No one can deny it. Sony has made huge strides in the smartphone department, going from being a minor smartphone vendor to one of the market's biggest players. Having successfully taken on the smartphone competition with the rugged Xperia Z, and also produced quite a good tablet with the Xperia Tablet Z, Sony is now extending the Z-series' reach to include phablets. Enter Xperia Z Ultra. The new flagship device touts an already proven design with a beautiful, enormous screen and industry leading performance.
The design is where Sony has become extremely successful this year, and it shows in the Xperia Z Ultra. To put it simply, the Ultra is SLIM. Measuring 6.5 mm, the phablet is thinner than just about every major smartphone available. It's quite heavy, weighing 212g, but when you think about its size you realize it's pretty light. Despite being so thin, and despite having such a classy design, Sony managed to make this device as rugged as it can get. The Ultra has IP58 certification, which basically means it's dust proof, and also waterproof, for up to 30 minutes under one meter of water (given that all the ports are covered), so, despite how fragile this device looks, it can take a lot of damage.
The back of the device, much like the Xperia Z and the Tablet Z, is beautiful. Very simplistic and very stylish, the back is covered by a layer of glass, which gives the device a slightly reflective effect. The phablet is available in black, white, and purple (?). The bottom of the back contains an Xperia logo, and on the center there's a Sony logo. On the top, there's a very good 8 MP camera, capable of 1080p video and HDR, but without an LED flash. The general cleanness of the back, together with the glass-induced reflectiveness, results in a very premium, expensive look for the Ultra.
The front of the device is almost 100% display, which has become common in large screen devices. The left and right bezels are very slim, but unfortunately the top and bottom bezels could be slimmer. Granted, though, the top bezel needs space for the Sony logo, the proximity and ambient light sensor and the front-facing 2 MP camera, also capable of shooting 1080p video (a bit pointless really, in my opinion), and the bottom bezel is probably as large as the top one to induce symmetry in the design.
Honestly, I think that the Xperia Z Ultra is too close to tablet territory in terms of screen size. Measuring 6.4 inches diagonally, it begs for more comparison to the Nexus 7 than, say, the Galaxy S4 or Note II. Many people will probably like it, but personally, I think the display size isn't ideal for neither tablet-like nor smartphone-like use. 6.4 inches means it's probably too big to fit into your pocket (and the added weight also makes that more difficult) and it could be awkward to stick that to your face and talk on the phone, so I find it inadequate for use as a smartphone. So the only reason why you'd want that device, other advantages aside, is either if you think the Nexus 7 is too large (you probably don't, except perhaps if you have tiny hands) or if you want something almost Nexus 7-sized that can make calls (a question from the Galaxy Tab 7.0 time, when it was often discussed how weird it is to talk on the phone with such a big device). You might have other reasons, and if you feel the screen size is good, you can't possibly be disappointed by the Xperia Z Ultra.
Odd screen size aside, the display is gorgeous. Sony is introducing the new Triluminos display technology with X-Reality enhancement, which is the successor to the already proven Mobile BRAVIA Engine. Basically, X-Reality will boost the color saturation of images, video, games, etc. significantly, making everything pop out more. The 1920 x 1080 resolution results in a pixel density of 344ppi (lower than 5" 1080p smartphones' 441ppi, but unless you're using a microscope you won't notice the difference), ensuring razor-sharp text and clear images. Combine the enhanced colors of the display, thanks to X-Reality, with the very crisp pixel density, and you have a near-perfect display in your hands.
Under the hood is where the Xperia Z Ultra impresses the most. That would be because the Ultra is one of the first products to launch with the brand new Snapdragon 800 SoC paired with 2 GB of RAM. For a recap, the Snapdragon 800 is a 28nm SoC consisting of four Krait 400 cores ticking at a monster 2.3GHz, plus a brand new Adreno 330 GPU, which, as benchmarks show, is by far better than any of the competition, even NVIDIA's recently launched Tegra 4. The Xperia Z Ultra can therefore handle, and I say literally, anything. UI performance will definitely be flawless, and it'll be a monstrous mobile gaming machine (it's faster than the NVIDIA Shield. Period). The Ultra's SoC will only disappoint you when OpenGL ES 4.0 becomes the norm in games, and would happen around 2018-2020. To put it simply, whether you want a device to do some simple web browsing, reading and watching videos, or if you're a hardcore mobile gamer, the Xperia Z Ultra won't disappoint you.
Other specs include Android 4.2 out of the box and a non-removable, beefy 3050 mAh battery, but ironically, Sony claims 16 hours of talk time and up to 7 hours of video playback, which is good, but not as good as the battery size might suggest. Well, I suppose that's the price for such a large display.
The device was already released, although it hasn't arrived in the US yet, but you can find it in a retailer or two for $799. This is, I think, the same price as the Galaxy S4 without a contract, so it's not unaffordable, and it works perfectly as a phone, touting 4G LTE connectivity. If you're not bothered by the screen size, you're basically getting a near-perfect device. It offers a beautiful, yet very durable design and spotless performance, and I definitely recommend the device if the screen size is OK for you.