Never have we had a phone through the Gizmodo office that has been more polarising than the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. People have pointed and laughed at it, ridiculed it and shamed it for being everything wrong with the so-called phablet revolution, but I think that every single one of them is wrong. Here’s why.
What Is It?
The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a 6.4-inch 1080×1920 (1080p) beast of a phone, packing a 342ppi into the display. You’ve also got TRILUMINOUS Display technology built-in for better colour saturation, an X-Reality for Mobile engine and an OptiContrast panel for deeper blacks. Coincidentally, that OptiContrast tech features the same algorithms, colour maths and software Sony uses in its 4K TVs, which are fabulous.
Under the hood you’ll find a knockout Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor clocked at 2.2GHz, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of on-board storage, expandable up to 64GB via microSD, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 2-megapixel front-facer. It’s all kept alive by a massive 3000mAh battery crammed into a tiny 6.5mm thin body.
Sony knows this phone is giant, and as a result, it’s doing everything it can to win you over.
For example: sure, it’s huge, but it’s also magnificently slender as well. It’s thinner than the iPhone 5, slimmer than the Galaxy S4 and even tinier than its smaller sibling, the Sony Xperia Z and Z1. Considering the monstrous specs and impressive battery Sony crams into this thing, it’s phenomenal to think that it’s thinner than just about everything on the market while still maintaining what we think is one of the best screens on the market right now.
Speaking of, that 6.4-inch monster screen is mind-blowingly clear and crisp. Colours are bright, blacks are deep and the pixels are barely visible.
The handset also makes great use of the power under the hood, too. Our benchmark tests bring it in at a dual-core score of 2809. That’s just shy of the Galaxy Note 3 (which has been accused of inflating its benchmarks) at 2875 and even closer to the 64-bit iPhone 5s at 2530.
It’s worth keeping in mind that this handset has 2GB of RAM where the Note 3 has 3GB, while the iPhone has even less, coming in at just 1GB. The Xperia Z Ultra can certainly hold its own.
On top of all this, the Xperia Z Ultra continues to pack in dust-proof and water-proof certifications so you can be a little rougher with it than you would with the more precious competition.
Despite the waterproofing, Sony has included a magnetic connector on the side of the device so you can easily clip it into a handsome-looking dock on your desk. No flaps to fiddle with in that case, and that’s a great idea.
There’s no pen or stylus included in the Xperia Z Ultra, but the screen is such that you can use any pen or graphite pencil you like, which dramatically improves the accuracy for sketchers. It’s also pretty boss to whip out an attractive looking pencil and use your device rather than pull a pokey stylus out. It’s not a perfect solution, as we’ll get to, but it’s nifty.
Considering that Sony is priding itself on fantastic camera tech in its new Xperia devices, the shooter on the Z Ultra outright blows. It’s terrible in low-light and also pretty disappointing in high-light, and should probably be avoided. It’s unfortunate, too, because the camera on the Xperia Z1 and even last generation’s Xperia Z was freaking fantastic. I imagine the terrible camera has something to do with the thin design and not being able to cram in a better sensor. Sadly, you still can’t have it all on a smartphone.
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There’s also no dedicated camera button like there is on the Xperia Z1 (which Sony prides itself on), so you assume that the two were developed separately rather than in conjunction. You’d assume that some design consistency would carry over if the two had been conceived at the same time.
We touched on the pencil solution earlier, and that’s a fantastic idea. The problem is that the device doesn’t respond differently to pressure, so no matter how hard you push, the device will just draw the same shaped line. It’s a shame because texture and depth are what make such great pictures. Not to say you can’t get an app to change the line thickness, but sometimes you want it to just work out of the box.
The size is definitely going to turn people off. We did a few pocket tests and found that even in the baggiest of jeans and pants, this thing will either poke its head out the top or spend all day stabbing you in the belt or the waistband while you walk. We found it most pocketable in jackets and blazers, and you feel like quite an operator extracting it from aforementioned breast pocket. If you're not going to keep it in a bag or in a jacket, you might want to think again with this phone.
This Is Weird…
Even if you’re not a design tragic, the rear of the Z Ultra will probably annoy the crap out of you.
Look at the back of the Xperia Z Ultra. You’ve got a camera sitting slightly off-centre, with the NFC logo indicating where the pairing point is parallel to that sitting slightly lower.
The Sony logo and the Xperia branding is then centred in the middle and on the bottom of the handset. That’s so frustrating to look at. I’m not saying it should all be off centre. I’m saying they should all be centred in the middle of the handset. You just want to move it yourself it’s so frustrating.
Make sure you never put this face-down if you’re even slightly OCD.
The Worst Part
When we saw the Xperia Z Ultra at IFA and in the first Sony briefings, we were shown a device that made the unwieldy size of this new phablet more managable. It’s a little Bluetooth relay that connects wirelessly to the phone and is used as a remote for your calls and music. Either use it as a speaker or throw a pair of headphones at it and clip it on your shirt, and you’ve found a way to use a Bluetooth headset without looking like a douche. You can even just go the whole hog and hold it up to your ear rather than a giant 6.4-inch smartphone.
The only way you can use this phone without feeling like a straight-up lunatic is with that awesome Bluetooth accessory, and it doesn’t ship with it in the box. It should, because it’s freaking awesome, and will go a long way to getting people to buy this device.
Everyone who has held this device in the Gizmodo office over the last few weeks has laughed uncontrollably at the enormous size of the device. They look it up and down, laugh, hold it to their ear, laugh and try and stick in in their pocket after that. Laughs all round. The Bluetooth accessory voids that laughter, and without it, the device is nothing but a jester longing to be a king.
Never has an accessory been so key to the success of a device.
Should You Buy It?
The Xperia Z Ultra is a curious device that you absolutely need to feel first before you decide whether it’s for you. Either you’ll be won over by its super-sized screen and slender body, or you’ll look at it and laugh at the Amazonian giant.
Personally, I love this device. It’s a phablet done right for once. No gimmicks, no compromise, no nonsense: this is the only phablet I’d want to own right now. It has an unbeatable charm and power that's almost unmatched in the smartphone market right now.
It's designed for looking at web content, apps, games and video: that is what most people do on their smartphones these days. So why should it be a laughable concept that a well-screened, brilliantly-built gargantu-phone could fit into your life?