Monday, August 19, 2013

Sony Xperia Z Ultra hands-on: First look


Sony just dropped a real bomb on the phablet market - a 6.4" monster that threatens to flatten the competition. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra the first officially announced device to be powered by Snapdragon 800 and it's also the thinnest device with a 1080p screen.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra official images
The list of tricks the Sony Xperia Z Ultra knows is almost too long to fit on even its sizable screen. Seriously, this thing is both massive and packed to the rafters with cool features. It slots between the Xperia Z and Xperia Tablet Z, using the same sleek OmbiBalance design and philosophy - "glass is good, thin is even better".
Sony Xperia Z Ultra official images
The Sony Xperia Z Ultra profile measures just 6.5mm, the slimmest 1080p device and close to slimmest overall. We were quite impressed with the Tablet Z and this undercuts it by a fraction. Unlike the Xperia Tablet Z, however, this uses the latest chipset and Android available - Snapdragon 800 and Android 4.2 respectively.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra at a glance

  • General: Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, penta-band UMTS/HSPA, 100 Mbps LTE
  • Form factor: Ultra-thin water-resistant touchscreen phablet
  • Dimensions: 179.4 x 92.2 x 6.5, 212 g
  • Display: 6.4" 16M-color 1080p (1080 x 1920 pixels) capacitive touchscreen TFT Triluminous display with X-Reality and OptiContrast
  • CPU: Quad-core 2.2 GHz Krait 400
  • GPU: Adreno 330
  • Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
  • RAM: 2GB
  • OS: Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • Memory: 16GB storage, microSD card slot
  • Camera: 8 megapixel auto-focus camera with face detection; Full HD (1080p) video recording at 30fps with HDR, 2MP front-facing camera with FullHD video capture
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth 4.0, standard microUSB port with MHL and USB host, GPS receiver with A-GPS, 3.5mm audio jack, NFC
  • Misc: IP58 certified - dust-sealed and water resistant beyond 1 meter; Shatter proof and scratch-resistant glass for the front and the back panel, metal frame on the sides
This is a no-mercy pre-emptive strike against the Samsung Galaxy Note III and all other high-end phablets that might crop up. So far we've only heard that this or that device will use a Snapdragon 800 chipset, but this one is the first to really go for it. And the attractive design and thin body are bound to win many proponents - they did for the Xperia Z and Tablet Z.
Same goes for the water resistant certification - IP58 means it can go deeper than 1m of water, unlike the sissy Xperia Z and Samsung Galaxy S4 Active.
Sony Xperia Ultra hands-on photos
The screen has 1080p resolution and despite the big increase in diagonal it still has 344ppi pixel density, enough to qualify it for a Retina display label. It's a Triluminos display with OptiContrast and X-Reality, too, to prove that Sony is throwing the kitchen sink at this one. If it's as good as the one on the Xperia Tablet Z, we'd be stocked (no offence to the Xperia Z phone, but we like good viewing angles).
The slim body did come at a price though, the battery has only 3,000mAh capacity. That's not a lot to go around for a quad-core processor clocked at the insane 2.2GHz (which might be very power-efficient, we don't know yet) and a 6.4" 1080p display.
So, is the Sony Xperia Z Ultra the future - big, high-powered, thin and beautiful - or is it just the king of the phablet niche? Well, that niche has been expanding as of late and so have our pockets. Our first impressions of the Xperia Z Ultra along with live photos follow on the next page of this article.
Update August 1: We had a second encounter with the Xperia Z Ultra and we've updated the following pages with new live photos and benchmarks of the device.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra hands-on

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a fairly large phablet - it's about halfway between a Note II and a Nexus 7. It's a matter of perspective really. One thing it is not is a phone - it has full telephony functionality (HD Voice even), but it's not a comfortable device to hold up to your ear for long voice calls. Luckily there are plenty of hands-free sets that you can use for that, include the just launched Sony SBH52.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson
The Xperia Ultra next to the Xperia Z • Beautiful metal sides and OmniBalance Power/Lock button
And the Sony Xperia Z Ultra really excels for the remaining 95% of the time - browsing, watching videos, gaming, messaging and everything else.
We're glad to see Sony's OmniBalance design again. We loved it on the Xperia Z and the Xperia Tablet Z and we love it here. The sizable Z Ultra phablet has even improved on the already great looking tablet with a brushed aluminum frame running along its sides to give it stability and tempered glass on the back and on the front.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra HandsonSony Xperia Z Ultra Handson Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson
Size comparison of the Z family: Xperia Z, Z Ultra, Tablet Z • Size comparison with Nexus 7
Unfortunately, you have to wipe the front and back quite often to keep the Sony Xperia Z Ultra looking good as all that glass is a real fingerprint magnet.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson
The Sony Xperia Ultra is a fingerprint magnet
The 6.5mm of thickness is quite stunning. The angular sides don't make the Xperia Z Ultra the most comfortable device to hold in one hand, but for two handed operation the slim chassis feels really impressive. It's not too heavy either - 212g is certainly a burden you will feel in your pocket, but it's barely any heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 and that is all plastic, no metal, no glass.
It's not that hard to slip the Xperia Z Ultra into your pocket (well, certainly not every pocket) but we're not sure how we'll feel after a whole day.
Anyway, it's quite worth it - the 6.4" display has 1080p resolution and 344ppi pixel density, meaning it's as sharp as last year's flagships and the iPhone 5, a bit more even. And we're pleased to report that the screen has better viewing angles than the Xperia Z screen. There's still some color shift and contrast degradation, but it's nowhere near as bad.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson
Sony Xperia Z Ultra's massive 6.4" 1080p display
It's a Triluminos display, too, which explains the beautiful colors. Sony says the Xperia Z Ultra display has wider color gamut than regular LCDs and it's easy to see that colors look better than they did on the Xperia Z.
There's X-Reality image processor (the BRAVIA engine successor), which will intelligently enhance contrast, add saturation, reduce noise and the Super Resolution will make sure very video makes full use of the 1080p resolution of the screen.
The OptiContrast design means the display is laminated to the glass to reduce optical flare, but unfortunately it's much too dark in the showroom to tell the difference.

Xperia Z Ultra hands-on

Sony has added a unique feature to the screen - you can grab any pen or pencil and use it as a stylus. Capacitive styluses work as well, but those are harder to find, while a pen or pencil should be easy to get your hands on, wherever you are. The 6.5mm thin body would have never permitted the Sony Xperia Z Ultra to hold a stylus anyway.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson
You can use a pencil to write directly on the screen
Sony is starting to corner the market on water resistant devices - the Sony Xperia Z Ultra has an IP58 certification. That's one more than IP57 of the Sony Xperia Z and Samsung Galaxy S4 Active but it's very important - IP57 limits the maximum depth to 1m and the submersion time to 30 minutes, but IP58 means the Xperia Z Ultra can go deeper and stay for longer.
How deeper and how much longer wasn't specified, but underwater photography in the swimming pool is an option with the phablet. Sadly, the lack of a camera flash means low-light shooting isn't its element.
We got the chance to get the Black and White variants of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra together for a photoshoot.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra in Black and White
The black remains plasticky on the sides whereas the white version looks aluminum-like.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra in Black and White
Compared to a 5-incher in the face of the Samsung Galaxy S4 the Sony Xperia Z Ultra looks nothing short of humongous. Even if you have big hands this device will not allow you to use it in one hand, that's simply impossible at this size.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra next to Samsung Galaxy S4
A good thing we noticed is that Sony managed to cut down on the number of flaps - the 3.5mm audio jack is now left exposed. That leaves only two flaps - one for the microUSB port and one for the microSIM and microSD card slots. The two are on the opposing sides of the phablet. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra comes with 16GB of built-in storage (11GB of which is available to the user).
Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson
The flap that seals the microSIM and microSD card slots and the unprotected 3.5mm audio jack
Moving to the back, there's a camera with an Exmor-RS sensor that shoots 8MP stills and 1080p videos and you can enable HDR mode for both. There's no LED flash here though.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson
The 8MP camera on the back has an Exmor-RS sensor, but no LED flash
We played with the software shortly and we found it to be impressively snappy and more polished than on previous Xperias we've used so far. A lot of credit for that goes to the insanely powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset.
It packs four Krait 400 CPU cores clocked at 2.2GHz, which is doubly impressive considering Krait 400 beats Krait 300 at identical clock speed. The new Adreno 330 is also expected to be a beast, dwarfing even the ubiquitous 320 found in current flagships.
All in all, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra will be ready to tackle everything on the market when it comes out in Q3 (even if LG and Samsung manage to put out their Snapdragon 800 devices out by then).

Sony Xperia Z Ultra benchmark performance

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is not only an enormous 6.4" beast of a phablet but it also belongs to a very exclusive group of devices that have the Snapdragon 800 chipset up and running. We got our hands on the device once again and this time we even managed to run a few synthetic benchmarks and see how much of a performance update you are actually getting.
The device should be very zippy courtesy of four Krait 400 cores clocked way up at 2.2 GHz and 2 gigs of RAM. The graphics are dealt with by the latest Adreno 330 GPU, which we've heard does a pretty good job.
So let's look at the numbers. With the hardware specifics out of the way the only thing left to do is analyze the scores. First comes BenchmarkPi, which gives a premium on per-core calculations performance. Here the Sony Xperia Z Ultra was a point shy of tying the first spot - an impressive result indeed, but not quite the one we expected.

Benchmark Pi

Lower is better
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 GPE118
  • Sony Xperia Z Ultra119
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 (Octa)132
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 (S600)132
  • HTC One GPE145
  • HTC One151
  • Sony Xperia Z264
  • HTC Butterfly266
  • Oppo Find 5267
  • HTC One X+280
  • LG Optimus G285
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II305
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3)330
  • LG Optimus 4X HD350
  • Samsung Galaxy S III359
  • Meizu MX 4-core362
  • Nexus 4431
Geekbench 2 is a CPU and memory benchmark and is a pretty good place to compare devices running on different platforms. Here, the Xperia Z Ultra scored an impressive victory over its Android rivals, while the Apple iPhone 5 simply got blown out of the water.

Geekbench 2

Higher is better
  • Sony Xperia Z Ultra3889
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 (Octa)3324
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 (S600)3227
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 GPE3211
  • HTC One GPE2458
  • HTC One2708
  • Sony Xperia Z2173
  • HTC Butterfly2143
  • Samsung Galaxy S III1845
  • LG Optimus G1723
  • LG Optimus 4X HD1661
  • Apple iPhone 51601
And finally AnTuTu, a compound benchmark. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra totally wipes the floor with the opposition once again, beating the previous best score by nearly 30%.


Higher is better
  • Sony Xperia Z Ultra33832
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 (Octa)26275
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 GPE25755
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 (S600)24716
  • HTC One22678
  • Sony Xperia Z20794
  • HTC One GPE18919
  • HTC Butterfly19513
  • Samsung Galaxy S III15547
  • Oppo Find 515167
These results are really the most impressive we've seen on a production device even if the CPU-only test turned out surprisingly low (we'll be redoing that with another unit when we get the smartphone in our office). The new Snapdragon 800 chipset is certainly shaping up to be the beast everyone expected it to become and will most probably be the yardstick against which all other chipsets will be measured for at least another six months (that's ages in smartphone time).
Anyway from what our first encounter suggests, this is the most potent smartphone out there. The Snapdragon 800 makes everything absolutely flow and feels like nothing we've tested before. There are no hiccups anywhere in the UI and app loading is instant.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra accessories hands-on

Sony also showcased the new Magnetic Charging Dock, the DK30. It features a magnet that pulls the phone to the correct position, so you can plug the Z Ultra in it without even looking. The dock also keeps the phablet at a comfortable viewing angle if you need to use it while it's charging.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson
Sony DK30 magnetic charging dock
With such a large device Sony has thoughtfully added the Smart Bluetooth Handset as an accessory. It can be used as a Bluetooth headset or a mini phone depending on your taste and offers HD Voice (if your carrier supports it).
Sony SBH52 Smart Bluetooth Handset
Sony also brought out the new SmartWatch 2, which is a successor of the original SmartWatch and the Live View before it. It has updated features and looks much better than its predecessors.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson
Sony SmartWatch 2
It's more rectangular than the first SmartWatch, which aligns with the aesthetics of the current Xperia Z devices better. The glass front and metal sides and aluminum Power key on the side (where the crown would be) go especially well with the Xperia Z Ultra.
The SmartWatch 2 has a new 1.6" TFT display with 220 x 176 pixels resolution (previous models had 128x128) and thinner bezels, which also contribute to the improved looks - the watch face look sharper and aren't crowded by the bezel. You can choose between multiple watch faces too.
Just like regular watches, you can customize this one with regular 24mm straps. At launch there will be a genuine leather and a metal strap, but Sony plans to introduce more later on (or you can just grab a standard 24mm strap).
Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson Sony Xperia Z Ultra Handson
Sony SmartWatch 2 • the leather strap
It's slightly water resistant as well - according to its product page you shouldn't dunk it under water, but there's also an IP 57 certificate mentioned so getting it wet shouldn't be a problem.
But this is more than a regular watch - it uses Bluetooth 3.0 and NFC to pair with an Android phone so you can receive notifications without having to pull out the phone (which in the case of the Xperia Z Ultra might be a problem if you carry it in a backpack).
With a touchscreen and Android controls, you can easily control the phone too. You can use it to control the stock apps - show text messages and incoming calls as well as give you Facebook and Twitter updates, show calendar entries and act as a remote for the music player. Sony's open APIs should allow devs to hook up third party apps too. By the sound of it, it's compatible with current apps for the old SmartWatch.
The Sony SmartWatch 2 can function autonomously too with standard watch functions like timer or stopwatch along with a compass mode.
In terms of battery life, Sony is promising a week of light usage and four days of moderate use.

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