Ultra only in size: Sony’s Xperia C5 Ultra reviewed

Budget phablets tend to attract attention, and Sony’s C5 Ultra is certainly doing that, boasting a lovely 6 inch screen and 4G for just over $500. So what’s wrong with the phone?

Features and performance

The idea of a big phone is one quite a few people can get behind, and while at least one manufacturer said it would never work, it eventually ate its words as Samsung pioneered what would become an industry leading part of the market.

Big phones are now a thing, and they’re a constant thing as people realise that they want to see more of the web with them at all times. It’s not just the web, but bigger pictures, a bigger camera viewfinder, and the opportunity to watch movies and TV shows from a phone in a big window that still conveniently fits in your pocket.

But big phones can carry a big price, and so Sony is attempting to deliver on a middle ground option, coming in the form of the Xperia C5 Ultra, a six inch smartphone delivering the size people want in an easy to grip form-factor and a price that positively places the phone in the middle ground.

We’ve seen some great value propositions from Sony before, so can this one live up to expectations?

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One of the stand-out features of the C5 Ultra will be noticed pretty much the moment you take the phone out of the box and try to use it, and that’s the screen.

Prepare yourself for a massive screen, because in the C5 Ultra, you’re basically seeing the spiritual successor to the Xperia Z Ultra, with a bigger-than-big 6 inch Full HD display that practically stretches from edge to edge, offering some of the slimmest framing we’ve ever seen, and one of the prettiest edge framed screens out there.

It isn’t the sharpest display on the block, because while we’ve seen Sony adopt the world’s first 4K smartphone screen, the C5 Ultra relies on another Full HD 1920×1080 panel, which means you’ll get around 367 pixels per inch.

That’s higher than the “Retina” count of the Apple iPhone 6S, but lower than that of the 6S Plus, and while it’s sharp, the C5 Ultra display isn’t as razor pin-prick sharp as others available.

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But that might not matter for the price point it sits in, and to help out with some of that excess size, even Sony’s trademark top and bottom bezels have been slimmed down, leaving you with a smartphone that while big doesn’t feel totally enormous, which is a nice change.

The curvature of the body also changes, and while Sony’s regular Xperia design is to often release a thin and edgy brick, this harks back to a day when Sony was still sitting in its Sony Ericsson roots and commands a bit of the styling of the Vivaz, a handset that curved into the palm as you held it.

That’s what you’ll experience here, and while we like Sony’s rectangular flattened bricks in the Z series, the C5 Ultra is comfortable too, even with its massive size. The plastic body surely helps this, and while its 187 gram weight isn’t light, it’s still comfortable enough, and ideal for people who want a massive screen.

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There’s no waterproofing on this model like some of the other Sony models, so don’t go in expect to be able to drown the phone, as that will just break things.

Also, it is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, so while it would have been nice to clean it with immersion in water, don’t because it will break, and it will be better for everyone (support included) if you just carry a cloth.

Inside this phone, though, you’ll find technology you’d expect out of a flagship, though not necessarily of the same ilk.

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For instance, Sony has provided an eight-core processor, but it’s not the same eight-core processor we see in the Xperia Z5 series. And Sony has delivered WiFi, but it’s just your standard old 802.11 a/b/g/n, none of that new 802.11ac.

And that’s where you know that the C5 Ultra isn’t flagship, and isn’t really close: it’s mid-range with a big screen, offering what appears to be value for people who want that massive screen over, say, a tablet purchase.

There’s nothing wrong with this attempt, and the 2GB RAM accompanying the 16GB storage is a totally fine mid-range effort, even if it’s a little down on the memory, as Android tends to prefer 3GB for the sweet spot. That said we are happy Sony has kept a microSD slot available, allowing anyone to expand the storage considerably.

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Likewise, Android 5.0 is here out of the box, and just like we’ve seen in other smartphones from Sony this year, it’s a pretty easy experience to adapt to, with a light skin on top of the Google design language of version 5.0 “Marshmallow”, complete with multiple homescreens, Google’s drop-down notification bar, and a way of uninstalling apps straight from the menu quickly and easily.

Even elements of the software are the same, offering Sony’s album for images, and the Xperia theming, and even Sony’s music player, though this lacks the high-res audio support of the other phones, which in the C5 Ultra will load FLAC files but won’t recognise them as HD audio.

Buttons are pretty much spot on, too, with the same reliance of on-screen buttons Android typically takes, and three physical buttons on the right edge, offering power, volume, and then a camera button.

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