Sony Xperia Z Ultra [Review]

Funny, that the time I'm finally able to get my hands on a copy, a Google Play Edition comes out.  No bother, as I couldn't order it anyways (what, being in Canada and all...).  But, would that edition change my mind about the device at all?

It's a real poser, as I've started to really put this as a daily use item and ran into some issues (as well as some real benefits)

Don't want to wade through my entire review?  Here's the tl;dr version in the form of a Pros&Cons.  But you'll want to look through the article anyway.


Pros
 - BIG screen, means being able to use it more 'immersely', having more real estate to play with
 - nice picture, if somewhat muted colours and does take some tinkering to get 'right'
 - brilliant performance, no lag...
 - water resistant

CONS
 - anything as a pen was a fail as I had to use specifically metallic objects
 - Sony ecosystem isn't as 'friendly' and intuitive as you might expect
 - speaker sounds ... 'odd'
 - no flash for camera... and without one I would have hoped for the G lens
 - easily scratched!!

So what do we get when we turn this on?



Specs

  • 6.4" @ 1080p
  • 2.2GHz x4 Krait 400 w/ 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage + microSD (up to 64)
  • 8MP (no flash) / 2MP
  • 4.2 (with 4.4 around the corner)
  • 3050mAh battery


Galaxy Nexus / Note 2 / Z Ultra
In general
When I say 6.4", and you'll think... hey that's big.  No... it's BIG.  Really big (see how much bigger it is than the Note 2).  The funny line my wife gave me when I handed it to her was "it feels like some kind of comic prop".  I had to agree with her.  Showing it to others and it was an outright argument that it was a TABLET, not a phone.  I was not inclined to agree with them, as I liked the device.  To me, a tablet is >7".  But that's personal preference.  Putting something this big to your head to dial out does feel weird, but it's not entirely impossible.  And seeing how often I use my phone as a PHONE, I wouldn't run into that issue too much; definitely something a BT headset could easily fix.

Getting past that size it really was a nice device to work on.  The 1080p on that size really allowed me to work quite nicely.  Everything had room.  And much like the Note devices, after using them and then going back to my other device, it would feel TINY.

The device is incredibly thin for its size.  Holding it you have that fear of breaking it, or bending it, despite it being really well built.

Using it with one hand is near impossible.  So forget about doing that (and keep in mind in colder weather one hand might have a mitt on, so it might be trickier to juggle).  Once you're settled there, it's great to hold and play and work with.

Performance on this thing is AMAZING.  Literally.  I can have dozens of apps open and come back to them and it will be right there again.  Sometimes on the bigger apps on other phones it will kill the process so you'll reload (example, Ingress will have to restart).  Not so on this device.  There's NO LAG.  And using the device in both portrait or landscape is just as easily as pretty much EVERY app rotates.

The Screen & Hardware
I hate to say it, but the company that made the Wega, the Bravia, et al, has made a display, that to me, looks washed out.  It's really apparent on some of the games.  The blacks are fine, the whites are a little yellowish, but the greys are a shade near green.  I thought Sony was supposed to have a setting app to calibrate this.  I've tweaked and tweaked and best I can do is turn off the power saving feature, but then the battery starts to suffer.

Speaking of battery, it's not bad, but it's about on par with my Nexus.  With using the device the battery does drop pretty quickly.  That screen is a huge draw.  Aside from usage the device does even drain a fair bit when not in use.  I've noticed that over night if it's not plugged in it will lose about 10%.  Which I thought was quite a large drain.



In speaking of the build quality, my biggest fear on this device (besides the fear of bending it) is that in my very limited use of it (it's been used heavily, but not as a daily driver) and considering how I baby my devices, it still has some nasty scratches on the back.  Front's still good, but I'm scared about that back.

the scratches look much worse than they are actually

The last little tidbit is the speaker.  I found it to be... good when it was good, and just bewilderingly odd when it wasn't good.  For example, in most games I can hear the music or some effects just fine, but when it comes to the sound effects, or talking, I can barely hear it.  It's almost as if the treble speaker is miles away, but the bass booms on.  On Reaper there's a telltale sign when a monster is coming that you use to help time your jump... I can't hear it, yet I can hear everything else.  On Ingress (which is very hard to play on this device as you have to use 2 hands) you'll hear the 'voice' say a string of text "XM at 12 percent", but it'll be so disjointed that XM will sound fine, but 'at 12' will sound like it's in a distant room, then back to PERCENT loudly.  It's just disconcerting.  Enough that I wonder if I have a defective device.

That said, music and movies on this is just fine.  It can get loud and you can feel the glass vibrate.

Camera
First, they say it's 8MP, but that's at it's biggest (gotta play with which settings, some have 7MP, some are 7.2...).  Understandable in a sense that 16:9 would be a different resolution than the 4:3 shots, but even within 4:3 there's a variance in resolution.

There's no flash, and I thought I could get along well without it (as I rarely use it in my N4), but the shots don't live up to that.  I would have hoped if they were to omit the flash they would put a better lens (that G lens would have been awesome), but it's not the case.

I find the photos to be quite noisy as they overexpose to compensate for lower light.  Wasn't really impressed, but they're not horrible shots.



Software Sony, Sony, everywhere!  Folks have mentioned about Samsung and its bloat.  Sure, Samsung packs a lot.  But let's compare - there are a lot of Sony items included (I've put in some of the Google counterparts for comparison).
I think that's all of them.  As +Mark Lastiwka will tell you, at least it's the only game in Canada that gets you a full complement of all services (music, books, movies, tv...).  I have to hand it to them.  I got some free movies and 2 months of their music unlimited program.  But it wasn't without their hurdles.  It would seem easy, but I had to keep going back and forth from different login screens and activating.  Mark will tell you that he had no problem, but he had all these accounts probably set up via having a Playstation previously.  As a new entrant to the Sony realm, it was a lot of hoop jumping.  One of the issues was that Music wouldn't recognize my device as it wasn't activated.  I had to download a different app and then it worked in the Walkman app.  Weird.
I guess you to have a Playstation controller to play some of the games, as the on screen buttons were confusing to use and didn't seem to respond well at all.
I didn't really have a compatible device, but the THROW feature looked like it could be really good.
The Sony Services apps are the only ones I've ever had issue with.  The Walkman app is slow and laggy, and always behind while playing (I'll hit skip and it'll show the next song, but still be playing the last one... hit skip again and now it's 2 behind).  Movies worked fine, and Elysium wasn't a terrible movie to watch on a nice sized screen. Aside from the Sony 'service apps', the Xperia UI (is that the name) is pretty good.  I can't complain on using it.  It's very nice and pretty much animated every step along the way.  Even ticking a box is an animated event.  Pretty cool... all without slowing the device down (at least noticeably). The notification shade isn't overly populated (although you can set it to be that way).  I miss having the button for wifi be a shortcut to the wifi options, rather than the straight on/off switch.
Some of the apps that they include are very nice.  And I do like the hover over 'mini apps' that they have.  You access them by hitting the multi task button and then you'll have the option to choose which apps to have.  You can even choose
The big thing I was hoping for in this device was that you could use anything for a pen.  Like the old resistive touch screens (a la the old Palm devices).  But it wasn't so.  You have to have something that's metallic.  But I felt really scared using a pen or any key etc... on the device after watching how easily the back scratched up (usually the front is the strong glass and the back isn't, but I wasn't about to take the chance).
That being said writing on the display is absolutely smooth and there's no 'jumpiness' to the smooth curves when you draw anything and does an amazing job of drawing right where you touch (sometimes on the Note 2 without the pen it feels likes drawing just slightly off where I touch).
Misc I've noticed from time to time that when I've left it on charge (attached to my computer) that it'll occasionally say that the charging isn't sufficient (it's losing power faster than its gaining).  Sure, a USB port isn't 'strong', but it's held its own to many of my devices.  Also, there have been a few times I've come back to my computer after leaving the device to charge that the screen will be on (and this is hours later).  I have no idea why it came one, or how long it had been on.  That can be disturbing.  How is this affecting the battery, the screen? Conclusion In the end of it all ... look back at my pros and cons.  The cons really are outweighing the pros.  Would having a Google Edition device fix that?  I dunno.  Much of the 'cons' were not related to the software side, so I doubt I'd have a much better experience.  Surely better, but not by much.

Which is sad... I was really excited for this device.  Water resistant, Palm like pen availability (didn't live up), big (that it lived up to).  It had all the makings.  It comes down to the fact I guess I'm not really a phablet guy, as much as I try to convince myself.  But that aside, there just were too many 'little things' about the device that were enough of an ire that put together I don't think I could work through.  The audio alone would have me send it back (and I hope for the device's sake it was defective).  But combine a poorer camera, not as great a screen, etc... and it gets downgraded for me from a "very cool neat idea that I want and would find uses for", to a "it has it's specific use case scenario and it's not for me"

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