Sony Xperia Z Ultra review

Is it a tablet? Is it a phone? Really... do you care?

Sony Xperia Z Ultra review
Yeah, it's big. Really big.

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We're moving away from the days when you had a phone and you were stuck with the apps you got on there. In fact, we've gone the other way.

The first thing most smartphone owners do when they get their shiny new device is start downloading like crazy.

Unfortunately, that spells bad news for the manufacturers who like to load up their devices with so much useless bloatware because it'll get lost as soon as you start sticking your own stuff in, which is why they often put widgets and shortcuts on the homescreens too. Many newbies won't know how to remove these. It's a good ploy.

At the heart of the Xperia Ultra is Google. That's where the OS comes from and that means you get the staple Android offerings out of the box. That means the likes of Gmail, Google Calendar and of course, Google Maps, to name but a few.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Good old Google Maps

Google Maps deserves special praise. It always does. It is the most comprehensive, up to date, mobile mapping solution out there. And it's free.

Plus it supports offline mapping. It's not just for reference, but it is now a full turn by turn navigation app which means that you are getting a full sat nav for no extra cost. It's basically the app that just keeps giving. And on a display like the Xperia Z Ultra's, that's pretty brilliant.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Google Play is present and correct

Sony gives us a few of its own – for example, Sony Select. Which is basically its own App Store – it never really quite makes sense on Android to do this because you'll get the same apps and more on the Play Store.

OEMs clearly want to confuse new users into thinking that theirs are the best places to get apps but it's just messy. TrackID is basically Shazam (in fairness, Sony has used this for years – long before Shazam lanched its app).

You're also treated to an app called Sketch – which is ok for doodles when using your finger or the pencil functionality. It's something to keep the kids entertained.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Welcome to the Xperia Lounge

Xperia Lounge is meant to give you that feeling of buying into an exclusive club. You can enter competitions and read exclusive interviews with stars.

We can't see it lasting that long. This is the kind of app that peters away when nobody uses it. It says it is in beta. We'd be surprised if it ever graduates out.

And then there's Xperia Privilege. This app actually made us laugh out loud when we opened it. The app logo is very luxurious, and the name gives off the sense that this is something special.

We opened it expecting something akin to the Vertu Concierge service (obviously, at a much more basic level) and the first thing that popped up was a bright pink and green ad that looked like something from a magazine advert. It certainly entertained us. But not in the way Sony probably hopes.

Ultimately, you'll probably find you use the Google apps, not the Sony ones. But that's no bad thing. And installing apps is very, very quick. Probably the quickest experience we can remember on a smartphone, thanks to those internal speeds.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.