Sony Xpe­ria XA2 Ul­tra

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Tech Advisor - - Contents -

Sony makes good phones. Even some great phones. But it can­not es­cape crit­i­cism for its de­sign lan­guage and large bezels. This isn’t be­cause the bezels are ac­tu­ally that much of an is­sue. Big bezels do not a bad phone make. It’s be­cause Sony re­leases so many phones with such reg­u­lar­ity that we, and other tech re­view­ers and con­sumers, end up get­ting dis­ap­pointed at see­ing the

same de­sign ev­ery three to six months. The de­sign it­self isn’t much of a prob­lem.

But if you just hate on bezels (and many do), the Xpe­ria XA2 Ul­tra won’t make you happy. It’s a pricier ver­sion of the XA2 that has more bat­tery, a larger dis­play and dual selfie cam­eras. Is that enough to ig­nore its un­wieldy size?

De­sign

At the front, the Xpe­ria XA2 Ul­tra looks pretty much iden­ti­cal to the pre­vi­ous model. The main give­away that it’s new comes via the two cam­era lenses in the top bezel. Look­ing at the phone from the top or bot­tom sees a sub­tle slight curved de­sign, com­plete with bev­elled edges. How­ever, the re­main­der of the XA2 Ul­tra looks dis­tinctly av­er­age and even dated. Granted, the screen goes right to the edges at ei­ther side but the phone has hefty bezels above and be­low. The wait for an 18:9 bezel­free Xpe­ria goes on.

Un­less you have huge hands (and pock­ets) or sim­ply love phys­i­cally huge phones then the XA2 Ul­tra is too big. Pre­vi­ously, hav­ing a large 6in screen would jus­tify its mas­sive size but we’ve rightly come to ex­pect slim and light hand­sets, even in the mid-range.

The Sam­sung Galaxy A8 is in the same price range with a bezel-less de­sign sim­i­lar to the Galaxy S8, mak­ing the XA2 Ul­tra look fairly ridicu­lous by com­par­i­son.

It’s not just about the looks though, it’s also im­pos­si­ble to use one-handed. The Xpe­ria XZ1 had big bezels but was slim, light and packed stereo front-fac­ing speak­ers. The XA2 Ul­tra is very heavy and uses only its top bezel ef­fec­tively, hous­ing the head­line dual selfie cam­eras.

The build qual­ity on show is pre­mium, and the metal de­sign is ro­bust though the back is a tex­tured plas­tic. Vol­ume rocker, power key and the ex­cel­lent ded­i­cated shut­ter but­ton are on the right side, while Sony has moved the fin­ger­print sen­sor to the rear for the first time, un­der the cam­era lens.

Thank­fully for Amer­i­can Sony fans, the fin­ger­print sen­sor now ac­tu­ally works thanks to the end of a weird long run­ning le­gal bat­tle. The cam­era also had a flash, as do the two front fac­ing sen­sors. A speaker on the bot­tom edge ac­com­pa­nies a mod­ern USB-C port. The XA2 Ul­tra amounts to a mono­lithic slab of smart­phone, an unashamed brick of a thing.

It comes in the blue of our re­view unit, as well as black, gold and sil­ver.

Hard­ware

As you’d ex­pect, the XA2 Ul­tra is a big­ger ver­sion of the reg­u­lar model. How­ever, there’s more dif­fer­ences here than just a larger screen. The screen is ex­actly the same as the XA1 Ul­tra at 6in with a Full HD 1080p res­o­lu­tion re­sult­ing is a fairly poor 367ppi. That’s a de­cent chunk big­ger than the 5.2in XA2.

De­spite the low pix­els per inch, Net­flix binges on the train look pretty de­cent. But you’ll have to put up with its mad 221g weight, one of the only phones we’ve

re­viewed re­cently that tips the scale over 200g. For com­par­i­son, the 6in screened Honor 7X is just 165g.

It’s nice to have a big screen but you’ve got to re­ally want it here to live with the size and weight of the phone, as the 16:9 as­pect ra­tio makes it huge. The 6in screen on the re­cent Honor 7X is a slighter 18:9, looks great and costs £269.99 at the time of writ­ing – £100 less than the XA2 Ul­tra.

The dis­play set­tings hid­den away do im­prove things though. Usu­ally phones come with the sat­u­ra­tion turned up which is less nat­u­ral but more at­trac­tive. You can turn on stan­dard mode to boost it at lit­tle, or go all-out with su­per vivid mode. We pre­fer stan­dard, but it’s good that the op­tion is there to bring some life to the nat­u­ral but dull out of the box set­tings.

Un­like the Me­di­aTek chip in the pre­vi­ous XA1, the XA2 Ul­tra has a Qual­comm Snap­dragon 630 pro­ces­sor. A small up­grade on the power-ef­fi­cient 625, the 630 here proved to give ex­cel­lent bat­tery life both in real world us­age and the Geek­bench 4 bat­tery test, where it ran for an ex­cel­lent nine hours and 57 min­utes. The pair­ing of en­ergy ef­fi­cient chip and 3,850mAh bat­tery proves solid. There’s also NFC for mo­bile pay­ments.

There’s a rel­a­tively tame 32GB stor­age on-board, but you can ex­pand with a mi­croSD card up to 256GB. Some re­gions will get a 64GB op­tion but both ver­sions come with 4GB RAM, an up­grade on the reg­u­lar XA2’s 3GB.

As is the case for most phones in this price range, there isn’t wire­less charg­ing or any form of of­fi­cial wa­ter or dust re­sis­tance rat­ing. De­spite this, the Ul­tra has a de­cent set of specs for the price.

Cam­eras

The rear-fac­ing cam­era is a 23Mp Sony sen­sor with f/2.0 aper­ture, but the soft­ware pro­cess­ing doesn’t take ad­van­tage of the megapix­els. Un­less you’re in bright sun­light, the re­sults are dis­ap­point­ing and muddy. Colour re­pro­duc­tion is of­ten in­ac­cu­rate too, though it can han­dle light well in land­scape shots, even if the sky on the be­low photo is a lit­tle blown out.

Sony mar­kets the Ul­tra as a phone for self­ies as the two front fac­ing cam­eras al­low for wide an­gle group shots, or just a way to get more of the back­ground in. It’s quite good but you get the fish bowl ef­fect of­ten seen at the edges of pic­tures taken with such a set up. You may also want to turn off the on-by-de­fault skin soften­ing mode.

A real boon here is the selfie cam­eras’ op­ti­cal im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion, some­thing the rear cam­era

ac­tu­ally lacks. It means your group selfie shots will be largely blur free, and it’s good to see on the phone con­sid­er­ing the price.

If you’re into your self­ies you will en­joy the fea­ture, but there are bet­ter cam­era set ups on other mid-range phones.

One nice-to-have fea­ture is 4K video record­ing, un­usual on a mid-range hand­set. The phone does strug­gle to process it though and lags con­sid­er­ably

dur­ing record­ing. The slo-mo record­ing fea­ture from Xpe­ria flag­ships has also been ported over for record­ing bursts of 120fps footage.

The added AR fea­ture is fun to turn your liv­ing room into a pre­his­toric scene and the timeshift burst mode lets you se­lect the best shot from sev­eral, handy if you have a mov­ing pet or child to snap.

We still rec­om­mend spend­ing more on a high­erend phone if pho­tog­ra­phy is im­por­tant to you. De­spite Sony’s in­sis­tence that the cam­era tech here is top end, it isn’t quite. A bet­ter dis­play and bet­ter soft­ware pro­cess­ing are needed such as on Google’s Pixel 2 or the Huawei Mate 10 Pro.

Au­dio

Where the XA2 Ul­tra does de­liver is in its au­dio de­liv­ery. Though it lacks front fac­ing speak­ers, the wired head­phone ex­pe­ri­ence on the phone is great. ClearAu­dio+ is a soft­ware set­ting that op­ti­mizes the sound out­put, mak­ing mu­sic and video brighter and more im­mer­sive. It’s a sur­pris­ingly de­cent fea­ture, but might not be to your taste if you pre­fer a com­pressed sound and isn’t driven by a hard­ware DAC like on the (ad­mit­tedly pricier) LG V30.

Soft­ware

Pleas­ingly, the XA2 Ul­tra comes with An­droid 8.0 Oreo on-board. This is ex­cel­lent news for a mid-range de­vice, and Sony has beaten tons of hand­sets dou­ble the price to get it. You can en­joy fea­tures like pic­ture in pic­ture and pass­word auto-fill. Sony is also do­ing a good job at the mo­ment with monthly se­cu­rity up­dates.

Sony’s An­droid skin is min­i­mal, with only mi­nor aes­thetic changes to Google’s stock ver­sion. It’s very crisp and clean and doesn’t make any change for change sake like Honor does with its EMUI skin. Sony still pre-in­stalls and pushes SwiftKey on you, but we pre­fer to down­load and use Google’s Gboard.

Per­for­mance

Op­po­site are bench­marks from the XA2 Ul­tra and some com­pa­ra­ble phones. The Ul­tra is a solid choice for mo­bile gam­ing, though if that’s the rea­son you’re look­ing to buy you will want to spend a bit more on a high-end phone.

Ca­sual gam­ing looks great, and the ex­tra money you will pay com­pared to the Honor 7X (with its Kirin 659 chip) or the Moto G5S Plus (with the older Snap­dragon 625) will be worth it.

Multi-task­ing is also fluid even when us­ing many apps or when in split screen mode but the phone can lag when shoot­ing and play­ing 4K video.

Ver­dict

The Sony Xpe­ria XA2 Ul­tra is a weird phone. Sony could have made a svelte mid-range Xpe­ria at a lower cost than its flag­ships, but has in­stead made a £379 chunky mess. You can get the XZ1 for £449 in the UK now, and we strongly rec­om­mend that Sony phone over this one.

If you re­ally want a 6in 16:9 screen then the XA2 Ul­tra is one of the only ones on the mar­ket and its per­for­mance is solid. The rear cam­era is ac­cept­able and the au­dio qual­ity, run by An­droid Oreo, is top notch.

But with cheaper mid-range phones like the Honor 7X boast­ing more com­pact 18:9 6in dis­plays, the huge XA2 Ul­tra is a phone that will only ap­peal if you love the de­sign, its au­dio quirks, and have a pocket big enough to fit it in. Henry Bur­rell

Land­scape

Wide-an­gle selfie cam Low light

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