Hand­helds

★★★★★ £270 • From www.ama­zon.co.uk

Computer Shopper - - CONTENTS - Nathan Spen­de­low

Sony’s Xpe­ria XA2 is a good, if rarely su­perb, sub-£300 smart­phone

VER­DICT

It’s got some rough edges (and sharp cor­ners) but gen­er­ally, the Xpe­ria XA2 is a wor­thy mid-ranger

SONY’S XPE­RIA XA2 was just one of a long, laun­dry list of smart­phones to launch at this year’s CES, do­ing so along­side the plus-sized Xpe­ria XA2 Ul­tra and the bud­get Xpe­ria L1.

Take it out of the box and you’ll spot that the XA2 cuts a fa­mil­iar fig­ure, both to its new sta­ble­mates and to older Xpe­ria phones. Aside from the smaller foot­print, nar­rower top and bot­tom bezels and (slightly) more rounded edges, this looks iden­ti­cal to last year’s Xpe­ria XZ1 (Shop­per 359), which is no bad thing.

GET­TING THE POINT

How­ever, like the rest of Sony’s hand­sets, this de­sign de­ci­sion comes at a cost. While the XA2 adopts the same glint­ing cham­fered edges at the top and bot­tom of the phone, and softly rounded edges, the cor­ners where the two meet are – once again – haz­ardously sharp-edged, and primed to wear a hole straight through your pocket.

If that doesn’t bother you, or if you carry your smart­phone else­where about your per­son, there’s not much to com­plain about in terms of the lay­out of ports and buttons. There’s a soli­tary USB Type-C port with Quick Charge 3.0 sup­port on the bot­tom of the hand­set, com­plete with a vol­ume rocker, cir­cu­lar power but­ton and ded­i­cated cam­era shut­ter but­ton on the right-hand edge. The mi­croSD and nano-SIM slots are on the left, be­neath a re­mov­able flap.

At the top is a 3.5mm head­phone jack, and a cir­cu­lar fin­ger­print reader is placed just be­low the cam­era on the rear of the phone.

Alas, the screen isn’t one of these new 18:9 as­pect-ra­tio won­ders and, like the XZ1 Com­pact, its small, 5.2in Full HD (1,920x1,080) dis­play ini­tially feels some­what old hat.

Luck­ily, it’s a su­perb dis­play in every way be­sides size and res­o­lu­tion. Im­ages look ter­rif­i­cally vivid, es­pe­cially with the phone’s slightly sat­u­rated Su­per Vivid dis­play mode en­gaged, and the screen is rea­son­ably colour ac­cu­rate, too. With Su­per Vivid mode en­gaged, it cov­ers 96.5% of the sRGB colour space, the con­trast ra­tio reaches a re­spectable 1,167:1 and bright­ness peaks at a sun­light-friendly 507cd/m2. This is one im­pres­sive dis­play and, on a £270 smart­phone, it’s a real treat.

As for the in­nards, the Xpe­ria XA2 is equipped with Qual­comm’s 2.2GHz octa-core Snap­dragon 630. It comes with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of stor­age, ex­pand­able up to 256GB via mi­croSD.

This Snap­dragon chip was last seen pow­er­ing the slug­gish HTC U11 Life (Shop­per 362), so it’s no sur­prise that the Xpe­ria XA2’s per­for­mance also sits squarely in the mid­dling range.

In fair­ness, it did a tiny bit better than the U11 Life in Geekbench, scor­ing 854 in the sin­gle core test and 4,157 in the mul­ti­core test. In ev­ery­day use you won’t feel the phone slow down too much, but launch an in­ten­sive ap­pli­ca­tion such as Google Maps or jug­gle mul­ti­ple apps at once and the XA2 be­gins to stum­ble slightly.

COM­BAT ROCK

Like­wise, gam­ing per­for­mance could be better. While sim­ple games such as Candy Crush or Word­scapes ran with­out any hic­cups, as soon as the XA2 tried to tackle more graph­i­cally de­mand­ing games such as As­phalt or Modern Com­bat 5, dras­tic frame drops be­came a fre­quent oc­cur­rence.

Tested us­ing the GFXBench Man­hat­tan bench­mark, the Xpe­ria XA2 pro­duced 14fps in both the on­screen and off­screen tests, which is on par with the U11 Life but well be­hind the iden­ti­cally priced Honor 9 (Shop­per 359), which also eas­ily beat the Xpe­ria XA2 and U11 Life in Geekbench. Bat­tery life, mean­while, is de­cent, with the Xpe­ria XA2 last­ing 14h 27m in our con­tin­u­ous video play­back test, with the screen set to our stan­dard 170cd/m2 bright­ness and flight mode en­gaged.

With lower-priced smart­phones up­ping the ante in the cam­era de­part­ment re­cently, the Xpe­ria XA2 faces stiff com­pe­ti­tion. The specifications look de­cent enough, with an f/2.0 23-megapixel snap­per on the rear, in sen­sor, phasede­tect aut­o­fo­cus and a sin­gle-colour LED flash.

The re­sults are very im­pres­sive. The XA2 does a fantastic job at cap­tur­ing detail-rich im­ages out­doors in good light. Ex­po­sures are well judged and colours par­tic­u­larly well cap­tured, with the cam­era pick­ing up wispy cloud lay­ers and neigh­bour­ing brick­work with ef­fort­less ease. In par­tic­u­lar, the sun­set in the back­ground of some of our test shots was cap­tured beau­ti­fully.

How­ever, as soon as the light dims, the cam­era be­gins to fall short. Our low-light test shots were rife with com­pres­sion ar­ti­facts and blotchy chroma noise, which is a big dis­ap­point­ment, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing how well the cam­era per­forms in good light.

STEADY AS SHE GOES

The XA2 isn’t ca­pa­ble of 4K video cap­ture at 60fps. You’re lim­ited to 1080p, and if you want to take ad­van­tage of Sony’s ex­cel­lent SteadyCam elec­tronic im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion and HDR record­ing, it sticks to 30fps as well.

Low-light pho­tog­ra­phy is­sues aside, the Xpe­ria XA2 is an im­pres­sive smart­phone, made even better by its highly rea­son­able ask­ing price. Its dis­play is fantastic, bat­tery life is good and the hand­set it­self looks like some­thing you’ve paid twice as much for.

The problem is that for £270, you could buy ei­ther the Honor 9, with its far su­pe­rior per­for­mance and dual rear cam­eras, or the Honor 7X, which has a 18:9 screen in a slim­mer, sleeker chas­sis, al­beit with worse bat­tery life. This is the best Sony smart­phone in ages, but think care­fully be­fore you buy.

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