The large screen is definitely welcome, and has become a signature of contemporary Sony designed phones. The screen curves around the width of the phone, to give it a certain premium feel. The screen might be the biggest selling point of this phone, as the 1080p 6-inch screen is absolutely gorgeous to look at from any angles. This is also a traditional LCD over PLED, which does not suffer from any of the drawbacks of the later.
We were surprised with how Sony has managed to keep the design of its budget smartphones almost unchanged over the years. This iteration sees the implementation of the relatively new Sony’s “Loop Surface Design”. This is commonly touted by competitors as edgeless design, and is an absolute must for any modern device from 2017 and beyond. However, some might argue that such a design might cause the palm to take up some real estate of the screen. The two grills on the top and bottom of the device, are a nice addition, but Sony could’ve opted for a stereophonic speaker option like the Pixel 2.
Some common Sony designs that have remained the same, allowing existing Sony users to feel at home. The power button and shutter button are the same, and are located on the right side of the device. The power button also acts as a two-step dedicated camera button, for focus and shoot. Last but not the least, Sony has managed to keep the 3.5mm headphone jack for audiophiles too.
Specifications and Features
The Xperia XA1 is targeted at the mid-segment of the market, and sports almost all the features expected, except a fingerprint scanner. Sony’s claim that users in this segment do not “need” a fingerprint sensor is pretty amateurish at the best. Almost any other competitor in this segment flaunt a fingerprint sensor, and some additional features as well. One such extremely well-balanced competitor is the Essential Phone which sells for around AU$500.
One outstanding feature of the Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra is the impressive 23-megapixel camera. The photos taken look crisp and sharp, and the colours are vibrant. Sony’s dedicated camera button also helps a lot to get clever selfie shots. However, the panorama mode is missing, and should be added through a later software upgrade. The amazing colours of the pictures are justified by Sony’s 6-inch LCD screen, which supports a resolution of 1080x1920 pixels. The display is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3, and has a pixel density of 367 pixels per inch. Sony’s LCD technology is definitely good; However, cheaper and higher resolution devices often provide a better feel to the average user.
The XA1 Ultra is powered by the Mediatek, Helio P20 processor. This is a budget-focused octa core beast, with four cores clocked at 2.3GHz, and the other four at 1.6GHz. This combination of low and high-power cores allows the phone to provide a good enough battery life of at least a day even with its meagre 2700mAh battery. The mobile comes with further features such as 4G, VoLTE, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, WiFi ac, and Qnovo Adaptive Charging. These technologies should keep the user not feeling left behind of the competition, but offer nothing exceptional at this price point.
Sony is known to keep the interface of its devices pretty clean. The Xperia XA1 Ultra is no exception, with only a few optional additions to the UI, and very minimal bloatware. One particular thing that I found unusual about the bundled software is the inclusion of AVG antivirus. Antiviruses for mobile devices are far from perfect, and with Google introducing its own play protect, there is even minimal requirement for such a niche software.
Sony continues to include some nice and impressive touches to the UI. The themes and the included background pictures are some of the best on any device. They really do justice to the amazing 6-inch screen. Another two apps from Sony that I’ve become fond of is the News app, and the music player. The music player is highly customizable, and includes pre-set equalizers to help achieve audiophilic nirvana. Sony’s news app is continuously improving, and keeps on adding more feeds from local news providers.
Another nice addition to the software toolkit is the Stamina a.k.a battery saving mode. This allows the device to extract the last few hours of device life, once the battery hits a critical level of 15%. This might save the user in emergency scenarios, as the XA1 Ultra runs out of juice at around half a day’s continuous usage. Another tweak to the usability is the one-handed mode, which minimizes the screen to a small area either on the right hand lower corner or the left. This allows the device to be used quickly with just one hand as the name suggests. This is a nice feature, considering the 6-inch screen might be a little too big for some users.
Sony has done an admirable job with the Xperia XA1 Ultra by fitting in a number of features at this price point. Sony’s LCD is amazing, and provides some of the best colour reproduction among mid-range mobile phones. The camera on the other hand is at its best average, and leaves more to be desired from Sony. The competition is continuously improving, and at this price point there are many out there providing better hardware. Unless Sony, reduces the price or does something amazing with the camera, it is hard for non-Sony users to fall in love with this device. Overall, this is a nice device, and works flawlessly as advertised. As long as you are a fan of the Sony ecosystem, this should be the best budget android phone out there for you.