Sony’s latest Xperia smartphone is nothing like any of the past efforts by the company. In the past, we have seen many great Sony smartphones that were always just below the latest hardware and software. This time around there’s no such holding back. The Z Ultra is the first phone to have the Snapdragon 800 SoC inside and is also the first Android 4.2.2 device by the company. The 6.44-inch display has grabbed our attention, and the same can be said about the new touch input capabilities. Let’s take a closer look at the specifications of the Xperia Z Ultra.

OS – Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
Sony’s custom take on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean is the closest to how Google intends the UI to look. In that sense, there aren’t many cosmetic or even thematic changes from past iterations of the Sony UI. Thanks to the larger display, users will get more screen real estate and Sony has allowed an expanded grid for the homescreen, letting users add up to six app shortcuts on the dock. There are some changes in the app drawer as well, with settings and editing options consigned to a navigation drawer that slides out from the left edge of the landing screen. We are sure there are other new additions, which we will get a look at once the retail version lands in our hands. Performance should be zippy thanks to the ultra-fast processor and the Jelly Bean underpinnings.

Cellular connectivity – LTE and HD Voice
As a 2013 top-of-the-line phone, it would have been a shame if the Z Ultra didn’t come with LTE connectivity. 4G is fittingly present and so is HD Voice, if your carrier supports it. And where there’s no LTE connectivity, HSPA+ or GPRS should fill in the gaps.

Massive display is perfect for viewing HD videos

Massive display is perfect for viewing HD videos

Display – 6.44-inch Triluminos LCD with 1080p resolution
This is Sony’s first phablet and as such it deserved a whopping big display. The Z Ultra’s 6.44-inch display should pretty much negate any need for a tablet on the side. And with a 1080p resolution, it’s not lacking for good image quality either. The one thing that Sony has just not been able to master is smartphone display. The TFT LCD in the Xperia Z looked much washed out to us and the viewing angles were poor. The Triluminos display supposedly does away with those two worries and some early impressions have called it on par with the much-praised Super LCD3 on the HTC One. There’s shatter-proof and scratch-resistant glass on top of the display.

Sony has also baked in its X-Reality image processor, which is said to enhance contrast, improve colour saturation and reduce noise, while the Super Resolution feature is claimed to bring the best viewing experience for videos of all quality. The OptiContrast design means the display is laminated to the glass to reduce light flare. One unique feature is the ability to use any pen or pencil as a stylus for the Z Ultra. Capacitive styluses work as well.

Form factor – Slim, massive, weather-resistant!
There’s no denying that the Z Ultra is a huge phone. We have trouble imagining this thing slipping into our pockets with ease. The glass front and back helps in keeping things smooth. Fitting in all that serious hardware power into a 6.5 mm body is no small feat and even the 3050 mAh battery doesn’t sound slight. Like the Xperia Z and the Tablet Z, the Z Ultra has a very monolithic design. The glass back and front are framed by a metal trim along the edges to lend the whole device more solidity. This one too gets waterproof and dustproof abilities thanks to IP58 certification. We are impressed with the direction Sony is taking, but are equally concerned about the bulk and sheer size of the Z Ultra.

Omnibalance design reduces wrist strain during one-handed usage

Omnibalance design reduces wrist strain during one-handed usage

Wi-Fi – Flagship worthy
The Z Ultra comes with the very best in Wi-Fi connectivity. This means it can go up to the ac band and also comes with dual-band support. In addition, there’s Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA for content sharing. Wi-Fi hotspot is present as usual.

SoC – Snapdragon 800
This is the first phone to launch with Qualcomm’s ultra-fast Snapdragon 800 SoC. That means it gets four Krait 400 cores clocked at 2.2GHz. That’s in addition to the new Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM. The chipset is expected to be miles ahead of the second-tier Snapdragon 600 SoC, which is still one of the fastest mobile processors in the world. The Xperia Z Ultra won’t be lacking any firepower, but you are not likely to come across any application that will really put the chipset to the test. Besides improving performance, the 800 also brings native always-on voice command support and an updated version of Qualcomm’s power management solution.

Internal storage – 16GB with microSD card slot
Despite the waterproof and dustproof body, the Z Ultra gets a microSD card slot (under flaps, of course), and that’s in addition to the 16GB of internal storage. The slot accepts cards up to 64GB in capacity. Plenty of storage for HD videos.

Cameras – 8 megapixel Exmor RS sensor and 2 megapixel front-facing
The camera specs of the Z Ultra are slightly behind the Xperia Z. But that’s not to say it’s bad. It gets geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, image stabilisation, HDR, 3D Sweep Panorama mode plus other shooting modes. Both the cameras are capable of shooting 1080p videos at 30fps, but only the back camera gets video stabilisation and the HDR mode.

Can go out for a walk in the rain

Can go out for a walk in the rain

Extras – NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, USB On-The-Go
Like most new Sony smartphones, the Xperia Z Ultra also gets NFC support. There’s Bluetooth 4.0 onboard, but no mention of whether this phone is Bluetooth Smart ready for the new generation of wireless accessories. If you are not happy enough with the internal memory card and the microSD card slot, then there’s USB On-The-Go support for more storage expansion.

Sony is throwing in a unique NFC-toting secondary handset SBH52 along with the Z Ultra, which lets users answer calls, read texts or called ID on the small OLED display and also acts as a wireless music player thanks to the included 3.5 mm jack. It's meant to reduce the number of times users fish the phone out of their purse or pocket.

Battery – 3050 mAh Li-Ion battery
The battery on the Z Ultra is non-removable thanks to the sealed design. The 3050 mAh unit sounds plenty, but we are not sure how much power will be hogged by the large full HD display and the high-end SoC. There’s Stamina Mode, which allows you to customise which apps can get data connection when the phone is sleeping or locked. This drastically reduces the amount the battery is taxed while in sleep mode. The battery is rated for up to 790 hours and 820 hours on standby on 2G and 3G respectively. It is rated for up to14 hours for talk time on 2G connection and up to 16 hours on 3G. Sony says the phone should last up to 120 hours when playing just music.

Available in three colours

Available in three colours

The bottom line
This being Sony’s very first foray into the phablet segment, we are very impressed by what it brings to the table. Not only has the phablet segment grown over the past few years, but manufacturers have also tried to add as much new display and touch innovations in these devices as possible. Sony’s latest allows you to use any regular pen and pencil to navigate and it brings serious hardware prowess to the battle against the LG Optimus G Pro and the forthcoming Galaxy Note 3. At the moment, based only on the specs and the features, we are tempted to call the Sony Xperia Z Ultra the phablet to beat for 2013.

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