The original XA Ultra from Sony was praised as an above average mid-range device built for users that wanted a larger screen, good cameras, and decent performance but a sub-par battery and an underwhelming hardware experience made for a disappointing offering. The XA1, is the successor to the original Ultra and aims to improve performance and offer a true multimedia experience.
Let’s start with that gorgeous screen, measuring in at a girthy 6 inches, the edge to edge gorilla glass beauty is packed with a full 1080p display, a notable improvement from the previous Ultra. Brightness is excellent, even outdoors, however we did notice that despite the ability to color correct, the screen was a little on the blue side and colors were slightly washed out – something Sony is not usually known for. As far as handling is concerned, this really is a large phone, it is about the same width of an iPhone 7 plus but slightly taller with disappointing forehead and chin that could have housed some awesome front facing speakers. One thing that Sony did get right though was button placement, they are clicky and ergonomically correct.
Powering the device is a Mediatek octa-core Helio p20 processor which performs modestly with minimal lag and good gaming performance and 4gb of ram that make for a pleasant multitasking experience on Android Nougat 7.0. The phone also features a future-proof USB-C port with quick charge, a single firing loudspeaker that despite being only mono gets suitably loud and a now rare 3.5mm headphone jack and secondary mic – all par for the course on a mid-range device in 2017.
Connectivity wise, the XA1 Ultra also features improved Cat6 LTE performance up to 300mb/s, v4.2 Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi b/g/n over 2.4GHz and a/n over 5GHz is supported, but not ac. Other notable mentions are the inclusion of NFC (not on the original Ultra) and an FM radio, something many smartphone makers negligently omit these days which just makes us sad.
The real stars of the XA1 Ultra show are the cameras, the phone is equipped with a 23MP camera on its back (the same one from the Z5), with an in-house IMX300 sensor that sits behind a 24mm-equiv. f/2.0 aperture lens. Performance is quite brilliant, pictures are sharp and vibrant and the lens even performs admirably in low light, a common criticism in mid-range devices. Selfie fans can also rejoice with an optically stabilized 16MP front shooter with an LED flash that produces excellent detail, has good dynamic range and true-to-life colors.
Battery performance was also quite good on the device, despite only being a 2700mah battery, with adaptive brightness and super-vivid screen mode enabled, we were easily able to get a full day (9am-9pm) with moderate usage. This is also in-part due to a clean software experience, Sony has stuck with traditional mostly stock Android with little bloat-ware and a few Sony tweaks that overall do add some nifty features like a theme engine, some powerful multimedia apps and a brilliant smart cleaner for continued solid performance.
So, the question remains, should you buy one? We really love the big screen, but in 2017, big screens are coming in smaller packages and this thing is simply huge. Functionally, the device did not sit well in our pockets but aesthetically is a treat to look at and will turn some heads. The Mediatek processor does perform well but we did notice the occasional unexpected lag when web browsing mostly which could be improved with a software update. Lastly, we were disappointed that Sony didn’t go with dual optical image stabilization for both the front and rear cameras, this would have helped a lot in low light or just for those with shaky hands. We do hope as well, that on future iterations that Sony considers waterproofing and a fingerprint scanner for their Ultra devices.
Sony, continues their tradition of designing beautiful hardware with solid software performance and exceptional cameras. We love the fact that this is not an all glass build and feels sturdy in the hand and delivers great large screen multimedia performance for those that are seeking this type of device. We are excited for Sony’s smartphone future and hope to see them gain more prominence in the North American market.
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