Sony Xperia Z Ultra: hands-on preview

Holding court at the swanky Bulgari Hotel in London, Sony recently unveiled a trio of new gadgets. While the SmartWatch 2 is rightly causing a stir and the SPH52 Bluetooth handset looks like a neat add-on, the headlines are understandably being dominated by the launch of the Xperia Z Ultra, Sony's eagerly anticipated foray into the phablet space. So what did we make of the 6.4in monster? Our first impressions are best summed up as broadly positive, if mixed in places.

The newest addition to Sony's Xperia family has a number of feathers in its cap. Most obviously, it's the world's slimmest Full HD smartphone - sizing up at just 6.5mm in girth, the Ultra is quite the slender beast. On the right of the frame are control buttons and a headphone jack, while the left-hand side of the device (pictured, below) features a MagSafe-style notch for magnetic docking and charging via the DK30 accessory.

However, super-svelte chassis or otherwise, there's no getting away from it - the Xperia Z Ultra is big, too big perhaps. Measuring 92.2mm across, it was a struggle to hold it with one hand and day-to-day operation is likely to put your paws under considerable duress. It also weighs a fair bit more than rival phablets - Samsung's 5.5in Galaxy Note 2 tips the scales to the tune of 180g, while the Ultra is more than 30g heavier at 212g. To illustrate just how ginormous the Xperia Z Ultra is, I shot it next to my antiquated iPhone 4S. Needless to say, it was positively dwarfed by the Sony phablet.

The flipside to this, of course, is that the Xperia Z Ultra offers the largest Full HD (1080p) display on the market. The screen on the Ultra was nice and bright in the flesh, so it's little wonder that Sony is talking up the entertainment capabilities of its new phablet. Drawing on the Japanese manufacturer's Bravia TV technology, the Xperia Z Ultra looked like a great on-the-go media companion and played back video with superb clarity in a demonstration. A chat with one of Sony's representatives confirmed that the Ultra will ship with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, and fans of Google's OS will appreciate the lightness of Sony's native UI - it's nowhere near as domineering a presence as skins like Samsung TouchWiz or HTC Sense.

Under the hood, the Xperia Z Ultra packs a beefy quad-core Snapdragon 800 configuration clocked at up to 2.2GHz and complemented by 2GB of RAM. While a device of this size is likely to have above-average power consumption demands, that's still an impressive bit of oomph, and we're looking forward to taking it for a proper spin and assessing how it performs in more detail. With regards to storage, content hoarders will be pleased to note that the Ultra offers a microSD card slot, so its 16GB on-board capacity can be cheaply and easily augmented. Like smaller form factor relative the Xperia Z, the Ultra is water and dust resistant to a military standard. However, it has been slightly downgraded in the camera department: the Ultra sports an 8-megapixel primary snapper where the plain old Xperia Z featured a 13-megapixel shooter. Both utilise a Sony Exmor RS sensor.

All in all, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra comes across as a capable premium device with a number of strengths, especially with regards to the quality of its display. However, it's safe to say that the Ultra's Brobdingnagian frame means it won't be to everyone's taste.

Those who think that they may be interested in taking a punt on the Xperia Z should know that Sony has pegged the Ultra with a rough Q3 release date, and pressing the flesh a bit at the launch event, we were able to narrow this down to September. Pricing has yet to be confirmed, but the device will offered in black, white, and purple flavours.

Stay tuned for more, as we'll be reviewing the Xperia Z Ultra as soon as it becomes available. If you're already sold on the 6.4in behemoth and want to stay in the loop, you can pre-register your interest in the Sony Xperia Z Ultra now.