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Sony Xperia XA1 Long-Term Review: Defunct thanks to the XA2?

Sony’s Xperia XA1 remains one of our favourite affordable phones even in 2018, offering solid value for money thanks to its sleek design, respectable specs and dependable camera tech. We still love this budget blower a year after its launch, even though it’s been somewhat overshadowed by the fresh new Xperia XA2. Here’s our long-term Xperia XA1 review, so you can see if it’s still worth your cash.

The original Xperia XA had some serious promise when Sony unveiled it back in 2016. We adored that gorgeous edge-to-edge design, which improved even on the look and feel of Sony’s more premium devices. That display was good for the money and the Japanese giant once again delivered on the camera front. Sadly, the XA was also crippled by sluggish performance and rubbish battery life.

It’s a tragic tale which ended with the Xperia XA stuffed away in a drawer, only to be occasionally played with and then tossed back inside.

Fast-forward to 2017 and Sony had another stab at an affordable-yet-still-premium handset, with the Xperia XA1. This time around, the result was a raging success. Performance is much smoother, while battery longevity doesn’t have you racing back to the nearest plug socket after a day out. Best of all, the brilliant 23-megapixel camera is a rival to any other mid-range snapper out there.

A full year on, we’re still enamoured. Although the Xperia XA1 has strong rivalry from the likes of Motorola’s Moto G6 and the Honor 7c, Sony’s budget blower remains one of the best-looking and feature-packed handsets around this price point.

Of course, the XA1 has just been succeeded by the shiny new Xperia XA2. Sony’s latest affordable smartphone offers a number of updates, including a more capable Snapdragon chipset. However, don’t discount the Xperia XA1 just because it’s older tech. This handset is still a great portable pal, even for fairly demanding users. And it’s now available at a discount price of under 200 quid, thanks to the new model’s release.

Here’s what we think of the Xperia XA1 one year later.

Sony Xperia XA1 long-term review: Design

That design work is still gorgeous and still unmatched by the competition around this price point. You can certainly tell from a mile off that the Xperia XA1 is a Sony handset, with the same iconic aesthetics as the more premium devices.

Meanwhile the Xperia XA1’s 5-inch display shuns side bezels entirely, offering a very neat edge-to-edge finish. That makes it refreshingly comfortable to grip, especially compared with the slew of 5.5-inch and even 6-inch handsets of recent times. One-handed use is just about fine, although the rather chunky bezels above and below the screen do kind of get in the way. That’s one area which the Xperia XA2 definitely offers a serious upgrade.

After six months of knocks, bumps and scrapes, Sony’s blower is still pristine from the front. No signs of scratching or scuffs on that screen, which is definitely reassuring. However, the same cannot be said for the XA1’s rear end. It’s not in a terrible state, but that plastic surfacing is susceptible to scratches. We’d recommend slipping yours into a case if you want to keep it in top shape.

Sony Xperia XA1 long-term review: Screen and media

The Xperia XA1 serves up a 5-inch IPS screen that produces impressively vibrant visuals. Especially with Super Vivid Mode activated. In fact, place Sony’s handset alongside Google’s Pixel 2 – which costs considerably more – and the XA1 actually offers more punchy colours, even if the 720p resolution means that images aren’t quite as crisp.

On top brightness, visibility is never a problem. This is a seriously powerful panel, which means you’ll not be squinting when you head out into the sun. Sadly there’s no kind of night mode however, to filter blue light and make the display easier on the eye when you’re browsing Facebook in bed.

That 32GB of storage space filled up fast for us, although Sony’s storage cleaner helps to clear the cache every now and then. Plus, there’s always the option to expand using the microSD memory card slot.

Sony Xperia XA1 long-term review: Features and OS

A few months after its rollout, the Xperia XA1 has now been updated to Android Oreo – the latest version of Google’s mobile OS. Owners can grab this upgrade by heading into Settings and diving down to About Phone. Tap Software Updates and your Oreo should be ready to download and install.

Of course, Oreo still isn’t quite the serious upgrade over Android Nougat that we hoped for here at Recombu Towers. Some features, such as the smarter communication between different apps, are a plus. We also like the app shortcuts, which allow you to dive straight into your favourite functions.

However, others such as the half baked windowed video playback, still need some proper love and affection. Because frankly, they’re borked.

Sony has packed a few bonus features of its own onto the XA1, although it’s sadly streamlined compared with more premium handsets. For instance, you can’t stream your PS4 gaming session to this phone using Remote Play. In other words, no virtually murdering your best mates from anywhere inside your home.

Likewise, the lack of a fingerprint sensor is a serious pain these days. Many rivals at this price now boast a scanner, for quickly and securely unlocking your handset. And of course the new Xperia XA2 has solved this issue, with a rear-mounted scanner. Thankfully Google’s smart lock feature helps out, otherwise you’re stuck with ye olde PIN entry instead.

Sony Xperia XA1 long-term review: Performance and battery life

Although it rocks a basic Mediatek P20 chipset, the Xperia XA1 has held up pretty well with long-term usage. That’s no doubt helped by the 3GB of RAM, which is the minimum we like to see in an Android handset these days.

You of course still see the occasional stammer, mostly when flipping between apps. However, we’re impressed that the latest games such as PUBG still play with a respectable frame rate – albeit on low detail and with the odd stutter here and there.

Battery life hasn’t dipped at all either. We still get well over a day of life between charges, as long as we don’t hammer the XA1 with non-stop games or video streaming. This might be down to the nifty Qnovo battery tech, which prevents the phone from overcharging and possibly risking damage. Either way, we’re more than satisfied.

Sony Xperia XA1 long-term review: Cameras

Now that it’s dropped to under 200 quid, the XA1’s camera is still one of the best you’ll find for the price.

Sony’s nifty Superior Auto mode means you can simply point and shoot, and get solid results in pretty much any conditions. Manual controls are available if you want them too. Even low light snaps come out impressively well, without much grain to ruin proceedings.

You can also capture Full HD video at 30 frames-per-second (no 4K option here, sadly). This includes reasonably respectable digital stabilisation, to cut down judder when moving and shooting.

Check out our in-depth Xperia XA1 camera review for more samples and all you need to know.

Sony Xperia XA1 long-term review: Verdict

There’s no denying that the fresh new Xperia XA2 is a step up in most areas compared with the older XA1. All the same, this older handset is still a perfectly satisfactory everyday experience. And now that you can grab it for just 160 quid, we’d definitely say snaffle one if your budget is far too tight for the sequel. You might also want to check out the Moto G6 and similarly-priced rivals, which offer fingerprint sensors.

Check out our Xperia XA2 vs XA1 comparison below.

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