- Sexy design
- Decent display
- Dependable cameras
- Best Sony features missing
- Occasionally juddery
- Poor battery life
Sony Xperia XA review: The cheapest member of Sony’s new 2016 X-series phones makes some serious compromises to cut costs, but also boasts some gorgeous design. Is it a case of beauty over brains? Here’s our full in-depth Xperia XA review.
Sony first showed off its new Xperia X-series smartphones way back in February, during the general bedlam of MWC 2016. However, while we’ve already reviewed the flag-waving Xperia X, we only just got our hands on the cheapest handset in the family, the Xperia XA.
The Xperia XA is roughly £200 cheaper than the Xperia X, with an asking price similar to the Moto G4 Plus and not far off the OnePlus 3. So how does it stack up? Here’s our full Sony Xperia XA review.
Sony Xperia XA Review: Design
One of the greatest aspects of the Xperia XA is the gorgeous design. Hands-down, this has to be the best-looking Sony phone in quite some time; actually, it’s one of the best-looking mid-range mobiles from any manufacturer, ever.
Part of its appeal is down to the edge-to-edge screen, with only the tiniest of bezels separating the display from the shiny silver surround. That subtle curvature at the edges of the phone adds a further premium finish. It’s just a shame that Sony has ditched the metal back of the Xperia X, replacing it with a slice of plastic that’s susceptible to scratches.
The stretched design of the Xperia XA means that one-handed use isn’t entirely easy, especially when you try and reach your thumb to the top of the screen. Still, Sony’s phone is a lot easier to handle than the bulky Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus, as well as the OnePlus 3. And if your heart’s well and truly set on a compact handset, we highly recommend the Xperia Z5 Compact instead.
Like the Xperia X, the XA isn’t water resistant, so ditch those dreams of shower selfies. You can’t prise the back plate off to access the battery either; the SIM card and microSD memory card slide into a pop-open drawer on the phone’s left edge.
Over on the Xperia XA’s right edge, you’ll spot that the super-skinny fingerprint sensor from the Xperia X and Xperia Z5 has been replaced with Sony’s old-yet-iconic circular power button. Obviously this means you’ll have to stick with PIN entry or Android’s smart unlock feature to access your data instead.
Sony Xperia XA Review: Screen and media
That edge-to-edge 5-inch screen packs a 720p resolution, which means less pixels smushed into every square inch compared with the Xperia X, as well as similarly-priced rivals such as the Moto G4.
However, the Xperia XA still pumps out sharp, eye-pleasing images. You’ll need superior eyesight to make out any individual pixels, while colour vibrancy and warmth can be manually adjusted inside the phone’s display settings. Using Sony’s Super Vivid Mode, you’ll enjoy quite punchy colours as long as you boost the screen brightness up. And on maximum brightness, clarity definitely isn’t an issue, even when you’re stood beneath harsh lighting.
If you want to carry around a big media collection, you’ll definitely want to slip a microSD memory card into the Xperia XA. The 16GB of storage is mostly used up by Android and Sony’s own services, leaving just under 6GB free in total. And as apps need to be stored on the phone, you’re limited in how many megabyte-munching games you can carry.
We’d also recommend investing in a decent pair of headphones. The Xperia XA’s built-in bottom-mounted speaker is about as powerful as a particularly lethargic caterpillar, and although sound quality is fine, you’ll struggle to hear anything over your typical street background noise.
Sadly there’s no support for Hi-Res audio either (and Sony’s DSEE HX feature, which upscales compressed music files, is missing in action).
Sony Xperia XA Review: Features and OS
Sony has understandably had to trim features from the Xperia X to make the Xperia XA’s lower price point work. So, as mentioned, gone is the fingerprint scanner and support for Hi-Res music tracks. You also get a stripped-down camera experience compared with the X (more on this later), while the Remote Play feature for streaming PS4 games is also dead in the water.
In other words, most of what made the Xperia X so great has been eliminated, leaving you with a rather shallow set of features.
Still, at least Android 6.0 Marshmallow is still packed inside the Xperia XA, complete with Sony’s colourful overlay. We love how the phone’s software now matches the hardware, with the same colourful splashes streaking across the Xperia XA’s desktops (and even stretching as far as the packaging, which is a neat touch).
It’s just a shame that rival phones like the Moto G4 Plus still manage to offer a fingerprint sensor and other bonus features, for the same price or cheaper.
Sony Xperia XA Review: Performance and battery life
Sadly it’s more bad news for the Xperia XA when it comes to performance and battery life.
The Xperia XA has a basic Mediatek Helio P10 processor stuffed in its bowels, backed up by 2GB of RAM. If you’re a bit geeky, then this bit’s for you: the Xperia XA scored just 47k in our AnTuTu benchmarking, which is well behind the OnePlus 3’s mega-impressive 139k result. And while that’s marginally better than the Moto G4’s 45k score, we saw less stammering on the Moto during everyday use.
In normal people speak, the Xperia XA is rather stunted in the performance department. Android runs reasonably well most of the time, but occasionally there’s a jarring stutter or an app takes several seconds to load up, something we rarely see on rivals like the Moto G4. And while games such as Real Racing are very much playable, we’re expecting the Xperia XA to heavily show its budget roots after just a few months of use.
Battery life also lags behind rivals, which is disappointing considering how good each Xperia phone usually performs in this department. With regulated use, I just about made it from breakfast to bed on a single charge. If I was less restrained and spent a couple of hours messing around online during my commutes, then I would have to charge the Xperia XA as soon as I got home from work.
In our media tests, the Xperia XA also struggled, surviving for just under six hours. That’s nowhere near the nine to ten hours we got from the Moto G4 and OnePlus 3.
Sony Xperia XA Review: Cameras
Thankfully you can usually depend on Sony’s camera tech to perform. And while the Xperia XA’s 13-megapixel and 8-megapixel cameras face stiff competition from the excellent Moto G4 and G4 Plus snappers, they still hold their own thanks to Sony’s dependable Superior Auto mode and its smart focus-tracking tech.
Check out our in-depth Xperia XA camera review for photo and video samples and our full analysis.
Sony Xperia XA Review: Verdict
The Xperia XA is a cheap but not-so-cheerful cousin to the Xperia X, and while the gorgeous design promises a slick and affordable smartphone, the Xperia XA sadly loses out to similarly-priced rivals. It can certainly beat them for looks, but when it comes to smarts, as well as longevity, we would rather get our hands on the Moto G4 Plus instead.
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- Mediatek Helios P10