I was at a crossroad last December. It was time for me to upgrade my phone, but I was torn between two models: the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and the older but bigger Sony Xperia Z Ultra.
On one hand, upgrading to Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 3 seems like the natural progression. Spec-wise, it was almost everything I wanted in a phablet: bigger internal capacity, high capacity external battery, and bigger screen than my Galaxy Note 2. The excellent camera and such are just icing on the cake.
But on the other hand, Sony Xperia Z Ultra has an infinitely better build quality and much bigger screen. I guess it’s a no-brainer what I chose. There’s something else I considered which made me choose the Z Ultra, and I’ll get to that later. Sony prices their products at a higher premium than the competition, so let’s see if it’s worth it, especially compared to its no. 1 competition.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra Specs
- 6.44-inch TFT display at 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080), 344ppi pixel density
- Snapdragon Quad-core 2.2 GHz Krait 400 with Adreno 330 GPU
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB internal memory, expandable via micro SD up to 64GB
- 8MP rear camera
- 2MP, 1080p front-facing camera
- WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, AGPS + GLONASS, HSPA, LTE, Stereo FM radio with RDS
- Dust-resistant and waterproof (IP55 / IP58)
- Android 4.3 Jellybean
- 3,050mAh battery, non-removable
- Price (SRP): Php28,990
Right off the bat, you can see that it’s some pretty hefty specs, pretty good for a phone that’s relatively in its prime. It’s sort of like a blown up Z1 minus the camera. When it was first announced, a lot of people worried about the seemingly paltry battery capacity. And why not? The venerable Note 2 had a slightly larger capacity powering up a comparatively minuscule screen. Let me put those worries to rest.
Packaging and Accessories
Sony’s packaging is simple but functional, which is actually a good thing. It’s a simple white box showing the phone in the front, while the back has the Xperia Z Ultra displayed in each standard color along with some marketing-speak like specs, features, etc. Overall, the box plays into the theme that Sony puts in its products: elegant yet sophisticated. You know you’re getting a premium product just from the box.
Now as for the accessories, I’ve heard that Sony doesn’t put much accessories, but what I got was one of those limited edition packages or something to that effect, hence the larger box than the normal Xperia Z Ultra packages. Aside from the standards like chargers, cable, manuals, and earphones (I’ve heard that the standard package didn’t come with one), this one came with a vanilla leather flip case. I would’ve hoped that it came with the magnetic dock, just like the limited package of the Xperia Z1, but this’ll do. I even got a free clear screen protector from the retail shop (I couldn’t negotiate for a free screen protector for the back, but that’s all good). In all, I was completely happy with the accessories that came with my phone.
Design and Build
Sony have always prided themselves with the aesthetics of any of their products, and I can say that they have never disappointed me. The Xperia Z Ultra is no different. Even when I held those display units in malls, I’ve always thought that this is truly a sight to behold. Sony, Nokia, and Apple are the only three phone manufacturers I know of that can consistently give tech enthusiasts a proverbial boner by just looks alone.
Words can’t express how much I love the aesthetic. Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a sexy beast, and if I liken it to those really tall supermodels, I don’t think anyone would argue. An orgy of high quality plastic and tempered glass in a metal frame composes the body. It may be tall but it’s slim.
At 6.5mm thick, Sony touted it as the world’s slimmest full HD phone, and even if that may no longer be the case, the slimness truly adds to the overall wow factor. This is coming from someone who doesn’t give a damn about slimness.
The front is all glass, including the bezels that surround the screen. There are no buttons whatsoever, with the phone instead relying on on-screen buttons, which is a plus for me. The top bezel houses the familiar Sony logo, as well as the front camera and the proximity and light sensors. The front screen at the least (I’m unsure if the back is made of the same glass), is made up of a highly resistant glass. Aesthetically, it’s a good thing. Functionally, it not only adds up to the phone’s IP rating, but it’s made that way because it’s meant to accept any pointed device as a stylus. Yep, instead of providing a build-in stylus just like some phablets do (like Samsung’s Galaxy Note Series), Sony made it in such a way that you can use anything as a stylus, whether it be a ball point pen, a pencil, a toothpick, a chopstick, or what have you. I have to admit, I haven’t tried it yet.
The glass may be scratch resistant, but I’m sure the screen protector isn’t. Besides, I don’t have much use for a stylus yet (even when I was using my Note 1 and Note 2, I had limited play time with the stylus), but when the time comes that I need one, it’s good to know that I can use just about anything. The speakers are also located at the top and bottom of the phone, another plus point for me. Honestly, I really don’t know why most manufacturers put the speakers at the back.
Edit: Yep, what I thought was two speakers, are actually one speaker at the bottom (along with the mike), while the other one is the phone’s receiver. A bit of a disappointment, but it didn’t take away from the phone too much overall.
The rear of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is also made up of glass and it houses the phone’s main 8MP camera and a larger Sony logo and that’s about it. Yes, there’s no LED, which is one of my big gripes with the phone. While it’s true that I rarely, if at all, use flash (even when doing my street photography with DSLRs and MILCs), it would be good to have at least a LED flash handy when the need arises. Besides, I also tend to use my phone’s flash as a flashlight sometimes. whatever the case, I really find no excuse for Sony to not include a LED flash here, especially since this phone is one of their premium line offerings.
Like all other phones with non-removable batteries (in this case, I can forgive this since it’s necessary for the phone to be water-proof), much of the ports are found at the phone’s sides. The left side has the microUSB port (with its protective covering) and the contact points for the magnetic dock. The right side has the microSD and microSIM ports, the volume rocker, and the chrome power button. At first, I was worried about that seemingly exposed 3.5mm jack. I looked at the box again, and it didn’t seem to come with any protective cover or something. However, a Sony representative told me that unlike the original Xperia Z, the Z Ultra and the Z1 do not need protective coverings for the 3.5mm jack. The water-proof seals are built in. It would’ve been nice if the microUSB port had the same treatment, but perhaps USB ports overall hadn’t been built that way.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra is rated at IP58 for waterproofing and IP55 for dust and other elements. That means that, at least on paper, it can be kept under 1.50 meters of fresh water for up to 30 minutes and can withstand low pressure jets of water. And, yes, I haven’t tried any of those claims, and since being my personal device, I’m not inclined to do so. I’ll just take their word for it.
Display and Touchscreen
Such a big screen deserves a large resolution, and we get that in spades. At 1080p screen resolution with 16M colors, and Sony’s TRILUMINOS™ Display, the phone’s display is a sight to behold. Watching movies and playing games is pure pleasure on this phone, and even reading publications and web pages is all good. It reaffirms why I love phablets in the first place.
Touchscreen controls are smooth and responsive, and should you want to play games on this device, you won’t encounter any problems. And given the hefty specs, you can throw any high-profile games out there in the play Store, and this baby can run it no sweat. It’s also accurate enough that you won’t have problems typing. The size does mean that you’re required to use the phone with two hands, although SwiftKey enables me to be able to type one-handed. But I advise against it. You will really need one hand to hold it while the other is used for typing, unless you want to test if the phone’s screen is shatterproof. No, I want the phone firmly in my hand, thank you very much.
The premium aesthetic is complemented by a beastly internal. So not only does this supermodel have the looks, she also has the brains to do anything you want her to do. The generous amount of RAM and speedy processor ensures a lag-free experience.
What really surprised me was the Xperia Z Ultra’s stellar battery life. That seemingly paltry 3050mAh powering up a gargantuan 6.4″ 1080p LCD screen had me really worried at first. And I have to admit, during the first couple of days, stamina performance was lackluster. However, after that, I was able to experience the same staina performance as I did with my Note 2.
[three_fifth]Personally, I wouldn’t have minded a few mm more thickness for a larger battery. But as it is, performance is awesome. I just wished that instead of Sony going for “good enough”, they should’ve gone for “OMG”.[/three_fifth]
I was able to take a day’s worth of heavy use out of the phone, consisting of my standard always-on WiFi and NFC, heavy web surfing and YouTube watching, occasional high-profile and casual games, and offline reading. At one time, I did all that without resorting to a power bank, with an added mobile data use and GPS. I started at 7AM, and by 7PM, I was down to 15% and that’s when I stopped using the phone but I didn’t plug it in yet as I was out of town. By the time I got back home at before 11PM, I was down to 10%. So, it can get you by for at least a day. If it was able to do that with a smaller battery capacity, how much more would it fare when it was given a larget one? Personally, I wouldn’t have minded a few mm more thickness for a larger battery. But as it is, performance is awesome. I just wished that instead of Sony going for “good enough”, they should’ve gone for “OMG!!!! Battery perfomance blew me off my socks!!!!!” kind of performance like the way Motorola Razr Maxx does.
Storage space is good enough when compared to its contemporaries. Of the 16GB internal storage space, you get a little over 11GB to do with as you please for your apps and games. That would get filled up pretty quick, though, and while microSD helps in storing files, app installs is another story. I hoped that Android 4.3 would bring back external storage installs, but in the case of Sony’s skin, that didn’t happen.
Initially, my Sony Xperia Z Ultra came with Android 4.2.2 Jellybean, but since the 4.3 update was released recently, I upgraded ASAP. Sony’s Andoid skin seems closer to stock than the likes of Samsung and HTC. There are good and bad points to this. On one hand, everything runs smoothly because there’s not much excess baggage to bog it down. But, then again, there are some features from TouchWiz that I took for granted that i genuinely miss. In fact, there are some features that I just found out weren’t part of stock Android to begin with. Thankfully, many of these features have free 3rd party app equivalents in the Play Store. But some, like the uber useful MultiWindow, don’t and I have to live with that.
Other than that, everything is excellent out-of-the-box. In fact, in a totally out-of-character move on my part, I didn’t even use a third-party launcher. I’ve always used 3rd-party launchers in the past, even going so far as to purchase the license key for Nova Launcher Prime. However, the first time I used Xperia’s stock launcher, I found it good enough. It’s not feature-packed, but it’s lean, simple, and again, close to stock as possible. For now, I’m completely happy with it.
As a phone, it does very well. Audio clarity is great, provided you have good reception. Microphone also does well. I’ve also hadn’t encountered any difficulty sending text messages.
As an entertainment device, it’s pure win. The large screen and resolution makes it a joy to play high-def videos, whether it be you’re watching video files offline, or when watching streaming media via YouTube, etc.
Gaming is as good as it gets on a high-profile device, with graphics being crisp and clear. Touchscreen sensitivity is tight, and I never encountered any problem whether it be in casual games or the high profile ones. In fact, I set graphical performance to high in Dead Trigger 2 (normally meant for Nvidia chipsets), and I was able to get great graphics, all the while overall performance didn’t drop, meaning the hardware is up to snuff.
If there’s one aspect where this phone falls flat is camera performance. It was quite underwhelming and a big letdown, especially since Sony had been really good with camera phones in the past. It’s not only because it lacks any form of flash, although i personally find that unforgivable. Pictures come out darker than usual, even on a bright, sunny day. However, noise reduction seems to be able to do its job well.
It’s not terrible, and I’ve seen much worse performance from other phones. But it’s not something you’d expect from a high-end device. Truly disappointing.
However, you should be expecting a powerful device, and AnTuTu Benchmark verifies that. With 32,622 points, it’s a powerhouse.
Overall, I have quite fallen in love with the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. It’s a big phone that can do big things. As a daily driver, it’ll give you stellar performance, both in battery stamina and smartphone functions. And it’s such a looker as well. If this was a lady, she’d be EVERYTHING a man could ever want. Beauty, brains, a bit of brawn, and I guess she can cook well, too.
Depending on where you’ll buy it you can get it from anywhere between 26k-31k brand new with Sony warranty.
The reason why I opted for this instead of the more popular choice is purely personal, though. One of the things that don’t get included in reviews (and understandably so) is the quality of service you get from service centers. But that’s a story for another time.
As for the Sony Xperia Z Ultra itself, if it’s not obvious by now, I highly recommend this phone. As far as phablets go, this is among the best out there, and the biggest that’s readily available. However, the mammoth size does mean that it’s not for everybody, and I mean to say “everybody” = anyone who uses phablets.
This size, at least for the moment fills a more limited market within what’s essentially a still-niche market. And I have to be honest, it’s more unwieldy to use than any of the phablets I used before. It doesn’t fit in the pockets of jeans, and barely in slacks and cargo pants. You’ll look kind of stupid making calls with it as well. BUT, if you get past those, you get all the advantages of a phone and a tablet all in one device, and much more pronounced than competing phablets with much smaller screen size. Now, if only there’s a way to use the phone functionality without attracting too much attention.