With its 6.44” display the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a pretty unique device. On one hand it competes with other large phablets like the 6.3” Samsung Mega and 6.1” Huawei Mega. On the other hand, under the hood the Ultra packs much more of a whallop compared to the Mega and Mate which are mid-range phones. It’s the only high-end phone with a 6”+ display right now.
As such, it doesn’t really have any competitors. Sure, the Samsung Mega and Huawei Mate have similarly sized screens but they sport more modest specs and are they’re substantially cheaper.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has similar guts but it only has a 5.7” display which sounds big but when you have them side-by-side, the Ultra is substantially larger. They’re not really competitors either.
So, sorry, I’m not going to compare the Ultra with anything though I will say, if you want an enormous phone then it doesn’t get any bigger than the Ultra.
If you want the biggest possible screen with the highest specs and water resistance this is your only ticket.
the Z Ultra is a classy package. There’s glass on the front and back which sandwich a metal frame.
It weighs 212g which is pretty heavy for a phone but given the size of the Ultra it feels about right. My only complaint is that the Ultra is a little too thin. It doesn’t make the ultra feel fragile but I just wish there was more to hold onto. When I have it in my hands, I feel like I’m pinching it instead of holding it.
The design of the Ultra makes it hard to pick up when it’s lying flat. It’s hard to describe but the edges are slightly rounded but the front is really flat so there isn’t much to get your fingers under to left it.
It goes without saying that the Ultra is a two-handed device. This is how far my thumb reaches the across the screen when I hold it with one hand.
While some phones like the Note 3 or even Huawei Mate allow for limited use with one hand. It’s pretty much impossible to do anything with the Ultra with just one hand. While it’s screen is only slightly bigger than the Samsung Mega and Huawei Mate, it has a substantially larger footprint.
You're probably wondering what the Ultra looks like next two the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Apple iPhone 5s so here it is.
To Sony’s credit, there Ultra has on-screen menu keys plus it has a sizeable bezel at the top and bottom so there is space to hold onto it.
It’s water resistant provided you keep the doors covering the MicroUSB port and MicroSD/MicroSIM closed. When they’re closed you can do stuff like wash it in the sink, drop it in the tub or let your 3 month old kid use it as a pacifier.
I’m happy that the headphone jack is also water resistant so it doesn’t need to be covered up with a door. Now Sony just needs to figure out how to make the Ultra’s MicroUSB water resistant too.
Like the Z1, the Ultra is one of the few phones on the market that has a slot for a lanyard. The fact that it’s water resistant makes this a very practical feature because you can attach a wrist strap in case you take it into water. Heck, if you take the Z Ultra to the pool you might as get one of those floating wrist straps.
Unfortunately the Ultra lacks the Z1’s physical camera shutter button so you can’t use it to quickly launch the camera or to take pictures under water. When you get the Ultra wet, it thinks each large drop of water is a finger pressing on the screen. When you submerge it, really doesn’t know what to do so you can’t open up the camera app and then press the shutter button.
Another thing to consider is that the screen isn’t very responsive when it’s too wet. It’s not that the water damages it - it’s just that it gets confused. If you just got it really wet and want to use it then make sure you wipe all the water off the screen first. Because of this, I don’t recommend you use the Ultra if you’re going to get it really wet. Yes, it will survive but you won’t be able to use it too much until it’s dry.
It’s a shame the Z Ultra doesn’t support wireless charging. If it did you’d never have to worry about opening/closing the door whenever you want to charge it.
There are a pair of pins on the side which you can use in conjunction with a docking station to charge the Ultra without using the MicroUSB port. Unfortunately, it’s a connector proprietary to Sony which is unfortunate (the Z1 and probably some other Sony devices also have it). Why would they use proprietary connector when there is already a wireless charging standard available?
Unlike the Z1, the Ultra doesn’t have any glass inserts on the side. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but compared to the Z1 this makes the Ultra feels a little less tarted up.
Power button, volume buttons, (behind the door) MicroSIM tray, MicroSD slot
MicroUSB (behind the door)
microphone, headphone jack
The screen measure 6.44”. That’s right, 6.44”, not 6.4. I guess Sony figures the extra 0.04” matters to certain people.
Anyways, it has a resolution of 1920x1080 with a pixel density of 342PPI. It’s not as high as the Z1’s 400+PPI but it looks just as sharp since it’s very hard to notice extra sharpness past ~325PPI. Another reason is because most will hold the Ultra a little further away because the screen is so big.
Sony calls the Ultra’s screen a tri-lumous display to indicate that it can reproduce a greater gamut of colours
The display has nice colour has decent black levels for an LCD display and works great outdoors.
Interestingly, the Ultra’s display doesn't have the Z1’s off-angle viewing problems. The Z1 screen turns white when you move a few degrees away from the center. The Ultra doesn’t do this.
It’s weird but the Ultra’s display actually blows away the Z1. The off-angle performance between them is dramatic. I figured the Ultra’s display would just be a bigger version of the Z1’s but that’s just not the case.
Like the Z1 and many other Sony/Sony Ericsson phones, the Ultra comes with a plastic screen protector installed over the glass screen. This makes the Ultra’s screen shatter proof in that if you drop it and shatter the screen, it won’t spit out shards of glass.
This is great if you shatter a lot of your screens but the problem is that the plastic screen protector scratches really easily. You can’t remove the screen protector - at least not easily. It’s attached to the screen using some sort of adhesive.
The screen protector also attracts a lot of dust. If scratches on your screen bother you, make sure you get a screen protector for your screen protector.
One interesting feature about the Ultra’s screen is that you can use a pencil on or pen on it. It’s like a poor-man’s S-Pen. I tried it and it really works. Just make sure the pencil you’re using has a wide enough tip - mechanical pencil’s won't ‘work.
Of course, why anyone would want to use a pencil or pen on a $800 phone is beyond me. Especially since the Ultra has a plastic screen protector which scratches easily. I guess it’s nice that you have this option.
For some reason Sony omitted a flash from the Ultra. Now, while I rarely use camera phone flashes I do use it occasionally so this is a really strange omission.
Unlike the Z1 Sony includes a 8 megapixel sensor in the Ultra. When I first read about this I assumed Sony had joined HTC and Apple in the ‘less megapixels more quality’ camp. However, after testing it I have to say that the Ultra has a pretty lousy camera sensor.
It’s not very good in low light, has low dynamic range and doesn’t take very good photos.
Like the Z1, the Ultra's camera is very heavy handed when it comes to image post processing. There’s too much noise reduction and sharpening going on so a lot of detail gets lost. Unlike the Z1 the Ultra only has 8 megapixels so there isn’t much detail left once it’s done.
You get Sony’s ‘Superior Auto’ mode which tries to determine what settings to use by analyzing what you’re pointing the camera at. Sometimes it does a good job but given the sensor it doesn’t have much to work with.
Interesting the Ultra doesn’t support apps from within the camera program like the Z1. That means you don’t have access to the Z1’s trippy augmented reality mode. Since the Z1 is a newer phone, I wonder if this feature will come in a future update.
Compared to the still picture quality video quality is a bit better - especially the microphone. The Ultra doesn’t have optical image stabilization so make sure you hold hold on tight when you shoot video.
In terms of software Sony takes a more minimalist approach compared to Samsung, LG and HTC. While the Ultra doesn’t resemble a Nexus phone, most of Sony’s customizations revolve around making the Ultra more ‘Sony-ish’.
One big difference with the Ultra the app dock has 5 rows of icons across instead of 4 on most Android phones. The launcher also supports landscape. These 2 changes make the Ultra feel more like a small tablet than a large phone.
Underneath Sony’s launcher is Android 4.2.2 - the same as the Z1. Sony is pretty good about getting updates for their devices so I wouldn’t be surprised if Ultra owners got a 4.3 or 4.4 update eventually.
Under the hood is one of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 quad-core SoC clocked at 2.3Ghz. So it’s no surprise that the Ultra is one of the fastest phones we’ve ever tested here.
It blasts through both browser and gaming benchmarks.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 same the same SoC’s. I wouldn’t read too much into any differences in performance between that and the Ultra. I just tossed in the Huawei Mate and Samsung Galaxy Mega since they have a similar form-factor.
Given the Ultra’s large foot print I was very disappointed that it doesn’t have stereo speakers. I’m even more disappointed by how the speakers sound. The built-in speaker isn’t very good.
I already mentioned this in the Z1 video but the Ultra doesn’t have good built-in codec support. If you plan on sticking a lot of movies on it I suggest you go to Google Play and download a 3rd party video player like BS Player.
As a Phone:
RF performance is good. Sound quality is also good, voices sound smooth. There’s an interesting feature which can slow people’s voices down. It appears to work by slowing incoming audio using the pauses between phrases to spread out the timing. It’s a cool feature but I’m not sure how often you’d want to use it.
Maximum earpiece volume is quite good but watch out, the earpiece sweet spot is really hard to find - its actually located at the very top of the front of the phone. This makes the Ultra a very uncomfortable phone to use as a phone. The excessive width also means that there is no comfortable way to hold it like a phone. If you do get the Ultra and plan on making a lot of calls do yourself (and your dignity) a favour and pickup a Bluetooth headset.
Speakerphone volume is adequate.
The battery weighs in a 3050mAh which sounds big until you consider the Ultra’s large 6.44” screen. From using it I think it will make it through the day but watch out, if you use the screen a lot it can really tax the battery.
I had strong feelings about the Z Ultra. On one hand, it’s insanely fast, it has an amazing LCD display and if you’re watching a lot of video, well, phone screens don't’ come any larger. On the other hand, it’s camera is a big disappointment, the built-in speaker is crap but most importantly, in order to make it super thin, Sony gave it a super-sized footprint so the Ultra is not pleasant to use unless you use two hands at all times. Even holding it with one hand and not doing anything with it is uncomfortable.
Just watch out because having the biggest possible screen can cause some usability issues.
Now I could bring up the point that the Ultra like half a size smaller than a 7” tablet but you know what? 7” tablets are cheap, I mean in terms of specs, right now the top dog is Nexus 7. I could compare specs but the only thing that matters is that the Nexus 7 costs less than ⅓ what a Ultra costs. They’re not competitors but if you don’t mind having a secondary device you could have a 7” tablet which has a bigger screen way less than what the Ultra costs and then go out and buy say a Nexus 5 or a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.
- water resistant
- Sony’s best phone display ever
- too big
- very fast
- built-in speakers are awful
- too thin
- hard to hold with one hand