Sony Xperia XA
When it comes to phones, mid-range is the new high-end.
Their cameras are already better than the knackered old Canon in the cupboard and you’ll often be hard-pressed to notice the difference between a mid-level phone and a top-end one in day-to-day use.
The Sony Xperia XA is the most accessible phone in the X-series line-up too.
Sony Xperia XA price and release date
- Cheapest phone in Sony’s brand new Xperia X range
- Quite a low price at $279 (£229, AU$389)
At $279 (£229, AU$389) the XA is by far the most affordable phone in the range. The Xperia X is $549.99 (£400) and the $699/AU$999 Xperia X Performance is frankly nuts in its approach, there’s a big margin there.
Those in the US also have access to the Xperia XA Ultra at $300. However, you can get better phones at the price, and aside from the pleasant design few elements truly excel, while battery life is dismal.
- One of the slimmest Sony phones ever at 7.9mm
- Edge-to-edge display gives it a unique look
- Don’t dunk this phone – it’s not waterproof
The Sony Xperia XA has a design emerging as a common standard for mid-price phones out to avoid feeling cheap. It’s a mostly-plastic device, with some bits of metal tacked-on.
There’s a slight act of self-deception involved here. The idea is that because the sides of the Xperia XA are metal, you get some of that high-end feel while only using about 10 per cent of the more expensive materials.
Guess what: you do. While it’s nowhere near as nice-feeling as a OnePlus 3 (not even close), the logic makes sense. Put the fancy-feeling bits by your fingertips, the most sensitive parts of your hands.
To get specific, only the left and right sides are aluminum. The top, the bottom and the back of the Xperia XA are all-plastic.
The other fancy part is the curved glass on top of the display. You’ll often see this referred to as 2.5D glass, meaning its edges are rounded-off. It’s not flat-out curved like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. It softens the feel, but must come at barely any premium at all given how many cheaper phones use this glass.
Sony’s burning of the Xperia Z branding with the new X range may make you think there are grand changes in this year’s Sony phones, but there aren’t. The Sony Xperia XA is formed of compacted Z-series ashes.
It’s very slim, and has what Sony used to call an OmniBalance setup where the power button sits almost in the middle of the phone’s side.
Of course, many manufacturers do this nowadays so the obvious difference is that the Xperia XA has a round power button.
Among Xperia phones, what’s neat about the Xperia XA is that its left/right screen surrounds are very, very skinny. In the past I’ve complained about Xperias being frankly not that nice to hold because of, variously, boxy designs, sharp seams and dimensions that come across better on paper than in person.
There are no such issues here, though.
Sure, it’d feel much skinnier if the shape wasn’t essentially still a rectangular box, but the Sony Xperia XA is easy to handle.
Like most mid-range-and-higher phones these days, the Xperia XA has a non-removable back with a non-accessible battery. There’s a flap on the side that covers the microSD and nanoSIM slots.
Unlike the Sony Xperia Z5, there’s no rubber seal on this flap so, whatever you do, don’t drop the Xperia XA down the toilet, in your pint glass, etc. Sony has largely backed away from big waterproofing claims in its phones anyway, after one too many people found that their water resistance was less than infallible.
There aren’t too many higher-end hardware extras either. There’s no fingerprint scanner, for example, the latest “must-have” among ambitious mid-range designers like Honor, Motorola and OnePlus.
- Only 720p, so not Full HD
- Almost edge-to-edge giving it a brand new look
- 5-inch screen size makes this an easy to hold phone
The Sony Xperia XA doesn’t have a particularly impressive screen either. It’s a 5-inch 720p IPS LCD display, at a time when several phones at the price are 1080p, most notably the Motorola Moto G4 (which also has a larger screen).
Screen quality is fine, but not at the level of the more expensive Xperias. There’s clear brightness loss at an angle and contrast shift at a couple of extreme angles. Unless you fiddle with some sliders fairly deep in the Settings menu, a blue-leaning white balance also makes color tone seem odd, a little “not quite right”, to start with.
Of course, the great thing about phone screen quality at this point is that in real-life terms all these criticisms don’t necessarily have to register. I’d be perfectly happy living with a screen like this, and once your eyes have bedded into it a bit, you’ll see it doesn’t actually suffer from the (potentially) cloying oversaturation of the top-end Xperias.
Outdoors visibility is surprisingly good too. The Xperia XA kicks into a sort of ‘turbo’ mode when it senses it’s in a bright environment, altering color and contrast to keep the screen as comprehensible as possible.
It’s a perfectly fine screen, but you do need to live with the truth that you can get something more impressive for less money right now.
- Runs latest Android 6 Marshmallow build
- Sony’s Xperia UI overlay is looking better than ever before
- Android 7 Nougat will land on the Xperia XA, eventually
Sony hasn’t put any new magic into the Xperia XA’s software either. The phone runs Android 6.0 with a familiar Xperia custom UI.
In the past we could say that the Sony Android UI was pretty light, feeling much like normal Android but with a Sony stylistic tweak. We can’t say that anymore because where Android Marshmallow uses a vertical apps menu, the Sony Xperia XA and its brothers are stuck in the past with apps pages instead.
One style isn’t empirically better than the other, but I do find that Google’s (not that) new vertical style works very well with large app collections. After a while you gain a sort of muscle memory of the sort of gesture required to get where you want to be, where here there’s going to be some flicking involved unless you want to keep your apps library perfectly arranged in folders.
With very little obvious change in the software since last year, the Xperia XA has a simple, almost spare interface. Where Sony gets more obviously involved is with apps.
There are Sony apps for SMS and calls, and for just about every kind of media you’ll find on a phone: a videos app, a music app and the Sony PlayStation app, among others. It’s not bloat-free but the Sony Xperia XA still gives off the impression of being ‘clean’ because of its software look.
- Sony is using a MediaTek processor for the first time in years on a flagship line phone
- 2GB of RAM is the current standard for most mid-range phones
- Feels less reliable than the cheaper Moto G4
For a Sony phone, I have found the Xperia XA quite glitchy, though. The drop-down notification bar at times just refuses to respond, and more than a few times the interface just seems to have become stuck, making me turn the screen off and on to reset sanity.
These are minor little issues, but ones I’m not too happy about given Sony’s phones are usually solid performers. One explanation for this is that the Xperia XA is one of just a few Sony phones to use a MediaTek chipset.
For years its CPUs have been derided as “cheap rubbish” by some, a low-cost alternative to Qualcomm’s more commonly-used Snapdragon processors. I’ve used good MediaTek-powered phones in the past, but the Helio P10 used here doesn’t signal the MT renaissance some have talked about.
Performance is not that great, given you’re paying a little over the odds for the hardware of a big brand name here. The CPU causes far more problems in the 1080p Oppo F1 Plus, though. In that phone you’ll see grating frame rate drops in titles like Asphalt 8 (rendering the game almost unplayable at max visual settings), but in the 720p Sony Xperia XA, gaming works just fine.
On paper, the Helio P10 sounds rather good. It is an octa-core processor, with the same Cortex-A53 cores used as the ‘low power’ cores in some of last year’s flagship phones. They’re clocked at 2GHz, a good few hundred megahertz faster than any of the cores in the rival Moto G4’s Snapdragon 617.