If I had to describe the Xperia Z Ultra in two words, it would be ‘gorgeously massive’. On the one hand, Sony has crafted an astoundingly beautiful smartphone, combining a slim design with premium materials. On the other, the device is ridiculously large, pushing the boundaries of what can be considered a phone, and making it somewhat hard to use.
But I’ll start with what I like about the Ultra. The entire build of the phone is minimalist, slim and appealing, making it perhaps the best Sony design yet. At just 6.5mm thick, the phone feels really nice in the hand, and even though it’s just a few millimeters slimmer than a phone like the Galaxy S4, it seems like there’s a huge difference. Sony has used glass for both the front and the back of the phone, which improves the overall build quality, but can make it a considerable fingerprint magnet as well.
The model I received for review was deep black, and thanks to Sony’s efforts in hiding elements such as sensors and speakers, the clean design looks undeniably classy and premium. The front speaker and microphone are kept to small lines at the top and bottom, while the main speaker is just another line on the bottom edge. Branding is also kept to a minimum, with a few Sony logos, NFC logo and Xperia logo scattered around the otherwise bare design.
Around the edges, the left side has a concealed micro-USB port at the top, and a dock connector around half way down. While the connector is magnetic, it’s strange that it wasn’t made flush with the edge; instead you get a small ridge that can be uncomfortable while holding the phone normally. It also doesn’t quite fit with the design: upon first taking the device out of the box, I thought the volume rocker was missing.
The right-hand side features the remaining buttons and ports, including the exposed 3.5mm headphone jack, the covered microSD and micro-SIM slots, the small power button and volume rocker. Despite the power button being reasonably small, it’s in the perfect spot, as it usually falls exactly where your fingers end up holding the device.
Despite the attractiveness associated with the slim, slate-like design, I am somewhat concerned about its strength. Sony claims the phone is “ultra tough”, but it still exhibits a small amount of flex, both lengthwise and diagonally, which strains the large glass panels on both sides. Unlike the rock-solid Xperia Z or HTC One, there is a possibility that the Z Ultra could snap or crack in the wrong circumstances, such as if you accidentally sat on it or bent it in your pockets. That said, Sony’s choice to avoid considerable reinforcement has kept the device reasonably light for its size, which improves its portability.
While the strength of the phone is somewhat questionable, clumsy people will be glad to know the phone is water resistant up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes, and protected against low pressure water streams. Sony has coated and sealed the Xperia Z Ultra to achieve IP55 and IP58 ratings, which is part of the reason the device has flaps to cover all the ports except the 3.5mm headphone jack. Although the phone is not protected against saltwater, theoretically this IP rating means you could happily use it in a swimming pool if you so desire.
Unfortunately though, it’s not possible to operate the capacitive touchscreen while the phone is submerged, or even partially submerged, in water. This limits the usefulness of the water resistance, as you can’t use the camera underwater, or any feature on the phone for that matter. The only real advantage to the IP55/58 rating is protection against accidental water spills, or from dropping the phone in your bath, for example. This makes the feature more a small advantage than a key selling point.
The biggest annoyance about this phone is undoubtedly its size: it’s impractical, unnecessary and sometimes downright frustrating to use. The Ultra is restricted most of the time to two-handed use, because good luck managing the massive keyboard or notification pane with one hand.
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