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TECHNOLOGY

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra Review: Bigger is not always better

Sony shows us why size does not matter. Not in a good way.

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BY Rahil Bhagat - 20 Apr 2018

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra Review: Bigger is not always better

With great drop dead gorgeous flagships and solid budget phones making their debut in 2017, the mid-range market is struggling for its share of the limelight. Maybe there’s a good reason for that.

I have with me the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra. It’s the larger variant in Sony’s mid-range XA line up.

Where do I begin? It’s not a terrible phone on paper or when you actually use it. What it is, however, is disappointing. The quality is there, but I feel a distinct lack of passion. It doesn’t excite me or truly justify its place in the market.  

Read on to find out why.

Performance

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra Review: Bigger is not always better

PHOTO CREDIT: Company Courtesy

The only thing that stands out about the XA2 Ultra is its battery life.

With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor and 4GB of RAM under the hood, the XA2 Ultra is meets expectations as far as upper mid-range phones go. You get great power efficiency. Performance wise, it handles the most demanding games and apps pretty well, but starts to struggle when you multitask.

The XA2 Ultra comes with 32 GB of onboard storage, but here comes my first gripe with this phone. There’s so much software (and bloatware).This isn’t cool considering the size of games and 4K videos these days. If it didn’t come with micro-SD card expansion, I’d be downright outraged.

Speaking of software, the XA2 Ultra is running Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box with the Xperia skin on top of it. Sony has to be commended for getting the latest version of Android across its entire range of Xperia devices. It looks clean and snappy and has all the features and customization options you’d expect. Once again though, I have to rant about the bloatware. They do not add value and are gimmicky at best with some augmented reality features thrown in. Unfortunately, you can’t uninstall them to make some room on the scant onboard storage.

The fingerprint sensor on the XA2 Ultra is at a sensible location on the back of the phone. It gets the job done, but not as quick as I’d like. There is a noticeable lag when waking the phone with the sensor.

The XA2 Ultra is equipped with a single downward firing speaker which sounds as it should at this price range. It’s prone to blockage though, especially when you try to get a good grip on the phone in landscape. You will mostly be making use of the XA2 Ultra’s headphone jack. I’m honestly not trying to find fault with this phone. It’s giving me plenty of ammunition on its own. The headphone jack is located on the opposite side of the charging port. Thinking of watching some YouTube in bed while charging your XA2 Ultra? Good luck trying to hold on to it with wires sticking out of both ends.

Let’s give some attention to the USB-C charging port I mentioned. It supports Quick Charge 3.0, which is great. The problem is the XA2 Ultra doesn’t come with a Quick Charge adapter out of the box. You will have to purchase it separately.

The only good news here is the XA2 Ultra’s battery life. With a beefy 3,580 mAh battery and a power efficient chipset, you will get a full day of even intense usage. If you’re a light user, you might even stretch it to two days between charges.

Design

Warning: Incoming rant.

The XA2 Ultra could be largest phone on the market today, literally. It’s bigger and heavier than its predecessor, in an industry that is getting smaller and lighter each year. It’s massive and borderline unwieldy. So much so that I’d say it’s a deal-breaker for people with smaller hands.

What’s worse, the signature Sony Xperia design is starting to look dated. It has shown relatively little refinement compared to its competitors. Sony had not put much thought into making the phone progressively easier to live with for its user.

The volume rocker is too high up to reach with your thumb. I kid you not; the power button is smaller than the front-facing camera sensors. The sharp angles dig into your palm. Given the weight of the phone, it hurts when you’re gaming or watching videos for long periods like during commutes. Not to mention the placement of the headphone jack that I mentioned earlier.

The side bezels are non-existent, but that point is moot when you notice the massive forehead and chin. I’m genuinely surprised they aren’t used to house front-facing speakers like on the Razer Phone. When you have such a large phone, unintelligent use of space becomes a lot more glaring.

Water resistance is absent. Though in its defense, it is not a common feature at this price point. Sure, the XA2 Ultra’s metal frame makes it “feel” premium. Overall, I’d rather have a well-designed plastic phone.

Screen

A 6-inch IPS display occupies the front of the XA2 Ultra. It’s running full HD resolution at 1920 x 1080. Aspect ratio and pixel density are what you’d expect from phones other than the latest bezel-less flagships, so you won’t get any funny letterboxing. Images look sharp and text on the big screen is easy to read.

The screen has good contrast, but colors lack vibrancy out of the box. You can fix this through calibration in the settings. The IPS panel gets sufficiently bright for outdoor usage. I have no real complaints here considering it’s a mid-range phone.

Camera

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra Review: Bigger is not always better

PHOTO CREDIT: Company Courtesy

If Sony’s marketing is to be believed, the XA2 Ultra should be taking “great shots all the time.” A single 23 MP f/2.0 camera sits above the fingerprint sensor. Giving it credit where it’s due, the “Superior Auto” mode works pretty well. It detects scenes and subjects, similar to the Huawei Mate 10, to make appropriate adjustments for great photos in good lighting. The two-stage hardware camera button makes it easy to stay in focus – and is for some reason larger than the power button.

Low light performance is decent as well with automatic noise reduction. Switching it over to manual mode may get you better detail with reduced shutter speed. The electronic stabilization works well enough, and is especially useful for video recording.

Speaking of which, 4K videos recorded on the XA2 Ultra look good for this category of phones. You won’t be recording much of it though, unless you’re investing in a high capacity micro-SD card. Audio recorded is also softer than I’d like. You might have to tell your subjects to speak up.

Most manufacturers these days would put two cameras in the rear for some fancy effect. Sony has strangely done the opposite. Above the screen sits two cameras complete with flash. The main selfie camera has a 16 MP sensor, f/2.0 aperture, optical image stabilization, and auto focus. With all these features on a front-facing camera, I expected a higher level of detail in the shots. It only gets worse in low light, and the flash does not help when you’re at arm’s length.

The second lens is a wide-angle 8MP shooter. It works as advertised, capturing a 120-degree field of view. It’s very helpful for taking selfies with your family or friends at a restaurant when the waiters are too busy to assist you. Image quality is about the same as the main selfie camera. In what I’d call a wasted opportunity, you cannot combine the images from both cameras for cool effects.

Overall, pictures on all the XA2 Ultra’s cameras are on the softer side. I would say it’s alright for the price point. When you consider that this is its main selling point, I’m not entirely sold.

Should you buy it?

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra Review: Bigger is not always better

PHOTO CREDIT: Company Courtesy

Hand on heart, I cannot endorse this product. It’s not entirely a bad phone. A mid-range phone is not meant to be perfect. My issue is that even if you overlook its glaring flaws, the XA2 Ultra does not do well enough what it does well to truly differentiate itself. This is made worse when you consider that flagship-killers from Xiaomi and OnePlus are only slightly more expensive, and budget phones these days are well designed and have solid performance. In the grand scheme of things, the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra has poor value even at the SGD 600 price point.

It all seems like a pedestrian effort from Sony. If the company doesn’t put as much heart and innovation into its entire line of mobile offerings as many of its competitors, sure enough the Xperia brand will be relegated to the history books.

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