Sony Xperia XA Review: X, ey?

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With Sony struggling to make money in the mobile market, can the Xperia XA save their mid-tier offerings? We find out in our full Sony Xperia XA Review

Unfortunately Sony is becoming more and more irrelevant in the smartphone industry year after year. Not necessarily because they don’t make good phones, but their marketing effort in the US and Europe has been lacking and they missed the mark in developing markets.

To be honest, their high-end smartphones became dull and uninspired, and with the ‘new’ Xperia X range they once again chose not to shake things up too much. So does things change with the Xperia XA, targeted just beneath the high-end? In our Sony Xperia XA Review we strive to answer all the burning questions we have of the Japanese brand.

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Design and Build

Many mid-tier smartphones are following a similar design language these days. While that might make some devices extremely boring, with the Sony Xperia XA it fits in really well with the rest of their line-up. Sure, the design isn’t going to set your pants on fire, but it is an attractive device and is built really well.

It is mostly plastic, with some metal bits here and there. The metal sides mean that the device looks and feels more expensive than you might think, and it feels great in the hand. Not only that, but it is one of the thinnest devices you can buy in this segment of the industry.

Read: HTC One A9 Review: the Android iPhone

Our favourite part of the design, however, is the near edge-to-edge design of the display. Not only does it immediately catch the eye, but it makes the device feel extremely compact which is a wonderful change of pace from the usual mammoths we have been reviewing lately.

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The buttons around the device will be extremely familiar to Sony fans, with a similar positioning than was found on the Xperia Z series. The metallic circular power button is back, different to what we saw on the Xperia X, which had a fingerprint scanner. While the Xperia XA doesn’t include the biometric scanner, the button is clicky and responsive.

My biggest disappointment with the design isn’t the lack of a fingerprint scanner, but rather the lack of water resistance. It’s a feature that became synonymous with Sony years ago, and not to have it included (even at this price point) leaves me extremely peeved.

Screen

Another disappointment with the Xperia ZA is the screen. This 5-incher looks pretty good at first glance, but look a little deeper and you can see something is afoot. It’s a shame that this screen isn’t on par with other 2016 Sony smartphone displays.

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Covering just 81.3% of the colour gamut, it simply doesn’t have the same depth of colour as the Xperia X, and it even falls behind the lesser touted Xperia M5. Screen quality is fine, but not at the level of the more expensive Xperias.

You lose a lot of brightness at an angle and the contrast also can’t handle all usual usage scenarios, which is puzzling. While you might not notice all of these niggles in everyday use, it does seem like a big step backwards for Sony and we hope their future 720p displays will be much better thought out.

Read: Sony Xperia Z5 Premium Review: The wild child

Outdoors visibility is surprisingly good. The Xperia XA kicks into a sort of ‘turbo’ mode when it senses it’s in a bright environment, altering colour and contrast to keep the screen as comprehensible as possible. So in conclusion, the screen is fine but we expect more at this price point and especially for a 720p display, where the technology is years old and almost perfected elsewhere.

User Interface

In out Sony Xperia XA Review period we had to take a deep dive into software to find any differences to previous Sony iterations of its Android skin. To be honest, the biggest difference over previous years is the fact that it is running Android 6.0.

We have to commend Sony for pulling back on a couple of its previous design choices in Android that didn’t work and the new Sony UI feels more like stock Android than ever before, which we always take as a positive.

With very little obvious change in the software compared to previous years, it is fair to say the interface is simple and unobtrusive. It will be simple to learn if you haven’t used it before, and for any Android veteran the layout is easy to understand.

It lends a very ‘clean’ look and feel to the device software, which partners very well with its design’s look and feel.

Performance and Battery Life

For the first time in years Sony have decided to go with a MediaTek chipset on one of their flagship line of devices. Another odd choice is only having 2BG of RAM, which is less than many of its direct competitors.

Does that translate into some problems on the software performance? Well yes, unfortunately there were a couple of glitches here and there. For some reason I had some issues with the notification drop down from time to time, which left me extremely frustrated at times. A handful of other times, the entire interface seemed to get bogged down and didn’t respond. I then had to switch the screen off and back on to get it functioning again.

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While this didn’t happen regularly, I did find it unacceptable from Sony which has so regularly made devices with stellar performance.

The benchmark scores atone to the same conclusion, and I can confirm that playing games on this device is a chore more than anything else.

Battery life is another area the Xperia XA really suffers compared to its peers. A 2300mAh cell is used here, small even by 5-inch screen, 720p resolution standards. Sony’s thinking that the CPU is more efficient than other chipsets and would lead to better battery performance didn’t pan out here, unfortunately.

Read: Sony unveils the new standard PlayStation and PlayStation 4 Pro

I could never make an entire day with one charge, even with moderate use. With my usual heave use I often had to give it a quick injection of juice while still at the office. While Sony does tout the fast charging as a redeeming feature, we would very much prefer better endurance.

Camera

Sony’s camera offerings have always perplexed me. While they make the camera sensors for (almost) all the best performing smartphone cameras on the market, they never seem to nail it on their own smartphones.

The camera is one area where the Sony Xperia XA should be able to claim an edge. While they haven’t talking too much about this sensor, we know it isn’t their 23MP shooter. You get 13 megapixels, 1/3-inch of sensor area and phase detection hybrid focusing.

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In theory, the Xperia XA should have a great shooting experience at this price point, but it doesn’t. First of all, phase detection and focusing is slow and lazy at best. Also, the Sony Xperia XA has a camera that doesn’t do well in low-light, can be a little slow to use in certain conditions and has finicky software.

Image quality in daylight is good, exposure is good at making sure highlights aren’t blown out and while the phone shoots 9MP images as standard (as the sensor is not 16:9), you get a good amount of detail.

So no, it isn’t the best camera for this class of device, but it is also not the worst.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, we cannot recommend this device due to its mediocre screen and worse than average battery life. If it had a couple of other redeeming factors that were standouts, we may give these shortcomings a pass. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and no one will remember this device even existed in a couple of years.

Unfortunately, X doesn’t mark the spot on this one.

Follow Theunis on Twitter: @Theunis_BWB

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