Sony Xperia Z Ultra: one phablet to rule them all (hands-on)

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/ Updated: June 25, 2013 7:54 AM PDT

Sony's latest smartphone, an LTE-capable phablet rocking a massive 6.44-inch screen, is a powerful addition to the Xperia family. It's not only the first smartphone from Sony Mobile to pack Qualcomm's top-of-the-line Snapdragon 800 processor , it's also the biggest handset from the company.

Design

Based on the design language of the Xperia Z , the Z Ultra is a very attractive-looking gadget. It combines a metallic frame with tempered glass on both the front and rear, giving it a minimalistic, stylish appeal. During my brief time with the phone, I was immediately impressed by its build quality--it's as lovely as the Xperia Z and yet impossibly thin at 6.5mm (0.26 inch).

The tempered glass rear gives the handset a premium feel. Aloysius Low/CNET
The large power button is how you tell it's a Xperia handset. Aloysius Low/CNET

Lately Sony has been pushing thin form factors as a main selling point in some of the latest products such as the Xperia Tablet Z , and the Z Ultra is no different. I still can't get over just how slim this phablet is. Sure, it's not the thinnest -- Huawei's Ascend P6 is a mere 6.18mm (0.24 inch) thick -- but the Z Ultra nonetheless represents a very impressive design achievement from Sony.

Also, while the handset's footprint is large, I found it surprisingly comfortable to hold with one hand. The Z Ultra weighs in at a hefty 212g (7.5 ounces), but nethertheless just doesn't feel heavy. Comparatively, the Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 weighs 198g (7 ounces) but its chassis is mostly made of plastic materials, which somehow doesn't quite impart the same level of luxury as the Z Ultra.

Ultra is bigger then Mega. Aloysius Low/CNET
Bigger, but so much slimmer. Aloysius Low/CNET

I found the 6.44-inch full-HD Triluminos display to be stunning as well. The colors were vibrant and crisp, and Sony seems to have resolved the color shift issue I first encountered with the Xperia Z. Like more recent Sony Mobile handsets, the Xperia Z Ultra uses onscreen menu buttons.

Features

Like the Xperia Z, the Z Ultra is certified with an IP58 durability rating which means it is both water and dust proof. Essentially, you can use the phone to take full-HD videos underwater with its 8-megapixel camera. The Z Ultra doesn't come with the 13-megapixel shooter for the Z, but the lower pixel count could indicate better low-light shots

Flaps serve to protect the handset's ports and keep it waterproof. Aloysius Low/CNET

As a true phablet, you'll be able to use a stylus with the Z Ultra. While it doesn't come with pen-style input device, the smartphone’s display is capable of taking notes using the built-in handwriting recognition tool. Interestingly, besides the standard capacitive stylus, the Z Ultra also lets you use a pencil or a metal pen to write on the screen, but it is not pressure sensitive, so it won't be able to detect if you're trying to draw a thicker line. You'll have to manually select your brush size in the Sketch app.

Aloysius Low/CNET

Powered by Android 4.2, it's the first handset from Sony Mobile to launch with the latest version of Jelly Bean. Sony's custom UI keeps most of the default stock Android features, while adding little tweaks such as a one-handed keyboard and Sony's own small apps (basically apps that float over your current window and accessible from the multitasking menu). The Jelly Bean 4.2 feature, Quick Settings, is missing from the notification menu. However, you will be able to add lockscreen widgets.

The Quick Settings feature is missing in the Xperia Z Ultra. Aloysius Low/CNET

Besides LTE connectivity, the handset also packs Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi and screen mirroring. It will come with 2GB RAM, 16GB of onboard storage, and has a microSD card slot for expandability. A large embedded 3,000mAh battery completes the package.

The performance of the 8-megapixel camera felt quite snappy, though I wasn't allowed to examine the quality of the images I took during my hands-on of the phone due to its pre-production status. It seems to handle low-light shots well, but I'll probably have to get a review set to test it more extensively before I make my final evaluations.

Performance

Powered by a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, you can expect the Z Ultra to be blazing fast, and it is. Initial 3DMark figures revealed scores of 16,828 and 11,906 for the Ice Storm and Ice Storm Extreme tests, respectively. However, do bear in mind this is a prototype unit, and these scores are not final.

Sony Mobile claims a video playback time of up to 5.5 hours, as well as talktime of 11 hours--I'll be waiting to verify these numbers once we get a commercial set.

Outlook

It looks like Samsung will have to do a lot more to make its upcoming Galaxy Note 3 stand out from the crowd, given that Sony has set a very high benchmark with the Xperia Z Ultra. Else the Korean chaebol may risk losing its leadership position in the phablet space which has become increasingly competitive in the recent months.

The Xperia Z Ultra is expected to launch globally in Q3. It will available in three colors: black, white and purple.

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Where to Buy

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Part Number: XPERIAZULTRAULK
Pricing is currently unavailable.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 7.48 oz
  • Diagonal Size 6.4 in