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Hands-on Sony Xperia XA Ultra Review: We grapple with Sony’s mighty 6-inch phablet

We go hands-on with the Sony Xperia XA Ultra, Sony's first phablet of 2016 packing the most impressive selfie camera to date, for our first-look Xperia XA Ultra review.

Sony has just launched its first phablet of 2016 and the latest member of the Xperia X family, the mighty 6-inch Xperia XA Ultra. You can check out our run-down of the Xperia XA Ultra’s specs and features, but we also had the chance to go hands-on with the Ultra at Sony’s HQ in Tokyo and so far we like. Here’s our early hands-on Sony Xperia XA Ultra review, and check out our Sony Xperia XA Ultra vs Xperia X vs Xperia XA vs Xperia X Performance comparison feature.

Hands-On Sony Xperia XA Ultra Review: Design

First off, we were seriously pleased to see the same gorgeous edge-to-edge screen design from Sony’s Xperia XA transfer over to the Xperia XA Ultra. So while this is a meaty handset, it’s also impressively narrow, measuring just 79mm from left to right edge, and slender to boot. You’ll still have to wield the Xperia XA Ultra with two hands to actually use it (without fumbling it all over the place at least), but at least the phone won’t form too much of a bulge if it’s stashed in your shorts. The rounded edges help give you a comfortable grip too.

Water resistance has been slashed in order to cut the price, as it has on the Xperia X and Xperia XA. And you also don’t have a fingerprint sensor for quickly and securely unlocking the XA Ultra - that's something only found on the Xperia X and Xperia X Performance. Of course that’s a shame, but you always have the likes of Google’s Trusted Devices and Trusted Places to jump straight into your desktops without tapping in a PIN every time.

Read next: 24 hours with the Xperia X

That lack of a sensor means a return to Sony’s iconic rounded power button, while the SIM card and memory card slot are housed beneath a flap on the other edge. Around the back you have a matt surface, which hides scuffs well. And the whole thing feels reasonably rugged, although we’re not sure the XA Ultra would survive a steep drop.

Hands-On Sony Xperia XA Ultra Review: Mighty screen

One of the main selling points of the Xperia XA Ultra, and a reason to choose this phone over Sony’s other X Series mobiles, is the massive 6-inch screen. This has definite appeal for media fans who want to enjoy movies and shows on the go.

It’s an HD panel, but Sony's X-Reality display tech, which sharpens up your images on the fly, sadly isn’t included on the Xperia XA Ultra. However, you do get Sony’s Super Vivid mode to boost the display's colours, so they really pop off the screen. As for storage, the Xperia XA Ultra packs in just 16GB of memory. Don’t fret if you have a massive media collection however, as microSD memory cards are supported.

Hands-On Sony Xperia XA Ultra Review: Incredible selfie cam

That enormous screen might be an eyebrow raiser, but the Xperia XA Ultra’s most outstanding feature is its 16-megapixel front-facing camera, which boasts a single LED flash to light up your mug at night. There’s even built-in Optical Image Stabilisation, to eliminate those blurry nightclub shots when your arm is a little unsteady. We’re looking at you, rummy.

That stabilisation feature, combined with Sony's new Night Portrait flash, should help to produce some great photos when you hit the town or indulge in a spot of night tourism. ‘What is the Night Portrait flash?' you may cry. Well, if you're sick of your night selfies being ruined by darkened features or hard-to-see backgrounds, the Night Portrait Flash can help to produce uniformly lit images.

To do this, the Xperia XA Ultra combines some rapidly shot pics with the flash turned off, with a single frame taken using the flash. In this way, it should successfully capture both the background and your gorgeous mug, for a truly impressive selfie shot.

Sony now has an LG-style hand shutter mode too, for taking selfies more easily. Just hold up your hand and the phone detects it and starts to count down - and thankfully that countdown clock is displayed at the top left corner of the screen, right next to camera lens, so everyone knows where to stare. When the timer hits zero, the snap is taken.

Flip to the back of the XA Ultra and you’ll find a 21.5MP Exmor RS camera with hybrid autofocus and built-in object tracking, something already found in the Xperia X handset. This predicts the movements of your subject, so the lens knows exactly where to focus after you hit the shutter button. In our hands-on tests it seemed to work quite well, although it’s not one hundred percent reliable. We’ll be sure to test fully with our cats and kids when we get our hands on the finished Xperia XA Ultra.

Hands-On Sony Xperia XA Ultra Review: Performance and battery life

Packed inside the Xperia XA Ultra you’ll find the octa-core Mediatek Helio P10 processor, the same chipset that Sony used in the Xperia XA. Backed by 3GB of RAM, the Xperia XA Ultra should also enjoy solid performance, without killing your battery. We’ll be testing this in full when we get the final review unit.

Sony reckons you'll get up to two days of battery life, which we reckon means you should manage a day and a half with standard everyday use. Fast Charge is supported too, so just ten minutes at the plug will give you over five hours of life.

Hands-on Sony Xperia XA Ultra review: Video

Check back soon for our full Xperia XA Ultra review, and comparisons with the rest of the Xperia X series. For now, here's our 24-hour review with the Sony Xperia X and check out our hands-on Xperia XA Ultra review video below.

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