Sony Xperia XA1 Review: A Step in the Right Direction

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Second Time’s the Charm?

Sony’s mid-ranged smartphone, the Xperia XA, had us swooning over its design when we first saw it at Mobile World Congress last year. It’s nearly bezel-less display and narrow dimensions made it stand out from the crowd with the offerings at the time. When we finally got our hands on it for a full review, we were met with disappointment over its performance; mainly due to the lack of RAM. Is the second time the charm? Let’s find out.

Sony Xperia XA1 Specifications

  • 2.3GHz MediaTek MT6757 or Helio P20 octa-core processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • Mali-T880 MP2 GPU
  • 5-inch HD IPS LCD display; 1280×720 resolution, 294 ppi
  • 32GB of expandable storage (up to 256GB)
  • 23-megapixel rear camera, f/2.0, PDAF, LED flash
  • 8-megapixel front camera, f/2.0, Autofocus
  • 3G, LTE
  • Dual SIM
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC
  • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
  • USB Type-C
  • 2300mAh battery
  • Android 7.0 Nougat

Still a Good Looking Phone; Mind the Forehead and Chin Though

Now that we’ve seen Samsung trim down the dimensions of their phone and include their Infinity Display onto their recent flagships, it has stolen most of the magic that once made the Sony Xperia XA, and now the XA1, stand out. Don’t get us wrong. We think that it’s still a good looking device, once you get used to the height of its forehead and chin, and its deviation from the usual design language we’re used to seeing from the Japanese brand still makes it worth a double take.

It is a little thicker compared to other offerings in the market, measuring in at 8mm, but the narrow frame makes it easy to grip, no matter how large or dainty your hands may be. There was a little play on the back of our review unit, but not enough to merit any alarm. Aside from that, the device is sturdy with no gaps along the phone’s seams and its heft lends a helping hand to its premium feel.

While most phones in the mid-ranged segment have a fingerprint scanner, this is a feature that still didn’t make it into the second iteration of the Xperia XA. Sure, keying in our PIN was easy enough, but the ease of unlocking a phone with the use of your bio-metrics was missed greatly. We’re hoping this makes it onto the next XA; there’s certainly more than enough room on the device’s chin or on its side.

Decent Display at 720p

Given that we were coming from reviewing most of the flagship devices, most of which had QHD displays, before the Xperia XA1 arrived at Unbox HQ, we were a little bummed that it’s 5-inch display was only at 720p. Honestly, it sounds like such a #firstworldproblem when we say it that way, but the bump down was too big to ignore. Nonetheless, it performs admirably and that’s still a decent 294 pixels per inch. More importantly the colors and contrast were wonderful for watching videos on YouTube. The choice to forego a higher display resolution was most likely made to keep the Xperia XA1 running for a bit longer, but we’ll talk about its battery performance in a little bit.

For audio, you’ve got the lone speaker on the bottom of the device; don’t be fooled by design tactics Sony employed, those aren’t front firing speakers above and below the screen. The single speaker produces nice and clear audio though, but we definitely suggest bringing your favorite pair of earphones or cans to hear the video your watching or your tunes properly. If you can swing it, might we suggest the noise cancelling headphones we reviewed recently?

Better than the Previous Iteration

As we mentioned above, we were disappointed with the Sony Xperia XA. Companies always try to top previous iterations of their products and we’re glad to see that Sony has put a little more oomph in the XA1. Running the show on the XA1 is a MediaTek Helio P20. which is said to be 20% more powerful than the P10 that was on board the XA and we could definitely feel the difference; it does the job for light to moderate use. We’re also getting a bit more RAM this time around at 3GB that helps when the need to multitask arises. You will still need to clear out apps running in the background from time to time however.

In terms of gaming, we had to turn down the settings of NBA 2K17 to a mix of Ultra Low to Low in order to get it to run smoothly. We also tried out Injustice 2. There were very noticeable frame rate drops and times where the screen froze altogether, but turning on Power Saving Mode on in the settings menu toned it down a bit. Check out the video above to get clearer picture of how the Xperia XA1 performs.

A Great Camera on a Mid-Ranged Device

One of the things that caught our attention while reviewing the spec sheet for the Sony Xperia XA1 was how similar the 23-megapixel rear shooter was to a more premium offering from the Japanese brand, the Sony Xperia XZ; with a few bells and whistles removed, of course. How did it perform? We were a little bit skeptical when we initially reviewed the photos we took on the phone itself, but transferring it on to a PC and seeing them on a bigger display washed all the worries away. It’s a great camera and performs almost as well as its more expensive brother. There’s a nice vibrancy to its colors. You will be seeing more noise as lighting conditions go south, but that’s to be expected from most mid-ranged devices.

As for the 8-megapixel front camera, it does a decent job but it would be best to keep to well lit areas to take your selfies.

Bring a Powerbank. It’s not Optional.

Just looking at the spec sheet, you know that the phone is going to need a little pick me up in the middle of the day.

It has a 2300mAh battery and, while mileage may vary, you’re going to want bring along a powerbank to make sure you can top it up for the trip home after office hours. We had a bit of trouble getting results with PC Mark Benchmark’s battery test, so we can’t give you a solid number. Given our usage though, which has us using our mobile data for the greater part of the day with the occasional YouTube video here and there, we had to tether ourselves to our power bank or to a wall around the middle of the afternoon to keep the phone running and again before we went to bed.

Verdict: A Significant Step Up

Compared to last year’s offering, the Sony Xperia XA1 is definitely a significant step up. All the hardware the Japanese brand has put under hood definitely made a big impact on the device in terms of performance and the camera on this phone definitely gets a big ‘ol thumbs up. The problem here is that the competition in this segment is extremely tough and, at Php 14,99o, many may look to other brands that look better on paper at this price point. If you’re looking for a phone with a sweet camera at around the Php 15k price point though, you might want to have a look at the Sony Xperia XA1.



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