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Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra Review - The Super Midrange Phablet

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Sony has recently made the Xperia XA1 Ultra official for the Philippine market, the "super midrange" phablet from the legendary Japanese electronics brand.
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra Review - The Super Midrange Phablet
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review!

Like its smaller Xperia XA1 sibling, the Xperia XA1 Ultra arrived w/ promising midrange specs, powerful main camera, selfie camera w/ stabilization, and an attractive price tag of PHP 21,990.

As a result, it's one of the few big 6 inch phablet in that price range that has pretty good specs.

Sounds fun right? If you are in need of a big phone with good cameras, read on!

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra Specs

Display: 6 Inch FHD Image Enhance Technology 1920 x 1080 resolution w/ 2.5D curved glass and Gorilla Glass protection at 401 ppi
CPU: 2.3 GHz 64 Bit Helio P20 octa core processor
GPU: Mali T880
RAM: 4 GB
ROM: 64 GB expandable via micro SD card slot up to 256 GB (dedicated)
Back Camera: 23 MP f/2.0 1/2.3 Inch Exmor RS sensor w/ Hybrid AF, Steady shot, and LED flash
Selfie Camera: 16 MP f/2.0 1/2.6 Inch Exmor R w/ AF, OIS, wide angle, SteadyShot, and LED flash
Battery: 2,700 mAh w/ Qnovo Adaptive Charging
OS: Android 7.0 Nougat
Connectivity: WiFi, 3G, LTE, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, GPS, A GPS, dual SIM
Sensors: Accelerometer, light, orientation, proximity, sound, magnetic
Others: USB Type C, HiFi audio, Colors: black, white, pink, gold
Dimensions: 165 x 79 x 8.1 mm
Weight: 188 g
Price: PHP 21,990

Disclaimer: This unit was borrowed from Sony Philippines for this honest review. This is not a sponsored post.

Note: Unfortunately, the unit that we got for review didn't come w/ the official retail package. We only got the regular charger and USB to USB Type C data / charging cable. But, expect its official box to include an earphone w/ mic.

Build Quality / Design

Sturdy build
Sturdy build

Like the regular Xperia XA1, the Xperia XA1 Ultra boasts a metal clad construction with the ageing Sony omnibalance design. The metal aluminum material that they used is durable. In front, the 2.5D curved screen w/ super slim side bezels are protected against light scratches and damages w/ an unknown type of Corning Gorilla Glass.
Mic and headphone jack slot on top
Mic and headphone jack slot on top
USB Type C and single speaker below
USB Type C and single speaker below
Removable flap at left
Removable flap at left
Volume rocker and power button at right
Volume rocker and power button at right
Shutter button at the lower right
Shutter button at the lower right

Aesthetically, we still don't like the boxy look of Xperia's dated omnibalance design. Top and bottom bezels still has poor use of space. But hey, at least, this looks better and has much slimmer side bezels compared w/ the Xperia XZ Premium flagship of Sony.

Design is ageing, but it still looks better than pricier Xperia XZ Premium!

Ergonomically, its hard to use for one-handed operation and its paint finish is slippery. But, the entire profile isn't still that big and it is quite slim at 8.1 mm.

For two handed use, buttons and ports are easy to reachIt still has the clever removable flap at left where you'll find the triple slots (2 for SIMs and 1 for micro SD card) and a dedicated shutter button at right for taking photos w/ ease.

However, we are hoping that someday, Sony will finally adapt the functional bezel-less design w/ 18:9 screen aspect ratio just like what LG did w/ G6. It will maximize the space and provide better overall ergonomics to Sony's future devices.

It is also quite slim at 8.1 mm and the entire profile  not that hefty at 181 grams.

Display Quality

Big and bright screen!
Big and bright screen!

The big 6 inch FHD 1920 x 1080 resolution screen of the Xperia XA1 Ultra is superior to the regular XA1. It has good sharpness at 367 pixels per inch and has pretty good colors overall.

The screen is BIG and BRIGHT!

Contrast are excellent for an IPS panel and its black is almost as deep as AMOLED panels. Saturation levels aren't too much as well. But, there are times where you'll notice its tint to be slightly blueish.

It isn't much of a big deal though as its screen is still quite great in general. The best part? It can go very very bright. It's arguably brighter than most flagships we tested. As a result, sunlight legibility of this handset is great.

It has adjustable colors, adaptive display tech, and 10 points of multitouch too.

Audio Quality

For the size, this handset would have been better if Sony added a stereo setup. But, fortunately, its single speaker setup has enough quality and loudness to impress even some picky users. It has warm audio output w/ plenty of bass (for a phone) and good overall musicality. Vocals could be clearer though and it may sound distorted at times when in full blast.

For the price, the Xperia XA1 Ultra won't disappoint in terms audio reproduction. First, we were pleased that it can play some of our high birate FLAC lossless files around 3,000 kbps. Second, the audio quality is okayish too. It could be just too warm and bassy for some, but it can go quite loud, has good enough separation, and rarely has annoying hiss.

It also has ClearAudio+ tech that makes the soundstage wider and the sound slightly louder. However, the mids are muddier and noisier when this feature is on.

Audio recording quality using its two microphones is quite good. Our recordings are clear enough and it doesn't have that much noise. 

Battery Life

Unexpectedly GREAT battery performance!
Unexpectedly GREAT battery performance!

Like its smaller Xperia XA1 sibling, many were not impressed w/ the small battery capacity that Sony added on the Xperia XA1 Ultra. In particular, this big phone w/ power hungry 6 inch 1080p screen only has 2,700 mAh of battery.

Small battery capacity, long battery life!

But, the way Sony optimized its small battery capacity left us impressed again. It's 2,700 mAh of battery has similar or better performance than most phablets w/ over 3,000 mAh of juice.

Our work battery benchmark showed that it can last for 9 hours and 31 minutes. The screen on time data we captured are impressive as well at 5 hours and 15 minutes. It can last for an entire day of use on a single charge even under heavy usage and 4G or WiFi on always.

Like the Xperia XA1 and other Sony smartphones, the XA1 Ultra has the Ultra STAMINA mode that turns the WiFi and Mobile data connection off to extend the battery life.

Speaking of charging time, we were able to charge this phone from 0 to 100 percent in 2 hours.

Cameras

23 MP behind!
23 MP behind!

At the back, the Xperia XA1 Ultra has the same camera setup found w/ the higher-end Xperia XZ last year and Xperia XA1. It's equipped w/ a 23 MP f/2.0 1/2.3 Inch Exmor RS sensor paired w/ Hybrid AF, Steady shot, and LED flash.
The very easy to use camera interface
The very easy to use camera interface

The modes are similar coming from the Xperia XA1. It still has the superior auto mode that automatically detects the scene and adjust the shooting mode, limited manual camera mode w/ no ISO adjustment and just up to 1 second shutter, and the AR mode, panorama, and creative effect.

Camera quality is impressive. Auto focus is quick and quite accurate. It rarely loses focus even when taking photos of close-up subjects. Focus in lowlight would be a little tougher, but it is still quite quick. Shooting speed has some sort of delay when shooting at over 20 MP, but the speed is still acceptable. Saving time has a second delay though.

Point and shoot picture quality is excellent in daylight for the price!

At just PHP 21,990, the Xperia XA1 Ultra has a more consistent and sometimes "better" camera performance than the PHP 45,490 Xperia XZ Premium. It shoots in wide angle, details are rich, and color reproduction is great. As matter of fact, its colors are vibrant, but not oversaturated.

Lowlight performance is better than average!

In lowlight, quality degrades a little, but quality is still better than average. It still shoots image w/ good exposure and less noise. There are just occasions where white balance won't be accurate in the dark, but that is very acceptable for a midrange phone.

The manual mode would help a little in making your shots better in challenging conditions.

Rear Camera Samples

Vibrant daylight shot w/ excellent dynamic range
Accurate colors!
Accurate colors!
Nice background blur / bokeh on auto mode
Nice background blur / bokeh on auto mode
Indoor lighting
Indoor lighting
Impressive lowlight shot
Impressive lowlight shot
Night shot 1
Night shot 1
Night shot 2
Night shot 2
Flash test
Flash test

For selfies, it has one of the most impressive front camera on paper. It has a 16 MP f/2.0 1/2.6 Inch Exmor R w/ AF, OIS, wide angle, SteadyShot, and LED flash. Modes are fewer for selfies, but it still has superior auto and manual modes. However, it has no beautify mode and it isn't as wide as the selfie camera of the regular XA1.
Selfie camera UI
Selfie camera UI

Shooting speed is good, but focus needs improvement. Your hands must be steady always. Daylight shots are excellent in quality and has great colors. Indoor shots are decent in quality. Lowlight shots are average too, but focusing on your face it tougher. Use the LED flash in lowlight for better results.

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight selfie
Daylight selfie
Indoor selfie 1
Indoor selfie 1
Indoor selfie 2
Indoor selfie 2
Selfie w/ flash
Selfie w/ flash

Videos

The main camera of the Xperia XA1 Ultra shoots good videos w/ nice colors and focus at 1080p. We also noticed that it is more stabilized than the regular Xperia XA1 even if they have the same camera setup.

For selfies, it is one of the few that has optical image stabilization. As a result, its 1080p selfie videos are far from shaky in quality. However, focus isn't still that good. Expect blurry selfie videos at times.

Video Samples


Performance

Decent benchmark scores
Decent benchmark scores

Inside, this phablet boast MediaTek's capable 64 bit Helio P20 octa core processor clocked at 2.3 GHz. It's coupled w/ Mali T880 graphics and large enough 4 GB of RAM. For storage, it has large 64 GB that's even expandable thru a dedicated micro SD card slot.

Performance is good. It can quickly open your apps and switch from an app to another. Due to its large 4 GB of RAM, multitasking won't be an issue most of the time. Basic navigation is snappy too. It will rarely lag.

Speaking of gaming performance, the Xperia XA1 Ultra runs most of the basic games seamlessly. Heavier games like Asphalt 8 are very playable even on high settings too. NBA 2K17 is playable on medium settings. You can push it to all high, but expect it lag a bit. It's not really a gaming machine, but, the gaming experience on this phone is decent.

Heating is also minimal even when gaming or when your 4G data, WiFi, Bluetooth, or hotspot is on.
Clean UI
Clean UI

Software-wise, this phone has a more stock Android feel like most Sony phones. It has few custom and pre-installed apps. Generally, the system only eats around 13 GB out of 64 GB. Those pre-installed apps are not removable though. It still has the Smart Cleaner to automatically optimize the performance of your phone.

For security, it only has the basic unlocking methods of Android. It has no fingerprint scanner for personalized security.

The rest of the connectivity features works well as expected. You won't have a problem w/ its GSM, WiFi, Bluetooth, 4G LTE, OTG, and GPS.

Pros - Solid construction, one of the best performing phablet for the price, long  battery life, arguably better photography performance than the high-end Xperia XZ Premium, stabilized selfie videos
Cons - Slippery, thick top and bottom bezels, lack of fingerprint scanner, selfie camera's focus isn't great, no gyroscope sensor

Verdict

The Xperia XA1 Ultra is a MUST consider device you are in need of a BIG and reliable smartphone. Despite the lack of a fingerprint reader for extra layer of personalized security and few other minor weaknesses, the Xperia XA1 Ultra is one of the better performing phablet in its class.

We also like that it has a good display, very capable main camera shooter, and surprisingly long battery life.

Overall, it's a solid deal at PHP 21,990.

Build / Design - 4
Display - 4
Audio - 4
Battery - 4
Camera - 4.5
Performance - 4.25
Average - 4.125 / 5
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