Sony has always been a great choice for anyone looking for a new phone on a tight budget. Why? The trademark Xperia design.

It's stayed roughly the same for years, so unless you're a proper mobile nerd, you simply can't tell 'em apart. No-one knows whether you're rocking a crazy expensive flagship or not. 

That's still true of the Xperia XA2, Sony's latest affordable blower. A few more curves than last year's model might not set pulses racing, but the hardware underneath is definitely worth your attention.

We got to try one out at CES in Las Vegas to see whether it's the bargain mid-ranger you've been waiting for.

Design & build

Chunky top and bottom bezels? An angular design? Check and check - the XA2 is definitely an Xperia. The sides are a little curvier this time around, and the back panel is rounded too, so the phone sits more comfortably in your hand. 

The back panel might be made from plastic, but you wouldn't know: it has a premium-feeling finish that you could easily mistake for metal. The frame actually is made from metal, and is cool to the touch. It's a little chunky, admittedly, but that should mean it's easy to keep hold of. Skinny phones are great, until they slip out your mitts and crack on the pavement.

The biggest change is the fingerprint sensor, which has been moved from the power button to the back panel, just below the camera. This is great news for Americans, as it'll be the first Xperia phone to actually use a finger scanner, but we're big fans of the old setup here in Blighty. At least the sensor is placed in a sensible place, being easy to reach without stretching your digits.

A 3.5mm headphone port and USB-C charging are both welcome inclusions, meaning there's no messing around with dongles and old cables.

screen & sound

The 5.2in display doesn't do anything fancy, sticking to a tried-and-tested aspect ratio and Sony's oh-so-familiar top and bottom bezels. It doesn't look as fresh as the 18:9 aspect phones currently doing the rounds, but that's to be expected for the price.

It's resolution where Sony has made improvements. Last year's XA1 made do with a 720p screen, but here you get a Full HD panel. It makes all the difference, with clearer text and more detailed images. Stretched across 5.2 inches, you have to press your nose against the screen to spot the individual pixels.

Colours seemed vibrant and viewing angles were top notch, but a dimly-lit Las Vegas conference room wasn't the best place to see if brightness went high enough for outdoor use.

We didn't get a chance to properly test out the speaker, either, so will have to wait for a full review to see how it stacks up against the rest of the mid-range competition.

Camera

Sony always delivers exceptional camera hardware in its phones, and the XA2 is no exception. It's rocking the same 23MP Exmor RS sensor from the more expensive Xperia XZ1, only you don't have to pay big bucks to get it here.

The camera app is pretty much identical, too, with the same Superior Auto still shooting mode, 4K support and 120fps slow motion recording. It felt very quick when we tried it, focusing on subjects and saving pics in double time. A dedicated camera shutter button really hammers home how important Sony sees mobile photography, too - it's much more natural than tapping a screen.

Without taking our test snaps off the phone, we can't judge image quality just yet, but based on Sony's priors, we're expecting vibrant colours and plenty of detail. How well it stacks up against the mid-range competition remains to be seen, though - that'll have to wait for a full review.

The 8MP front snapper is purpose-built for group selfies. A wide-angle lens fits more people into each shot, with an option to digitally crop in when you want a solo snap. It's not the best Sony has to offer, though: you'll have to step up to the Xperia XA2 Ultra for that.

Performance & software

Instead of sticking with the sub-par Mediatek CPUs found in last year's Xperia XA1, Sony has stepped things up for 2018 - and it makes all the difference.

The XA2 arrives with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630, a much faster chip that delivers silky smooth performance in Android Oreo. It might not be an outright powerhouse like Qualcomm's top-spec Snapdragon 835, but it's perfectly capable of handling your everyday apps. With 3GB of RAM, multitasking didn't seem to be a problem, either. 

Sony's take on Android sees only minor changes, too, which helps conserve resources. The XA2 really cuts down on the bundled apps, leaving you with more of the 32GB built-in storage to play with - and there's a microSD card slot if you need to add more storage later.

It's games that might reveal the phone's limits, but with none installed on the demo units we saw, it's tough to say whether there's anything in the Android app store that'll prove a challenge.

Battery life is a bit of an unknown, too. Sony is promising "all-day" use, so we'll be putting that to a test once we get a final review sample into the office.

Sony Xperia XA2 initial verdict

Well how about that: Sony took a fairly forgettable mid-range phone and fixed just about all the complaints we had about it. 

The XA2 has a much more capable processor, higher resolution screen, and what looks to be a fantastic set of cameras too. If Sony gets the price right, it could be a very tempting phone for anyone on a budget.

There are plenty of phones in the ₹20,000-30,000 bracked right now, and a lot of 'em have more modern designs, so it'll be down to price and camera performance to truly separate the XA2 from the pack.

We'll find out a little closer to launch, when we get one in for a full review.

Where to buy Sony Xperia XA2: