Sony unveiled a new mid-range smartphone at CES 2018 but don’t let its low price fool you – the Xperia XA2 is a worthy Android handset
- Superb colour accurate display
- Stunning design
- Great battery life
- CPU performance isn’t the best
- Camera struggles in low-light
Sony’s Xperia XA2 was just one of a long, laundry list of smartphones to launch at this year’s CES. No, the successor to last year’s Xperia XZ Premium flagship didn’t appear, although with each of these devices settling in at the lower-end of the smartphone price scale there’s bound to be something at the premium end coming from Sony in Barcelona later this year.
It appeared alongside the plus-sized Xperia XA2 Ultra – a 6in monster of a smartphone, my colleague Jon Bray has already reviewed for Alphr – and the budget Xperia L1 is the very definition of the mid-range smartphone.
*** Note : £1 = $1.38 (correct at time of post)
What you need to know
The Xperia XA2 has all the hallmarks of becoming the firm’s most attractive all-rounder since the Xperia XZ1 Compact.
It isn’t quite as pocketable as the original pint-sized powerhouse. The screen is a 5.2in Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) effort but that’s still relatively compact in 2018, where 5.7in and bigger phones are becoming the norm.
Elsewhere, it has a 23-megapixel rear camera and a single 8-megapixel selfie-snapper on the front, it’s powered by Qualcomm’s latest mid-range processor – the octa-core Snapdragon 630 – and comes with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage expandable via microSD card. Plus, it runs Android 8.0 Oreo straight out of the box. Everything a modern mid-range smartphone needs, in other words.
Price and competition
The key appeal of the Sony Xperia XA2, however, is its price. It launches for a mere £300 when it hits shelves in February 2018. At that price, Sony’s latest faces firm competition from the now £300 Honor 9, the moddable Moto Z2 Play (£365) and HTC’s similarly-equipped U11 offshoot, the HTC U11 Life (£345) as well as the ridiculously good-value Honor 7X, which has an 6in 18:9 display and costs just £270.
Take it out of the box and you’ll spot that the XA2 cuts a familiar figure. Aside from the smaller footprint, narrower top and bottom bezels and (slightly) more rounded edges, this handset looks identical to last year’s XZ1, which is no bad thing.
However, like the rest of Sony’s handsets, this design decision comes at a cost. While the XA2 adopts the same glinting chamfered edges at the top and bottom of the phone, and softly rounded edges, the corners where the two meet – once again – hazardously sharp-edged, and primed to tear straight through your jeans pockets.
If that doesn’t bother you, or if you carry your smartphone elsewhere about your person, there’s not much to complain about in terms of the layout of ports and buttons. There’s a solitary USB Type-C port with Quick Charge 3.0 support on the bottom of the handset, complete with a volume rocker, circular power button and dedicated camera shutter button on the right-hand edge. The microSD and nano-SIM slots are on the left, beneath a removable flap.
At the top is a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a circular fingerprint reader is placed just below the camera on the rear of the phone.
Alas, the screen isn’t one of these new 18:9 aspect-ratio wonders and, like the XZ1 Compact, its small 5.2in Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display feels a touch old hat. Still, at the risk of repeating what I said in that review, that’s certainly not a bad thing.
It helps that the XA2’s display is superb. Images look terrifically vivid, especially with the phone’s slightly-saturated “Super Vivid” display mode engaged and the display is reasonably colour accurate, too. With this mode engaged, it covers 96.5% of the sRGB colour space, the contrast ratio reaches a respectable 1,167:1 and brightness peaks at a sunlight-friendly 507cd/m2. This is one impressive display and, on a £300 smartphone, it’s a real treat.
Performance and battery life
As for the innards, the Xperia XA2 is equipped with Qualcomm’s latest mid-range processor: the 1.95GHz octa-core Snapdragon 635 and it comes complete with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, expandable up to 256GB via microSD. That chip, if you recall, was last seen powering the rather sluggish HTC U11 Life.
It’s no surprise to discover, then, that this is far from the quickest smartphone we’ve seen. Geekbench 4’s suite of single- and multi-core CPU tests returned scores of 854 and 4,157 respectively. In everyday use you won’t feel the phone slow down too much, but launch Google Maps or juggle multiple applications at once, and the XA2 begins to stall.
Likewise, gaming performance could be better. While simple games such as Candy Crush or Wordscapes ran without any hiccups, as soon as the XA2 tried to tackle more graphically-demanding games such as Asphalt or Modern Combat 5, drastic frame drops became a frequent occurrence.
Battery life, meanwhile, is decent, with the Xperia XA2 lasting 14hrs and 27mins in our continuous video playback test, with the screen set to our standard 170cd/m2 brightness and flight mode engaged.
With lower-priced smartphones upping the ante in the camera department recently, the Xperia XA2 faces stiff competition, but the specifications look decent enough with an f/2.0 23-megapixel snapper on the rear, 1/2.3in sensor, phase-detect autofocus and a single-colour LED flash.
The results are very impressive. The XA2 does a fantastic job at capturing detail-rich images outdoors in good light. Exposures are well-judged and colours particularly well captured, with the camera simultaneously picking up wispy cloud layers and neighbouring brickwork with effortless ease. The sunset in the background of my test shots was captured beautifully.
However, as soon as the light dims the camera begins to fall short. My low-light test tests were rife with compression artefacts and blotchy chroma noise, which is a big disappointment, especially considering how well the camera performs in good light.
The XA2 isn’t capable of 4K video capture. Instead, we’re limited to just 1080p video, and if you want to take advantage of Sony’s excellent SteadyCam electronic image stabilisation and HDR recording, you’re only limited to 30ps.
Low-light photography issues aside, though, the Xperia XA2 is a seriously impressive smartphone, made even better by its highly reasonable asking price. Its display is fantastic, battery life is good and the handset itself looks like something you’ve paid twice as much for.
The problem for the XA2 is that the £270 Honor 7X offers a bigger, 18:9 screen and a dual rear camera for less and in a slimmer, sleeker chassis, albeit with considerably worse battery life.
Still, I feel confident in saying that this is one of the best phones Sony has produced for ages. For the price, it looks great, lasts a long time and takes (mostly) great pictures. I look forward to seeing what Sony unveils next.