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Sony Xperia XA1 Review - Unexpectedly GREAT!

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Previously, Sony's new contender in the midrange segment, the Xperia XA1 left us impressed. It's a handset that's seemingly GREAT for aspiring mobile photographers with limited funds. Like what we mentioned before, its equipped with the same 23 MP f/2.0 1/2.3 Inch Exmor RS sensor found with their 2016 flagships.
Sony Xperia XA1 Review - Unexpectedly GREAT
Sony Xperia XA1 review

The Sony Xperia XA1 is also the first smartphone to arrive with a "power efficient" Helio P20 octa core processor with Mali T880 graphics in our country. Having said that, this device has the potential to be a great all around performer as well.

Without any further ado, here's the rest of our findings!

For our review part 1: Sony Xperia XA1 Unboxing And First Impressions

Display Quality

5 inch HD screen with near bezel-less sides
5 inch HD screen with near bezel-less sides

The Xperia XA1 touts a 5 inch HD screen with Image Enhance Technology w/ 2.5D curved glass and Gorilla Glass protection. That's quite uninspiring as most sub phones in its class are already equipped with a sharper full HD panel.

Anyway, it still has a fairly sharp 294 pixels per inch. It has TFT panel, but surprisingly Sony made its viewing angles decent. Colors are also rich, but it could be too rich. As a matter of fact, it is either saturated or even reddish for my personal taste at times.

It has an image enhancement and white balance tuning in its display settings though. That could help fix the not that accurate colors of the XA1's screen.

It has 10 points of touch by for accurate touch response by the way.

Audio Quality

The single speaker below

Sony is one of the iconic brands in the world of audio. A reason why expectations are always high in quality. The Xperia XA1 doesn't disappoint.


The audio output coming from its single speaker below is fine for the price and size. It is far from loudest around (just decent), but clarity and quality is a little above-average. Mids are clean and we find it musical enough. Little distortion and airiness is audible on max loudness though.

Music output through headphones sounds wonderful. Warmth is there, bass is plenty, but mids and the rest of the spectrum is clean sounding enough. There are even times where voices will sound crystal clean, has proper audio decay, and nearly everything is well separated.

Mic for calls is great. However, it is grainy for recordings on noisy places. Record voices or tunes on a quiet room as much as possible.

Battery Life

Great battery life
Great battery life

The battery performance of the Xperia XA last year isn't great. Sony boasted that they improved it with the Xperia XA1 this year even if it still has the same 2,300 mAh of juice. How? Sony improved their software, used Android 7.0 Nougat OS with better power management, and equipped it with the power efficient Helio P20 octa core chip by MediaTek.

Battery performance is even better than some 3,000 mAh battery powered phones. Trust us!

As a result, the battery efficiency of the Xperia XA1 left us very impressed. We were able to use it for more than 10 hours as a hotspot alone. For heavier usage that includes gaming, data always, and using the camera a lot, we recorded 5 hours and 21 mins of screen-on-time.

It even has an Ultra STAMINA mode that will turn off WiFi and Mobile data connection to extend the battery performance further.

Camera

23 MP under 15K? Why not?
23 MP under 15K? Why not?

Behind, the Xperia XA1 is equipped with a 23 MP f/2.0 1/2.3 Inch Exmor RS sensor w/ Hybrid AF, Steady shot, and LED flash. It's also the same camera sensor found with the flagship Xperia XZ high-end smartphone last year. That's the reason why we find this smartphone special for a sub PHP 15K phone.
The simple camera interface
The simple camera interface

Sony kept the camera interface of the Xperia XA1 simple. It has the usual manual, superior auto, video, and other modes. The manual camera mode is limited though, it doesn't have ISO adjustment and only has up to 1 sec shutter speed.
We find the AR mode cool

The other modes includes AR effect, creative effect (filters), sound photo, panorama, and time shift burst. We find the AR mode the most interesting. It has several interesting stickers ala Galaxy S8 / S8+.

Autofocus is fast. Very fast on Superior Auto mode as a matter of fact. It just doesn't have manual HDR mode, but we're totally fine on how quick it can adjust to different lighting conditions. Shutter speed is a tad slower than expected. There's less than a second delay in saving photos as well.

It shoots the best photos for the price!

What's more important is the picture quality. The Xperia XA1 shoots excellent photos for the price. It can arguably compete with most higher-end smartphones. Details are rich, colors are vibrant, and angle is WIDE.

Colors are consistent mostly. But, there are times where shots are darker than expected or saturation is a bit much. In lowlight, performance is decent as well. There are some grains (as usual), but overall, dynamic range and overall quality is still impressive for a point and shoot midrange phone.

Rear Camera Samples

Daylight shot
Daylight shot
Gloomy day shot
Gloomy day shot
Indoor shot
Indoor shot
Yellowish lighting
Yellowish lighting
Night shot 1
Night shot 1
Look how wide the camera is
Look how wide the camera is
Limitation of the manual camera
Limitation of the manual camera

For selfies, Sony used an 8 MP f/2.0 1/4 Inch Exmor R w/ AF, wide angle, and SteadyShot technology. It doesn't have tap to focus function, but face detection is quite quick. Shutter speed is faster than the main camera too. It has no screen flash or regular flash in front though.

Selfies are very wide!

The quality of selfies is fine on daylight or well-lit conditions. It has plenty of details and rich in colors. The angle is super wide as well. It can fit up to 7 regular sized people in one frame. In lowlight, grains and loss of detail will be more visible. Shots could be washed and blurry as well.

Selfie Camera Samples

Wide selfie!
Wide selfie!
Detailed daylight selfie
Detailed daylight selfie featuring Jaja of www.jajaramirez.com and Laura of GIZGUIDE
Indoor struggle
Indoor struggle
Lowlight sample
Lowlight sample

For videos, Sony has their own anti-shake for the main camera. It can shoot up to 1080p at 30 frames per second. Quality of image is decent, but its anti-shake via software isn't that effective. In front, it can shoot up to 1080p as well, but a noticeable crop is present. It isn't that stabilized as well though.

Video Samples


Performance

Benchmark scores
Benchmark scores

The Xperia XA1 is the first phone in the country to come with a Helio P20 octa core processor clocked at 2.3 GHz which touts power and battery efficiency. It's even paired with Mali T880 graphics, the same GPU on higher end phones.

Good benchmark scores and nice actual performance!

As a result, performance is silky smooth in general. Multitasking with its 3 GB of RAM is decent as well. It can load several apps and multiple background processes with ease most of the time. It also has 32 GB of expandable storage. There are just some times that we experienced random Facebook app crashes, but we believe that it is the fault of the app maker, not the phone. 


NBA 2K17 is playable on all high settings. There will be frame drops in non air-conditioned places though. Fortunately, heating won't be a problem with this handset.
User interface of XA1
User interface of XA1

For the software, the Xperia XA1 comes with Android 7.0 Nougat OS, a clean one. It is also rich in features and doesn't have much bloats. However, some of those bloats are not removable.

We like that it has a Smart Cleaner that automatically optimize storage and memory depending on the frequency of app use. This handset has no fingerprint scanner. OTG works, but file manager is hidden.

But, the rest of connectivity features performed decently in our test. Telephony is great, Bluetooth is easy to find and pair, and LTE connectivity is stable as long as your signal is strong.

Pros - Sturdy metal frame, good processing speed, heavy gaming capable GPU, surprising battery performance despite its smallish capacity, best point and shoot camera for the price, wide angle selfie camera, auto beautify in front, great affordability
Cons - Big top and bottom bezels that doesn't have much purpose, screen is just on HD, no fingerprint scanner, no OIS, video performance needs improvement

Verdict

In a very good way, Sony surprised us with the Xperia XA1! This is the best value for money midrange smartphone that Sony has made in a very LONG while. It has few weaknesses, but they're all understandable for the price. You can't have it all at under PHP 15K. But, again, this is a very good midranger!

Job well done Sony, please keep it up!

Build / Design - 4
Display - 3.75
Audio - 4
Battery - 4
Camera - 4.5
Performance - 4.5
Average - 4.125 / 5
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