We could dance around the subject for a paragraph or two, but this reviewer believes in facing the big issues head on: the elephant in the room, if you will. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is it -- the elephant in the room. With a 6.4-inch display, the Z Ultra is one of the biggest phones we've ever reviewed. And yes, it is a phone, and not a tablet masquerading as something you can make a call on.
Though its size says otherwise, this device works exactly as a phone should. Though it can be turned, it is obviously supposed to be used in portrait mode. The lock screen is you first clue, as is the awkward layout of shortcuts when you view the phone's home screens in landscape view. It is a little strange at first to hold it to your face to take a call, but this passes in time.
It is an exceptionally big phone, one of those devices that will attract attention from strangers at the bus stop. It's not bad attention necessarily, many of the people who eyed of this reviewer with the Z Ultra seemed to be thinking, "who is that guy that he needs such a huge phone". The Z Ultra acts as a curious status symbol in this regard.
Size aside, the Z Ultra is also a remarkably well-made smartphone. Though it is cased in plastic, the Ultra gives off a premium quality feel. Our review unit is a glossy white model, and it looks like it belongs in a very luxurious handbag. It could similarly fit in with an expensive pair of skinny jeans, that is, if you can make it fit into them. We've had no problems slipping the Z Ultra into the looser pockets of less fashionable jeans, but this will ultimately come down to how tight you wear them.
Despite looking like a phone belonging to a supermodel, the phone is well suited for a tradesman or bushwalker, thanks to it being both water and dust resistant.
The 6.4-inch Sony Reality screen is a stunner, with the extra size simply adding to the wow factor. Colours are rich and warm, and the 1080p resolution is spot on for a phone this big. It isn't terribly bright compared with other screens, though it's certainly bright enough to use comfortably. We found we had the brightness setting up higher here than on competitor phones, and were concerned this might impact battery life.
Connectivity and media sharing
Depending on the region you live in, the Z Ultra will come in a number of different variants. Our review unit came with 4G LTE radios, though there are 3G-only versions too. It also comes with the standard assortment of wireless connectivity options, including Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n) A-GPS and Bluetooth.
Once connected to a Wi-Fi connection, the Xperia Z Ultra automatically looks for media servers and adds the content it finds to the media gallery on the phone. This is extremely handy if you have a media server set up at home on a NAS and you want to watch movies in bed on your brand new 6.4-inch phone.
By going into the Videos app we could see all the compatible files on our server and access them for streaming instantly. The catch is that the files have to be in a compatible format, so some newer file containers, like .mkv, won't show up on the phone.
Android and the Sony UI
Perhaps one of the reasons we rate the screen on the Z Ultra so highly is because the Sony designed user interface (UI) is so attractive. This is one of the better Android UI overlays available -- it runs rings around the efforts from Samsung, HTC and LG.
Every element is well thought out and designed with care. All of Sony's home screen widgets are useful and each has a unique animation that makes using them more delightful. For example, if you want to remove a shortcut from the home screen you press and hold on it, then drop it on a Trash Can icon on the bottom of the screen. But as you do this, the Trash Can opens up and the app is sucked inside, like a spirit being sucked into the Ghostbuster's traps. It is a tiny little thing, but it amuses us every time we see it.
The apps drawer has also received a major Sony make-over. Swiping left from the first screen brings up a page of settings and tweaks you can use to make the apps drawer work better for you. You can reorder the apps, filter out apps you don't use and jump straight in installing new apps or uninstalling old ones.
In essence, the Sony UI offers the same functionality as so many others, but it does so in a way that makes using the phone a little more fun, and in a world of same-same smartphones, this makes a big difference.
Since the birth of the Xperia brand, Sony Mobile has been boasting about its relationship with the Sony Imaging team and how it gets access to the same great photography tech in Sony stand-alone cameras. The truth is, the benefits of this relationship have never been obvious in camera tests and Sony smartphones have always fallen behind its rivals.
Sadly, the same is true with the Z Ultra. The 8-megapixel camera in this phone has the same Exmor-RS image sensor tech we've seen in previous releases, but the photos suffer from the same issues. They look amazing on the phone after you've taken them, but are full of artefacts and pixelation when you view them on a bigger screen.
Performance and battery life
A big phone demands big performance, and Sony sure packs a punch with some of the most impressive hardware we've seen in a smartphone to date. The new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 in the Z Ultra is a quad-core chip clocked at 2.2GHz, with 2GB RAM and Adreno 330 graphics. If this laundry list of specs means nothing to you, know this: the Z Ultra is a very fast phone.
Comparing the Z Ultra in benchmarking tests gives us some indication of how well it performs. It tops our current scores in BaseMark X, Geekbench 3 and Vellamo, blitzing passed previous crown holders, like the Samsung Galaxy S4.
These benchmarks can be unreliable at predicting real world use, though this isn't a problem for the Z Ultra. It has enough grunt and memory to deliver a smooth user experience all day long.
Battery life is decent, but not extraordinary, managing to last for day and often pushing into the second day before needing to be recharged. The phone's 3050mAh battery is quite big, but it doesn't seem to do more than power the huge screen. Sony has built some power saving measures into the Z Ultra, but these merely keep the phone in good stead, rather than providing extra juice beyond our expectations.
The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a great smartphone, it is also a very big one. Those who crave the big screen will love the speedy performance, Sony's great UI and its excellent media playback options. It's just a shame that the camera isn't as good as the rest of the package.
If you don't think you can handle the size, and you wouldn't be alone, you might consider the Sony Xperia Z1. It's basically the same phone, just smaller.
The Xperia Z Ultra will be available on plans through Optus from October, or you can grab one now from online vendor MobiCity.