Sony Xperia Z Ultra User Review

*This is a review of a loaned unit from Sony Mobile Malaysia*

Phablets! Phablets! Phablets!

That’s the new craze now with gigantuous smartphones these days. With the success of Samsung Galaxy Note smartphones, more and more phone manufacturers are coming up with their version of big screen smartphones to satisfy the consumer needs for large screen phone / tablets. Sony’s version of phablet is the Sony Xperia Z Ultra – the whopping 6.4″ screen Android smartphone.

Last August 2013, I attended Sony Malaysia’s Media Launch of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra where I shared some hands-on first impression of the phablet. While the phablet is ridiculously huge, I came away rather impressed with the hardware and build quality.

See Also : Sony Xperia Z Ultra Launch in Malaysia

A couple of weeks ago, I was happy to receive a loan unit of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, along with a couple of headphones for review. After a couple of weeks using the phablet as my primary phone (yes, that included receiving phone calls with this giant phone against my face), here’s my full user review of likely one of the biggest phones in the market today!

 

Hardware Overview

Sony Xperia Z Ultra
Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Here’s a quick hardware specs overview of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra:-

  • 6.4″ Full HD TRILUMINOS® TFT display (1920 x 1080)(342 ppi)
  • 2.2 GHz quad core Snapdragon 800 processor
  • 16 GB internal storage (microSD up to 64 GB)+ 2 GB RAM
  • Powered by Android 4.2 “Jellybean” OS
  • 8 megapixel “Exmor RS for mobile” rear camera (1080p video), 2 megapixel front facing camera (1080p)
  • 6.5 mm thin, weighing 212 grams
  • 3.000 mAH non-removable battery (16 hours 3G talktime)
  • Connectivity : 4G LTE/HSPA+ versions, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA connection, NFC
  • Available in Black, White and Purple colours

For more information, check out the Sony Xperia Z Ultra Product Page at http://www.sonymobile.com/my/products/phones/xperia-z-ultra/

Sony Xperia Z Ultra - Unboxing
Unboxing the Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Inside the box packaging, you’ll find the Xperia Z Ultra smartphone, 2-pin power adapter, USB to microUSB charging and syncing cable and user manuals. Rather minimalistic, I must say. There’s not even a standard (however cheap) headphones included. This was disappointing, but I at least got separate headphones from Sony for review (coming soon).

Xperia Z Ultra - Hardware 2
Front and back of the Xperia Z Ultra

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a large smartphone indeed. It’s a massive 6.4” TRILUMINOS™ Full HD Display with X-Reality for mobile – essentially the technology that Sony has from their TVs is now brought to the smartphone series. Blacks are very crisp blacks and colours are vivid and pops, just like you’re watching a handheld TV.

The back of the device spells out the great build quality and materials that Sony used, which includes a glass back that looks oh-so premium. As good as the glass back look and feel, it can get annoying as it’s somewhat of a fingerprint magnet.

Noticed that there’s no flash built in at the back of the Xperia Z Ultra? Yeah – Sony mentioned that they’ve omitted this to keep the device nice and slim. The rear 8 megapixel shooter is equipped with Exmor RS for mobile technology that allegedly takes great pictures, with the same camera tech from their digital imaging (read: camera) team’s technology. More on the camera performance later in the post.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra on top of Acer Aspire S7 Ultrabook
Sony Xperia Z Ultra on top of Acer Aspire S7 Ultrabook

I placed it on top of my Acer Aspire S7 Ultrabook and both devices are made of glass on white background. Looks so similar, and in my opinion, complements each other very well. *grin*

Xperia Z Ultra - Hardware 1
Ports and buttons on the slim Xperia Z Ultra

Looking around the phone, I’m really impressed with the slim profile of the phablet, measuring only 6.5 mm thin at 212 grams. It’s truly an impressive feat for Sony to keep the device so slim and gorgeous, looking very much like a large screen brother of the flagship Sony Xperia Z.

Power On/Off button is strategically placed in the middle on the right side of the device. Smart move on Sony’s part to not place this button at the top. It’s definitely more ergonomically correct to access it this way.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra - Flaps
Flaps covering ports

While the 3.5 mm headphone jack is exposed on the top right side of the device, the other ports for your micro SIM, micro SD and micro USB are covered with flaps. While it may not look it, it actually protects these ports from damage when submerged in water. You’ll truly be amazed on how the supposedly flimsy looking flaps can really maintain the waterproofing of the device, even the exposed looking headphone jack is waterproof! More on this feature later in the post.

Some highlighted “killer features” of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra includes:-

  • World’s Largest Full HD smartphone display – 6.4” TRILUMINOS™ Display with X-Reality for mobile
  • World’s Slimmest Full HD smartphone – Slim phone at oly 6.5mm thin, weighing 212 grams
  • Waterproof up to 1.5 metres for 30 minutes and dust resistant (IP55/IP58) with tough tempered glass coated with an anti-shatter film
  • Responsive screen with handwriting recognition – Write and sketch with any pencil and selected stylus or pen (capacitive stylus or metal pen with tip diameter over 1mm)
  • 8 megapixel camera with “Exmor RS for mobile” sensor and HDR for videos and photos
  • Full accessory ecosystem for premium entertainment and connectivity
  • Battery STAMINA Mode for outstanding battery life

For more information, check out the Sony Xperia Z Ultra Product Page at http://www.sonymobile.com/my/products/phones/xperia-z-ultra/

Sony Xperia Z Ultra in hand
Xperia Z Ultra in my hand

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is indeed a huge Android smartphone. As much as Sony refused to call it a “phablet” (that’s phone and tablet hybrid, for those of you unfamiliar), they insisted that we refer to the Xperia Z Ultra still as a smartphone.

 

Size comparisons

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 vs Sony Xperia Z Ultra vs HTC One
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 vs Sony Xperia Z Ultra vs HTC One

The amount of stares I get throughout my 2 weeks using this device as my primary smartphone, especially when I’m taking a call with this up on my face. Sheesh!

Seriously though, you’ll certainly turn heads when you use this device. Friends have laughed and shook their heads when they take a few minutes to play with this phone.

“It’s huge!”, “OMG, this is ridiculous”, “How can you use this as a phone at this size?” Usual comments, coupled with smiles and chuckles.

No doubt it is a big phone. But with the additional screen real estate, it comes in super handy when you’re browsing webpages, watching movies and videos, and even reading (e-books or documents). The vivid Full HD display adds on to the pleasant multimedia experience, too.

 

Waterproof and Dustproof

Xperia Z Ultra - Hardware (Flaps)
Flaps everywhere because it’s a waterproof device

The device is certified with IP55 and IP58 rating, this means the Xperia Z Ultra is dustproof and waterproof (not just water resistant) for up to 1.5 metres for 30 minutes. This is better than the flagship Xperia Z, which can only get wet up to 1 meter for 30 minutes.

Just like with Sony Xperia Z, I truly enjoy being able to just place the device under running tap water to wash and clean the phablet when I get it smudgy and dirty.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra - Waterproof

Because it’s been raining quite regularly around KL lately, I had absolutely no issues walking around in the rain with the phone exposed to the elements. Even got to snap the picture above while placing the device right outside in pouring rain.

The only downside, I have to warn you though, is that the device’s touchscreen is not as sensitive when wet. With capacitive screen on smartphones these days, you need some warmth in your finger to register a tap on screen. When this Xperia Z Ultra is wet, your fingers also likely wet, the tap of your finger is not quite warm enough and causes some missed taps.

Dripping rain water on the screen also caused the screen to sometimes register a big raindrop and started pressing and opening unwanted apps and functions.

So, yeah – using it in the rain – not so advisable!

 

Software Overview

Xperia Z Ultra - UI, Navigation, Menu
Xperia Z Ultra – UI, Navigation, Menu

The world’s largest, slimmest and only waterproof Full HD display smartphone (according to Sony) is powered by Android 4,2 “Jellybean” OS out the box.

In the time when I had the phone, I had been getting prompts for an update – which I’m guessing could be for Android 4.3 “Jellybean” OS. But I couldn’t update it Over-The-Air (OTA) using mobile data or WiFi, because the prompt said that I need to update using a cable with the computer. This to me, is rather unacceptable. I can’t remember the last time I had to use old skool cable plugged into my computer for a firmware upgrade these days. Come on, Sony – get with the times!

Nevertheless, the user interface and navigation is beautiful, fluid and easy to use on the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. Standard gestures and swipes for Android phones apply here – pinch on Homescreen to view all homescreen panels and access to add widgets, app shortcuts, change wallpaper, etc.

Swipe down from top reveals your notification shade, including some shortcut toggles for sound, Bluetooth, WiFi, brightness and settings menu. There’s even Google Now included in the device, which is a customised search and virtual assistant with reminders and info based on your calendar, search history, etc.

Navigating is easy between apps and features, although there were several times when the phone turned buggy and started fidgeting and skipping between screens. A few times it kept jumping uncontrollably between pinch-to-zoom function and sweeping between homescreens without me touching anything. I assume this is something that would likely be fixed with the new update?

Xperia Z Ultra - Specs
f 4G LTE and NFC ready

The review unit that I have is the 4G LTE enabled version, which was available on sale recently since 17 October 2013, about 2 months since the fist announcement of the HSPA+ only version.

Xperia Z Ultra - Keyboard
Multiple keyboard options, including handwriting and single hand use

Typing on the large screen device can be tricky. Yes, there’s limited chances of typos, because the keyboard is nice and big on the big screen. My annoyance comes with the fact that the device is so big and with the keyboard layout at the bottom half of the screen, it was just not too comfortable holding it right for two-thumbs speed typing.

Good news, though,  Sony included multiple options for the on-screen keyboard, with different layout options as well, to make typing easy for you. There’s even a handwriting option for quick note taking, which is sensitive enough for you to use a pen to write on screen. Yes – a regular pen!!!

The other cool feature is the single hand keyboard layout, which squeezes the keyboard to the right side of the screen, for single hand typing. Handy and smart option included, although isn’t friendly for left handed use. 🙁

Overall though, the on screen keyboard is responsive, with good auto-correct and word prediction.  Good job on Sony’s part.

Xperia Z Ultra - Sony Apps
Pre-installed Sony apps

As with most Android smartphones these days, there are some pre-installed apps from Sony included in the phone. Some of them includes Sony’s visually appealing layout for basic apps like Albums (Photo Gallery), Music, Movies and Sony Select (Sony’s own app store).

Xperia Z Ultra - Socialife
Socialife is a news reader app

Socialife is Sony’s own version of magazine style, news reader app, ala Flipboard or Feedly. It is a rather basic app for light readers, and the app even suggests some topics and sites for you.

Xperia Z Ultra - my Xperia
my Xperia helps you locate your phone when it’s lost

my Xperia is an app that’s been introduced since Sony’s flagship Xperia Z smartphone. Once setup, tied to your email and Sony ID, it’s an app that helps you locate your device when it’s lost.

An impressive feature of this service is that it syncs multiple emails I have setup on the phone, allowing me to access its control from either email address.

With all these gorgeous 6.4″ screen real estate, I only wish Sony would follow in Samsung’s footsteps to introduce specific features to make full use of the large screen real estate. Like, Samsung’s Multi-Window to allow you to multi task with 2 windows of apps open side-by-side. 🙁

See Also : Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Gear smartwatch Launched in Malaysia (with hands-on)(updated)

 

Camera

Sony Xperia Z Ultra - Rear Camera
8 megapixel “Exmor RS for mobile” rear camera (1080p video)

The rear camera is an 8 megapixel camera fast-capture camera with Exmor RS with 16x digital zoom with auto focus. Bad news – no LED flash. Sony claims that the technology included in the Xperia Z Ultra was the same technology from their Sony cameras. It”s designed to take great photos with the Exmor RS technology.

Also, in order to keep the profile of the device so slim, they made the choice to not include a flash.

Xperia Z Ultra - Camera
Camera app functions

The Camera app is indeed rather powerful, but not too confusing.

There are good controls allowing you to adjust resolution, smile detection, scene selection and more. If you’re like me, who mostly leave the camera in “Auto” mode, the camera app is smart enough to detect the various scene I’m in and adjusts it’s auto functions and scene selections accordingly.

Here are some sample images taken with the Xperia Z Ultra. Images are not resized or edited, so mouse-over to view the condition and click to view enlarged version.

In daylight and outdoor condition, the camera performs well – no complains here. Images are bright and clear and colours pop, especially when viewed on this large screen. However, when confronted with low light or poor lighting conditions (sometimes just indoor photography), it struggles where images are noisy and grainy.

Macro shots are good, with relatively fast autofocus at work.

Front facing camera, on the other hand, was rather poor quality. In daylight, images are merely of acceptable quality. In low light condition, images are too grainy and noisy for my liking. If you’re a regular selfie taker, this might not be the best front facing camera for your #selfie needs.

 

Battery Life

Xperia Z Ultra - Battery Life
Battery Life is only acceptable with “Stamina Mode” on

 

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra comes with a Battery STAMINA mode which allows you to save battery on your device by intelligently turning off some features, background apps and data usage when it’s not in use. This significantly helps improves battery performance to last you longer in the day.

In my first day of test, I didn’t turn on this “STAMINA mode” and my battery was draining so fast. With relatively light usage, the phone dropped quickly to 36% in just a little over 8 ours of use.  Thanks to some of my Twitter followers (you gotta follow my Twitter @winniekepala HERE), who also pointed out that large screen devices drains battery faster, and that “power safe” mode saves significant juices, etc. I have amazing Twitter friends! *waves*

Once I turned the Battery STAMINA mode on for the rest of the couple of weeks of review, I see significant improvement with battery performance – including the battery lasting me close to 19 hours+ of moderate to heavy usage. Sony did an amazing job with this battery feature, indeed.

 

Pricing and Availability

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is available on sale since early August 2013 for HSPA+ version in Black or White colour only, at a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of RM 2,299.

Since 17 October 2013, the 4G LTE version of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is made available for sale in Black, White and Purple colour version, at a reduced RRP of RM 2,199.

 

Conclusion

Having used the Sony Xperia Z Ultra for a couple of weeks as my primary device, here’s a quick summary list of my likes and dislikes of the device:-

What I Like

  • Great build quality – Since Sony bought back their share from Ericsson, they’re back with innovative and high-end premium smartphones with glass front and back
  • Beautiful display screen – the 6.4″ Full HD display has truly amazing image resolution and visuals
  • Super slim and sexy – Although it’s huge, it’s slim profile is gorgeous

What I Dislike

  • Buggy software – Several times it kept skipping and acting weird. Software update fix, perhaps?
  • No LED flash – I understand they need to keep this device slim, but the missing flash is very disappointing
  • Touch to type because it’s such a big device – Holding with both hands, typing at the bottom half of the device, occasionally losing balance of this giant phablet

In my time when I was using the phone, I came across another person who had the non 4G LTE version of this device. He loved the Xperia Z Ultra and Sony devices generally. The large screen worked for his lifestyle and his preference.

See Also : Sony Xperia Z User Review

I would recommend this if you like large screen devices. If you like a big phone with big screen for easier touchscreen typing and enjoy watching videos and movies or reading on your smartphone, this is one you should consider.

Build quality is truly gorgeous, and I take my hats off to Sony for another great device in their arsenal.

To find out more about the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, check out the official product page on Sony Mobile Malaysia’s website at http://www.sonymobile.com/my/products/phones/xperia-z-ultra/

Also, to show your love, make sure to check out Sony Mobile Malaysia website at http://www.sonymobile.com/my/ or follow them on Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/sonymobilemy or Sony Xperia’s Twitter at https://twitter.com/SonyXperiaMY

As usual, if you enjoyed this review, please comment, *LIKE* and share this with everyone you know.

Thanks again, Sony Mobile Malaysia for the opportunity to review this exceptional device.

 

 

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