Sony’s 2017 mid-range device is a camera focussed phone, something you don’t often get at this price. For that reason alone, the Xperia XA1 is worth considering.
Yet, there are plenty of areas where the compromises are very obvious.
In a competitive market, where the likes of the Motorola Moto G5 (£180) and Lenovo P2 (£200 on the Three network) remain the most attractive choices, the XA1 faces tough competition.
As is often the case with smartphones, the best upfront price will find you locked to a specific mobile network. In this case it’s O2, where you’ll be able to pick up an XA1 for £220, with a minimum £10 top-up for a total of £230. If you want it unlocked, you can head to Carphone Warehouse, where the device will set you back £250.
Sony Xperia XA1 – Design
The XA1 has a 5-inch screen, which has become a rarity these days; I suspect it’s easier to make a big-battery phone with a large screen – as it the case with the 5.5-inch Lenovo P2.
Sony deals with this challenge by making the top and bottom portion of the bezel more generous (by phone standards), while keeping the left and right portions super-slim. This gives the XA1 a rather elongated look, which I honestly didn’t mind. The design doesn’t affect my ability to use the phone, since the screen is a standard size, nor does it cause any issues when slipping the device into my pocket.
The design won’t be for everyone, and I wish I had one of the more attractive, coloured models instead of the plain white version. The rear of the handset is made of plastic; the sides are metal. There are gaps visible all over the phone – and it didn’t take long for the XA1 to become damaged, with white paint chipping off above the SIM slot. Not a great start, but it did survive a fall underneath a seat on the tube, which was impressive considering the amount of grit to be found on train floors.
All the buttons are on the right edge of the device, with a volume rocker, classic Xperia circular power button and a dedicated camera button. The latter allows you to take a light and focus reading, after which you can take the picture.
On the left is the SIM slot, which has space for a microSD card up to 256GB; this is alongside the generous 32GB of internal memory. A 3.5mm headset jack can be found at the top.
At the rear, the camera sits tucked into the back cover, with a protective metal ring around it to further distance it from scratchy tables and floors.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned a fingerprint scanner; that’s because there isn’t one. This is quite unusual these days, especially for a phone costing this amount. I’ve seen scanners on phones as cheap as £100, so for Sony not to include one is disappointing.
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Sony Xperia XA1 – Screen
The XA1’s screen is a 1280 x 720-pixel affair. Screen snobs will have stopped reading by this point, but for the rest of us this display is totally fine. Yes, text isn’t as sharp as it could be and hi-res images might not look great, but your Facebook and Instagram feeds will look just fine. The display can’t compete to the Moto G5’s 5-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution screen, however.
For day-to-day performance, it’s fine. I could read it in direct sunlight at maximum brightness, although at night I found even minimum brightness a little too bright for my sensitive, sleepy eyes.
Whites have a slightly blue tinge to them and viewing angles are fairly narrow; but, again, colour images are well represented and there are no standout problems.
On the audio front, the downward-facing speakers are nothing more than mediocre. The microphone is a different story, however: it does a fantastic job of cutting out background noise and picking up the voices you want to hear.