For many years the trend in the mobile world was to make devices smaller, but there has been a reversal of this in recent times. While smartphone users have been gradually growing used to the idea of large, phablet-style handsets, Samsung and Sony have pushed the boundaries even further with the Xperia Z Ultra and Galaxy Mega. We take a look at how the two huge handsets stand up against each other.
You would be forgiven for thinking that these two devices are tablets rather than phones, with each having a display that is only just over half an inch smaller than the Nexus 7. At 6.4-inches the Z Ultra is the bigger of the two, but it only just out-sizes the Mega’s 6.3-inch display.
However, the Xperia is the larger device overall, with the space taken up by its frame being noticeably bigger than the Mega. This makes the Sony handset difficult to hold, something which is not improved by its sharp edges. This makes any sort of single-handed use pretty much impossible, and we even found answering a call to be difficult to do without dropping the device.
In contrast, the rounded form factor of the Mega makes it a little easier to grip, although its size still means that most functions require two hands. Nevertheless, answering a call single-handed is possible, making the Samsung ever so slightly more convenient for everyday use.
The size of each handset also makes them difficult to stow away and while each of them just about fits in the average pocket they are not particularly comfortable to carry this way. Putting them in your bag may be a much better idea.
The large displays do have a real advantage when it comes to visuals though and these are two impressive screens. High-quality video footage looks amazing on each, but the 344ppi resolution of the Xperia coupled with Sony’s expertise in making displays gives it the edge. While the Samsung is impressive, images and videos shown on its 233ppi screen don’t look as bold and striking, with colours appearing a little washed out.
Samsung created an excellent user interface for its Galaxy S4 flagship which has made the transition to the Galaxy Mega. The stylish design and well-organised menus are in place and look great on the large screen, while the versatile lockscreen that lets you add icons and widgets also makes an appearance. Performance is excellent throughout, with the 1.7GHz dual-core processor more than able to handle everything that is thrown at it.
Sony’s UI may not look as striking at first glance, with its smaller icons and arguably less impressive design. However, it soon becomes clear that what the Japanese firm has done is very clever indeed. While Samsung has simply up-scaled icons and widgets to suit the larger display, Sony has kept them to roughly the same size as they are on the Xperia Z.
This means more of them will fit on each homescreen and the 6×6 grid in which they are arranged allows up to 36 icons to be kept on one screen, with a further six in the app tray at the bottom. In the same way, a greater number of widgets can be crammed in, allowing for an incredible amount of information to be displayed across the user interface.
Each handset has its own idiosyncratic control mechanisms, with the hands free gestures seen on the Galaxy S4 appearing on the Galaxy Mega as well. While features such as Air View are certainly impressive we found them difficult to use, as we did on the Galaxy S4 – they are often more trouble then they are worth.
What the Galaxy Mega really misses out on is the S Pen stylus seen in Samsung’s Note range, which would have made a big improvement to the device. The extra control and functionality that this would have brought in would have given the Mega a real edge that it doesn’t otherwise have.
The Z Ultra may not have a stylus but Sony has engineered the handset so that a pencil can be used on its display, something that is unexpected and brilliant. While a little dust is left on the screen after use we didn’t notice it getting marked, and using it quickly came to feel natural.
There are no specific, native apps that capitalise on this functionality but there are plenty of third party options within the Android ecosystem that allow you to write and sketch on the display of your handset, making Sony’s development a very enticing prospect.
Neither manufacturer seems to have put a big focus on photography with these phablet handsets, something which isn’t a major drawback since using either of them to capture an image becomes uncomfortable due to their size.
Overall the Z Ultra produces the sharper photos of the two, although the 8 megapixel cameras featured on each device don’t match the 13 megapixel sensors found on the Galaxy S4 and Xperia Z. Detailed, impressive images can be capturedd, but photography is not a major selling point for either handset.
We feel that Sony has the upper hand in this contest, having made a device which feels like a small tablet rather than just a big phone. Samsung has missed out by not including the S Pen, which would have added to the Mega’s capabilities, although Sony’s stroke-of-genius UI layout would have been hard to beat anyway.
The Galaxy Mega is a capable handset with an impressive display but Sony seems to have put a little more thought into how it can adapt what was seen on the Xperia Z to a larger format, ultimately creating the more impressive device.