Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

Xperia_Z_Ultra-3
The Xperia Z was a fine phone in its own right, but when you force feed it steroids, several interesting things happen.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra: On the plus side

There’s no getting around the Xperia Z Ultra — and I do mean that quite literally.
Can’t go under it, can’t go over it, and so on and so forth. It’s Sony Mobile’s first large screened mobile device — we don’t use that other term around these parts — and with a 6.4 inch 324ppi 1080p capable display, that’s quite large indeed.
To give that some real world context, I can rest a Samsung Galaxy Note II entirely on just the screen of the Xperia Z Ultra and still see some pixels, along with the full bezel of the device. Want the most screen real estate for your dollar? Buy this phone — or at least, that’s Sony’s hope for it.

Handbag to store it in is not provided in the box.
A Handbag to store it in is not provided in the box.

Underneath the display lies a Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.2GHz processor, 16GB of storage (plus microSD) and 2GB of RAM. It’s a snappy combination that delivers solid results in anecdotal testing, and fair benchmark results.
The whole issue of Android benchmarks has exploded as late with most manufacturers resulting to less than honourable tactics when it comes to generating scores. I’ve long held that benchmarks shouldn’t be an end point unto themselves, but for what it’s worth, the Xperia Z Ultra managed 915 in the single core Geekbench 3 test, and 2738 in multi-core. It’s a capable performer, in other words.
A large screen allows you to do quite a bit more in terms of browsing or gameplaying, and if you treat the Xperia Z Ultra as though it was a slightly small tablet, it works very well. It’s comfortable to sit on the sofa with the Xperia Z Ultra by your side when arguments over which was the worst Doctor Who villain (it was the Myrka, obviously) emerge.
Battery life is good, thanks to the 3000mAh battery within. A larger body allows for more battery space, and this also reduces the power draw issues inherent in having a larger screen in the first place.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra: On the minus side

Did I mention that the Xperia Z Ultra was on the larger side? You probably got that impression. This has some consequences for phone usage, and they’re much the same issues that affect other large screen phones such as the Asus Fonepad.
You look like a complete idiot holding this thing up to your ear, it won’t fit in pockets not belonging to clich├ęd early 90s rappers, and one-handed operation is all but impossible unless you happen to be Andre the Giant.
The display on the Xperia Z Ultra looks fine if you’re glancing at it head on, but from any kind of angle it washes out quite noticeably, which is a problem if you wanted to use it share watching a movie with someone beside you.
Everyone seems to have settled on their designs for smartphones, and there’s no mistaking the Xperia Z Ultra’s Bravia-TV inspired design. At this size, though, it does look somewhat blocky, and it’s not helped by a charging point on the left hand side which feels odd when gripping the phone.
Ports are covered to enable the Xperia Z Ultra to have the same waterproofing features as the Xperia Z; it’s still outclassed by phones such as Sony’s own Xperia Z1 (review coming soon) or Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Active in this regard, but the flip side there is that when you want to access charging or SIM ports, it’s a slight struggle to do so.

It can handle being dropped into water, but you may caused localised flooding doing so.
It can handle being dropped into water, but you may caused localised flooding doing so.

The battery life is impressive, but the flip side of that is that from a standard charger, the Xperia Z Ultra charges very slowly indeed. This is not a phone you can drop onto a charger for 30 minutes and walk away with a solid charge percentage at the end.
Sony does offer the “Stamina” mode on the Xperia Ultra, which disables all but GSM services, but I’m no great fan of that; if you want a feature phone, then buy one. A large screened feature phone that ignores my email and social networking when I’m not using it isn’t a terribly useful creature in my estimation.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra: Pricing

Optus is currently offering the Xperia Z Ultra on plans starting at $58 month (200 mins calls, 200MB data, unlimited SMS, minimum 24 month $1392).
Harvey Norman is offering it outright for $733 while Dick Smith is selling it for $797. Sony will sell it to you directly for $799.
The model sold in Australia is 4G compliant, but direct importers Kogan and Mobicity both offer 3G and 4G variants.
Kogan’s pricing varies; the 3G only model is $619, the black 4G is $759 and a white 4G model will cost you $829, while Mobicity offers the 3G version for $699.95 or 4G for $749.95.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra: Fat Duck verdict

As a tablet, the Xperia Z Ultra is really rather nice, with a mostly premium feel and very solid performance.

It's so large it can't even hide behind itself.
It’s so large it can’t even hide behind itself.

As a phone, though, it’s a much more mixed offering. There comes a physical point where it becomes both difficult and socially awkward to hold a device this close to your head, and unless you like Bluetooth headsets a lot, that’s precisely what you’d have to do with the Xperia Z Ultra.
There’s solidly a market for large screened phones, and Sony hasn’t done much wrong with the Xperia Z Ultra; its issues are ones that fundamentally affect every phone of this kind of size. I’d strongly suggest some in-store testing prior to purchase though, as while this is a fine example of its type, it’s also something that takes some serious getting used to.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

2 thoughts on “Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

  1. Out of all the hundreds of reviews i have read/watched of the Z ultra yours was the single only review to refer to the viewing angles being “poor” and washed out…Every other review revels in the fact that the screens viewing angles are superb and one of the best screens in the industry.
    I personaly had to come back to this site to say that i now have my own z ultra and have to say the viewing angles are indeed superb and the best i have seen on any screen i have owned and is also crystal clear in direct sunlight…
    I am left to consider the validity and authenticity of this reviewer and do not believe nor trust that the reviewer has actually reviewd this phone at all but has most likely taken snippets from other sites reviews because it is a bold statement to literally disagree with every other review posted online …And in this incidence your review was completly incorrect but the others were spot on and the Z ultra has Perfect screen and viewing angles and does NOT wash out at tilt

    1. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion re: screen viewing angles, but I can assure you that the review is as I tested the device. I’d also contest the “literally every other review” contention, but then I’m a pedant about the word “literally”.

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