In the history of smartphones, the year 2013 will be remembered as the year of large screen displays and powerful quad-core mobile processors bearing phablets. The smartphone and tablet hybrid device term phablet is now getting more popular and accepted like other large, medium and small screen bearing mobile phones. Sony joined this race with large screen Xperia Z smartphone and then knocked us off the socks with a phablet – Xperia Z Ultra.
The Xperia Z Ultra truly defines the term phablet with a large screen and powerful hardware. In terms of physical size, the only competition for the Xperia Z Ultra is the Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 but there are several differences between the two. The latter is about Rs 10,000 cheaper and has a different hardware altogether. That is why, we don’t see a point in comparing the Xperia Z Ultra with Galaxy Mega 6.3 and would simply propose the latter as a cheaper alternative.
Sony has bagged three Industry firsts with the Xperia Z Ultra – first smartphone with 6.4-inch large display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 and waterproof armor. Sony Mobile team has done a commendable job in bringing these next generation features into one package. Thanks to the good folks in Qualcomm, we got our hands on a Xperia Z Ultra (C6802) unit for the review.
Sony has packed the Xperia Z Ultra in a box that would look similar to other Xperia devices. From outside the box, it is difficult to imagine size of the handset. When you open the box, be ready to collect your jaw that will drop on the first sight of this large device. The Omnibalance design has been perfected and Sony Mobile has taken the design language to the next level. The Xperia Z Ultra gets the same treatment as the Xperia Z. It is hard to believe that Sony has managed to pack two glass panels together to make a slim device. And to top it off, Sony has made the device waterproof.
The glasses that bag accolades also leave behind fingerprints and smudges. That leaves one constantly cleaning the surfaces of the phone to make it appear neat. Keeping that grudge aside, Sony has delivered Xperia Z with top notch build quality. There are no edges or crannies creeping out. The different slot panels are packed nicely with plastic lid covering that can be pulled out using nails.
Sony has placed the signature power button, metallic by nature, at the centre-right of the left hand side. Below that is the single bar of volume control key. There is a standard 3.5 mm port on the top right side of the phone. On the right side there is also a large plastic lid that covers the micro SD card slot and micro SIM slot. The micro SIM slot comes with a tiny plastic tray so we recommend opening it only in stable environment with enough visibility around. Else the chances of losing that tiny tray are very high in the dark or in a moving vehicle.
There are no capacitive touchscreen keys and all three keys are part of the user interface. Weirdly, the small mesh of speaker is placed at the chin of the device while the microphone is placed on the top side. On the left side of the device, there is a micro USB port with a plastic lid for protection. The micro USB port has USB Host support and also Media High-definition Link (MHL) enabled so that you can connect it to a HDMI TV. The 8 megapixel camera is placed at the back panel of the phablet, below which lies the NFC sticker. The docking pins are placed in the center on the right hand side. The battery rests under the non-removable glass back panel.
The Sony Xperia Z Ultra indeed has the premium look and finish that will draw attention no matter where you are, at the dentists or travelling abroad. This large display bearing Xperia Z Ultra is not at all comfortable for single hand operation. Even for an average Indian, this handset is too big but it is perfect multimedia powerhouse to carry along for meetings, or while travelling. The Xperia Z Ultra is the best looking premium phablet in the Indian market.
Note: We wish to point out that the Xperia Z Ultra becomes waterproof ONLY when all ports and plastic openings at the side of the device are properly closed.
In the Xperia Z Ultra, Sony has used a 6.4-inch Triluminos display that sports 1080×1920 pixel resolution. The display offers pixel density of 344 pixels per inch and is powered by the X-Reality Engine that makes the view crisper and delivers great contrast. The Xperia Z Ultra’s new display also features great viewing angles unlike its previous Xperia series devices. The X-Reality engine is claimed to improve sharpness, reduce noise in the visuals, and also boosts the saturation and contrast. We tried checking the operating system by disabling and enabling the X-Reality engine to conclude that it indeed does a good job.
Only issue we faced was keeping the display clean and also the readability was low in broad daylight under the sun. The obvious difference visible was the sharpness between this handset and the Xperia Z smartphone. However, the Xperia Z Ultra’s display is the best amongst all the phablets available now – we shall wait for Galaxy Note III to confirm if that is true or not. It is though not as crisp as the LCD panels of the HTC One and LG Optimus G Pro.
The Xperia Z Ultra packs a powerful quad-core 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 MSM8974 System-on-Chip which is paired with Adreno 330 graphics chip clocked at 450 Mhz. To make the best of this SoC, Sony has fitted 2 GB RAM in the phablet. We ran variety of popular benchmark apps just to satiate our itch for testing the new SoC breed. We weren’t surprised for the Snapdragon 800 easily topped in several benchmarks such as 3DMark scoring 15899 in the Ice Storm game benchmark. Interesting bit is that the Samsung Galaxy S 4 LTE-A model with the same processor gets slightly more score than the Xperia Z Ultra. The secret lies in the optimization performed by both companies separately.
The Adreno 330 graphics promises about 50 percent bump in the performance compared to the Adreno 320 graphics. That was evidently proved with the 3DMark scores and also the most modern games like the Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour ran so smoothly as if playing the game on a powerful graphics bearing PC or gaming console. There was no lag or stuttering involved when the game was running with several other apps active in the background. The true quad-core processor performance shows with smooth multi-tasking and gaming. Hence, gaming enthusiasts can trust the SoC to serve well for several graphics intensive games and other apps. The graphics chip also helps in capturing full 1080p HD videos. The multi-channel HD audio supporting chipset works best when good pair of in-ear earphones are plugged to the device. However, we felt that the true potential of the chipset on audio front is yet to be explored.
In the popular AnTuTu 4.0.1 benchmark, the Xperia Z Ultra manage to shatter the hopes of other devices by scoring 31962 and claimed the top space. Carrying four Krait 400 processor cores, the idea of the Snapdragon 800 chip was to offer performance boost with relatively less power consumption. The chipset can support USB 3.0 micro USB port to offer faster transfer data but the Xperia Z Ultra arrives with the USB 2.0 port. As promised, Qualcomm has integrated the Quick Charge 2.0 which slashes the charging time and we noticed that the Xperia Z Ultra would charge more than half time faster than other devices.
Using the Location based services was almost the same since the Google Maps still needs some tweaking required to quickly connect with the satellite to fetch more accurate location data quickly and update it as well. The dual band WiFi allows faster downloads of the apps and other data on the phone. Instead of going berserk by running all possible benchmark apps, we preferred using the device in more real-world terms.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra rightfully deserves a powerful quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor but one may not find many apps or games that would make the best of it. However, the possibilities are endless provided Google decides to surprise every one with future Android version updates.
Camera and Multimedia
The Xperia Z Ultra packs an 8 megapixel camera at the rear with Exmor RS imaging sensor for fast capture. When you look at the back, Sony inadvertently repeated the same mistake that Apple did with the first iPhone and Samsung followed it with Galaxy S – no LED Flash. Now there goes an opportunity to offer great images with little bit of artificial light. The Camera app remains the same as it has been with the last couple of Xperia series handsets. In the camera app, the on-screen button in upper left corner can be tapped to get single tap access to various modes – Normal, Burst, Picture Effect, Sweep Panorama, Scene Selection (With sub-menus), Video Camera and Front Camera-video.
It has a Super Auto Mode that dynamically chooses the best settings for the user according to the environment and lighting. Users can enjoy great panoramas with Sweep Panorama option. The Scene Selection offers variety of presets chosen as per the occasion and lighting to choose the best quality photo. This sub-menu also has the HDR option to click some great HDR images. Unfortunately, the camera does not perform that great with low-light imaging and the images tend to appear fuzzy.
The images lack some details but have good colour saturation. It takes a while for the user to find the prefer setting to get the best out of the environment. The Super Auto Mode does not help all the time for one can spot some noise in the images taken indoors. We must say that the imaging quality of the Xperia Z Ultra is not one of the best amongst phablets. The video shooting capabilities are decent since it can record a full HD videos at 30 frames per second and smartly cuts off the background noise to focus on the voices.
For watching videos and movies, Sony has added an app called Movies that supports couple of regular codecs. However, Sony continues to follow its legacy of not supporting DivX and XviD formats along with couple of other codecs that the rival Samsung smoothly covers with Nature UX. The Z Ultra can also easily playback the usual audio codecs for soothing music experience.
Software and apps
Sony Mobile has packed the Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system in the Xperia Z Ultra with a flavour of TimeScape User Interface on top of it. The Xperia Z Ultra comes preloaded with Sony’s own apps ranging from Music to Social network updates collating – Socialife. The phone will make you feel it has more of Sony software too apart from the usual ones from Google. The Xperia Z Ultra is powerful enough to allow the multi-tasking widgets and lockscreen widgets for easily interacting with the necessary information. The only odd part we found was when the SIM was removed or inserted, the phone would reboot.
The default video app is very neat but lacks the set of features offered by other third party apps. The Walkman app does the justice to the device and thankfully the Software EQ offered enough room to improve the sound output over headphones. There are multiple customisations to improve the sound output that an average will get confused on which one to enable. Thankfully the music playback is a breeze to deal with but the lack of video format support might force the users to use third party video player apps. Large screen helps in editing and creating Office documents-spreadsheets. Reading eBooks and emails on the large screen is sheer bliss.
Sony has packed a humongous 3050 mAh battery in this slim 6.5mm phablet. With normal usage involving couple calls, using instant messaging, listening to music and browsing web occasionally, the Xperia Z Ultra easily clocked over a day. However, we expected some phenomenal battery life from the device but it wasn’t the case. We hope that the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean update for the Xperia Z Ultra would bring some under-the-hood improvements.
Sony has added some Power Management options with the Stamina Mode that basically disables wireless communication. Also that location based WiFi helps marginally. We hope that the Qualcomm’s Guru app and next update should do some wonders to help users make the best out of the large and slim battery. Still, it would be a marginal improvement.
Over here, the Xperia Z Ultra has great feature of fast-charging so you can enjoy playing games like Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour on the large display.
Images by Sushil Kumar