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Sony Xperia XA1 Plus Review - Premium in Mid-range?

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We loved the Sony XA1 from earlier this year. Several months later, the bigger XA1 Plus was released and we still can't get enough of how good it is!
Sony Xperia XA1 Plus Review - Premium in Mid-range?
Sony Xperia XA1 Plus review

On paper, the bigger brother has a larger display, a bigger battery with other improvements over the smaller XA1 that may attract people to this phone.


Display Quality

The Sony XA1 Plus  carries a 10 point multi-touch, Gorilla Glass protected 5.5-inch FHD 1920 x 1080 resolution w/ 2.5D curved glass at 401 ppi. It isn't 18:9 though.which a lot of the competition even in the mid range is getting into.

5.5-inch 1080p IPS goodness!

The Image Enhancement changes the image settings like contrast and saturation. This changes videos and photos with more contrast or HDR.

The maximum brightness is more than enough to overpower the sun when used outside. There is an auto-brightness feature.

Audio Quality

There is a single speaker at the bottom. The maximum volume is ridiculously loud that it is able to fill a room. It is so loud that even if you cover the speaker grills, it is still loud enough to be audible. There is minimal distortion at the higher volumes but it is negligible. The sound is clear with enough details with a little emphasis on bass.

For headphones and earphones, we used the stock earphones and our trusty RHA S500i and the experience is good. The clarity and definition is there but it is clear that Sony places emphasis in bass. The trebles and the mids are there but are of average degree.

The microphones are clear and clean enough for calls and recordings. We never had an issue or a caller comment that our voice had concerns during calls.

Battery Life

Nearly 12 hours of battery goodness!
Nearly 12 hours of battery goodness!

Our usual Battery it was clocking in at more than 11 hours. We did the test several times and it performed wonderfully. This is probably because of the 3,430mAh battery capacity.

Strong battery performance!

In our daily use of email, texting, calling, social media interactions, YouTube streaming, we were getting 10 hours of on screen time without LTE. When LTE is active expect it to drop to 6 to 7 hours of on screen time. This is still better than most phones on LTE.

Sony also added features to increase battery lifespan. There are notifications when the battery has been charged to 80% and a feature that slows down charging automatically based on the user’s habits.

The XA1 Plus supports Qnovo Adaptive Charging and Quick Charge Pump Express+ 2.0 (MediaTek’s version of Quick charge) but the charger in the box is only a 1.5 Amp charger.

Charging time is under 120 minutes from 0 to 100! It is competitive to the Quick Charge from Qualcomm.

Camera

Surprisingly minimal camera hump!
Surprisingly minimal camera hump!

The rear camera is a 23MP f/2.0 1/2.3 Inch Exmor RS sensor with Hybrid AF, SteadyShot, and LED flash. SteadyShot is Sony's branding of image stabilization. An interesting addition here is the Hybrid AF. In DSLR and mirrorless cameras Hybrid AF means both contrast detect and phase detect AF. We couldn't find any details in Sony's website to confirm this though.
Camera UI
Camera UI

The Sony AX1 Plus has dedicated camera button, and like point and shoots they can be partially pressed to focus and fully press to take a picture. The button can also be set as a shortcut to take a picture or start recording video.

The camera app is minimal but with the aesthetic of Sony's UI which we feel is dated compared to other brand's aesthetics. The UI is for two handed use because the shutter button is on the right side while the the different mode dial is on the left which adds a couple of steps when doing a one handed wide selfie.

Aside from the usual Panorama, auto and video modes there are several unique modes like the AR effect which allows you to interact Augmented reality objects, the creative effect mode which are basically color filters and lastly is the timeshift burst mode where when you take a picture it also takes a picture of the moments before and after you took the shot. Most of these features we found fun to play with but are novel at best.

The pro mode is good with manual focusing, aperture control, exposure compensation but not the ISO. The shutter speed maxes at 1 second and can go as fast as 1/4000th of a second which is unprecedented on a smartphone! You can also manually select white balance, exposure compensation and focus.

Camera experience is good for the price!

The auto camera experience is good. The white balance is accurate 8 out of 10 times. There were a few times where we felt the color was off while the autofocus finds focus quickly and accurately with almost not hunting. In the main camera there is an option for object tracking where in you tap the subject you want to track and even if you move the camera or the subject is the one moving, the phone is able to follow with focus. It works 8 to 9 out of ten times. We are impressed because few phones in this price range has good object tracking in both video and stills.

The images are sharp with punchy colors and decent contrast in daylight. You'll be happy with the picture it takes.

Our only gripe is the grain in low light. It is a lot which is okay but the aggressive noise reduction softens the image too much!

The flash is there for the main camera if you need it. You don't have an option for screen flash or LED flash for the selfie camera. There is HDR and works as it should. It's not the fastest and its not the slowest either. We are good with it.

Rear Camera Samples

Good lighting
Good lighting
Close-up 1
Close-up 1
Close-up 3
Close-up 3
Indoor dim
Indoor dim
Lowlight auto 1
Lowlight auto 1
Lowlight auto 2
Lowlight auto 2

On the other hand, the selfie camera is 8MP f/2.0 1/4 Inch Exmor R w/ AF, wide angle, and SteadyShot.  It retains most of its features but without the object tracking feature, thus the Hybrid AF.
Add caption

The manual mode in the selfie camera is also limited to white balance and Exposure compensation only.

It uses an auto-face recognition autofocus. It works 8 out of 10 times which is good enough. It struggles in low light though.

The selfie camera performs similar to the main where it works well in bright lighting conditions and will do an okay job in low light but noticeably more grain.


Selfie Camera Samples

Well lit selfie
Well lit selfie
Indoor dim groufie
Indoor dim groufie
Selfie night
Selfie night
Lowlight selfie
Lowlight selfie

For videos the rear camera can shoot in 1080p 30 fps with steady shot with both selfie and main camera. It has object tracking with the main camera but not with the selfie camera. 

The SteadyShot works well but it has a huge crop which almost confirms that it is just electronic and not optical image stabilization. It has HDR video mode too.

The grain is more pronounced in day light video and is even worse in low light. The resolution in daylight is good with okay colors and contrast. The resolution dramatically drops because of the noise and noise reduction in low light video though.

What is amazing is that the SteadyShot is able to track subjects in daylight and in low light to a lesser degree. It is still one of the best autofocus systems for its price.

Video Samples


Performance

Nice benchmark scores!

The phone packs the 2.3GHz 64-bit Helio P20 octa-core processor and the Mali-T880 with 4GB of RAM.

The Helios P20 gets inaccurate flak. We have reviewed several Helios P20 devices and we never experienced uncomfortable warmth from extended use. It got slightly warmer when LTE streaming 720p on YouTube after nearly an hour. It was a slight increase in temperature which is normal. The issue is overblown.

The P20 on the Sony XA1 performed wonderfully!

With that said, this thing breezes through apps and games without problems. Even with multiple apps in the background or with multiple Chrome tabs it is breezy.
Online gaming is nice here too!
Online gaming is nice here too!

We rarely had lags or stuttering with our time with the phone even with demanding games like NBA and Asphalt 8! In fact almost everything quick, responsive.
Near stock with Xperia icons!
Near stock with Xperia icons!

Equipped with Android 7.0 based Sony version of Android. It is relatively stock with little added features like image enhancement that improves pictures by software. The other new feature is the Xperia actions where you can set actions that the phone will do at a set time. It maybe useful for some.

Near stock with added features!

The fingerprint scanner is fast enough to compete with its peersWe do like that it is on the right hand side where your thumb will be when held with the right hand. It may jar left handed-people when used with their left hand. Otherwise it is seamless and accurate 9 out of 10 times. It does not have Face Unlock though.

Telephone connectivity is good with strong signal and steady 4G data connectivity. There's the usual WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS as well that never failed us.

Pros - Full metal body, dedicated camera button, great gaming performance, long battery, object tracking AF is good in rear camera
Cons - Dated UI and build design, maybe heavy for some

Verdict

The Sony XA1 Plus is a great phone. Sure it doesn't have the latest 18:9 aspect ratio or a dual lens set up. But, it does what it can do great. The cameras take good images with great object tracking with the main camera in stills and video. The battery lasts a long time and it can play games seamlessly. Our only true gripe with it is that the UI and the build design feels dated.

That's it! So if you are looking for a mid range phone that does everything well and has a slightly more premium price tag, then the Sony XA1 maybe for you.

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