Sony Xpe­ria XA1

£229 inc VAT from tinyurl.com/yb6kr­sor

Android Advisor - - Contents -

Sony’s Xpe­ria XA1 of­fers 23Mp stills (as well as fa­cial recog­ni­tion and a bunch of nice pho­to­graphic fea­tures) for £229. We test out the cam­era and fea­ture set, as well as putting the phone through our rig­or­ous bat­tery of pro­ces­sor and graph­ics tests, to help you work out if this is the de­vice for you.

De­sign

The XA1 has an ap­peal­ingly sim­ple look. Viewed fron­ton it’s a blocky de­sign, with com­par­a­tively square cor­ners, but this is off­set by a very slight cur­va­ture on the left and right-hand edges of the screen.

There’s a re­fresh­ing lack of gumpf on the back, too: just a sin­gle cam­era lens and ac­com­pa­ny­ing flash top left (these are ar­ranged ver­ti­cally, which seems to be the vogue this year) and a cou­ple of dis­creet lo­gos. Ev­ery­thing is flush with the chas­sis and it lies flat quite hap­pily.

Part of the min­i­mal­ism is made pos­si­ble by the fact that the Xpe­ria doesn’t have a fin­ger­print scan­ner, ei­ther in a home but­ton on the front (there is no such but­ton – the front but­tons are all soft­ware-based) or in a mod­ule on the rear. But there are lots of other ways to un­lock your de­vice which we’ll dis­cuss in the fea­tures section later on.

The hard­ware but­tons have all been put on one side: the right-hand edge, which houses the vol­ume rocker, ded­i­cated cam­era shut­ter and power but­ton (which sticks out a lot and is a dif­fer­ent colour, and is thus both slightly ugly and nicely easy to find even with­out look­ing.) We’re not to­tally sold on hav­ing a ded­i­cated cam­era but­ton, par­tic­u­larly since it re­quires more force to press than the on-screen but­ton and there­fore causes very slightly more cam­era wob­ble, but we know that some peo­ple like this fea­ture.

When held in the left hand the vol­ume and power but­tons are easy to ac­cess with in­dex and mid­dle fin­gers, but if you hold it in the right then the power but­ton feels a shade too low for the thumb to hit it com­fort­ably: one al­most won­ders if it would be worth Sony mak­ing two mod­els de­pend­ing on users’ dom­i­nant hand. How­ever, we did find that hav­ing the but­tons con­cen­trated on one edge had the ben­e­fit – when com­pared to a sym­met­ri­cal lay­out like the

iPhone 7 Plus – of never ac­ci­den­tally hit­ting a but­ton on the op­po­site side at the same time.

The XA1 has a 5in screen, a de­cent com­pro­mise point that of­fers plenty of real estate for video view­ing and gam­ing with­out bulk­ing out the body. (The side bezels are al­most non-ex­is­tent but there are quite large bezels at top and bot­tom.) The res­o­lu­tion is rel­a­tively un­der­whelm­ing, how­ever, at 720p and a pixel den­sity of 293.7ppi.

For a com­par­i­son that even Ap­ple fans will un­der­stand, that 5in screen sits neatly be­tween the 7 (4.7in) and 7 Plus (5.5in) of­fer­ings while nestling into a chas­sis that is far closer in terms of length, width and weight to the former. (It’s thicker than both iPhones, how­ever.)

• Di­men­sions: 145x67x8mm; 143g

The XA1 has a head­phone port, and is com­pat­i­ble with both mi­croSD re­mov­able stor­age and USB-C ca­bles and ac­ces­sories.

Water- and dust-re­sis­tance

Take care­ful note that the XA1 is not IP-rated and there­fore can­not be re­lied upon to of­fer any de­gree of water-re­sis­tance. Sony is known for of­fer­ing strong IP rat­ings on its flag­ship phones, but this is sim­ply too much of a bud­get op­tion to get that treat­ment. As a Sony sup­port em­ployee puts it, “I would ad­vise keep­ing it away from any ex­po­sure to water.”

Colour op­tions

The XA1 comes in four colour fin­ishes: matt black, white, gold and pink. Do note that the lat­ter is far warmer and less gar­ish than the colour picker on the Sony web­site would sug­gest.

Pho­tog­ra­phy

The rear-fac­ing cam­era is rated at a hefty 23Mp (note that if you want the full whack you have to shoot in squar­ish 4:3; the more widescreen 16:9 as­pect ra­tio is capped at 20Mp), and pro­duced huge, wellde­tailed pho­tos in our tests. In­deed, the images files it pro­duced are so large that our site has trou­ble han­dling them. Our stan­dard test shot of St Pan­cras was promis­ing at first glance, with good de­tail­ing on the brick­work and solid colour and light­ing given the dif­fi­culty of the weather con­di­tions. And un­der a hard zoom the Mid­land Road sign was eas­ier to read than we’d gen­er­ally ex­pect.

Above is a com­par­i­son of the Sony’s shot (heav­ily zoomed in) with a match­ing ef­fort by the same-priced Honor 6X. The XA1 shoots well in lower-light en­vi­ron­ments, too.

Right is a re­ally tricky shot: a selfie us­ing the low­er­rated (al­beit still solid 8Mp) front-fac­ing cam­era, in low light, and with a brighter light source be­hind. It’s not bril­liant – the def­i­ni­tion of our hair is a lit­tle muddy – but the Sony makes a de­cent fist of it. We don’t want to clog up this ar­ti­cle with any more large im­age files, but suf­fice it to say that our tests show this to be a strong per­former in cam­era tests, par­tic­u­larly for the money.

Fea­tures Cam­era

The rear-fac­ing cam­era in par­tic­u­lar has ex­cel­lent spec­i­fi­ca­tions and per­formed well in our tests, but this is all backed up by a few nice pho­to­graphic fea­tures. Our favourite is ‘hand shut­ter’, which takes a shot when you raise a palm: a nice idea for group self­ies and re­li­able in prac­tice. (It waits a cou­ple of sec­onds so you can put your hand down first.)

Smart Lock

As men­tioned pre­vi­ously the Sony doesn’t have a fin­ger­print scan­ner. But as well as the stan­dard pass­code and pass­word op­tions, and the near­stan­dard dot pat­tern, it lets you un­lock the phone in a va­ri­ety of other ways.

Trusted face

‘Trusted face’ is An­droid’s name for face recog­ni­tion: pose for a selfie for a few sec­onds and the phone will re­mem­ber your face and un­lock the phone when it sees you. You can im­prove the ac­cu­racy of this fea­ture by tak­ing ad­di­tional snaps in dif­fer­ent light­ing set­ups.

Un­for­tu­nately we found this fea­ture some­what counter-in­tu­itive in use; it’s not clear for a first-time user when you should point the cam­era at your­self or even when the fea­ture has worked. Some­times we hit the power but­ton and it lets us swipe and get started at once, while at oth­ers it asks for a pass­code or pat­tern.

In re­cent ver­sions of An­droid the fea­ture has been tweaked to be­have more ‘seam­lessly’, and when

it works, it works well. The prob­lem is that when it doesn’t work, it’s hard to know why or what you should do dif­fer­ently. When you first power on, you have to en­ter your pass­code; on sub­se­quently wak­ing from sleep, as­sum­ing the front-fac­ing cam­era can see you, the ‘locked’ icon will turn into an un­locked icon and you’ll be able to swipe to open.

But if it can’t find your face, the pad­lock icon will briefly turn into a face – and at this point you need to make sure it’s point­ing at you. If you miss the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity the icon will turn back to a pad­lock, and from this point we found it very hard to in­duce the phone to look for a face and un­lock with­out en­ter­ing a pass­code or pat­tern.

Trusted place, voice, and more

This con­fu­sion per­haps isn’t helped by all the other un­lock tech that can be used si­mul­ta­ne­ously: there’s on-body de­tec­tion, which keeps the phone un­locked if its ac­celerom­e­ter de­tects that it’s still be­ing car­ried by a mo­bile hu­man; trusted place, which keeps it un­locked in spec­i­fied lo­ca­tions; trusted de­vices, which keeps it un­locked pro­vided spec­i­fied Blue­tooth de­vices are nearby and con­nected; and trusted voice, which un­locks us­ing your voice.

The best ap­proach is to use mul­ti­ple Smart Lock fea­tures at once (pro­vided you are cog­nizant of their re­spec­tive per­ils – such as the abil­ity for a thief to snatch the un­locked de­vice and have it re­main un­locked thanks to on-body de­tec­tion). But bear in mind that there will be times when your de­vice is locked, or un­locked, and you’re not en­tirely sure why.

Note too that the Smart Lock fea­tures have been baked into An­droid since Lol­lipop and so are by no means ex­clu­sive to this hand­set. But equally, some other An­droid phones do not get these fea­tures or get only a par­tial set.

Per­for­mance

The XA1 fea­tures a 64-bit eight-core pro­ces­sor (tech­ni­cally quad core at 2.3GHz + quad core at 1.6GHz) and 3GB of RAM. We put this setup to the test in our speed bench­marks.

In Geek­bench 4’s CPU bench­marks, the Sony av­er­aged a score of 864 in sin­gle-core mode, and 3,720 in multi-core. That’s roughly av­er­age for a phone at this price point. The Honor 6X, which is

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