Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review: Geared up

Geared up

GSMArena Team, 3 June 2017.

Introduction

Sony's love for big screens goes all the way back to 2013 and the 6.4" Xperia Z Ultra, which was followed by a phablet in every generation since. Some four years later we have the Xperia XA1 Ultra at our doorstep, all 6 inches of it. And since we headed down memory lane, the Xperia T2 Ultra certainly deserves a mention too. While the Z Ultra packed some flagship-grade internals, the T2 Ultra was less obsessed with specs - and screen size for that matter, its display diagonal coming in at 6 inches sharp.

But it's really the Xperia C3 that we'd call the XA1 Ultra's spiritual ancestor, even if it was on the "small" side in phablet terms, a 5.5-incher with zero Ultra in its name. You see, the C3 sported a high-res selfie camera (5MP was pretty high at the time) that was among the first to have a flash. The C4 brought some improvements, but it wasn't until the C5 that Ultra returned to the model name. The Xperia C5 Ultra added even more megapixels and autofocus to the front cam, putting a 6-inch screen in a slimmed down body.

The X-ifying of Sony's smartphone lineup marked the next chapter in the XA1 Ultra's past. Its predecessor was called the XA Ultra - X because they all were part of this series, A for midrange, and Ultra for, well, 6 inches. Yet another upgrade in the selfie camera department saw a hike in resolution (of course), but also the introduction of OIS - a checkmark on only a select few spec sheets. The flash went without saying.

So there we have it - the Xperia XA1 Ultra. The name we already broke down to bits, and there's the 1 that signifies second generation in Sony's twisted logic. There's not much in terms of front-facing camera upgrades this time - a flagship-grade shooter goes on the back instead, the basics like RAM and storage are now more than just barely adequate, and an efficient 16nm Mediatek chipset will try to get better mileage out of the same measly battery capacity.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra key features

  • Body: Aluminum sides; plastic top, bottom, and back; scratch-resistant display glass (>9H pencil hardness).
  • Display: 6.0" TFT LCD, 1,920x1,080px resolution, 367ppi.
  • Rear camera: 23MP Type 1/2.3" sensor, f/2.0 aperture, 24mm-equiv. focal length; autofocus; single LED flash; 1080p/30fps video recording, SteadyShot EIS.
  • Front camera: 16MP Type 1/2.6" sensor, f/2.0 aperture, 23mm-equiv. focal length; OIS, autofocus, single LED flash; 1080p/30fps video recording.
  • OS/Software: Android 7.0 Nougat.
  • Chipset: 16nm Mediatek Helio P20 - Octa-core CPU (4x2.3GHz Cortex-A53 + 4x1.6GHz Cortex-A53), Mali T-880MP2 GPU.
  • Memory: 4GB of RAM; 32GB of storage (64GB for G3226 version); microSD slot up to 256GB.
  • Battery: 2,700mAh Li-Ion (sealed); Mediatek Pump Express+ 2.0 fast charging.
  • Connectivity: Single-SIM (model names G3221/3223) and Dual-SIM (G3212/G3226) versions; Cat. 6 LTE (300Mbps/50Mbps); USB Type-C (v2.0); Wi-Fi a/b/g/n; GPS, GLONASS; NFC; Bluetooth 4.2.
  • Misc: single bottom-firing loudspeaker, 3.5mm jack, dedicated two-stage hardware shutter release button.

Main shortcomings

  • Smallish battery capacity
  • No stereo speakers on a phone that's clearly targeted towards multimedia use
  • No fingerprint sensor

Sony only fits fingerprint sensors in its high-end phones (though the feature is disabled in the US), but the XA1 Ultra isn't one of them. Fingerprint recognition has become more or less a given on even much cheaper devices, and its absence on the XA1 Ultra can't go unnoticed. We're also not massive fans of the top and bottom bezels that can almost be described with the same adjective.

The side bezels, on the other hand, are probably among the slimmest in Sony's Xperia lineup. It's bewildering why Sony wouldn't trim them on its more expensive phones in a similar manner, but we're sure they have their reasons.

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Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra press images

Ask us and you'd get a unanimous 'more is better' response when it comes to battery backup. Ask Sony and you'd be told that last year's capacity is just fine. After spending time with the smaller Xperia XA1 (sans the 'Ultra'), we'd be inclined to reconsider - the more advanced chipset sure helps, but brute force (a.k.a. larger battery) can't hurt either, right?

Right, but let's stay on track - before we get to the battery life, there's unboxing and hardware overview to be done.

Reader comments

  • Anonymous

Superb phone when using....no hang and no hard to use it.... Camera quality is amazing...Photo quality and resolutions are very good as compared to iPhone

  • Veature

When i install Open Camera, it gives me option to turn on 4k recording, maxed out at 4k ultra. Not sure if it's really doing that resolution. Also, in open camera, you can set video bitrate and frame rate. Please let me know about this. I did a sam...

  • Anonymous

I regret to have gotten this smartphone, poor battery life, poor camera resolution, not practical functions at all.