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Hands-on: Sony Xperia Z Ultra (Updated with Videos!)

Hands-on: Sony Xperia Z Ultra (Updated with Videos!)


Hands-on: Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Sony Goes Big

Announced earlier at Mobile Asia Expo in Shanghai, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is officially the world's slimmest Full-HD smartphone with the largest display currently - 6.44 inches to be exact. Aside from its jaw-dropping display, is the Xperia Z Ultra well designed to handle such a large phone-tablet hybrid form factor? We give you our initial impressions in this article, but first, check out our video overview of this huge newcomer:-

 

Design Matters

Staying true to its commitment of building a premium brand with "a consistent user experience across every device", the Xperia Z Ultra follows the same design language as the other company's star products, the Xperia Z and Xperia Tablet Z. As such, aesthetics of the Xperia Z Ultra is looking very favorable.

The all-familiar OmniBalance design makes its appearance once more with the front and back of the device made up of tempered glass, surrounded by a frame made up of glass fibre polyamide. As we've pointed out in the review of the Sony Xperia Z, we aren't exactly fans of the glass panels as they pick up fingerprints and smudges very easily.

We wondered why Sony did not use matte plastic for the back of the Xperia Z Ultra as it is more resistant to the unsightly smudges and offers a better grip than glass. Sony's own Xperia Tablet Z uses this preferred rear design, so it makes us wonder why wasn't user feedback put to good use when the Xperia Z Ultra was on the drawing board.

The signature metallic power button is also found on the right side of the device. Unlike the slightly protruding power buttons found on the Xperia Tablet Z and Xperia Z, the button on the Xperia Z Ultra felt a tad too flat for our liking.

Like the Xperia Z and Xperia Tablet Z, the Xperia Z Ultra is also waterproof and dust resistant. As a refresher, both the Xperia Z and Xperia Tablet Z are rated IP55 / IP57 for water resistance. The Xperia Z Ultra, on the other hand, comes with IP55 / IP58 ratings. What do all these numbers mean? 

Well, the first digit (in this case, "5") refers to the phone's solid particle protection rating, with six being the best. The second digit "7" refers to the water protection and the level that is specified by the manufacturer, with eight being the best.

So what is the difference between an IP57 and IP58 rated device? As a general guideline, IP57 rating means that the device is protected against the effect of immersion between 15cm and 1m, while IP58 rating protects the device against long periods of immersion under pressure.

According to Sony, the Xperia Z Ultra can be kept under 1.5m of freshwater for up to 30 minutes provided that all ports and covers are firmly closed. In comparison, the recently announced Samsung Galaxy S4 Active has an IP67 rating, and is stated to be protected against water damage for up to 30 minutes of submergence at 1m.

If you've noticed, the 3.5mm audio output jack on the Xperia Z Ultra is not protected by a plastic cover, which is similar to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active. We were told by Sony that the 3.5mm audio output jack is still waterproof thanks to an improved technology. At the point of publication, the Sony team was unable to provide more information. We will update this space once we get more updates on this mater.

 

Handling a 6.44-inch Device

The Xperia Z Ultra is definitely bigger than its immediate rivals (the Huawei Ascend Mate and the Samsung Galaxy Mega with LTE). Therefore, you can expect it to be as, or even more unwieldy in your hands. 

As noted in the reviews of the two comparison "phablets", devices with screen sizes above six inches are obviously hard to handle and not within the grasp of one hand for most consumers. Moreover, the Xperia Z Ultra is more than 10g heavier too. The only saving grace is its 6.5mm thin body, which we think is yet another impressive feat of engineering. 

 

Software

Sony is the third non-Nexus handset maker after Samsung and Huawei to ship Android 4.2.2 on one or more of its mobile devices. Therefore, you can expect the usual servings of quick settings, lock screen widgets and DayDream on the Xperia Z Ultra.

Two particular features which were highlighted to us but not present in the prototype unit we handled are the one-handed keyboard input and small apps. As with most "phablets", the sheer size of the display makes it hard for your finger to stretch across the standard conventional keyboard. The one-handed input allows you to shift the keyboard to the left or right depending on your preference.

Small apps, a multitasking concept first seen on the Xperia Tablet S, enables you to open one app in a small screen while at the same time, allowing you to continue using the main app that you are in. You can refer to our review of the Sony Xperia Tablet S for more information. Meanwhile, you might want to check out the Stylus support on this phablet:-

 

Hardware

Sony is the second Android vendor to announce that it is using the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processorLG and Qualcomm jumped the gun last week when they made a joint statement that the next Optimus G will be powered by the Snapdragon 800 processor. 

As a refresher, Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon 800 processor at CES 2013, which will come with Krait 400 CPUs and the new Adreno 330 GPU. To put it simply, the Xperia Z Ultra will deliver higher performance than the Snapdragon 600-equipped ASUS PadFone Infinity, HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4.

The unit we had was a prototype, therefore we were not allowed to publish any benchmark results. As a teaser, the prototype unit had an overwhelming lead in the Quadrant benchmark score when compared to its Snapdragon 600 counterparts.

The main highlight of the Xperia Z Ultra is without a doubt its 6.44-inch Full-HD Triluminos Display. Integrating the best of Sony's BRAVIA TV expertise and technologies, the 6.44-inch display promises to deliver a wider palette of rich natural colors. 

Sony claims its display technology is intelligent enough to analyze images and reproduce lacking pixels to optimize the screen quality. In addition, it can analyze elements depending on the scene and adjusts them based on pattern, outline and color composition. You can refer to our feature article on Sony's new 2013 BRAVIA TVs where more information is shared on how the Triluminos screen technology works. Here's a video clip showing how their technology affects the video quality on-screen for the Xperia Z Ultra:-

We found the 6.44-inch display to be one of the best in the market. Everything appeared sharp on the Xperia Z Ultra and images looked punchy. Compared to the 720p displays on the Ascend Mate and Galaxy Mega with LTE, the Xperia Z Ultra is definitely a step up.

On the imaging front, nothing seems to have changed; the Xperia Z Ultra sports an 8-megapixel rear camera with Exmor RS for mobile sensor and HDR for videos and photos. It also has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera.

 

 

Price and Availability

Sony states that the Xperia Z Ultra will be launched globally from Q3 2013. The exact timing of availability will vary by market. It will come in three colors: black, white and purple. Look out for a future news update on the local availability. Overall, we feel that Sony's first "phablet" offering  to be a very strong contender - that is if you are looking for a device that can double as a tablet and phone.

For the time being, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is unrivaled in its class. If Sony manages to make the device available before the Samsung Galaxy Note III, it has a solid chance of being highly favorable and potentially giving Samsung a run for its money. Having said that, we're not quite sure how most consumers are warming up to these ultra large "phablet" devices. In essence, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is almost the size of a 7-inch tablet but without a thick handling border that typically accompany conventional tablets. While we await feedback from the market and consumers, here's a quick look at how the specifications of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra compares with the Samsung Galaxy Mega with LTE and Huawei Ascend Mate:

Sony Xperia Z Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy Mega with LTE vs Huawei Ascend Mate
Device Sony Xperia Z Ultra Samsung Galaxy Mega with LTE Huawei Ascend Mate
OS Android 4.2 Jelly Bean Android 4.2 Jelly Bean Android 4.1. Jelly Bean
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 dual-core 1.7GHz Hi-Silicon K3V2 quad-core 1.5GHz
RAM 2GB 1.5GB 1GB
Storage 16GB
(microSD support up to 64GB)
16GB
(microSD support up to 64GB)
8GB
(microSD support up to 32GB)
Display 6.44-inch TFT LCD 6.3-inch Super Clear LCD 6.1-inch IPS+ LCD
Resolution 1,920 x 1,080 pixels 1,280 x 720 pixels 1,280 x 720 pixels
Cameras Rear: 8MP
Front: 2MP
Rear: 8MP
Front: 1.9MP
Rear: 8MP
Front: 1MP
4G LTE Yes Yes NIL
Battery Capacity 3000mAh
(non-removable)
3200mAh
(removable)
4050mAh
(non-removable)

Dimensions
Weight

179.4 x 92.2 x 6.5mm
212g
167.6 x 88 x 8.0mm
199g
163.5 x 85.74 x 9.9mm
198g