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Sony Xperia Z Ultra Review

on August 26, 2013 – 11:11 amNo Comment

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Every once in a while we come across a product that is a bit ahead of the curve or perhaps such a niche that it is hard to accept it in its current incarnation. The Xperia Z Ultra while not exactly revolutionary, does have the inklings of what might be come the future of smart computing. But is it good enough to convince us ? Read on to find out.

Video Review

Design

Two words come to your mind when you view the Xperia Z Ultra. Gorgeous, Massive. The all glass smartphone – tablet hybrid is a play on the design first pioneered by Sony on the Xperia Z earlier this year. Sony has a heritage of making beautiful products and the craftsmanship on the Xperia Z Ultra is a testament to that design culture.

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The front of the device is comprised of what is perhaps the largest smartphone display we’ve come across yet. Indeed the handset that clocks in at 179.4 x 92.2 x 6.5mm stretches the limits of smartphone dimensions. The glass and metal build of the handset also take a toll on the weight of the device that comes in at well above 200 grams.

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Up top next to the Sony logo lies the front facing camera and the lack of buttons (capacitive or physical) below the display helps keep the surface of the black glass front, untarnished. The front camera is a 2 megapixel unit. An LED notification light can also be seen here. Along the upper edge of the device is the earpiece while the mic is at the bottom edge. The front of the phone is essentially just the 6.44 inch Full HD screen.We had a few concerns over the slim bezels that make it a bit hard to hold and interact with the device but its not a big enough hassle to be a deal breaker.

Most of the ports and buttons on the handset lie towards the right. Up top is the 3.5mm audio jack. Right next to it, hidden under a flap, is the micro SD and micro SIM card slot. A circular machined aluminum button is placed centrally and offers good feedback, is conveniently located to switch the device on or off. In a move that is not very common yet which makes sense given the size of the handset, the volume rocker is placed below the power key of the Xperia Z Ultra. On the other side is a magnetic dock connector.

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The glass back of the phone is a fingerprint and smudge magnet but looks stunning when pristine. Sony branding is visible right in the center with an NFC logo above it and a camera that is slightly offset to the left. The phone does not have an LED flash. Over all the Z Ultra is a good example of Sony’s attention to design and detail. The slim shell and aluminum edges that meld into the inky blackness of the glass panels on either side  give it an understated elegance. The Z Ultra is simply put, gorgeous.

Software

The Xperia Z Ultra ships with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean on board. As expected, the software build is rife with customizations. While a lot of these features are value additions, we were baffled to see the curious omission of some very useful features like the quick notifications panel. No doubt Sony’s implementation of a toggles bar works well enough but we’d rather see the full range of toggle switches.

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If you’ve used the Xperia Z then you know exactly what to expect. The homescreen has a launcher bar at the bottom below which lie the onscreen controls. The launcher bar defaults to the most popular apps but you can replace it with whatever apps you might want. Heading into the app launcher, application icons are arranged in a grid. You can have this in alphabetical order or even your own custom order if that’s what you like.

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The multimedia applications onboard including the image gallery, music player and video player are pretty much identical to those previously seen on devices like the Sony Xperia Z or the Xperia Z tablet. The Ultra ships with Sony’s small apps on board which are essentially multi tasking widgets as seen on devices by competitors as well. Running through some of the preinstalled apps, you get Socialife which is essentially a feed aggregator in the same vein as Flipboard.

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The Sketch app lets you draw doodles on the screen using any object you might have on hand. Yes, it works quite well with your finger too. TrackID is Sony’s version of Soundhound while Sony Select works as an app recommendation service. There are a few more apps on board like Reader that as the name suggests, is an application for Sony’s eBook service. None of the apps really get in your way and quite a few can be deleted as well.

Display

The display on the Xperia Z Ultra is a departure from the one on the Xperia Z and this is a very good move indeed. The Z while a good phone was let down by a poor display. Sony has learnt from its mistakes and has bestowed upon the Z Ultra, one of the best Full HD panels out there. The 6.44 inch panel has Full HD resolution and has Sony’s Triluminos technology built in. Sony’s Triluminos technology is an RGB LED tech that has been seen previously on televisions. The technology uses a blue LED to stimulate quantum dots and create the red and green colors. These colors appear particularly sharp. The 1920 x 1080 resolution resulting in 344 ppi is also responsible for making text appear extremely crisp.

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The display is sharp, bright and has wide viewing angles. We found the colors on the screen to be very natural and it was possible to read content even in bright sunlight though the reflective display makes it slightly hard. As demonstrated above in the Sketch application, it is possible to use a stylus or even a standard pen to interact with the touch screen. The screen however does not detect pressure changes. Over all the screen on the phone will not leave you with anything to complain about. It is a stunning panel that makes viewing media , reading very enjoyable.

Performance

Under the hood of the Z Ultra is a Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.15Ghz making it one of the most powerful phones out there. The Snapdragon 800 processor is a veritable beast that delivers some of the best performance we’ve seen so far in a smartphone.

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Featuring 4 asynchronous Krait 400 cores which is an improvement over the Krait 300 in the Snapdragon 600, the chip has been built on the 28nm process. The Adreno 330 GPU delivers upto 50% improved performance over the Adreno 320 in the Snapdragon 600. This coupled with the 2GB of RAM means that no matter what you throw at the handset, its not going to run out of steam anytime soon. Real life performance is top notch as expected. The interface elements remain smooth and lag free which is how it should be on a device of this calibre. The handset manages to render even complex web  pages without any issues and without any checker boarding. If synthetic benchmarks matter to you, then we’ve got you covered over in our Sony Xperia Z Ultra benchmarks post.

We’ve already shown you the benchmarks for the handset and here are some of the more important ones.

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In the Quadrant benchmark, the Z Ultra scores 18,633 which places it well ahead of the competition. The score is close to 6000 points ahead of the HTC One with its Snapdragon 600 processor. It lags behind the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 MDP but that is likely because of the custom skin on the phone.

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Similar results can be seen in the Vellamo benchmark where it scores 2929 points. Vellamo benchmarks web performance and in terms of actual usage, the handset definitely impresses.

Camera

The weakest link in the Xperia Z Ultra’s arsenal of features is the camera. Based on an older generation Exmor R sensor, the 8MP camera doesn’t really impress. We’ve already talked about the lack of an LED flash. We did miss having a dedicated camera key on the handset due to the unwieldy dimensions of the phone.

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The camera interface is the same as we’ve seen on other Xperia devices. Launching the app, you see only the most important buttons on the display. On the right, below the gallery shortcut, is the shutter key as well as the video record key. It is possible to shoot stills while recording video.

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Below it is the toggle to switch between the front and rear cameras. Over on the left is the mode select key towards the top while the settings button is located at the bottom.

The Superior Auto mode is what is set as the default option wherein the camera auto selects the best white balance, scene mode settings and all you have to do is to press the shutter key. If you’d rather have control in your hands, you can tap this and chose from a range of modes including burst mode, panorama and a variety of scene modes. Suffice it to say that there are enough options on hand to let you make maximum use of the camera. Which brings us to image quality or the relative lack of it. 

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The Xperia Z Ultra is using an older generation sensor and the image quality isn’t really good. There is a lot of noise in captured images and compression artifacts can be seen aplenty. Colors are generally over saturated making them seem unnatural and highlights are blown out.

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Things take a dramatic turn for the worse when shooting in less than ideal lighting conditions. The white balance was often completely off and noise levels shot up through the roof to deliver more or less unusable images. Additional photo samples are embedded below.


Video recording is done at Full HD resolution and the end results are decent enough. Colors are again over saturated but videos retain a decent amount of details as long as lighting conditions are good. Here’s a video sample shot on the Sony Xperia Z Ultra.

Check out the camera review to know more about the camera in detail.

Multimedia & Gaming

Multimedia consumption is definitely the forte of the Xperia Z Ultra. The large 6.4 inch display screams out to be used for watching movies and playing games. Additionally, the device works very well as an eReader. The size of the screen makes reading long form content very enjoyable and it is easy to load up content through the pre installed Sony Reader app or via the downloadable Kindle app in addition to many others like Rockstand.

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In our standard multimedia test, the Z Ultra was easily able to play back the usual audio codecs like MP3, AAC, FLAC. Audio quality was decent and it is possible to use equalizers to tweak it just the way you like it. Our video test was equally successful and the device played back up to high bitrate content without batting an eye lid. We did face a few concerns with MKV files and audio streams but this was easily corrected by using an alternate video player like MX Player.

Gaming performance on the handset is topnotch and the Snapdragon processor, Adreno 330 GPU combo really comes into its own here. We tested out a range of games and found performance to be excellent. If multimedia consumption is your primary focus in a smartphone then the Sony Xperia Z Ultra should be a good fit for your use case.

Check out the Modern Combat 4 and NFS Most Wanted Gameplay

Asphalt 7 and Dead Trigger Gameplay

Riptide GP2 Gameplay

Here is the gaming review

Connectivity & Battery Life

Connectivity options on the handset range from 3G HSPA+ to WiFi 820.11 a/b/g/n/ac.  Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA support is also built in. The phone supports Bluetooth 4.0. GPS/ GLONASS and NFC is also built in. The 16GB of storage can be expanded via the microSD card slot. There’s almost 12GB of free storage available at launch on the handset.

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The battery pack on the handset is rated for 3,050 mAh which might sound a lot but doesn’t deliver nearly the longevity you’d expect. We got about a work day ie 14-18 hours at max of usage time with our usual work load. Your mileage will vary but as a benchmark you should hope to get at least an entire work day of usage time from the handset. Boasting quick charge capabilities, the handset gets juiced much faster than the competition.

Miscellaneous

The handset like most recent devices from Sony’s Xperia line of devices is both water and dust proof. Having earned itself an IP-58 rating, the device can theoretically be kept 5 feet under water for up to 30 minutes. Xperia-Z-Ultra-1

While we weren’t brave enough to test that claim, we did use the handset in rainy weather and it coped up just fine. The screen isn’t particularly responsive when wet but you can simply wipe it clean and continue use. The IP58 certification means that you should be able to use in the middle of a dust storm if you wish to do so, though we won’t really recommend it for your sake!

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Given the unique position that the handset enjoys due to its gargantuan proportions, here’s an image to demonstrate just how big the phone is. Holding up the phone is most definitely a stretch, unless you have giant sized hands. People will judge if you use this device to actually make phone calls and you’d be best served by a bluetooth headset.

Here’s a video comparing the size of the display with some of the competition. Oh and the device easily slips into the pocket of a regular sized pair of jeans but it does create an awkward bulge in your pocket when you sit down.

Conclusion

With the Z Ultra, Sony has created a device that aims to bridge the divide between smartphones and tablets by being a compelling offering that transcends both categories. The combination of stellar design and compelling hardware means that there is no doubt that the Z Ultra deserves its flagship status.

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That said, as a pure smartphone, there is something to be said about the unwieldy proportions of the device. Unless you are specifically looking for a hybrid device, the Z Ultra is simply too big to be comfortably used as a phone. The poor camera of course disappoints. For prospective buyers, the decision is fairly easy to make. You can either handle the size or you can’t. No two ways about. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is priced at Rs. 44,599 in India.

Pros

  • Design
  • Internals
  • Display

Cons

  • Camera
  • Size can be a bit unwieldy
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Dhruv Bhutani is a technology enthusiast who is always in sync with the latest and greatest in tech. He is currently using a Nokia Lumia 1020, HTC Butterfly S and whatever device he is reviewing at the moment. Suomirock ftw! . Catch him on Twitter @DhruvBhutani , you can also reach out on Facebook or .