You’ve got to be bonkers to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. So reckoned Einstein, and he was a smart chap, which is probably why Sony has taken his advice.
Fed up of not doing so well in the flagship fracas, it has withdrawn and diverted all attention on the midrange instead. That’s why there’s no guns-blazing Xperia Z smartphone this year – just the Xperia X series.
In the UK, that series is made up of two phones: the Xperia X and the Xperia XA. The X is a fancypants midranger – a fingerprint sensor and £460 price tag are dead giveaways that it still harbours hopes of sneaking back onto the yacht to hang with the cool kids.
The XA is under no such delusions. For £240, you get something that’s rarely extravagant, but mostly good enough to do the job. We’re fans of shiny superphones, but we also love a good bargain, so we’re not opposed to seeing the odd cost-cutting exercise. But Sony has a serious problem on its hands: Lenovo and its new Moto G4 phones, which offer bafflingly good value for money.
Does the Xperia X have what it takes to rule this corner of the playground?
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
A round of applause for the XA’s design team, because nothing about this Sony betrays its modest status. Admittedly, that’s nothing new – Sony’s been rocking variations of the same ‘Omnibalance’ design for years now. We always thought it sounded like a brand of muesli-based breakfast bar, but the latest facelift is very sleek indeed.
The key is here minimalism, plus the clever positioning of materials. There’s an edge-to-edge display with some seriously thin side borders, but with plenty of gripping space at the top and bottom. Scratch-resistant glass at the front curves ever so slightly before dropping off into metallic edges.
Well, we say metallic: the sides feel like metal while the top and bottom are faux-metal plastic. Visually they are indistinguishable, but the sides are solid and cool to the touch, which is halfway towards what any reviewer means when they describe a smartphone as ‘premium’.
The bulk of the plastic is reserved for the back, which is where Sony traditionally puts glass. This will divide opinions: some like the look and feel of glass, but it tends to attract fingerprints and scratches just as often as plastic. The XA’s take on plastic is a sort of compromise: the pearlescent finish could be mistaken for frosted glass at a glance, while fingers will find the consistency of satin.
Put it together and you’ve got the fairest mid-range smartphone of them all. Rivals like the Lenovo Moto G4 look cumbersome in comparison, and even the flagships might be a little envious (we’re looking at you, LG G5). Bottom line: if you want to downgrade from your expensive flagship but maintain that totally pimpin’ vibe, this is what you go for.
THE CHOPPING BLOCK
Look past that gorgeous exterior and you’ll see areas where Sony has scaled things back. Waterproofing is gone, so you can forget about taking selfies in the shower. If that’s a big deal to you, maybe consider the splashproof Lenovo Moto G4 instead.
The power button is just a power button now – you don’t get the Xperia X’s fancy one, which doubles as a fingerprint sensor. There’s no support for hi-res audio either. You do at least get NFC, which means yay for Android Pay.
There’s not a lot of storage, either – you get 16GB out of the box, and most of that is already used up by the operating system and built-in apps, leaving about 6GB to play with. At least there’s a microSD card slot, for adding up to 200GB of extra space later.
The Mediatek Helio P10 processor and 2GB RAM under the hood are… fine. The XA is fairly snappy most of the time, but sooner rather than later you’ll run into a stutter, or an app that takes its time to load.
The 2300mAh battery isn’t amazing either: Sony reckons it’ll last for two days, but that’s hilariously optimistic. A single charge lasted us from breakfast to bedtime on moderate use, while a more intensive loop of a 720p movie lasted about six hours.
Speaking of movies: there’s no 4K here, but we’re OK with that, because that’s just silly on a smartphone. The XA’s 5in IPS LCD panel instead opts for a 1280x720 resolution. It’s a decent screen, though. It may not be as big or as sharp as the Moto G4’s 5.5in 1080p offering, but it’s clear and crisp and you won’t be able to make out single pixels without a magnifying glass.
Contrast is strong and colours are lush (especially with the Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2 enhancement turned on), and those who like to tinker have free reign over white balance. If you spend a lot of time in the bright outdoors, or if you just prefer to take your colours with retina-searing exaggeration, there’s also the Super-vivid mode.
Then there’s the camera, which has not avoided the cutbacks seen elsewhere on the XA.
It drops the 23-megapixel camera found on the Xperia X to a 13 megapixels sensor, which honestly isn’t that big a deal unless you intend to blow up and print your snaps. The software is intuitive, the autofocus is fast, and generally taking snaps is a breeze.
The results are mixed, though. In bright conditions, you get some pretty impressive shots: realistic colours, strong contrast and good definition. The processing is a bit too eager, though, and finer detail look a bit artificial.
Take it into dim conditions and the XA begins to struggle. There’s no optical image stabilisation, so your club shots need to be rock steady. Overall, this is a fine snapper for a mid-range blower – it’s just nothing special.
Sony Xperia XA Verdict
The Xperia XA feels like a compromised product. It doesn’t have the best and latest features, but if you want a good looking phone that does the job, this answers your call.
However, besides its good looks, this phone doesn’t excel at anything in particular, and its specifications are a bit lacking considering what Lenovo’s Moto G4 and G4 Plus offer at similar money or less.
If you've got a chunk of change sat in your wallet, you could also step up to a vastly superior OnePlus 3 - leaving the Xperia XA a little left out.