Sony Xperia Z Ultra Review
UPDATE: You can now read our Sony Xperia Z1 Review!
The Xperia Z Ultra is Sony's first foray in the so-called “phablet” realm, and it comes with a bang, confirming everything we hoped for since the first Sony Togari rumors broke out. The goalposts are always moving in this category, but in general it constitutes of phones with really, and we mean really, big displays.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra undoubtedly delivers in that respect, as it's the phone with the largest screen ever concocted, while still being called a handset... of sorts. At a 6.4” diagonal, some might argue that the Full HD panel is more akin for a small tablet, and we wouldn't spend hours convincing them of the opposite.
Sony is targeting a really niche market here with the Z Ultra, yet on paper it still makes every effort to position its gigantic phone as a premium one. It's been thinned to the extent of being the most slender brand-name handset out there, while keeping the waterproof certification we've come to expect from flagship Xperias lately. That makes it the thinnest IP certified handset, in addition to being the slimmest Full HD one.
It was also the first handset announced with the powerful quad-core Snapdragon 800 chipset, and the first you can draw on with a regular pen or pencil, so Sony has stuffed a lot of superlatives in the Z Ultra from the get-go. Are those “firsts” and “mosts” going to be enough for the world's largest phone to attract mainstream buyers as well? Read on to find out...
In the box:
- In-ear stereo headphones
- Wall charger
- microUSB cable
- Warranty and information leaflets
The first impression left by the Xperia Z Ultra when you grab it is the size, though if you think about it as a smallish tablet rather than a phone, you'll be better prepared for the surface area that ensues in your hand, at least mentally. One-handed operation is very hard with that kind of width and length, and almost impossible if you have smaller hands. It is way taller and a tad wider than the Galaxy Mega 6.3 or the Huawei Ascend Mate 6.1, which should tell you what to expect from its ergonomics.
Just like those two phablets, however, Sony has provided ways to scootch the keyboard left or right , so you can still reach all keys with your thumb only. As for the dialer, it just shrunk it from both sides so that it's equidistant for each thumb to dial, still risking to drop the humongous handset in the process.
The second impression is “geez, that's thin”. Sony already makes the thinnest tablet out there with the Xperia Tablet Z, and with the Z Ultra handset it shaves off the inches even further, arriving at 0.26” (6.5mm), which makes it the thinnest Full HD gear at the moment.
The materials that Sony uses for the chassis aren't shabby either, as we get a scratch-proof glass back and hairline pattern metal framing top and bottom, with matching sandblasted aluminum rim on the sides. The whole slab's weight is kept at bay - those 7.48oz (212g) aren't impressive for today's smartphone standards, but considering the gargantuan 6.4” display, the weight is pretty manageable. More so if we compare it to the Galaxy Mega 6.3, which is all-plastic, not waterproof, and still only negligibly lighter.
All buttons are placed at the right, with the signature round metallic power/lock key situated comfortably, ready for your thumb. The volume rocker is also well-placed, and all key are easy to feel and press without looking, with deep and clicky feedback to them.
The unibody Z Ultra has a sealed 3000 mAh battery pack, but Sony managed to eke out a microSD card slot on the right side, so that you can extend the internal memory amount if you run out of storage for your movies and TV series that are bound to be a staple on such a big-screen device. Next to the memory card slot is a micro SIM one with a plastic tray, both covered with a protective flap to seal them off from intrusive water, just like the microUSB one at the top left side. The flaps are very easy to pry open and then snap back into place.
The 6.4” screen is a Triluminous display with OptiContrast and X-Reality – behind all that marketing speak you see a Full HD display that is simply better than the one you'd find on the Xperia Z, for instance. This is a relief, as, besides the wider viewing angles, the display on the Z Ultra also shows more vivid colors than the washed out ones on the Z, thanks to the Triluminous pixel technology. It's still not up to par with the best in terms of color and brightness shift when you tilt the phone at extreme angles, but certainly better than what Sony treated us with before.
At 1080x1920 resolution there's plenty of pixel density to show, despite the never-ending screen diagonal. With 344ppi, the Xperia Z Ultra is “resolute” enough so you can't spot the individual pixels from a normal viewing distance with regular vision, and this one you'd be holding even further from your eyes simply due to the fact that the panel measures 6.4” across.
The display is also sufficiently luminant, at 445 nits peak brightness measured, and with good antireflectance coating, plus the OptiContrast tech that bonds the cover glass to the LCD panel underneath delivers a more direct way for the backlight to go through. This further increases brightness, contrast and outdoor visibility in general, which is on par with the best mobile displays out there, like those on the HTC One or the iPhone 5.
With the biggest phone screen come big responsibilities to better utilize that real estate, and Sony has added another unique feature to help the panel do its duties better. You can doodle directly on the sensitive display of the Z Ultra not only with capacitive stylus, as usual, but with regular pens or pencils you've got lying around, too. This adds to the phone's functionality, and at the same time helps it stay trim without a dedicated stylus silo. Surveys show that people rarely whip out the one that comes with Samsung's Note family, for instance, once the novelty of having it wears off, so Sony might be on to something with this approach.
The tip of the pen has to be larger than 1mm for the magic to work, though, and we found out that the disposable ones didn't do the trick, as the pen has to be metallic, hence conductive as well. All pencils worked without any problem, and you can also pick areas in a photo for cropping, or press buttons with the tip of the pen or pencil, for sending an email without releasing the pen, for instance. Sony says it doesn't use any dedicated technology, just bumped up the capacitance touch input sensitivity, and the results are pretty successful.
Furthermore, the company improved significantly on the handwriting recognition algorithms that come with the phone, and as long as you don't scribble like a doctor with 20 years of practice, the phone picked up almost every word we wrote immediately, though we get only English for now. Simple "whisking" over the wrong word or sentence deletes them, and you can replace a wrong letter just by writing the correct one over it.