The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a 6.4-inch phone-tablet hybrid designed to combine the best of your big and small screen gadgets in one device, starting at £619 off-contract.
- 6.4-inch, 1920x1080 screen
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset
- 2.2 GHz quad-core CPU, Adreno 330 GPU, 2 GB RAM
- 16 GB internal storage, microSD slot
- 8 MP camera
- water resistant
- 3,050 mAh battery
- Android 4.2
"The largest display in the world’s slimmest Full HD smartphone."
At first sight the Xperia Z Ultra is an objectively hilarious smartphone.
It's just enormous. On paper its 6.4-inch screen isn't that much bigger than the Samsung Galaxy Note III's 5.7-inches. In person, combined with the phone's stark, black looks and slab-like design, it really feels massive. Thin? Yes. Sleek? Sure. But still ridiculously sized.
Pulling it out of your jeans pocket - if it fits in there in the first place - is almost always met with smiles and strange looks. Placing it atop a Moleskine notebook and realising it's about the same size? It's impossible not to laugh.
To even consider the Z Ultra as your primary device, then - which is what it will be, there's no WiFi-only version - you'll have to be okay with carrying around a big, big phone.
That said, if you've already decided you're signing up to the big phone revolution, the good news is that in most other respects the Z Ultra is a really nicely designed and well-specced phone.
The 1920 x 1080 pixels display is impressive - despite not adding any extra pixels compared to the much smaller Z1. Admittedly it also suffers from similar viewing-angle issues, which wash out the colours when not viewed directly head-on, but it bothered us less on the bigger display.
The device is powered by a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 800 and a quad-core CPU, and it tears through most high-end games extremely well.
In hardware terms (size aside) the phone is also excellent. It's just 6.5mm thick and feels amazingly delicate in the hand. The waterproofing (with reinforced side panel covers for the USB charger, SD card and SIM card) is as welcome as ever, and the open headphone slot is a neat addition compared to the previous-generation flagship phone, the Xperia Z.
The common marketing angle for big devices is drawing. The Note comes with an included Samsung S-Pen, for instance, and if you carry one you're basically meant to scribble yourself silly. But the Xperia Z goes one better, with a feature we wish would come to every single smartphone on Earth - you can use a pencil.
An actual pencil.
This sounds minor. But it's actually almost a deal-maker. Holding a pencil instead of a thin, plastic stick is a vast improvement. And that the screen can pick up the input with a decent level of accuracy is amazing. It really does make the device a much more believable drawing and note-taking device, in one fell swoop. Good job, Sony.
There is room for improvement, however. The pencil option obviously lacks the S-Pen's "second button" feature which can be handy. And it's also not as reliable as it could be. The input is good enough for sketches, but not serious illustration work.
The downsides - again, other than size - are mostly down to the software and the camera. The Z Ultra runs a smartphone version of Android, which we understand, but with few optimisations for the larger real estate. Android as a whole lacks apps to make the most of the screen - an equivalent to the iPad's 'Paper by 53', for instance - and even Sony's own apps aren't optimised brilliantly for the bigger display. Similarly, Sony's note taking software is less than tremendous, with sketches separated from text notes into separate apps for some reason. The handwriting recognition is bad, and the multi-tasking 'mini apps' feature is also nice in theory, but a bit awkward in practice.
In other respects, the device is average at best. The battery isn't wonderful, giving just about a full day's use, at a stretch. The camera is also just good-enough, at 8-megapixels and with middling low-light performance.
Which, in the end, is all besides the point. If you buy this phone, it's because of the size. If you don't it's because of the size. Everything else about the Z Ultra is a side-issue.
Our recommendation? If you want a big phone, this is a good choice. It's a better designed, more pleasing and (with the pencil input) arguably more useful gadget that the Note II (we'll have to see about the Note III). You might regret it, but if you're sold on the phablet form factor we can't not recommend it.