Sony Xperia Z Ultra review: Thinking big

Thinking big

GSMArena team, 03 September 2013.

Google Now at your command

Google Now gives you a short overview of information it believes is relevant to you right now. Going to work in the morning? Google Now knows this and lets you know if there's a big traffic jam on your usual way to the office, and offers you a re-route.

It can interpret a lot of things from your search history as well. If you've been searching for, let's say, your favorite football team, Google Now will prepare a card showing you the next match the team is playing and will provide score updates once the game begins.

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Google Now

Google has also integrated Voice Actions. They can handle stuff like sending messages (SMS or email), initiating a voice call, asking for directions, taking a note or opening a site. Google Now can also launch apps, check and manage your calendar and look for nearby places of interest and stuff like movie openings in theaters.

Thanks to the large resolution of the Xperia Z Ultra display, you can get a lot of information from Google Now with just one glance at the screen.

Google Now on the Xperia Z Ultra gets activated with an upward swipe from a press-and-hold of the Home button. You can either type or talk to it and the app will give you one of its info cards (if available) and read you its contents aloud (you can disable this from the app settings). If there's no card to help with the answer to your question Google Now will simply initiate a Google web search instead.

We have a separate review of all popular voice assistants, where you can learn even more about Google Now. Just follow this link.

Phonebook

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra phonebook is integrated with the dialer using a tabbed interface - the Contacts, Phone, Favorites and Groups tabs can be side-swiped. The bottom bar holds shortcuts to search option, add number field, and the advanced settings menu.

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The phonebook The quick contact shortcuts The options from the contextual menu

The contact list can be sorted by either first or last name. There are two contact search options - a dedicated search field at the bottom of the contact list, and an alphabetical scroll bar to jump to names starting with a specific letter on the right.

You can sync with multiple accounts, including Exchange and Facebook, and you can selectively show or hide contacts from some accounts (as well as filter specific groups in an account), or set the phonebook to display only contacts with phone numbers or only contacts that are online.

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Filtering contacts in the phonebook

If a contact has accounts in multiple services, you can "link" their details to keep everything in one place. Their Facebook photos and interests (part of the Facebook integration) will show up as extra tabs.

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Viewing a contact entry Editing a contact

The Quick contact feature is present alright - a tap on the contact's photo brings a pop-up windows with shortcuts for calling, texting or emailing the contact, visiting their web page or navigating to their home address.

Each contact can have a variety of fields (and repeat fields of the same type). There's an Add field button and the X button lets you remove fields as needed. The fields cover anything from names (including a field to write the name down phonetically) to addresses, nicknames and notes.

There is an option to redirect calls directly to voicemail. Custom ringtones are enabled too. This is where the LED strip comes into play as well. You can set a custom color for a contact, so the ambience light can serve as a caller ID of sorts. Of course you cannot have a different color for every single contact in your phonebook but you can have one color be for family, another for work calls and so on.

Telephony

Receiving and making calls on the Xperia Z Ultra was great. The built-in secondary microphone is used for active noise-cancellation, so calls are loud and clear even in noisy environments.

It should be noted that while the quality itself was superb, the Xperia Z Ultra itself is quite unwieldy for making calls due to the sheer size of the phablet. Sony has recognized the issue and are offering a bunch of wired and wireless accessories, which will allow you to place calls without even taking it out of your pocket.

Anyway, the call log is integrated in the dialer - it shows a list of recently dialed, received and missed calls in the top half of the screen and the keypad in the bottom half. Once you start typing, the call log is replaced by the smart dial list which searches for matches in both the contacts' phones and names. You can hide the keypad to make more room for the call log.

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Smart dialing is available

Thanks to the proximity and accelerometer sensors, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra automatically disables the touchscreen when you lift it up during a call.

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra scored a mark of Below average on our loudspeaker tests, meaning you are likely to miss some calls and notifications if you are in a noisy environment.. That's probably the trade-off for the phone being watertight.

Sony has preloaded a number of features that modify how the speaker sounds. We tested with all of them off, then with xLOUD on, which noticeably made the sound louder, and then with both xLOUD and ClearPhase on, which sacrificed some of the loudness for improved audio quality.

Speakerphone testVoice, dBPink noise/ Music, dBRinging phone, dBOveral score
HTC Desire 600 dual sim66.6 74.462.3Average
Sony Xperia Z60.1 58.361.6Below Average
Apple iPhone 566.866.167.7Below Average
Nokia Lumia 92061.6 64.865.8Below Average
HTC One X+64.6 65.874.6Average
Huawei Ascend P664.3 66.375.7Average
Huawei Ascend Mate67.0 66.675.0Good
Oppo Find 570.7 67.773.0Good
Sony Xperia Z Ultra57.5 60.264.3Below average
Sony Xperia Z Ultra (xLOUD)64.0 61.765.1Below average
Sony Xperia Z Ultra (xLOUD, ClearPhase)63.2 60.659.1Below average
HTC One69.3 66.675.9Good
Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.367.2 69.875.7Good
Samsung I9505 Galaxy S470.6 66.277.3Good
Samsung Galaxy S III75.1 66.575.0Good
LG Optimus G74.671.382.7Excellent

You can find more on the testing procedure here.

Either way, we advise you to turn on the vibration and turn xLOUD on if you want to be sure not to miss any incoming calls.

Messaging and text input

Text messages and MMS use standard thread layout. Each thread is displayed as an IM chat session, with the most recent message at the bottom. You can manage individual messages (forward, copy, delete) and even lock them against deletion. Search is enabled to locate a specific message in all conversations and you can also activate delivery reports.

Adding multimedia (photos, videos, sounds, etc.) will convert the message into an MMS. Four shortcuts at the bottom of the screen handle the most common cases - an image, a photo, a doodle (you draw with your finger) and your location. This, however, takes an extra row from the screen, which isn't too big to begin with.

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The messaging app Adding multimedia turns it into an MMS

The Gmail client has the trademark conversation style view and can manage multiple Gmail accounts. Batch operations are supported too, in case you need to handle email messages in bulk. A cool feature in Gmail is that you can swipe left or right to move between messages in your inbox.

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Gmail app

The generic Email app can handle POP and IMAP and offers a Combined inbox for all your email accounts. It supports batch operations and has a Preview pane option in landscape mode - the list of emails goes on the left, the contents of the currently selected email on the right.

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The generic Email client has a combined inbox option for multiple services

Google Hangouts is the default app that handles instant messaging (Facebook is preinstalled, but Facebook Messenger isn't). It's Google's attempt at unifying all of its messaging services and while the initial release has some quirks that need ironing, it looks to be a promising platform.

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The generic Email client has a combined inbox option for multiple services

As for text input, the Xperia Z Ultra offers a customized on-screen full QWERTY keyboard. Typing on the portrait keyboard is fairly comfortable, but after using 4.5+ inch phones it's starting to feel a little cramped.

Flipping the phone to landscape gives you even bigger, easier to press buttons. There's also the added feature of being able to customize the keyboard. You can choose a different layout (keypad, QWERTY, QWERTY with extra symbols), add/remove the coma and period button, the smiley and voice input buttons and also enable things like bilingual word suggestions if you have more than one language enabled.

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Xperia Z Ultra keyboard is comfortable in either layout

You can also try the so-called Gesture input if hitting those keys individually doesn't give you the desired typing speed. It's similar to Swype, and even if you've never used a Swype-like input before you'll quickly get used to it.

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The Swype-like gesture input

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra keyboard has some very useful options. First, you can opt for one-hand mode, where the keyboard takes up less space and sticks to the left or the right side of the screen. This enables you to use it single-handedly.

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The one-handed keyboard is especially comfy to tap on

Then, there's the option for handwriting input, which suits the Xperia Z Ultra rather well. Especially, when you consider you can use a regular pencil or a pen to write on the display (there's a scratch-proof glass on top).

You can also enable bilingual word suggestions, symbols on long press, the Google voice typing key and the smiley key. All these options are disabled by default.

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Three different keyboard skins Keyboard settings

Reader comments

  • Anonymous

Why would the display turn off during calls? This singular fact rubbished whatever advantage the Z Ultra possesses. secondly the screen cracked at the slightest provocation. For me, durability is zero. No one want to buy and expensive item and...

  • AnonD-615282

How I use jio 4g sim in my sony xperia z c6802

  • AnonD-275228

I've got a Samsung s7 edge and it's a damn good device.. but you'd have to prize my Z ultra from my cold dead fingers before I'd part with it.