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Sony Xperia XA1 Plus Review: The perfect mid-range media device?

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The Good

  • Sharp, spacious screen
  • Premium design work
  • Impressive battery tech

The Bad

  • Lacklustre apps
  • Difficult handling

Sony’s Xperia XA1 Plus offers a big-screen media experience, coupled with long battery life to keep you streaming movies and shows all day long. Factor in the satisfying camera tech and £300 asking price and it’s a viable alternative to other well-specced mid-range mobiles.

Earlier in 2017, Sony released the rather excellent Xperia XA1 smartphone. This 5-inch handset costs just a shade over £200 and yet offers a similar sleek design to more premium Xperia handsets, plus some decent specs and features.

Now we’re nearing the end of the year and Sony has launched a bigger version of the XA1, known as the Xperia XA1 Plus. This Plus-sized model serves up a more spacious screen (this time a 5.5-incher with Full HD resolution), plus a bigger battery for extended life between charges. You also get the same 23-megapixel rear camera, which can capture some good-looking everyday images.

I’ve been using the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus as my full-time phone for a week now and here’s my full review. You can check out our favourite affordable phones of 2017 to see some of the best rivals right now.

Sony Xperia XA1 Plus review: Design

When you first pick up the Xperia XA1 Plus, chances are you’ll be surprised that it’s not a more expensive device. Sony has crafted a premium-feeling phone that has a surprising heft, to more or less match the flagship Xperias.

Like the Xperia XZ1 and XZ Premium before it, the XA1 Plus sports Sony’s typical ‘stretched’ design work. Those bezels to the sides of the screen are pleasingly slender, although they also stretch out quite far above and below in the usual Xperia styling. Comfortably curved edges sit in stark contrast to the flat top and bottom, which helps these phones to stand out from the crowd.

Although the XA1 Plus fits nicely against the palm, there’s no denying it’s a struggle to use one-handed. Sony still refuses to offer up any kind of assistance in this area, such as the ability to pull down the notifications tab with a gesture or button tap. Likewise, you can’t shrink down the usable display in times of need. You’ll definitely need to use both hands to operate this phone when on the move.

There’s no kind of water resistance, which isn’t surprising at this price point. And while that matte surfacing is reasonably resistant to damage, scouring the phone’s rear with a pointed implement such as a key will leave a light yet lasting impression.

While we had the standard black model for review, you can also pick up the XA1 Plus in a jazzy gold or fetching blue finish.

What works?

The Xperia XA1 Plus sports that iconic Sony Mobile design work, with a premium feel despite its mid-range asking price.

What doesn’t?

No kind of one-handed mode means two handed use is obligatory, given the increase in dimensions over the original Xperia XA1.

Sony Xperia XA1 Plus review: Screen and media

While the standard Xperia XA1 offered up a 5-inch 720p screen for digesting your media and everything else, the Xperia XA1 Plus boosts this in terms of both size and resolution. So now you get a 5.5-inch IPS LCD panel with a Full HD 1920x1080 pixel resolution.

The Plus model’s panel is therefore better suited to consuming movies and shows on the go. Stream a lot of Netflix? This handset will handle it pleasingly well. Images are crisp, even though the screen is a good size, so you can enjoy strong detail levels. Likewise, the maximum brightness is strong enough to cut through glare and visuals don’t fade as you tilt the screen.

We’re pleased with the colour reproduction too. Dive into the Xperia XA1 Plus’ display settings and you can activate Super Vivid Mode, which boosts those hues and makes your photos really pop.

The only feature we miss is a night mode, to filter blue light and produce warmer visuals for more comfortable viewing in the dark.

Jump into the audio settings and you’ll find some bonus modes in there too. You have a manual equaliser to tweak your audio ranges, or you can simply allow the ClearAudio+ engine to handle things for you. There’s also a Dynamic Normaliser, so you aren’t caught unawares by sudden, glaring differences in volume levels between songs.

Of course, you’ll want to plug a pair of headphones into the Xperia for enjoying music. The single speaker, located on the bottom edge of the phone, pumps out quite tinny sound with rather pathetic levels of bass. Not a surprise at all.

You can carry around a pretty decent media collection on this Sony handset too, if you don’t like streaming. The 32GB of storage space fills quite quickly, so thankfully you can expand by up to a further 256GB using a microSD memory card. Sony’s Smart Cleaner feature can also help you to clear any rubbish from your Xperia XA1 Plus’ cache, when more internal storage is required.

What works?

The sharp and vibrant Full HD screen is a great way to indulge in a Netflix binge session on the move. You can also carry lots of music and movies around if you don’t have the data allowance to stream, thanks to the microSD card support.

What doesn’t?

At this price point, we’d be nit picking if we began to complain. Although the lack of a night mode is kind of annoying.

Sony Xperia XA1 Plus review: Features and OS

If you’ve used a Sony Xperia smartphone in recent times, you’ll know what to expect here. Android Nougat comes overlaid with Sony’s own UI, which changes the look and feel of Google’s mobile OS and layers a fair few bonus features on top.

Sony’s unified themes match the colour of your handset and look pretty sleek; these are some of the few smartphone themes that we happily leave on our handsets, rather than immediately changing out.

Jump into the settings and you’ll find a fair few options to play around with. Besides the themes and a/v stuff already mentioned, you’ll find resource management tools to keep your Xperia XA1 Plus operating smoothly. Your Sony mobile can also throw personalised tips on screen as it gets to know you, while the built-in tutorials and guides can help smartphone noobs to get to grips with the handset.

Sony has also added some apps of its own to the Xperia XA1 Plus. The likes of the Album and Music app are unnecessary in this day of Google’s Photos and Play apps, and we wonder about how many users actually ever open the Xperia Lounge or What’s New apps, to see Sony’s recommendations and news updates. Only some of these can be cleaned off the phone as well, to free up space.

Likewise, the Playstation app offers limited functionality on this device. More premium Sony phones can stream gaming sessions direct from your PS4, but the XA1 Plus can only be used as a second screen in compatible games; or to check on your mates’ recent achievements.

On the right edge of the XA1 Plus you’ll find a fingerprint sensor, built into the elongated power button. This scanner is as accurate as any other out there, responding instantly when you push on the button to unlock the handset. And while the unlocking action isn’t the quickest out there, you shouldn’t be disappointed by the brief delay. Responsiveness only takes a hit when your digits are wet or dirty, a common complaint of these sensors.

What works?

Sony’s UI may not be the most exciting out there, although the themes are great and you get some decent resource management.

What doesn’t?

Many of the best Sony smartphone features, such as PS4 game streaming, aren’t available on the Xperia XA1 Plus. Many of the apps that come stacked onto the phone can’t be deleted if desired, either.

Sony Xperia XA1 Plus review: Performance and battery life

Don’t fret that the Xperia XA1 Plus packs in a Mediatek chipset, often the bane of our lives when using more affordable phones. The Mediatek P20 platform, backed here by 3GB of RAM, actually does a reasonable job of running things.

Sure, you’ll see the odd pause as you skip between apps, yet these stumbles are rarely irritating. The XA1 Plus can also play fast-paced games such as Asphalt 8 with a smooth-enough frame rate, so you can waste time on your commute.

The fact that this is a more powerful handset than previous Sony mid-rangers is proven by the presence of living wallpapers, which morph as you scroll around your desktops. These are fluid at all times and make a nice change from the static efforts of yesteryear.

While performance is perfectly fine, we’re certainly impressed by the Xperia XA1 Plus’ battery life.

That 3430mAh battery offers close to two full days of battery life per charge, even with plenty of camera use, online browsing and media streaming. For those rare moments where you find yourself actually running low on juice, Sony has even included a Stamina Mode and Ultra Stamina Mode (depending on how desperate you are). These cull non-essential features, to limit drain while keeping you connected.

Qnovo Adaptive Charging is also on board, to keep your battery from wearing out over time through overcharging. On previous Sony phones this certainly seems to do the job; we’ve seen little reduction in battery life even after months or years of use, which is certainly impressive.

What works?

Great battery life, with the Qnovo charging tech to help prevent long term damage, means you should rarely - if ever - be desperate to plug the Xperia XA1 Plus into the mains.

What doesn’t?

Although you’ll see the occasional stutter and pause, that’s pretty much to be expected at this price point anyway.

Sony Xperia XA1 Plus review: Cameras

Mounted on the rear of the Xperia XA1 Plus, you’ll find a 23-megapixel Sony snapper that can capture impressively good-looking and detailed images in decent light. Tricky conditions are generally well handled, with the Superior Auto mode doing all of the grunt work on your behalf.

We’re certainly impressed given the asking price of this phone, although some rivals such as the Moto G5 Plus offer better results at night. Video recording is also limited to Full HD at 30 frames-per-second, while the Moto serves up full 4K Ultra HD recording.

Check out our in-depth Xperia XA1 Plus camera review for photo and video samples and our full analysis.

What works?

You can expect good-looking results as long as the lighting conditions aren’t too challenging, with full manual controls also on offer for experts.

What doesn’t?

Video recording tops out at Full HD 30fps, while night shots suffer from grain and other issues.

Sony Xperia XA1 Plus review: Verdict

The Xperia XA1 Plus certainly isn’t a perfect mid-range mobile and it’s up against strong competition from the likes of the Moto G5s Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy A and J Series handsets.

Still, the crisp and colourful 5.5-inch screen, combined with the long battery life and expandable storage, means this is a solid way to take in shows and flicks on your commute. Likewise, that 23-megapixel camera will capture good looking memories, as long as lighting conditions aren’t too tricky.

You can pick up the Xperia XA1 Plus for £329 SIM-free here in the UK, from Carphone Warehouse.

What are the best Sony Xperia mobiles right now?

Key Specs

  • 5.5-inches
  • 1920x1080
  • 190g
  • Android Nougat
  • 23MP
  • 8MP
  • Mediatek P20
  • 3GB
  • 32GB + microSD
  • Yes
  • Fingerprint sensor

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