Sony Xperia XA
£269 inc VAT sony.co.uk
For the past few years, Sony has updated its Xperia Z range almost every six months, an act that not only frustrates fans locked into two-year contracts, who see several new handsets hit the market, but also makes us wonder if the firm is clutching at straws. The Xperia Z5 was an excellent phone, but now the flagship model appears to be the Xperia X – that’s not this phone
though. Released at the same time at the X is this, the Xperia XA. It’s cheaper and better looking, but has fewer features and lower specs.
The Sony Xperia XA excels in the design department. This is a slim, solid smartphone that will tick all the right looks boxes if you like smaller handsets; it has a 5in screen. The killer touch with the screen is that it is edge-to-edge, which ensures the handset doesn’t feel too big in the hand. We could almost say you can use this one-handed, but it’s sometimes hard to text with just your thumb.
The build quality is pretty good, though there’s no metal like on the flagship Xperia X – instead the XA is coated in solid plastic, but the back picks up fingerprints easily. Our review unit was the black model, which is really more of a grey. It’s also available in white, rose gold and gold. Wonder where they got that idea?
Overall this is a lush looking phone, and seeing as the edge-to-edge display isn’t on the more expensive Xperia X it’s a great differentiator if you want to spend less but get a premium look. The edges are aren’t rounded or obvious as on the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, and they also provide
no additional functionality like that phone does. Here, it’s purely for the looks.
The XA comes in at a slender 143.6x66.8x7.9mm, making it no fuss for any reasonably sized pocket at 137g. It’s seriously compact, and this is a smart move by Sony, as the price range it sits in is still a tricky one. At over £200, the XA won’t get much pay as you go attention, but once you start to consider contracts, most people won’t mind paying a tenner more a month for a superior alternative handset.
There’s a circular power button on the right edge, but no fingerprint scanner. Just below that is the volume rocker, with the dedicated camera button further down. There’s a camera front (13Mp with LED flash) and back (8Mp) and a thick bezel at the top and bottom of the phone.
The thing is an absolute fingerprint magnet though, with no anti-mark coating on the front screen as far as we can tell. The SIM and microSD slot (expandable up to 200GB) tray is on the left side, but be warned that if you take the SIM out, the phone will restart which is a bit unusual for a modern smartphone.
The specifications are where the Xperia XA, on paper at least, falls down compared to the kings of the Android world. The screen, an IPS LCD panel capable of 16M colours, is noticeably inferior to not only the Xperia X but many other modern smartphones, particularly if you’ve ever used an iPhone with a Retina display – a high definition standard since 2010’s iPhone 4. Text displays on
the XA a tiny bit pixellated and the screen is dark when watching videos even with the brightness jacked right up.
The processor on board is a mid-range Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 alongside a just-fine 2GB RAM. This memory limitation is only noticeable if you
really make the XA sweat; more than 10 apps open and you get the lag you would expect for a sub-£300 phone. There’s also NFC but no finger print scanner, so the quick convenience of payment apps is taken away.
Sony phones of late have been praised for being waterproof, but again this is a feature the XA loses. We’d have assumed this would be a way to keep the price down, but the flagship Xperia X isn’t waterproof either. Sorry about all the Xs, we know it gets confusing.
More apparent when we set up the XA, using Sony’s admittedly excellent Xperia Transfer Mobile app, was the 16GB on board storage. You really will need to buy a microSD card to expand the storage if you want more than a few apps and media on your phone.
Data exchange and charging happens via Micro-USB, and with the bundled charger you can take advantage of fast charging, which is excellent for the price point. Sony claims five and a half hours of battery from a 10-minute charge, and in our use it was good for this claim.
Benchmarks, as expected, are below that of the Xperia X, but good to see the XA not far behind. Additionally, it outperformed the similarly priced, mid-range Samsung Galaxy A3 by a distance.
As you may have guessed, the camera on the Xperia XA is passable, but nothing special. It’s not a phone you’d want to rely on for wedding snaps, whereas higher-end phones can produce good enough images for you to leave your DSLR at
home. Sony’s marketing for the XA is aggressive and also vague. It’s a company that loves to make up features that don’t really mean anything. A case in point is the camera having ‘Hybrid Autofocus’ that supposedly locks on to moving objects to keep the picture sharp. You can tap anywhere on the screen to lock onto a target, which is clever, but when we moved the phone while taking a picture it came out blurry every time. This is usual for a smartphone camera and it’s frustrating to see Sony produce a decent mid-range phone like the XA, but then lean on marketing which is basically a lie. It’s a shame, because we still like this phone.
The XA ships with Marshmallow 6.0 and continues Sony’s trend of using close to stock Android. The app tray is still slightly different but if you’ve used
any Android phone before this is familiar territory. As with other Xperia phones, there’s a little bloatware when you set up, such as Sony’s TrackID widgets for music playback and the PlayStation app. Keep them if you like, but if you remove them from your home screen or uninstall, the branding isn’t that intrusive. The 2GB RAM comfortably deals with the OS, but the handset gets a little sluggish when you’re using tons of apps at once.
We liked our time with the XA, and recommend it if you want a sleek, smart, mid-range phone that does everything acceptably well. Henry Burrell
5in (1280x720, 294ppi) IPS touchscreen Android Marshmallow 6.0 2GHz Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 Mali-T860MP2 graphics 2GB RAM 6GB storage MicroSD expandable up to 200GB 13Mp main camera, LED flash 8Mp front camera Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n Bluetooth 4.1 4G LTE Nano-SIM GPS NFC 2300mAh non-removable battery 143.6x66.8x7.9mm 137.4g