Mobile Phones Guide

Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

Sony Xperia Z Ultra - A 6.44-Inch Jaeger

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Launch SRP S$1038
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Overall rating 8/10
Design:
8.5
Features:
8.5
User-Friendliness:
7.5
Performance:
8
Value:
7
THE GOOD
Stunning Full-HD display
Ultra-slim chassis
Great design
Good build quality
THE BAD
Major fingerprint magnet
Below average battery life
Overwhelming size and weight


Camera, Performance & Conclusion

8MP Camera with Sony Exmor RS for Mobile

Unlike the Xperia Z's higher caliber 13-megapixel rear camera sensor, the new Xperia Z Ultra is equipped with an 8-megapixel sensor. Further to that, there is no LED flash on the device. With imaging capability fast becoming an important criteria of smartphones recently, one must be wondering why Sony opted not to maintain the 13-megapixel camera sensor and LED flash. We asked MacDougall this question and this was his response:

MacDougall - "We focus a lot of the story and the positioning of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra around the screen and the portability. This is principally an entertainment or screen consumption proposition ... ...  However, we still have some strong imaging elements - the Exmor sensor, HDR for video and still, and the Superior Auto Mode ... ..."

In a nutshell, Sony's positioning of the Xperia Z Ultra is more towards a portable tablet than a giant smartphone. And it's a known fact that camera imaging capabilities on most tablets are underwhelming compared to their equivalent phone counterparts. Imaging features and interface-wise, you will find nothing new on the Xperia Z Ultra. By default, the rear camera uses a 16:9 aspect ratio, resulting in a 5MP picture. The highest 8MP setting is only possible in 4:3 (normal camera mode only; Superior Auto mode will limit the maximum resolution to 7MP)

The image quality is decent for an 8MP camera phone, but not the best we've seen. The noise level is noticeable and there is some loss in details along the edges of subjects (e.g. the vodka bottle and the toy bear). Overall, it is not impressive but we aren't disappointed either.

We were interested to see how the Superior Auto mode and "Exmor RS for Mobile" image sensor technology fare under low light conditions. According to Sony, Exmor RS for Mobile uses a next generation BSI light sensor with the technology of luminance and color noise reduction to produce highly detailed shots with low noise, while Superior Auto utilizes Scene Recognition and image processing technology (HDR and noise reduction) to automatically shoot with optimal settings.

The two photos above are taken at about 11.53 pm using two different camera modes. The photo on the left is taken with the camera set to Normal (8MP) while the one on the right is taken with Superior auto (which automatically chooses the Night Scene and has an upper resolution limit of 7MP when using this mode).

Based on the photos taken, we can see that the Superior Auto mode enables the rear camera to capture more details and light (evident from the difference in color tone of the ground) with a tad lesser noise. The difference isn't really very evident, so you'll have to scrutinize it.

 

Benchmarking Performance

The Xperia Z Ultra is the first Qualcomm Snapdragon 800-powered mobile device to land in our labs. Qualcomm first announced the new generation of processors at CES 2013 in January, and the Xperia Z Ultra is one of the many upcoming devices entering the consumer market with the Snapdragon 800 processor. We also had a recent preview of the Snapdragon 800 processors at a workshop held in Beijing. So what's new in the Snapdragon 800 processors?

Well, the Snapdragon 800 processor consists of the upgraded Krait 400 CPU architecture (vs. Krait 300 CPU on the Snapdragon 600 processor) and the latest Adreno 330 GPU. Each core is able to support higher clock speeds of up to 2.3GHz and the Adreno 330 delivers up to 50% increase in graphics performance compared to Adreno 320 (found in Snapdragon 600 and S4 processors).

We will be pitting the Xperia Z Ultra up against its 6-inch rivals, the Samsung Galaxy Mega with LTE and the Huawei Ascend Mate, the Snapdragon 600-powered LG Optimus G Pro and the Intel-powered Lenovo K900. 

Test Phones Compared

  Sony Xperia Z Ultra Samsung Galaxy Mega with LTE Huawei Ascend Mate LG Optimus G Pro Lenovo K900
Display 6.44-inch TFT 6.3-inch Super Clear LCD 6.1-inch IPS+ 5.5-inch IPS 5.5-inch IPS
Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels 1280 x 720 pixels 1280 x 720 pixels 1920 x 1080 pixels 1920 x 1080 pixels
OS Android 4.2 Android 4.2 Android 4.1 Android 4.1 Android 4.2
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 dual-core 1.7GHz Huawei Hi-Silicon K3V2 quad-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.7GHz Intel Atom Z2580 dual-core 2GHz
GPU Adreno 330 Adreno 305 Vivante GC4000 Adreno 320 PowerVR SGX544
RAM 2GB 1.5GB 1GB 2GB 2GB
Storage 16GB internal storage / micro-SD support up to 64GB 16GB internal storage / micro-SD support up to 64GB 8GB internal straoge / micro-SD support up to 32GB 16GB internal storage / micro-SD support up to 64GB 16GB internal storage
Front Camera 2MP 1.9MP 1MP 2.1MP 2MP
Rear Camera 8MP 8MP 8MP 13MP 13MP
Battery 3000mAh 3200mAh 4050mAh 3140mAh 2500mAh
Dimensions 179.4 x 92.2 x 6.5mm 167.6 x 88 x 8.0mm 163.5 x 85.74 x 9.9mm 150.2 x 76.1 x 9.4mm 157 x 78 x 6.9mm
Weight 212g 199g 198g 172g 162g

 

Quadrant Results

Quadrant evaluates a device's CPU, memory, I/O and 3D graphics performance. The Xperia Z Ultra tops the chart with a whopping score of 16,148, leaving the LG Optimus G Pro far behind. Being a midrange device, the Snapdragon 400-powered Galaxy Mega with LTE is obviously outclassed. 

To put in better perspective of the performance differences between the Snapdragon 800 and 600 processors, here are the Quadrant scores of the other mobile devices not included in the chart but are powered by the Snapdragon 600 processors: 

  • ASUS PadFone Infinity - 11,141
  • HTC Butterfly S - 12,608
  • HTC One - 12,413
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 - 12,292
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 Active - 12,448

 

3DMark Results

Originally developed as a PC benchmarking tool, 3DMark is now expanded to support multiple platforms including Android OS. The Ice Storm benchmark is designed for smartphones, mobile devices and ARM architecture computers.

For an in-depth understanding of 3DMark for Android, do head over to our article, "3DMark - Android Device GPU Performance Review." In a nutshell, 3DMark consists of two test sections: 

3DMark Ice Storm is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark test that uses fixed off-screen rendering at 720p then scales the output to fit the native display resolution of your device. Ice Storm includes two graphics tests designed to stress the GPU performance of your device and a physics test to stress its CPU performance.

3DMark Ice Storm Extreme raises the off-screen rendering resolution to 1080p and uses higher quality textures and post-processing effects to create a more demanding load for the latest smartphones and tablets.

Similar to the Quadrant benchmark scores, the Xperia Z Ultra led the competition by huge margins in 3DMark. The Xperia Z Ultra outscored the Optimus G Pro by almost 2 times. Looks like the Snapdragon 800 is a real powerhouse and primed for anything coming its path.

 

SunSpider Javascript Results 

SunSpider Javascript measures the browsing performance of a device. It not only takes into consideration the underlying hardware performance, but also assesses how optimized a particular platform is at delivering a high-speed web browsing experience.

The Xperia Z Ultra has the best score across the board (even when we consider tablets); it basically blew the competition out of the water. Outside of this comparison, the fourth generation Apple iPad comes in at a very close second at 850.2ms, followed by the Nokia Lumia 925 (908.8ms) and the Apple iPhone 5 (917.3ms). 

Synthetic benchmarks aside, we found the interface navigation on the Xperia Z Ultra to be smooth and fluid. We hardly encountered any lags, thanks to Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and the almost stock Android user interface.

There is however, one problem that we encountered on two occasions. The display refused to power on even though we pressed the Power button. Notifications continued to come in, but we were unable to access them. This problem persisted for about ten minutes before the screen powered itself on after we tried pressing the Power button again. We've reached out to Sony Mobile Singapore on this issue and we will update this section when we have the information.

 

Battery Performance     

Our standard battery test for mobile phones includes the following parameters:

• Looping a 800 x 480-pixel video with screen brightness and volume at 100%

• Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on

• Constant data streaming through email and Twitter 

For the video playback, the Xperia Z Ultra lasted close to five hours (to be exact, it is 4 hours and 57 minutes) which is one of the lowest we've seen the past year. Its short battery mileage can be traced to three factors:

  1. Huge 6.44-inch display
  2. A limited 3,000mAh battery capacity
  3. Sony's track record in tackling power efficiency

The 6.44-inch full HD display is most likely to be the culprit for draining the battery life, and this is evident in the Power Consumption chart where the Xperia Z Ultra registered the highest power draw at 2.24W. This is an expected increase, but thankfully it wasn't too high.

Next, the Xperia Z Ultra comes with a mere 3,000mAh capacity battery which is the lowest among the 6-inch competition. Even the 5-inch HTC Butterfly S comes with a larger battery capacity (3,200mAh). Unfortunately, the obvious reason is that Sony prioritized a slimmer chassis over having a longer battery mileage on the device. This concern is also evident on the super thin Sony Tablet Z.

Last but not least, Sony's mobile devices have traditionally not fared well in our battery tests, and it is an area that needs improvement. This was also reflected in our day-to-day usage of the device - more on this in a later section below.

 

Portability

In the Portability Index where each device is assessed on its ability to balance battery mileage against its size and mass, the Xperia Z Ultra ranked last due to all three of these factors that aren't in its favor.

 

Actual Usage Results

To give you a more realistic understanding on how the Xperia Z Ultra fared under real world usage conditions, we included screenshots of the usage and history graphs which are available on Android 4.0 and later devices.

As seen from the graphs above, the Xperia Z Ultra barely made it through a day at work. Some notes:-

  • The review unit we tested is a 3G model. In addition, the SIM card used does not support 4G LTE.
  • The device was using a data connection and wasn't connected to Wi-Fi.
  • Stamina Mode was not enabled at any point in time.
  • Our typical usage scenarios include making some voice calls, texting via WhatsApp, taking some photos and sharing them on social networking sites (Facebook and Instagram), the occasional web browsing via Pulse News Reader and emailing.

We highly recommend you to enable Stamina Mode on the Xperia Z Ultra if you are always on-the-go and have no access to a power source. Enabling Stamina Mode will disable Wi-Fi, mobile data and most applications temporarily. You will still be able to receive phone calls, text messages, Sony Calendar notifications and alarm signals. The Music Player and FM radio will continue to work, while downloads and uploads are allowed to finish. But what good is a modern mobile device without being constantly connected to the internet? As such, we foresee Stamina Mode to only be activated in times of emergency.

 

Conclusion - The Best Phablet in the Market?

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra has one of the most complete packages you can find in a modern smartphone (or phablet). It has the latest and fastest quad-core processor, giving the Xperia Z Ultra an edge in raw performance while providing a smooth user experience at the same time. Sony finally integrated the best of its TV display technologies on its mobile devices, making the display on the Xperia Z Ultra one of the best in the market. We are big fans of the phone's aesthetics as the OmniBalance design language remains very appealing and sets the device apart from the competition. 

Unfortunately, the major drawback of the Xperia Z Ultra is its poor battery performance. Compounding that concern is its massive dimensions, which means the device is catered only to a niche market segment - consumers who do not want to carry a table and a phone, and those who prioritize multimedia consumption over everything else. Even then, the extent of its usefulness is somewhat limited because of its limited battery life unless you've all your media loaded on the device and use it mostly with Stamina Mode enabled. So in a nutshell, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a great product but with caveats.

 

Vs. the 6-inch Competition 

Even though the Samsung Galaxy Mega with LTE is positioned as a midrange device, its overall proposition almost puts it on par with the Xperia Z Ultra. While it lacks the premium, elegant design and superior Full-HD display of the Xperia Z Ultra, it compensates with better battery performance and good overall performance.

The Huawei Ascend Mate gains the upper hand in the aspect of battery mileage and price, but Sony is better in the area of display, design and overall performance. In addition, the Ascend Mate does not support 4G LTE, whereas Sony Singapore will only be bringing in the 4G model of the Xperia Z Ultra for the local market.

 

Vs. the 7-inch Tablets 

While you can carry out all the functions offered by 7-inch tablets on the Xperia Z Ultra, there is one critical area that you have to take note of - its battery performance. Most 7-inch tablets with cellular connectivity (Apple iPad mini, ASUS Fonepad, Google Nexus 7 and Toshiba Regza Tablet AT270) can last much longer under day-to-day usage conditions and our stressful battery test scenarios. Of course, with the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, you may replace the need to carry a 7-inch tablet and a smartphone separately, but you would have to keep a watchful eye on the battery level.

 

Pricing and Availability

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra (4G) will be available in Singapore in the coming weeks. At the point of publication, Sony Mobile Singapore was unable to provide us the suggested retail pricing for the Xperia Z Ultra. As with all premium flagship devices, you can expect the Sony Xperia Z Ultra to be priced about the S$1,000 mark. To get an idea, The Wall Street Journal points to the launch price in India that's pegged at 46,990 rupees (US$785). Do the math and it should hopefully be priced in the ballpark we estimated.