Sony Z Ultra Google Play edition hands-on

Sony's gargantuan phone, the 6.4-inch Xperia Z Ultra, is finally getting some quality time in the United States, but not exactly the same way we had envisioned at first. For $650, you can now grab a Google Play edition of the device (in the US, anyway), which is compatible with AT&T's and T-Mobile's LTE and HSPA+ networks. Essentially, this means that the unlocked phone features a stock version of Android 4.4, is free of Sony's software tweaks and carrier bloatware and it'll (in theory) get updated to the latest and greatest version of Android sooner than most other devices.

Since the Z Ultra (no Xperia branding this time) doesn't come with Sony's user experience, this means that it's missing some features you normally find on flagship Xperia devices, such as the Bravia Engine. You'll get a stock camera UI, rather than Sony's proprietary interface, which means you won't have access to as many manual settings as you'd probably prefer; that said, at least it comes with a standard HDR setting, so its software algorithms may be a little different from Sony's, and may affect the final image somewhat. Also gone is the native Android gallery that we've grown to love or hate over the years, and in its place is the new Google+ Photos app that was introduced in Android 4.4 KitKat and featured on Nexus devices.

Aside from these differences, there isn't much else to the experience; the look, feel and dimensions of the device are all the same, so if you thought the original Z Ultra was too big (and too expensive) for your tastes, there's nothing about this new edition that will change your mind. Still, this is the best option for anyone who wants an official stock Android experience on such a large handset (without venturing into loading ROMs, at least), so perhaps a handful of you may be looking at the Z Ultra in a completely new way now. Either way, we've got some pictures below for your viewing pleasure.

Update: Sony has confirmed that the Google Play edition does indeed have Bravia Engine.

Update 2: Unfortunately, the Z Ultra came with a few nasty bugs, such as the inability to uninstall apps or access the security settings menu to enable sideloading. These bugs are getting fixed in the update to Android 4.4.2.