Smartphone review: Sony Xperia Z Ultra

There comes a point when big can be just too big.

And the Xperia Z Ultra, Sony's first attempt at a phablet, hovers at that tipping point, especially when it is also very slim for its 6.44-inch screen size.

While other companies have gone with different design elements for phones of different types and sizes, I applaud Sony's consistency because its larger devices really stand out.

You just have to be slightly careful, though, as the size and thinness make this phone prone to some flex, especially if you accidentally sit on it.

Measuring 179.4mm by 92.2mm, this whopper weighs only 212g and is a mere 6.5mm thick.

In comparison, the 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 3 weighs 168g, but is 8.3mm thick.

Aesthetically, it shares designs found in the recent range of Xperia devices, with a slim rectangular body and covered microSD, USB and SIM ports.

A silver power button sits on the right edge above the volume controls.

Having a recognisable design, especially a good one, makes Sony's products more identifiable.

The other great thing about the screen is that it uses Sony's own Triluminos technology, which is used in its TVs as well.

This gives it greater contrast and colour, which is evident when you watch a widescreen video on it. The black bars above the video merge with the black border around the bezel, making it hard to tell where the two black areas meet.

This sharpness makes reading on the screen better too.

But video quality is let down by the poor audio, which comes only from a small speaker at the base of the device.

Imagine watching a movie in the theatre with a cheap pair of earphones.

The other downside is that videos formatted for smaller screens will look pixellated here.

The gargantuan size means that the phone is not easy to use with one hand, although it is still comfortable to hold with your thumb and finger during a call.

In most instances, two-handed operations are necessary and this is especially annoying when it comes to taking photos.

It is impossible to grip the phone properly and focus the camera, especially if you want to tap on the screen. And forget about single-hand operations if you want to record stable video footage.

Aside from the physical limitations of a large device, pictures also look grainy on the big screen, especially with low-light shots, which makes me wonder if Sony would be better off pairing this with a higher-resolution camera and sensor.

Thankfully, none of the other hardware here is inferior. The processor from Qualcomm is the latest and while the battery cannot be removed, there is a microSD slot to increase memory capacity.

On the Quadrant benchmark test, it rated 20,425, which is a good figure for quad-core devices.

The battery also lasted a better-than-expected eight hours, although constant use of LTE will drain it faster.

One feature of the Z Ultra is that you can use a pencil to take notes. While the phone does not come with a stylus, you can write on the screen with any conducting material, such as an ordinary pencil or third-party stylus.

The input here is relatively accurate, although scribbles come out worse than on paper. It is also possible to sketch a cartoon on screen.

Those used to the stylus on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 might not think much of this feature as there is no button on a pencil and no contextual menus pop up when an object is placed on the screen.

For all the slight hiccups, Sony has made a beautiful and lightweight giant here, which is a boon for those who simply want the generous screen size.

sherwinl@sph.com.sg

TECH SPECS

Price: $1,038 without contract

Processor: 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800

Display: 6.44-inch full-HD Triluminos, 1,080 x 1,920 pixels

Camera: 8 megapixels (rear), 2 megapixels (front)

Operating system: Android 4.2 Jelly Bean

Memory: 16GB (expandable to 64GB)

Battery: 3,000mAh

RATING

Features: 8/10

Design: 10/10

Performance: 8/10

Value for money: 8/10

Battery life: 10/10

Overall: 8/10


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