Sony’s answer to mid-tier smartphone market, the Xperia XA1 (G3116) runs on MediaTek Helio P20 8-core processor, 3MB RAM and 32GB storage. It supports dual SIMs and micro SD card at the same time, which is going to delight many.
The design is polished and fits easily on my hand thanks to its bezel-less sides. The curved edges add to the comfort when holding it. The back is matt plastic, and supports NFC, one of the few budget smartphones that has it. That means Android Pay works with XA1.
Sadly, fingerprint sensor is not available, something that I got exceedingly used to unlocking with the sensor. Other features absent include support for DLNA and Playstation DUALSHOCK 4 controller, X-Reality image enhancement, but they are probably not missed by most consumers.
The phone interface breezes through fine, and so are loading apps and scrolling. But the phone shows its limitations when attempting to perform heavy tasks, like processing Instagram Boomerang clips or toggling among running apps quickly. It is not laggy, it just needs a bit more time to get things done. On the whole, the phone performance is quite optimised for a modest processor. The UI and apps are mostly stock Android 7.0 (Calendar, Contacts, SMS, are stock Android), with several Xperia apps to immerse user in the Sony ecosystem of app store, theme downloads and recommended content offers from its partners. I must say they can be rather informative for novice users, so I recommend checking them out. The Assist menu setting is also helpful in offering tips in using the XA1, like transferring content from old phone, creating Xperia Actions that automatically executes based on location or time, running Smart Cleaner. If you choose not to engage in them, they can be disabled.
The speaker is quite a disappointment, given Sony’s audio market status. The mono speaker sounds tinny and cracks at high volumes. A few audio adjustment settings are also absent, like DSEE HX, LDAC, mic sensitivity setting.
The 5-inch display has a basic 720×1280 resolution, but that probably helps in the long battery life enjoyed on the XA1, which lasted me a full work day with ample juice to last another morning, despite a modest 2300mAh capacity. The display panel produces a warm tint and maximum brightness still fails to blind me.
The camera spec might get you noticed. 23MP f/2.0 1/2.3″ Exmor RS sensor rear camera (no OIS) and 8MP 23mm wide-angle front camera offers technically good image quality. Xperia remains one of the few smartphones that provide a dedicated camera button.
To be fair, review of smartphone camera image quality is getting less impartial, because of the numerous in-camera effects and editing that each camera makers put in to boost the final image. For Xperia, the camera detects the scene automatically and seems to apply some tweaks to achieve a more positive outcome of the images, for instance, detecting food, back light, low light. On the other hand, such uncontrollable outcomes test the ability for the smartphone cameras to outsmart the users and see if their scene-detection system is reliable. In general, the Xperia XA1 seems to be more aggressive in the image outcome compared to XZs, as can be seen in the following comparison images.
Though rear camera captures more pixels than XZs and XZ Premium, when examining the photos at 100%, the images appear slightly over-sharpened. Perhaps such is the intention of Sony since the target consumers may prefer images that pop without further adjustments.
Xperia camera app continues to support AR Scene effects, for the longest time. Besides AR scenes like dinosaurs and underwater, it now supports face mask effects not unlike Snapchat and Facebook, as well real-time on-screen doodles. Like all previous Xperia smartphones, the camera causes the XA1 to heat up quickly, and as a precaution the app may exit prematurely to prevent further overheating.
Is the Sony Xperia XA1 a good smartphone to get? It would be, if you need a compact mid-tier phone that supports dual SIM and micro SD cards all at the same time, dedicated camera button to launch the app that captures 23MP high-resolution photos, and NFC for contactless payment. The built-in assistive features help new users get acquainted with the phone to maximise the use of unique Xperia functions.
Retailing in Singapore at S$398, it is available in Gold, Black, and White.