The ever blurring line between smartphones and tablets just got thinner when Sony introduced the Xperia Z Ultra. At 6.4-inches, it’s the largest handset to hit the Indian market and just so happens to be the most expensive. While bigger is not always better, Sony seems to have got it spot on with the display as it’s the single most stunning thing you’ve ever seen fitted to a smartphone. However, a gorgeous display does not guarantee it being a good smartphone as it has to bear the brunt of everyday use, handle voice calls without dropping and most importantly – sit comfortably in your pocket. The latter might be a tall order for the Ultra given its size, so let’s see if it has its basics right.
Note: Before we venture further, we would just like to mention that the unit we have with us today is not the retail unit, so naturally, we did have minor software glitches along the way. Apart from this, however, the hardware underneath is the same as the final retail units, so this shouldn’t affect our review. We will be getting the final unit soon and update the review wherever necessary.
Design and build
The Z Ultra debuts Sony’s new Triluminos display, which uses the same panel technology used in its 2013 BRAVIA TVs. The result of this is a stunningly bright and vivid picture with decent viewing angles. Despite having an IP58 certification, the screen is not dull and lifeless like the Xperia Z; it is just the opposite. The build is very good and even though the phone is very thin at just 6.5 mm, it feels sturdy. The Xperia Z Ultra doesn’t have one bad angle and is truly a jaw dropper in terms of design. There’s an ergonomically placed power and volume rocker on the side along with a microSD card and microSIM slot. The 3.5 mm headphone jack is not covered, though. There are two exposed leads as well for connecting the phone to the optional dock.
Stunning design and build
There’s a mono speaker slit down at the bottom of the phone along with a lanyard loop. The front and back are extremely glossy and attract smudges very easily. The screen doesn’t scratch easily, but the same cannot be said about the back. Despite having a screen guard, the back of our unit developed many hairline scratches without even dropping it. The 8MP camera is devoid of any flash, which is very puzzling and will certainly not go down well with prospective buyers. The battery is completely sealed off, so there’s no chance of swapping it out. The design, while stunning, is the least ergonomic to use. You’ll have to stretch your hands all the way just to grip it firmly, so forget about one-handed usage.
Super slim at just 6.5 mm
Overall, the Z Ultra has a stunning design and looks absolutely gorgeous from every conceivable angle, but is real pain in the back side to hold or keep in your pocket.
The Z Ultra is the first phone in India to be powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC. This powerful chipset packs in four CPU cores running at 2.2GHz and their fastest Adreno 330 graphics. Couple this with 2GB of RAM and we’re looking at an incredibly smooth Jelly Bean experience. Sony’s skin adds some nifty customisation options to the UI as well. The display is extremely vibrant; it actually feels like a mini cinema in your hands. The phone is also IP58 certified, but we didn’t put it to the test since one of the port flaps refused to go back in place securely.
A familiar interface
Sony has peppered the Z Ultra with its usual suite of apps like McAfee Security, TrackID, Sony LIV, Music Unlimited, Office Suite etc.
Benchmarks are off the charts!
The Walkman music player is very similar to the ones we’ve seen in the past and so is the video player. Audio quality is good through headphones, but the speaker volume is quite weak and not very loud. According to Sony, certain compromises had to be made in order to achieve the desired slim profile. Sound enhancements are present in the form of ClearAudio+, which automatically amplifies the sound, or you could fine tune the settings through a 5-band graphic equaliser along with features such as Clear Stereo, Clear phase, xLOUD and Dynamic normaliser.
The display is excellent for videos
The video player won’t read WMV, FLV and some AVI files, but everything else, including MKV files, works just fine. There’s 16GB of onboard memory, which is expandable to 64GB via microSD card.
Sony has launched the HSPA+ variant in India, so no LTE support. Other connectivity options include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS and GLONASS. The handset also supports Miracast for mirroring your phone on a compatible TV. There’s MHL as well for cloning your phone via a cable. The display is a joy to use for surfing the web. The pixel count is high enough to make individual pixel indiscernible to the naked eye. Text is sharp and even heavy web pages are rendered quickly thanks to the speedy chipset.
The Sketch app is a nice addition to the suite
We also had an issue with the ear piece as the caller’s voice sounds tinny and muffled. Even at full volume, it’s quite difficult to hear the person in noisy environments. The sound from the earpiece causes slight vibrations around that area and it almost feels like you’re on speaker phone. We’ll give the Ultra the benefit of doubt as this is a demo unit, so we’ll confirm back once we get a retail piece.
The 8MP camera resolution is not as much of a letdown as the quality of pictures it captures. To make matters worse, Sony has left out an LED flash. And with the sensor unable to handle low-light well in the first place, the results aren’t pretty. The list of options is exactly the same as the Z and ZL; HDR video is present as well. There’s also a lot of colour noise in indoor images, which is very apparent in the blurred-out background in macro shots.
Lots of colour noise visible in indoor shots
Video recording is smooth, but the quality of videos is just about average.
We easily managed to sail through our 8-hour loop test and still had about 44 percent battery remaining. The 3050 mAh battery onboard will easily last you a day on moderate usage and Sony’s Stamina mode should help increase that even more.
Available in three shades
Verdict and price in India
For an asking price of Rs 46,990, we expected a lot more than just a good display and waterproofing. The Z Ultra makes an excellent waterproof PMP, but sadly, it does not make the cut as a phone. In fact, I really hope Sony launches a PMP with same feature set as the Ultra (minus the calling function) for under Rs 20,000 as it would easily give the iPod touch a run for its money.
The Z Ultra is simply too unwieldy to be used as a primary phone. The camera quality is strictly average and the loud speaker is anything but that. And for this price, we expected at least 32GB of onboard memory. It does have an excellent display, however, and one of the fastest chipsets ever fitted to a phone, which makes it great for entertainment and gaming. If the two above mentioned points are your main criteria, then nothing beats the Z Ultra. For rest of us, we’ll just have to wait for Sony to bring this Triluminos goodness to a screen size that’s more pocketable.