Phablet review: Xperia Z Ultra: Bigger is better

Phablet review: Xperia Z Ultra: Bigger is better

Sony's 6.4in phablet gives users an Ultra multimedia experience.

Do you find your smartphone screen too small? Don't like the hassle of carrying around a tablet?

Sounds like what you need is a phablet: a hybrid of phone and tablet. It's larger than a phone, yet smaller than a tablet.

In terms of phablets, it doesn't get much bigger than Sony's first foray into this growing market segment: the Sony Xperia Z Ultra.

Beautiful Giant

The Z Ultra is huge, sporting an enormous 6.4in screen. The good thing about the gargantuan screen is that it is not too wide, just exceptionally long. That makes it still very manageable when using with just one hand.

Sony devices have always been known to look good, and the Z Ultra is no exception - it has a beautiful unibody design that is not only solid, but very classy looking as well.

Being made of glass, the device feels premium but it is also a fingerprint magnet. Users should also be careful not to drop the device as it will be costly to repair.

The Z Ultra is marketed to be the world's thinnest full high definition (HD) smartphone available in the market, and it does indeed feel extremely thin.

The size of the screen is not the only selling point - the Triluminos full HD display used by the Z Ultra is very impressive, making it one of the better looking screens we've seen. It is excellent for viewing pictures and videos, which isn't surprising as it is backed by Sony's X-reality engine.

Talking point

As a phone, users are definitely going to feel awkward having a device of such proportion being placed against their face during phone calls. Sony seems to acknowledge this fact as they introduced a new Bluetooth headset together with the Z Ultra when the phablet was first announced. Sony had even packed in an SBH50 Stereo Bluetooth headset together with our review unit.

In terms of pocketability, the Z Ultra could fit in this reviewer's slacks and pants, but it sure wasn't comfortable as the device is too long. The bulge it made was also too obvious for comfort.

As with the other, newer Xperia devices released in recent times, the Z Ultra is dust-proof and water-resistant. It is IP 55/58 compliant, meaning that provided all ports and covers are firmly closed, the device is protected against low pressure jets of water from all directions in compliance with IP 55; and/or can be kept under 1.5m of freshwater for up to half an hour in compliance with IP 58.

For the device to attain the waterproof status, flaps are required to cover the ports, i.e. the micro USB port. However, the flaps are subject to wear and tear and thus might not last very long - users should be wary of this before subjecting the device to water.

Despite the certification, it is safer to take the feature as a form of protection for your device against accidental spills rather than for purposely dunking the device into water.

Another adverse side effect from having a waterproof device is that the volume of the loudspeaker is in fact not very loud. The speakers are coated to prevent water from seeping in. A software update has helped to mitigate the problem, but don't expect brilliant sound quality from this device's speakers.

The Z Ultra comes with an 8-megapixel camera. We were disappointed with the picture quality, as it was very grainy especially under low light conditions. Another drawback is that the device is not equipped with an LED flash, so photo taking in total darkness is out of the question. That would also mean that you can't double the device as a torch light.

Underneath your clothes

This phablet has Android 4.2.2. Jelly Bean on board. As with other devices running on Jelly Bean, the user experience is buttery smooth. This is also because the device is equipped with the best of specs, coming with 2.2 GHz Qualcomm MSM8974 quad-cores under the hood.

Games with better graphics such as Temple Run looked amazing on the Z Ultra's huge screen.

The Z Ultra has 16GB of memory built in, and this can be expanded with a microSD card of up to 64GB.

One of the main features that Sony had highlighted about the Z Ultra is the ability to use any pen or pencil as a stylus for the device. We find this to be more of a gimmick as it is very hard to get it working properly in practice.

To top it off, there is no palm rejection, thus writing won't work if your palm touches the screen. It is very tough to hold the device comfortably with one hand while trying to write with the other without either hand touching the screen for an extended period of time.

Conclusion

The Z Ultra is a device that really pushes the limits of screen sizes, even for a phablet. At 6.4in, it is the biggest device we've seen that isn't labelled as a tablet.

If you can look beyond its enormous size, it is a very capable and powerful device from Sony.

With such a large and beautiful full HD screen, it is an excellent media device but only if you have a pair of earphones as the speakers are below par.

It is also handy that the device is waterproof, so you don't have to worry too much when you use it around wet areas.

This is one of the few devices in the market that can give the other 'Note'able phablet a run for its money.

Pros: Large, beautiful screen; waterproof; smooth UI.

Cons: Too huge to place in the pocket comfortably; speakers not loud enough; no LED flash; handwriting more of a gimmick.

Xperia Z Ultra (C6833) (Sony)
Platform: Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean)
Processor: 2.2GHz Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor
Network: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSDPA 850/900/1700/2100, LTE 800/850/900/1700/1800/1900/2100/2600
Camera: 8-megapixel, 2-megapixel (front)
Display: 6.4in (1,920 x 1,080-pixels) Triluminous touchscreen
Memory: 16GB Internal memory, microSD slot (up to 64GB), 2GB RAM
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, USB 2.0, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
Features: 1080p full HD video recording and playback; dust-proof and water-resistant (IP55/IP58); shatter proof and scratch-resistant glass; X-Reality engine
Battery: 3,050mAh lithium-on
Size: 179.4 x 92.2 x 6.5mm
Weight: 212g
Price: S$897.50 (non LTE version)
Rating: 8
Review unit courtesy of Sony Mobile Malaysia, 1-800-88-7666

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