Sony Xperia Z Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S4

Vs Paul Briden 14:38, 27 Jun 2013

How does the Sony Xperia Z Ultra compare to Samsung's Galaxy S4?

With the Xperia Z Ultra Sony is embracing the big smartphone or ‘phablet’ trend with gusto. They don’t come much bigger than this 6.44-inch behemoth with its enormous, high-resolution touch display, but it’s not just a one-trick pony as it also packs a cutting-edge Qualcomm 800 processor, a sizeable battery and some slick exterior design.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is a logical progression from the Galaxy S3, toting a larger, sharper screen and an updated processor, but it also has some innovative new features such as dual-capture from both front and rear-facing cameras.

Samsung Galaxy S4: Key specs and features

Samsung has pushed the boat out with its Super AMOLED technology this time round. The 5-inch touch panel has a 1920x1080 pixel full HD resolution at 440 pixels-per-inch (ppi) delivering a crystal clear picture with excellent brightness, contrast and colour depth. You’re really not going to be left wanting with this display.

Processing power is also top-notch thanks to a 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core chip with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 320 graphics processing unit (GPU). This setup is incredibly fast and you’ll have no worries about running anything from Google Play. However, it’s worth pointing out that Samsung has a Qualcomm 800 equipped variant on the way which will be a lot more powerful if benchmarks are anything to go by.

The Galaxy S4 runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI layered on top and this adds some extra functionality. Of particular significance are the camera capabilities which allow you to use Dual Shot to capture stills or video footage from both the front and rear-facing cameras simultaneously. You can also capture 1080p HD video and stills at the same time and there’s both a multishot and panoramic capture mode. The digital stabilisation is pretty good and an HDR mode is included. You can also use Drama Shot to capture a sequence of movement in a still image as a time-lapse and Sound and Shot allows you to record audio for a picture.

The primary camera is rated at 13-megapixels and uses a back-illuminated sensor (BSI) with LED flash, autofocus, touch focus and face and smile detection. Overall image and video quality is pretty good. The front-facing camera is rated at 2-megapixels and both cameras capture at 1080p.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is well-equipped when it comes to connectivity as it packs 4G LTE capability alongside and infrared blaster for TV control, MHL out for TV hook-up, Wi-Fi (including HotSpot and Direct), DLNA, GPS, Bluetooth and NFC. There’s also a microSD slot for cards up to 64GB and currently in the UK only the 16GB internal storage model is available. The battery pack is a decent size at 2,600mAh so should provide plenty of juice on a single charge but it’s also removable so you can carry spares if you need to.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra: Key specs and features

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra has one of the biggest smartphone displays to date, in fact at 6.44-inches it’s getting to the point where you’d hesitate to call it a phone and might consider it as a slightly cropped 7-inch tablet. Sony has employed Triluminos technology designed to offer more natural colour than average displays while at the same time you’ve also got the X-Reality Engine, which is an evolved version of the Mobile Bravia Engine 2 and improves upon that technology’s enhanced colour, contrast, brightness and clarity.

All that combined with a 1920x1080 pixel full HD resolution at 342ppi makes for an incredibly rewarding experience for multimedia on the go, whether that’s gaming, browsing or watching films. The Xperia Z Ultra offers what is effectively a Sony TV in your pocket and picture quality is sharp and vivid with an almost 3D-like quality.

The design of the Xperia Z Ultra is pretty sharp too, much of it we’ve seen before with the Xperia Z and it has simply been enlarged for the bigger screen, but that’s no bad thing as all the neat elements we saw before have returned and still look great.

The handset has a very premium feel in the hand thanks to matte finish polycarbonates and reinforced Dragontrail glass on both front and back panels. The sides have silver trim and panelled detailing which looks sleek and the corners are highly angular. You’ve also got full IP58 water and dust proofing certification and the Xperia Z Ultra will survive a dunk in water up to a depth of one metre, without the need for fiddly port covers this time.

The Xperia Z Ultra is the first handset to be launched powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 quad-core chip clocked at 2.2GHz, which also has 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU. Benchmarks for this setup are crazy fast and it will deftly handle the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system and virtually any app or multimedia content you care to throw at it. It’ll outperform anything else on the market now and will remain a viable top-tier option for a good long while too.

A similar set of high-end connectivity options included 4G LTE, Wi-Fi (plus Direct and Hotspot), DLNA, Blueooth, NFC and MHL. Again, onboard storage is 16GB plus microSD for cards up to 64GB while the battery here is a massive but non-removable 3,050mAh setup.

Sony has gone with a slightly more rudimentary camera setup this time, at least, as current flagship specs go that is. Instead of any fancy 13-megapixel stuff you have an 8-megapixel Exmor RS BSI sensor packing HDR and panorama modes, digital stabilisation, face detection and 1080p video capture. On the front is a similar 2-megapixel setup to the one found on the Galaxy S4, except it uses an Exmor R sensor. While not at the cutting edge this should still prove a decent camera experience for most users.

The Sony UI doesn’t appear to be too different from what we saw on the Xperia Z overall, which is distinctly different from regular Android, but admittedly lighter and certainly more welcome than Sony’s older overlays. However, it’s worth pointing out that Sony has optimised it for the display size and resolution, meaning everything looks particularly crisp and you get extra rows and columns for app icons on both the homescreen and app drawer.

One last string to Sony’s bow is the stylus capability. The Xperia Z Ultra doesn’t come with a stylus and doesn’t use capacitive digitiser technology as you’ll find on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2. It does, however, support third-party styluses but will also accept input from pens, pencils and other pointy objects. You could even try a cocktail stick. Because it’s non-digitised it doesn’t register pressure sensitivity, so line thickness doesn’t adjust according to how hard you press. This isn’t a big deal for note-taking or simple diagrams, but those thinking they can use the Xperia Z Ultra to create great works of art may be disappointed.

Direct spec comparison: Shootout

Device Samsung Galaxy S4
Sony Xperia Z Ultra
Dimensions 136.6x69.8x7.9mm, 130g 179.4x92.2x6.5mm, 212g 
Display 5-inch Super AMOLED,1920x1080 pixels,440ppi 6.44-inch Triluminos LCD,1920x1080 pixels,342ppi, X-Reality Engine 
Camera 13-megapixel,LED flash,1080p video 8-megapixel Exmor RS,1080p video
Storage 16GB/32GB/64GB,microSD up to 64GB (Only 16GB in UK currently) 16GB,microSD up to 64GB
Processor, RAM, Graphics 1.9GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600,2GB RAM, Adreno 320 GPU 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800,2GB RAM,Adreno 330 GPU
Operating System, Android 4.2 Jelly Bean Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
UI TouchWiz Sony UI
Connectivity microUSB,Bluetooth,NFC,Wi-Fi,Wi-Fi Direct,Wi-Fi Hotspot,DLNA,4G,GPS,MHL,Infrared microUSB,Bluetooth,NFC,Wi-Fi,Wi-Fi Direct,Wi-Fi Hotspot,DLNA,4G,GPS,MHL
Battery 2,600mAh 3,050mAh

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