Sony Xperia XA review: Where did the bezels go?

£240
Price when reviewed

Sony Xperia XA review: Performance

The biggest giveaway that this is a cheap handset, however, is its MediaTek Helio P MT6755 processor, which is accompanied by 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage (expandable via microSD card). MediaTek processors are typically found in only the cheapest smartphones, which is a worry, but this one looks promising from the specifications.

It’s an octa-core chip that runs at speeds up to 2GHz, comprising eight ARM Cortex-A53 CPUs and a Mali-T860 MP2 processor for graphics. Oddly, the phone refused to run the Geekbench CPU tests we normally use, complaining of server connectivity issues, but you can get a good idea of how it might perform in this test by looking at other phones with the same processor, such as the Vodafone Smart Ultra.

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As you can see, this chip provides a similar level of performance as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 in the Moto G4, which is my current pick of the budget smartphones. That’s a good start, and for graphics performance, it gets even better: the Sony Xperia XA’s Mali-T860 GPU and low-resolution display help it to an average frame rate almost double that of the Moto G4’s in the onscreen GFXBench GL Manhattan 3 test.

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Benchmarks tell only part of this particular story, though. They provide an indication of the raw potential of a piece of hardware, but they don’t always predict how smooth and slick a phone (or any other product for that matter) will feel.

Alas, the Sony Xperia XA appears to be in need of a little tweaking on this front because general responsiveness is not great. From entering the unlock code to typing text, swiping between homescreens and scrolling even basic, mobile-friendly websites, everything seems to be accompanied by a tiny, teeny delay or a touch of choppiness.

This isn’t something you’d notice after using the phone in the shop for a few minutes, but beware: these minor glitches soon begin to grate on the nerves almost subliminally, and after using the Xperia XA for a week or so I’m itching to get back to something else. Anything else.

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I’m none too keen, either, on how hot the phone becomes when you subject it to constant, consistent load. Play any kind of graphically intensive game and the Sony Xperia XA becomes uncomfortable to hold after a few minutes, and sweaty palms ensue.

The other thing that concerns me about the MediaTek processor is its 28nm manufacturing process. This suggests lower efficiency and, therefore, battery life. Despite this, and a rather small-looking 2,300mAh battery, Sony claims its usual “two-day” battery-life figure, so maybe the processor is more efficient than the specifications suggest.

Alas, that turns out not to be the case. In our video-rundown benchmark, with the screen set to a brightness level of 170cd/m2, the Sony Xperia XA lasted a mere 7hrs 12mins, almost half as long as the Motorola Moto G4’s time of 13hrs 49mins. This isn’t entirely reflective of the phone’s day-to-day performance. However, the phone will struggle to last until bedtime if you take it off charge early in the day and – you know – actually use it a bit during the day.

Sony Xperia XA review: Camera

Perhaps the camera can rescue the Sony Xperia XA. It certainly looks like it might from the specifications, with hybrid autofocus, an f/2 aperture, a 1/3in sensor and a resolution of 13 megapixels. It’s not up there with the Xperia XA’s 23-megapixel beast, but it takes reasonably good pictures, with Sony’s Superior Auto system working well to figure out what the scene requires, adjusting exposure appropriately.

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The strength of Sony’s software comes to the fore. It means that you’ll rarely get duff colours whether you’re indoors or outside, and you’ll rarely see over-blown, overexposed highlights in scenes where there’s lots of high contrast.

The Xperia XA also has object-tracking autofocus, which works patchily with people, but better with static objects. Think of it as an aid to reframing and it’s actually pretty handy, allowing you to tap on the part of a scene you want to keep in focus, move the phone, and take the photo without having to tap the screen again.

In practice, the XA’s camera is competent rather than brilliant. This means that, while quality isn’t as good as rivals such as the Nexus 5X, detail capture is great in daylight and reasonable in low light, and colours are realistically captured. It’s better than the Moto G4 in low light conditions, too.

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The front-facing camera on the Xperia XA isn’t quite as impressive, but it has an 8-megapixel sensor, enough to capture more detail than most people could possibly want.

Sony Xperia XA review: Verdict

The Sony Xperia XA is a peculiar mix of the good, the great and the terrible. It looks wonderful and build quality is good. It has a microSD slot, a decent camera and NFC. The price is reasonable, too. This is counterbalanced, however, by below-par battery life and a disappointingly sluggish feel in everyday use.

In the end, you have to look at the opposition to set the Xperia XA in context, and right now it’s just too strong for this handset to stand out in any meaningful way. The Motorola Moto G4, king of the budget smartphones, is slicker, longer-lasting and costs much less. The OnePlus 2 is only £10 more expensive and is a much faster, more competent smartphone. By all means take your pick, but don’t choose the Sony Xperia XA.

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