Sony Xperia XA1 Plus Review: Sony’s Best Mid-Range Phone?

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Back in August, we caught a glimpse of Sony’s mid-range offerings during IFA Berlin 2017 — the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus. As the name suggests, the XA1 Plus is larger than its sibling that we reviewed back in June 2017, the Sony Xperia XA1, sporting a larger display plus slightly better internals with 4GB of RAM and a much larger 3430mAh battery. For us, the XA1 was a step in the right direction for the Japanese brand, in terms of getting their mid-range segment right, did the additions to XA1 Plus make them gain more ground or lose a bit more of their footing? Let’s find out in this full review.

Specs

  • MediaTek Helio P20 octa-core processor
  • 4GB of RAM
  • Mali-T880 MP2 GPU
  • 5.5-inch Full HD IPS LCD display; 1920×1080 resolution, 403 ppi
  • 32GB of expandable storage (up to 256GB)
  • 23-megapixel f/2.0 Exmor RS rear camera with PDAF and LED flash
  • 8-megapixel f/2.0 wide angle front camera with Autofocus
  • 3G, LTE
  • Dual SIM
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC
  • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
  • USB Type-C
  • 3430mAh battery
  • Android 7.0 Nougat

Same ‘Ol Sony Design

If you’re familiar with Sony’s offerings of the past couple of year’s then you pretty much know what to expect from the XA 1 Plus in terms of design. While they’ve tweaked a couple of things here and there, you’re still getting the same rectangular silhouette with this device with a rounded frame to make it rest comfortably in the hand. It’s unapologetically hefty and there’s some thickness to the device compared to recent mid-range phones we’ve handled recently, but it does feel like it can handle a bit of a beating thanks to its metal build; not that we did a drop test on it or anything.

The thickness is partly due to the fact that Sony integrates the Fingerprint Sensor onto the device’s Power Button. It’s convenient to get to even if you have smaller hands and unlocks the phone rather quickly. Speaking of having dainty digits, you may have a bit of trouble using the phone one-handed and may need to constantly adjust your grip to get to the volume rocker or the top of the screen.

For those who are a little OC about symmetry, you may also be turned off to find out that the top bezel on the XA1 Plus is slightly thicker than the bottom one. It’s something that I personally didn’t notice until someone had brought it up and unless you’re a stickler for these kinds of things then it shouldn’t bother you as well.

Great Display for a Mid-Range, Speakers Could be Better

With the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus, you’re getting a 5.5-inch Full HD IPS Display; pretty standard fanfare for most mid-range smartphones in the market sans the 18:9 aspect ratio. It has a decent amount of color saturation and contrast, which you can tweak in the settings menu if you want to give those photos and videos a bit more pop when viewing them on your smartphone. We like it that Sony offers this option and doesn’t go overboard, even in Super-Vivid Mode.

Unlike the Xperia flagship offerings, the Sony XA1 Plus doesn’t have front-firing speakers even though it bears the same aesthetics to make you think that way with the cut out on the chin of the device. Yup, no speaker down there just the devices microphone. The speaker is on the bottom of the device, to the right of the USB C port. It sounds a little tinny despite all the enhancements you can tweak in the settings and is a little lacking in the volume department as well. You definitely want to plug in your favorite pair of headphones for consuming any type of media for a better experience.

Par for the Course

While many still get dismayed that Sony isn’t rocking anything from Qualcomm in their mid-range devices, the Meidatek Helio P20 and the 4GB of RAM put in a decent amount of work. We used the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus as our main device during our recent trip to Taiwan and it didn’t give us any trouble in terms of using it to get on Facebook to share our experience with our friends and getting work done during the train or bus rides as well. When we got back, the device had great connectivity and we definitely had no complaints about call quality as well.

The Sony Xperia XA1 Plus also posted some pretty great numbers on benchmark tests, as you can see from the screenshots above.


Average of 52fps on Shadow Fight 3 at 76% Stability

In terms of gaming, the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus can actually hold its own compared to other devices in its price segment. You’ll have to tweak a couple of settings to get heavier games like NBA 2K17 running smoother, but you’ve got pretty stable frame rates for games like Arena of Valor, Shadow Fight 3, and Asphalt 8.

Constant Software Updates to Optimize

In terms of the UI experience, it’s pretty much what we’ve come to expect from Sony devices. You’re definitely not getting a stock version of Android Nougat here, nor the latest version of Nougat as well, but Sony’s overlay isn’t that far off and they’ve only installed a handful of apps on the device; something we definitely appreciate given that you only have 32GB of onboard storage.

We also like the fact that Sony has been pushing several updates to keep the phone running optimally; something we saw during our time with the Xperia XZ1 as well. We hope they continue to push updates and hopefully, the device gets upgraded to Oreo in the near future as well.

Some Camera Successes and Pitfalls

The Sony Xperia XA1 Plus has a pretty good camera for a mid-range device and is capable of getting great detail even in low-light conditions; a definitely was a huge improvement over the Xperia XA1. You’ve got great color reproduction and minimal noise as lighting conditions go south for its 23-megapixel main shooter even at an aperture of f/2.0. Just like the members of its flagship family, the XA1 Plus also has great tracking for its autofocus system. It’s not quite as precise as the XZ1, but definitely helpful to have onboard.

Photos are sharper on the XA1 Plus compared to the XA1.

The Longshan Temple in Taiwan. The XA1 Plus flexing muscles in low-light.

Dynamic range could definitely be improved on the XA1 Plus

But that can also be utilized to make pretty dramatic portraits

Object tracking on the XA1 Plus made it easier to take photo of this flower in the gentle breeze

Another example of the great sharpness of the XA1 Plus’ rear cam and the great colors it captures

The Superior Auto Mode can also detect scenes and adjust settings accordingly to help you get a better snap, but the exposure is a little hit or miss and we wish it were a little easier to tweak when compared to the rest of the camera UIs on other Android devices. Another pitfall for most of the Japanese brand is the dynamic range. You lose a lot of detail in the shadows and it’s something we hope they work on in future since they do produce some of the best components for mobile snappers for other brands to use.

For selfies, the 8-megapixel front camera is decent but colors are a little muted and autofocus can be a little off. It would also be best if you were well-lit for good selfies because details are already a little muddy on a cloudy day. Good enough for social media posts though.

Enough Juice for the Day and then Some

Powering the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus is a 3430mAh battery and we definitely have to praise the battery life on this device. As we mentioned, this was our device during our recent trip to Taiwan and it definitely helped us navigate Taipei. With mobile data on and using it as a hotspot, it managed to last the whole day and had a bit more left over when we got back to our Airbnb. Using PCMark’s Battery Benchmark, the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus clocked in a time of 8 hours and 43 minutes.

Something we absolutely appreciate about the XA1 Plus is that its rocks a USB C port, which charges the devices a lot faster than most mid-range phones in the market that only have micro USB ports.

It’s the Best Mid-Range Sony Has Made to Date

While Sony’s past mid-range offerings were a bit of a disappointment, they’ve been picking things up in the segment and we can honestly say that the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus has been our best experience with a Sony mid-range device yet. Is it perfect? Well, if you didn’t skip to this portion of the review, then you should definitely know that it isn’t and there are definitely some things that we wish Sony does better in the future. They don’t have to follow along with the current trend of displays with an 18:9 aspect ratios, but we’re longing for the day that they majorly redo their design language which is apparently in the works.

The price of the Xperia XA1 Plus may also be a deterrent for potential buyersbut, at Php 16,990, it certainly offers more of an aggressive price point that we’re used to seeing from the company. The problem here is that it’s stacked up against some serious competition from other brands with their own offerings.

Here’s to hoping that the Japanese company makes all the right moves to really one-up the competition, but the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus is definitely a solid mid-range device and a huge step in the right direction.

(unbox.ph, https://goo.gl/fWwy8k)

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