Review: Sony Xperia Z Ultra

35_Xperia_Z_UltraSony has brought out the big guns with its Xperia Z Ultra. But given the device’s 6.4-inch display, is it simply too big for everyday use? 

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is like a big, dumb dog – it’s great to play around with, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to live with it every day.

An extension to Sony Mobile’s flagship line, the Z Ultra is essentially a standard Xperia Z with a couple of extra features and a gargantuan 6.4-inch, Full-HD display. Indeed, Sony claims that the phone features the world’s largest Full HD smartphone display, and that’s an important point. Sony isn’t selling this device as a small tablet that can make calls – the Z Ultra is just a really, really big phone.

I hate the word “phablet” but if you were going to assign it to anything, this would be it. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 appears puny in comparison. But then again, this phone’s natural rival would be the Galaxy Mega 6.3, so we’ll use that as a benchmark.

The display
On the face of it, the TFT display is hugely impressive. It was developed by Sony’s Bravia TV engineers, and features what the brand calls a Triluminos Display, which Sony says delivers a wider colour gamut and a wider sense of depth. Compared to your average LCD screen, it looks fantastic, with rich reds, blues and greens set against dark blacks.

The display is also surprisingly sharp, given how large it is. Sony claims 342 pixels per inch – which is way better than the Galaxy Ultra’s 233 ppi. Indeed, the Galaxy Ultra doesn’t even offer Full HD. There’s no denying that the Z Ultra makes content look crisp and brilliant.

In fact, you don’t even have to be watching HD content to appreciate this brilliance. Sony claims that its new X-Reality engine can process and upscale process low-resolution Web videos so that they appear much cleaner on the screen. In real life, the improvements are noticeable, and it means you don’t have to stream HD content all the time.

It might be great having a big screen to watch HD videos on, but you have to sacrifice an awful lot for the privilege. For one thing, in the hot, humid months of summer, it’s all too easy to get a lot of condensation on the screen.

Okay, you can live with that. But what becomes really frustrating to live with is the cumbersome nature of the phone in general. The display itself might be 6.4 inches, but from top to bottom, the phone measures 179 millimetres. It’s also 92 milliemetres wide, making it difficult to hold even with two hands.

You can forget about typing out messages quickly, because it’s all too easy for your grip to slip, causing you to press keys unintentionally. You can also forget about fitting the device into your trouser pocket – only the baggiest trousers will house this phone.

The size issues I have with the Z Ultra aren’t limited to this device, however. The Galaxy Ultra 6.3 suffers from the same problems, so perhaps I’m just not someone who wants a really big phone.

What’s more, if the focus of the Z Ultra is entertainment – viewing content on such a large screen – then I would have thought more heed be paid to the on-board speakers. On full volume, they’re nowhere near loud enough. In credit to Sony, though, the stock earphones are very good – much better than what some manufacturers will give you.

Despite my complaints, however, the Z Ultra as a whole isn’t entirely horrible to use. The 2.2 GHz Qualcomm quad-core processor runs like a dream. And because you get 2 GB of RAM, you can have a dozen apps open and the device won’t even flinch. This, coupled with that large screen, makes gaming great fun. And the Galaxy Ultra certainly can’t match the experience.

Given the Z Ultra was built with entertainment in mind, it comes as no surprise that it’s not the most productive device out there. That said, I wouldn’t have minded a little more than what the phone provides. The email client, for example, is extremely difficult to set up, and isn’t great once you’ve got there – buttons aren’t where you’d expect to find them, and attachments aren’t all that easy to access.

I found another gripe with the phone’s Notes application. There’s no separate voice note app, but you can take voice recordings in here. Unfortunately, the audio file doesn’t show up when you’re browsing through the device’s folders on your computer. Your only option is to export the note to Evernote, which is itself a big faff. You’re better off just using Evernote from the beginning, making the Notes app completely pointless.

That said, the so-called STAMINA mode is great if you want to go for long periods without charging. Of course the non-removable 3,050 mAh battery helps, but the way this phone can manage its power is really something. You can set which apps are able to access either Wi-Fi or cellular data when the device is in sleep mode, meaning you’re only using the bare essentials.

The quality
I’ve always associated Sony’s smartphones with iPhone levels of quality, but I’m not sure that’s so true anymore. There’s no metal on the outside, and the physical buttons on the side don’t feel as meaty as I’d like them to.

The flipside of that, of course, is that the Z Ultra is water-proof and shock-proof. You can chuck the device across the room and it won’t blink an eye, and accidental spillages are literally like water off a duck’s back.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. For whatever reason, the device lost its ability to vibrate during my third day of use, and because the speakers aren’t all that good, that meant I was consistently missing calls. Maybe my test device was a little dodgy, but it hardly speaks of quality, does it?

The verdict
Personally, I’d buy the standard Xperia Z over the Z Ultra in a heartbeat, because I’m not interested in the gigantic screen – indeed I think it’s more of a bane than a blessing. But I suppose I’m not the target market, so it’d be unfair for me to simply disregard the device entirely.

If you are, for whatever reason, in the market for gigantic phone, I can’t see why you’d choose anything else over this. It’s good-looking, it’s damage-resistant and the display is beautiful. Compared to similar-sized phones from other vendors – productivity gripes aside – the Z Ultra offers a much more compelling package. You just won’t catch me using one.

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