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Sony Xperia Z Ultra

o Tom Paye
27.08.2013 kl 14:34 |

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is like a big, dumb dog -- it's great to play around with, but you wouldn't necessarily want to live with it every day.

 

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is like a big, dumb dog -- it's great to play around with, but you wouldn't necessarily want to live with it every day.

An extension to Sony Mobile's flagship line, the Z Ultra is essentially a standard Xperia Z with a couple of extra features and a gargantuan 6.4-inch, Full-HD display. Indeed, Sony claims that the phone features the world's largest Full HD smartphone display, and that's an important point. Sony isn't selling this device as a small tablet that can make calls -- the Z Ultra is just a really, really big phone.

I hate the word "phablet" but if you were going to assign it to anything, this would be it. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 appears puny in comparison. But then again, this phone's natural rival would be the Galaxy Mega 6.3, so we'll use that as a benchmark.

The display

On the face of it, the TFT display is hugely impressive. It was developed by Sony's Bravia TV engineers, and features what the brand calls a Triluminos Display, which Sony says delivers a wider colour gamut and a wider sense of depth. Compared to your average LCD screen, it looks fantastic, with rich reds, blues and greens set against dark blacks.

The display is also surprisingly sharp, given how large it is. Sony claims 342 pixels per inch -- which is way better than the Galaxy Ultra's 233 ppi. Indeed, the Galaxy Ultra doesn't even offer Full HD. There's no denying that the Z Ultra makes content look crisp and brilliant.

In fact, you don't even have to be watching HD content to appreciate this brilliance. Sony claims that its new X-Reality engine can process and upscale process low-resolution Web videos so that they appear much cleaner on the screen. In real life, the improvements are noticeable, and it means you don't have to stream HD content all the time. That saves on data costs if you're watching videos on the go, and time if your Internet connection isn't particularly fast.

However, you don't really notice any of this stuff as you're using the Z Ultra, because it's just so big. Without Sony's display mettle, such a screen would probably look horrible, but because you kind of expect the phone to have a good display, it's easy to forget about the tech that's gone into it and simply focus on the size of the thing. And the size of Z Ultra can lead to a lot of frustration.

Usability

It might be great having a big screen to watch HD videos on, but you have to sacrifice an awful lot for the privilege. For one thing, in the hot, humid months of summer, it's all too easy to get a lot of condensation on the screen. And while the phone is thankfully waterproof -- like the standard Xperia Z -- the device will register touches from the droplets of condensation, making it annoying to use outside. Realistically, you have to wipe the screen down every time you want to use the phone outside.

Okay, you can live with that. But what becomes really frustrating to live with is the cumbersome nature of the phone in general. The display itself might be 6.4 inches, but from top to bottom, the phone measures 179 millimetres. It's also 92 milliemetres wide, making it difficult to hold even with two hands.

You can forget about typing out messages quickly, because it's all too easy for your grip to slip, causing you to press keys unintentionally. You can also forget about fitting the device into your trouser pocket -- only the baggiest trousers will house this phone.

Before lending me the device, Sony's team said to me that they figured women would be most interested in this phone, because they'll have handbags to put it in. And you really do need a bag to put it in, which I think kind of spoils the point of a personal device.

What's more, if the focus of the Z Ultra is entertainment -- viewing content on such a large screen -- then I would have thought more heed be paid to the on-board speakers. On full volume, they're nowhere near loud enough. This is annoying, because if you press the device up to your ear, you can hear the quality of the speakers -- base notes are punchy and you get a nice mix of mid to high notes. But at these volumes, you'll either have to connect to some Bluetooth speakers or use the accompanying earphones. In credit to Sony, the stock earphones are very good -- much better than what some manufacturers will give you (*cough* HTC *cough*).

The size issues I have with the Z Ultra aren't limited to this device, however. The Galaxy Ultra 6.3 suffers from the same problems, so perhaps I'm just not someone who wants a really big phone. That said, the Galaxy Ultra has better speakers, and the keyboard is nicer to use.

Despite my complaints, however, the Z Ultra as a whole isn't entirely horrible to use. The 2.2 GHz Qualcomm quad-core processor runs like a dream. And because you get 2 GB of RAM, you can have a dozen apps open and the device won't even flinch. This, coupled with that large screen, makes gaming great fun. And the Galaxy Ultra certainly can't match the experience.

Sony's skin on top Android 4.2 Jelly Bean is nice enough to use, and Sony promises big plans regarding connecting the Z Ultra to the PlayStation 4. You also get a handy TV mirroring app that will connect with any Sony Smart TV. NFC works brilliantly with a range of Sony devices, too -- after initially setting up, you just need to tap once and you're away. I can see this device working well with a smartwatch -- if the phone's in your bag and the watch alerts you to any notifications, it could be much easier to live with it.

Productivity

Given the Z Ultra was built with entertainment in mind, it comes as no surprise that it's not the most productive device out there. That said, I wouldn't have minded a little more than what the phone provides. The email client, for example, is extremely difficult to set up, and isn't great once you've got there -- buttons aren't where you'd expect to find them, and attachments aren't all that easy to access.

I found another gripe with the phone's Notes application. There's no separate voice note app, but you can take voice recordings in here. Unfortunately, the audio file doesn't show up when you're browsing through the device's folders on your computer. Your only option is to export the note to Evernote, which is itself a big faff. You're better off just using Evernote from the beginning, making the Notes app completely pointless.

I've already mentioned that it's difficult to type quickly on the Z Ultra, simply because of its size. But the keyboard doesn't help matters. Sure, it's pretty good at predicting what your next word is going to be, but you still have to press another button to access numbers and symbols. With all that on-screen real estate, why couldn't Sony just put the numbers above the letters, like on a conventional keyboard?

That said, the so-called STAMINA mode is great if you want to go for long periods without charging. Of course the non-removable 3,050 mAh battery helps, but the way this phone can manage its power is really something. You can set which apps are able to access either Wi-Fi or cellular data when the device is in sleep mode, meaning you're only using the bare essentials. It sounds simple, but it makes a world of difference to the battery life. With reasonably heavy usage, I got almost two days out of the Z Ultra on one charge.

The quality

I've always associated Sony's smartphones with iPhone levels of quality, but I'm not sure that's so true anymore. There's no metal on the outside, and the physical buttons on the side don't feel as meaty as I'd like them to.

The flipside of that, of course, is that the Z Ultra is water-proof and shock-proof. You can chuck the device across the room and it won't blink an eye, and accidental spillages are literally like water off a duck's back. Of course, you get all that from the standard Xperia Z, but it seems a little more impressive with the Z Ultra due to its size. What's more, nothing else on the market can offer such brilliant damage protection. Top marks for Sony there.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. For whatever reason, the device lost its ability to vibrate during my third day of use, and because the speakers aren't all that good, that meant I was consistently missing calls. My old HTC Desire did this after about two years, but you don't expect it to happen within a week of unboxing the phone. Maybe my test device was a little dodgy, but it hardly speaks of quality, does it?

The verdict

Personally, I'd buy the standard Xperia Z over the Z Ultra in a heartbeat, because I'm not interested in the gigantic screen -- indeed I think it's more of a bane than a blessing. But I suppose I'm not the target market, so it'd be unfair for me to simply disregard the device entirely.

If you are, for whatever reason, in the market for gigantic phone, I can't see why you'd choose anything else over this. It's good-looking, it's damage-resistant and the display is beautiful. Compared to similar-sized phones from other vendors -- productivity gripes aside -- the Z Ultra offers a much more compelling package. You just won't catch me using one.

Keywords: Consumer Electronics  
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