Sony’s making a play for the middleground at MWC with three new Xperia X handsets. The Xperia XA is the cheapest of these three models, but it still looks deceptively high-end. Think of it as the Cinderella of this particular smartphone ball.

So what’s it like to use? We grabbed some hands-on time with an early prototype of the Xperia XA to find out.

Dinky build

Although the Sony Xperia XA has a 5in screen, it feels a lot smaller in your hand. Similarly to the Xperia Z5 Compact, the XA has been built with portability in mind. It’s pleasingly lightweight at 138g and has a slightly curved screen that subtly drifts into its metal casing on the back.

It’s this display that differentiates the XA from its more premium cousins. With a 720p resolution and 294 pixels per inch, you won’t be able to watch Full HD video on this Xperia, which will be a shame for anyone who spends a lot of time tuning into YouTube or Netflix on their smartphone. More casual viewers won’t notice the difference so much though, and Sony’s got good form when it comes to smartphone displays.

When compared against similar fare, such as HTC’s new Desire phones, the Xperia XA should be able to hold its own. Plus, its thin-bezeled design is really pleasing on the eye.

Mid-paced sprinter

The Xperia XA is a slower beast than the Xperia X too. It’s got a Mediatek Helio P10 processor and 2GB RAM compared to the X’s Snapdragon 650 and 3GB RAM, so you’re not going to be able to do anything too intensive with the XA. But for everyday multitasking across Citymapper, WhatsApp and the web, you should be well-served for power.

Running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow with a few added Sony stylings, the XA sticks to the UI ethos of Sony’s flagship Z5 phones. That means you’ll get an almost untampered experience with Google’s operating system and its handy Now launcher. As ever, there are a few bundled apps on the XA such as the PlayStation companion app and Sony’s own Music player but nothing that’ll get in your way.

Plus, with 16GB of storage, you’ve got a reasonable amount space to fill up with your own downloads. This can be expanded by up to 200GB with a microSD card as well.

As for battery life? The XA has a 2300 mAh model that Sony claims will offer two days worth of usage. If you spend your days glued to Facebook, then we wouldn’t count on that.

Let’s talk about autofocus

One of the things Sony is really shouting about with its new Xperia X phones are their photo-taking abilities. Both the X and Asia-only X Performance feature predictive hybrid autofocus, which anticipates where the subject of your shots is headed towards and ensures they’re kept in focus. The Xperia XA only has hybrid autofocus, which means it’ll struggle with movement a bit more. So don’t go expecting to take great snaps of the footie on it.

Elsewhere, the XA has a 13-megapixel sensor on its front, which is a big step down from the Xperia X’s 23MP rear-facing camera. This difference isn’t quite so pronounced on its selfie camera, which has an 8MP sensor compared to the X’s 13MP effort. Still, the X is clearly the better phone for photography.

In our limited time with the prototype XA, photos seemed reasonable enough. In difficult lighting conditions our shots weren’t anything special, but that's not unexpected, and Sony has warned us that the samples at MWC are very much prototypes.

Sony Xperia XA Initial Verdict

It's very hard to draw conclusions about the the Sony Xperia XA, and not just because this is such an early prototype.

A huge part of the appeal of a budget handset comes down to, well, how budget it actually is, so without pricing information it's hard to know whether the XA's compromises are really worth making.

We'll hopefully get that information as the summer release date approaches, but if Sony can pitch this phone to the right frugal but refined audience, it could have a winner on its hands.

Where to buy Sony Xperia XA hands-on:

Where to buy Sony Xperia XA hands-on: