Xperia Z Ultra’s camera does not include a flash diode and that usually alludes to its quality. In the app, things remain largely the same as in previous Xperia phones — you get the Superior Auto that hearkens back to Cybershot days and does a good job getting the right settings for your shot.

sony xperia z ultra aa camera app modes

 

Included are a number of scenes for pinpointing the best shot settings, sweeping panorama, and some picture effects. Other than that it’s more of what we’ve come to expect from a smartphone camera, though with a device this big and advanced, it would’ve been nice to see a 13-megapixel camera instead of the 8MP performer.

sony xperia z ultra aa camera 1

The camera, like all top performing 8MP+ on the market, does very well in brightly lit environments. It also has an affinity for the macro photo takers in all of us, as evidenced by the photo above.

sony xperia z ultra aa camera 2

As for picture quality, it’s good enough for a device you might not be taking many pictures with. Without a flash unit, you won’t be taking many low light shots, but luckily, good lighting makes for nice pictures out of the Z Ultra. While this phone manages to be just small enough to not look as weird as a tablet when taking pictures, it certainly toes the line. And, its quality makes it a camera backup rather than a replacement shooter.

sony xperia z ultra aa camera 3

Software

sony xperia z ultra aa software

Sony’s Xperia UI hasn’t changed a whole lot since the Xperia Z, but that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because the Xperia Z came out not too long ago. Sony keeps their interface pretty simplistic, only with an Ice Cream Sandwich theme, despite running Android 4.2. One notable edition I found in the Xperia Z Ultra is a built in way of connecting your PlayStation 3 controller to the phone. It’s actually a pretty awesome feature, if you own a PlayStation 3 controller. ROM’s anyone?

sony xperia z ultra aa software ps3

Otherwise, you get pretty typical elements in much darker and less colorful tones. You get the different Sony apps for media consumption, like the Gallery and the Walkman. And finally the Small Apps, small overlays that give you quick access to little apps for multitasking.

Video review

Price

This is the price for the Sony Xperia Z Ultra - unlocked.

This is the price for the Sony Xperia Z Ultra – unlocked.

A price for the Xperia Z Ultra in the U.S. hasn’t been revealed just yet, but it does sell for a whopping £800 over on Amazon U.K. Convert that to USD and you’ve got one of the most expensive phones ever. In reality, the American price should actually only be $800USD, but general release info is still vague.

And so, there you have it. If you’ve noticed me go back and forth in this review, that’s really just the nature of this device. At one point it’s brilliantly fun and the size is great for putting the world at your fingertips. In other instances it’s just not a practical device unless it’s used primarily in your office or home.

sony xperia z ultra aa stock (1)

All at once this is a phone that appeals to the toy driven kid in all of us, the spec hungry, and the part of us that is, for all intents and purposes, curious. And when you finally get your hands on the device you will either find a lot to love about it, hate the size, or ponder that one day this might become the standard — but it won’t be mine, yet.

And how about you? Any thoughts on Sony’s latest creation? There’s no doubt that it’s a highly impressive device, and represents the first handset to come into our review lab with a Snapdragon 800 SoC. What would have done to make it more compelling? Is this Sony’s Galaxy Note 3 and HTC One Max competitor? Sound off in the comments below!

Now read: The best Sony Xperia Z Ultra cases.

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