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Sony’s Xperia range: Z1 and Z Ultra offer best designed Android options

We got our hands on the latest gear from Sony in their Xperia Z1 and Xperia Z Ultra phones – and we’ve had a ball testing the big, beautiful, waterproof devices. Step on in to find out what we think about each of the Android offerings.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra – the bad boy in Sony’s kit

This phone is enormous, and that’s the heart of any decision you might make about your phone.

Now, big phones are standard with Android. Every latest Android phone we could get our hands on – from smallest in the HTC One ‘mini’ to the hunky Note 2 to this behemoth was bigger than an Apple iPhone.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra compared with a range of current phones

Sony have pushed the boundary with their Z Ultra in terms of how big your everyday phone can be. It’s a whopping 6.4″ screen, it’s slim, sleek, and can swim, which eliminates the panics of trying to save a damp phone, which it seems most people have experienced. It’s remarkably slender.

It’s fast, has a decent enough camera (although the Nokia Lumia 1020 remains the best we’ve seen) that can do a range of nice Sony tricks, and the HD screen uses Sony 4K TV tech, which is nice to look at. (A note that the photos aren’t quite to form in the real-world – the screens are not ‘dark’ looking at all)

The waterproofing comes with a cost – there’s an external connector for charging, but you do have to crack open the slightly fragile feeling small side panel to get to the USB3 connector. Then, if that breaks of you lose it somehow, which is likely, it’s no longer waterproof – until you get a replacement part. So, very useful for some; acceptable for others.

In a man’s normal size pocket it still fits surprisingly well, but it’s very noticeable to the wearer. (No ‘pleased to see me’ jokes.) Battery life isn’t as monstrous as the phone – although that does keep the phone light.

Look, it’s a big, big device. Using it to call someone makes people look at you like you’re slightly mad. You’re either using 1970s tech or using the future. It’s polarising in that way.

The monster Sony Xperia Z Ultra device

Sony know that the trend is towards bigger phones. This will either be just the start of the next round of your device is bigger than mine, or it will be an oddity for when we look at ‘when phones were too big’ in a few years.

Sony Xperia Z1 – better than the Z, but how good is it?

The Xperia Z1 is the flagship in what is a very good offering from Sony. It’s classy. It’s like the Ultra, but at a more manageable/less-crazy size.

The more standard 5.0″ screen size still isn’t tiny, but it’s just as slim, stylish and waterproof. It’s a quality build – far better than the cheap feeling Samsung models.

The Sony Xperia Z1

The camera is similar to the Ultra, and it comes with the same bag of Sony tricks. With a dedicated camera button, it’s an improvement over the Ultra and certainly better than the older Z. It’s the best photography experience of any Sony smartphone, and has the most megapixels in a phone outside of the Nokia Lumia 1020, but ultimately isn’t as geared to photography as the Windows phone, so comes up a little short.

The waterproof enabling design is just as awesome (with caveats) as the Ultra, and it’s nice to feel your everyday phone is equipped to deal with a drenching. It’s a helpful innovation, and feels more useful than a bunch of other ‘innovations’ being added to phones for little reason.

The screen impresses – vibrant and rich, using Sony’s TV tech. Apparently. Whatever – it looks great, and better than average in bright light.

The speaker isn’t amazing but it does the job. Battery time wasn’t tested in lab conditions, and Sony quote 13 hours 3G talk time. We found that the 3000mAh unit inside gave us acceptable life under usage.

So, should the Z1 be yours? It’s a harder decision than the Z Ultra, which will either make you jump at the perfect phablet, or wander off wondering if your have shrunk.

The Z1 is one of the premier Android phones on the market, and should definitely be in your list to look at. It’s not cheap, and if you have a Z it’s probably not enough alone to upgrade. For new players to Android, give it a look. The alternatives are probably going to be the Samsung Galaxy S4, or the Note 3, while the Lumia is for you if you flat-out want awesome photos on something you can call people on.

What we absolutely love from the Sony models is that they feel so much nicer in your hands than the Samsung Galaxy range, which are more than a little plasticky. And, it’s not a Windows OS as per the Nokia, which is better than you think, but doesn’t have the range of apps, yet.

Update: There’s another model from Sony on the way too. The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact will be out very shortly. It’ll have all the features, just shrunk. No, it won’t be a Mini, but Compact. We expect it to be a real option for those looking for the small options.

Images: via Elise Boyd for us, Lost At E Minor.