What we"re about to describe is the same kind of phenomenon we experienced with 5-inch phones in 2010. If you recall, that year marked the debut of the Dell Streak 5, an absolutely massive smartphone / tablet hybrid for that time. Fast-forward to 2013, when 5-inch screens are the norm and 6.44-inch displays are now considered too unwieldy. Such is the case with the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, which borrows many traits from the smaller Xperia Z while taking on a flatter shape. Basically, Sony turned the old Z into a plate phone. As it happens, we got a chance to play with one thanks to our friends at Negri Electronics, an online retailer in the US that sells the Z Ultra"s baseline model for about $675. So is the phone comfortable to hold? Does it make more sense as a tablet? And does the Ultra have any redeeming traits outside of its size?

Gallery: Sony Xperia Z Ultra review | 61 Photos







Gallery: Sony Xperia Z Ultra review | 61 Photos



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Beautiful displaySleek, gorgeous designWaterproofPowerful performance


Awkward to holdNo camera flashBattery life is decent, but doesn't live up to expectations


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I"d be using a tired cliché if I said I want to talk about the elephant in the room, but when you compare the Z to every other smartphone that"s crossed my desk, it seems fitting. Compared to the new Motorola Droid Ultra, Sony"s Ultra definitely feels more worthy of that moniker. After all, it remains true to the overall design and style of the Xperia Z, but there"s still no mistaking the two devices when they"re set side by side -- or in your pocket. Yes, when it comes to diagonal display size, the Z Ultra is the largest smartphone we"ve ever had the opportunity to review (unless you consider the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 a "smartphone" since it technically is capable of making phone calls).

The Z Ultra barely edges out the 6.3-inch Galaxy Mega in terms of screen size, but when it comes to general dimensions and weight, there"s no question Sony"s offering is the true champion. By the ruler, Sony"s entry into the large-smartphone space comes in at 179.4 x 92.2 x 6.5 mm (7.06 x 3.63 x 0.26 inches), which makes it 11.8 millimeters taller (!), 4.2mm wider and 1.5mm thinner than the Mega. The Z Ultra is also one of the heftiest handsets we"ve played with in recent years, weighing in at 7.48 ounces (212g). Compared to the Mega, we"re looking at a difference of 0.46 ounce (13g); given Sony"s use of finer build materials and larger dimensions, this doesn"t surprise us. Fun fact: the Z Ultra is also taller than the Kindle Paperwhite, and it weighs almost exactly the same. It"s also as wide as a standard passport; chief designer Jun Katsunuma confirmed to us that this was done on purpose to mimic the size of something that travelers carry around all the time in their coat pockets.


Its size puts it in a strange netherworld between a comfortable smartphone and a small tablet.

But enough of the staggering numbers already -- how does the Z Ultra actually work in real life? Just as you"d expect: awkwardly. Its size puts it in this strange netherworld between a comfortable smartphone and a small tablet, and we have a feeling that even the largest of hands may find it a bit unwieldy. While the display takes advantage of a 16:9 aspect ratio, the bezels are quite tall on the top and bottom. This, combined with squared-off corners and flattened edges, makes for a rather unnatural fit. The Ultra"s thin frame (almost too thin, frankly) helps your fingers curl around and grasp its sides, but it still feels like a stretch; one-handed use in particular gave our mitts a great deal more exercise than we"re used to. We had no problem using the phone with two hands, although we found ourselves facing the temptation to use it in landscape mode much more frequently than portrait -- in other words, the Z Ultra still feels more like a small tablet (like the Nexus 7) than a smartphone. And, much like Google"s 7-inch slate, it can technically fit in your pants pocket, but it may be too tall or wide to fit comfortably. We were constantly concerned it would slide out anytime we sat forward or changed our posture, but fortunately that never happened.

We enjoy thin phones as much as the next reviewer, but as we mentioned earlier, the Ultra may actually be a little too thin for its own good, which seems odd to say considering a thin profile is pretty much a necessity when handling a phone this size. The problem lies with the smooth, bulging edges, which make the device difficult to pick up off a table or some other flat surface.


Say what you will about its ergonomics, but thanks to tempered glass panels on both the front and back, the Z Ultra is one sleek device. On the downside, though, those shatterproof, scratch-resistant surfaces also make this a fingerprint magnet, and its smooth rear is hard to get a grip on. We"re happy that the designers at least kept the metallic edges raised a hair above the glass, which may be a lifesaver depending on how prone you are to dropping phones.

In much the same way that Samsung has maintained a consistent design for its Galaxy S4-era devices (the Mega and S4 Mini are prime examples), Sony is using the same design language it introduced with the original Xperia Z. In fact, at a glance you would think the two were close relatives, except for the fact that the Ultra clearly got a different gene for size. Both have a simple Sony logo just above the display with a front-facing camera to the left. Both have a circular aluminum power / standby button in the center of the right edge. Both feature the same build materials and squared corners. Heck, both even have holes for lanyards. Look closer, however, and you"ll find each one offers its own distinct personality.

We"ll begin with the edges, which sport small slots where the mic and speaker grille sit. There"s just one slot for each, and they sit at the top-left and the bottom-right, respectively. Both are questionable locations, since your fingers are likely to cover both slots when you use the device in landscape mode. The right is the busiest of the four sides, as it"s home to the volume rocker, power button, microSDXC / micro-SIM ports and 3.5mm headphone jack. You"ll find a micro-USB / MHL / USB OTG port as well as a docking port for a Sony-branded DK30 magnetic charging dock. On the front, there"s a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and an LED notification light above the 6.44-inch display, with nothing of significance below it. An earpiece resides up top with a mic on the bottom, each housed in a tiny, narrow slot. Let"s not forget the back, although for the most part, it"s forgettable: the obligatory Sony and Xperia logos are here, as well as an NFC logo and simple flash-less 8MP camera. The 3,050mAh battery pack, meanwhile, is sealed underneath.

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You"ll also notice that all but one of the important slots are covered with sealable tabs; the only one that isn"t is the headphone jack. Whereas the Xperia Z was IP57-certified to withstand dust and up to 30 minutes of submersion in three feet of water, the Z Ultra is IP58-certified, which means it"s technically considered "waterproof" and can survive in five feet of water for 30 minutes. This is still a rare quality in a large smartphone sold outside of Japan, and one we"d like to see more of in our neck of the woods. It even adds to the device"s sleek design, as the edges of the phone aren"t interrupted by very many ports. Just be careful here, because we often had difficulty snapping the tabs back into place properly.

Our review unit was the C6802 in black, with quad-band GSM / EDGE and penta-band (850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100) HSPA+ promising up to 42 Mbps down and 5.8 Mbps up. This particular model is devoid of LTE radios, so if you"re looking for the higher speeds, you"ll want to seek out the C6806 (for North America) and C6833 (the European model) next month, both of which feature Cat 4 with a theoretical max of 150 Mbps downlink speeds. Rounding out the specs, the Xperia Z Ultra features 16GB of internal storage (11.8 gigs of which are user-accessible), Bluetooth 4.0 with AptX and ANT+, aGPS / GLONASS support, DLNA, USB 2.0, MTP support, FM radio, WiFi Direct and dual-band 802.11a/ac/b/g/n/. Finally, you can choose from three different colors: black, white and purple.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra
Dimensions179.4 x 92.2 x 6.5 mm (7.06 x 3.63 x 0.26 inches)
Weight7.48 oz. (212g)
Screen size6.44 inches
Screen resolution1,920 x 1,080 (344 ppi)
Screen type
Battery3,050mAh Li-ion (non-removable)
Internal storage16GB
External storageMicroSDXC, up to 64GB support
Rear camera8MP,
Front-facing cam2MP,
Video capture1080p / 30 fps (rear and front)

All models: penta-band HSPA+ (850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100), quad-band GSM / EDGE (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900)

LTE depends on model (C6802 doesn"t offer LTE)

SoCQualcomm Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974)
CPU2.2GHz quad-core Krait 400
GPUAdreno 330
EntertainmentMHL, USB OTG, WiFi Direct, DLNA
WiFiDual-band, 802.11a/ac/b/g/n
Wireless ChargingNo
Operating systemAndroid 4.2.2 (Sony-specific UI)



Of course, we"d be remiss to talk about the size of the phone without actually discussing the display. Before we started playing with the unit, we were concerned that Sony would approach the Z Ultra in the same way it did the Xperia Z. Despite having a much higher pixel density, that 5-inch TFT screen -- with its poor lighting, subpar viewing angles and unimpressive outdoor performance -- proved to be one of the weakest 1080p panels we"ve reviewed thus far. Fortunately, the 6.44-inch Triluminos display is a much-needed improvement and hopefully foreshadows future flagships with smaller screens and full HD resolution.

Since this is our first encounter with a Triluminos smartphone, let"s offer a brief explanation as to what the tech offers. These displays recently reappeared in Sony TVs after a lengthy absence -- the technology was dropped in 2009 due to its high costs -- so it was a pleasant surprise to see it show up on smaller devices so quickly. It"s an RGB LED technology that employs the use of QD Display"s quantum dots -- nanoparticles that emit very specific wavelengths of light. Each dot measures between 2nm and 10nm. Rather than using a white backlight which passes through RGB filters to create the intended color, the display uses a blue LED that stimulates quantum dots which emit pure green and pure red. In short, this new technique is supposed to create exceptionally pure colors.


The Ultra"s non-PenTile display comes has 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, which means you"ll get a pixel density of 344 ppi. This doesn"t sound very good when you compare it to the 441 ppi density found on the Xperia Z, but we"re confident you won"t be bothered in the slightest. The Ultra"s LCD panel is much brighter and offers more natural colors than the Z (in spite of the fact that it doesn"t let you change white balance like the Z does). Those colors are less saturated than what we"ve seen on AMOLED panels. It also has excellent viewing angles and is one of the easiest to read in direct sunlight -- as long as you have it cranked up to full brightness, anyway. Needless to say, we were wholly impressed by the Z Ultra"s screen; if Sony plans to use the same tech for smaller smartphones going forward, we imagine it"ll give other 1080p-bearing handsets a run for their money.

Stylus fans, take note (see what we did there?): the Z Ultra doesn"t come with any special pen or capacitive stylus. (As an aside, the S Pen used on the Galaxy Note series will not work on the Z Ultra.) However, the capacitive touchscreen is coated with a "super hard coat ASF" that"s responsive and strong enough to support pen and pencil input. This, too, was included on purpose since business travelers often carry such relics with them. After hunting down a ballpoint and a trusty ol" No. 2, we can confirm that they do in fact work, though the touch sensor isn"t capable of registering pressure, which means you can"t push down on the screen to get a thicker stroke.

What"s more, the slim bezels make it difficult to actually write on the phone, since we naturally want to rest the sides of our hands on the screen much like we do when taking a pen to actual paper. As a result, we often found ourselves accidentally pressing other keys -- including the home key, sadly -- which interrupted our workflow. In ideal conditions, the handwriting-recognition software was able to accurately interpret my chicken scratch, but even then it was successful only half the time. We still prefer the good old-fashioned virtual keyboard for text input, but we imagine people can get better with time and practice. In the meantime, it makes for a decent way to draw pictures and do whatever else that strikes your creative fancy.



Out of the box, the Z Ultra features Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, although Sony has said it plans to update the firmware to 4.3 at some point. The build is thick with customizations and pre-loaded software, which is true of most recent Xperia devices, frankly. You"ll be greeted by no fewer than 20 apps, most of which are Sony-branded. (For what it"s worth, you can uninstall nearly half of them, while most of the rest can be disabled.) You"ll also find a couple stock features missing, like the quick-notifications panel and Photo Sphere, but Daydream and lock screen widgets are there.