I recently found myself in the seemingly ever more frequent position of having my mobile contract running out and trying to find a replacement everyday phone. As a student, my budget is limited but as a tech enthusiast my insatiable thirst for the newest and the best had to have a say in my eventual selection of the replacement. As such, I came to a compromise, a newly released mid-range mobile device from admittedly my favourite brand, Sony – the Sony Xperia XA.
Both of my two previous phones were older Xperia versions, the first, the low-mid range Sony Xperia Miro and my last the more expensive Sony Xperia Z1. I was therefore curious to see how the Z series resurrection in the X series would perform.
My phone in particular was bought at Carphone Warehouse shortly after being released. With the phone I got all of the usual stuff as well as a free mobile-compatible VR headset and an offer for a reduced Sony branded case. The handset costs about $210USD and full specifications can be found at Sony’s official website.
First impressions of any product arise from how it looks. In my opinion the XA is a very good looking phone. There is no denying that it is sleek – Sony have softened the edges and rounded the corners to make it look more friendly and this in turn makes it easier to hold. The screen seems somewhat thinner than most other phones, but the bold top and bottom strips add to the aesthetic nicely and I like that the screen reaches to the sides of the body. The body itself is nice and slim, it weighs very little which makes it easy to use every day without feeling as though there is a brick in your pocket. The buttons are of a minimalist design and they meld with the body nicely, with the exception of the brushed steel power button which makes a bold statement, but which sits in a more accessible position than most other mobile devices. It also makes for a satisfying press.
I was also pleasantly surprised when I went to purchase my phone that I was given the option to also purchase at reduced cost one of the Sony cover flip cases. The case itself is translucent and allows partial interaction with the screen when it is covered. Though I was initially not a fan, having now used it for some time I really love the somewhat novel design and ability to use my phone through the flip case to do menial tasks such as turning off my alarm in the morning (something not so trivial with a conventional flip case). The words Made for XPERIA emblazoned in silver across the back are quite annoying, but I am able to get past that for the improved quality and style.
Considering the lower than premium prices I am pleasantly surprised at how the phone performs. I typically use my phone for an excessive number of hours a day, checking Facebook, writing messages, ringing my mum, listening to music, browsing the web, watching videos of cats on YouTube, carefully fashioning the perfect Instagram photo and playing numerous games. Despite this I have not once had a moment when the phone has become hot or even warm in its plastic case. Nor does it run slowly, even in some of the more intense games, or take a long time to load and my connectivity to WiFi and data has been exceptional. It is comfortable to hold for lengthy periods of time.
Battery Life and Charging
I have already mentioned how extensive the use of my phone can be in any one day. The XA only boasts a 2300mAh battery, which is fairly small, however, I often end the day with at least 30% battery remaining and Sony’s power save and ultra power save modes work brilliantly well if you’re caught in a pinch on low battery. The XA also has a quick charger which supposedly delivers 5.5 hours extra battery life in only 10 minutes, though I haven’t actually tried this I can confirm that charging is noticeably faster than other phones I have owned in the past and indeed my friends’ Iphones.
Strength and Durability
Since I am not in the habit of launching my phone across long distances or even often dropping it short distances, I have not had any experiences wherein the strength or durability of my phone has been called into question. I imagine that it behaves much like every other device on the market when subjected to such treatment. In any case I would suggest a screen protector and case for maximum resistance to any damage. The official Sony case previously mentioned offers particularly good protection.
The only minor damage that I have noticed is scratching around the charging port, presumably from where I have been unable to locate it in the dark, however, this is common among most other devices and hardly a problem.
Something that the XA, perhaps unexpectedly, excels in is display and image quality. Although it only has a 5” 720p display it has a respectable 294ppi pixel density and has all sorts of seemingly magical tricks to improve image quality. The display is just as vivid as any of the phone’s top-range competitors and there is no light bleed from the edges of the screen, perhaps due to the slight curvature of the glass.
Being a Sony phone, the XA offers access to the Xperia Lounge and other Sony apps, which I find to be well designed and perfectly usable. In particular, the PC companion is very well made and makes organising the phone and transferring media quick and easy.
As you might have noticed I have not, to this point, mentioned two of the most important features of a mobile phone and it gives me great regret to reveal that the camera and speaker on the XA are appalling. Starting with the speaker, it is tinny and quiet, given that Sony clearly reduced the size to keep with the minimalist design. This is a shame because Sony otherwise have very good audio media products and the phone software allows for high customisation of sound output, with various clarity modifiers. As such, using headphones or an external speaker sounds great, but the phone itself does not do the sound coming out of it any justice.
Now for the big one, the camera. Being a photographer and graphic designer I have always enjoyed the premium cameras offered by Sony mobile devices, the Z1 in its day for example had an unprecedented 23MP leviathan in it. I knew that since I was downgrading that I would have to compromise with camera quality, which would be fine as I have my digital camera for any photography I wanted to do – I just needed something for quick snaps. On paper the camera specs look enticing, especially the “highly responsive sensors” to produce “stunning low-light shots”. However, in practice the response time is incredibly slow and the images are returned grainy and often out of focus – even in good light. The Samsung J5, also offering an 8MP camera, is far superior, despite Samsung’s comparatively minor interest in offering high quality cameras.
If you can get past the flaw in camera quality and if you can manage to use headphones instead of the phone’s speaker, then this is a fantastic mid-range mobile phone. It can compete with even the fastest competitors and although there are compromises made on screen quality, it is almost impossible to notice. Arguably the energy saved on quality output improves the longevity of the battery, making this a device that can be used by even the most intense of mobile users and the physical design is exceptional making it one of the best looking phones on the market, whilst being light and easily usable for hours on end. In my opinion this phone deserves a rating of 7/10, because despite the obvious issues with some of the hardware, the speed and long battery life are unparalleled in this price bracket.
Here is a link to the official Sony Mobile page for the Xperia XA