Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review: Geared up

GSMArena Team, 3 June 2017.

Ultra-sized 6-inch display doesn't disappoint

To deserve the Ultra moniker, a Sony Xperia needs to be 6 inches or more, and the XA1 Ultra qualifies. It's also a FullHD resolution panel, as anything less would've been too coarse on that diagonal, while more won't make the budget. The resolution is good for 367ppi, perfectly adequate for the class.

Under a microscope, we see a conventional RGB arrangement with an equal number (of equally-sized) subpixels for each primary color.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review

The XA1 Ultra is very bright at its maximum setting making it past the 600-nit mark, if only just. There's no boost when you enable auto brightness. Blacks are kept in check for what turned out as an excellent contrast, verging on 1600:1. The XA1 Ultra is superior to both last year's XA Ultra and the current smaller XA1 in all three disciplines. Not only that, but the XA1 Ultra outperforms Sony's current flagships as well.

Among potential competitors, few can match the XA1 Ultra's peak brightness, and only AMOLEDs offer better contrast.

Display test 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Sony Xperia XA1 0.512 537 1049
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra 0.382 603 1579
Sony Xperia XA Ultra 0.50 531 1071
Sony Xperia XZs 0.461 564 1223
Sony Xperia XZ Premium 0.463 573 1238
Oppo F3 Plus 0.343 509 1485
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) 0 425
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) Max auto 0 533
Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus 0.44 637 1448
OnePlus 3T 0 447
Samsung Galaxy A9 (2016) 0 427
Samsung Galaxy A9 (2016) max auto 0 609
Motorola Moto Z Play 0 371
Motorola Moto Z Play (max auto) 0 526
Huawei nova plus 0.31 397 1281

Outdoor visibility is great as well, the XA1 Ultra edges out the iPhone 7 Plus in this respect (hit the 'Expand' button above the chart to see it). Even the AMOLED display on the Moto Z Play is no match for the Ultra, though Samsung's own Galaxy A7 (2017) does have the upper hand - not all AMOLEDs are equal.

Sunlight contrast ratio

  • Samsung Galaxy S8
    4.768
  • Samsung Galaxy S8+
    4.658
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+
    4.615
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
    4.439
  • OnePlus 3
    4.424
  • Samsung Galaxy S7
    4.376
  • HTC One A9
    4.274
  • Samsung Galaxy Note7
    4.247
  • Samsung Galaxy A3
    4.241
  • OnePlus 3T
    4.232
  • Google Pixel XL
    4.164
  • ZTE Axon 7
    4.154
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 edge
    4.124
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    4.124
  • Samsung Galaxy Note5
    4.09
  • Huawei Nexus 6P
    4.019
  • Vivo Xplay5 Elite
    3.983
  • OnePlus X
    3.983
  • Apple iPhone 7
    3.964
  • Oppo R7s
    3.964
  • Huawei P9 Plus
    3.956
  • Meizu Pro 6 Plus
    3.935
  • Lenovo Moto Z
    3.931
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016)
    3.918
  • Samsung Galaxy C5
    3.911
  • Samsung Galaxy C7
    3.896
  • Samsung Galaxy A5
    3.895
  • Samsung Galaxy J7 outdoor
    3.879
  • Samsung Galaxy J2 outdoor
    3.873
  • Samsung Galaxy A8
    3.859
  • Sony Xperia XZs
    3.818
  • Samsung Galaxy A9 (2016)
    3.817
  • Motorola Moto X (2014)
    3.816
  • Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
    3.804
  • Samsung Galaxy J7 (2016) outdoor mode
    3.802
  • LG V20 Max auto
    3.798
  • Xiaomi Redmi Pro
    3.798
  • Sony Xperia XZ
    3.795
  • Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)
    3.789
  • Apple iPhone 6s
    3.783
  • Meizu Pro 5
    3.781
  • Microsoft Lumia 650
    3.772
  • Xiaomi Mi 6
    3.767
  • Samsung Galaxy J7 (2016)
    3.756
  • Oppo F1 Plus
    3.709
  • Vivo X5Pro
    3.706
  • Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017)
    3.688
  • Apple iPhone SE
    3.681
  • Huawei Mate 9
    3.68
  • Samsung Galaxy A7
    3.679
  • Meizu PRO 6
    3.659
  • BlackBerry Priv
    3.645
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    3.597
  • Apple iPhone 7 Plus
    3.588
  • LG G6
    3.556
  • Apple iPhone 6s Plus
    3.53
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    3.526
  • Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016) outdoor mode
    3.523
  • Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016)
    3.523
  • Acer Jade Primo
    3.521
  • Microsoft Lumia 950
    3.512
  • Oppo R7 Plus
    3.499
  • nubia Z11
    3.466
  • Huawei P10 Plus
    3.456
  • HTC U Ultra
    3.453
  • Samsung Galaxy J7
    3.422
  • Meizu MX5
    3.416
  • LG V20
    3.402
  • Huawei P10
    3.379
  • Oppo R9s
    3.352
  • Honor 8 Pro
    3.341
  • Oppo R7
    3.32
  • Lenovo P2
    3.316
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s
    3.276
  • Nokia 6 (Chinese version)
    3.244
  • Samsung Galaxy J2
    3.235
  • Sony Xperia X Performance
    3.234
  • Xiaomi Mi Note 2
    3.228
  • Motorola Moto X Play
    3.222
  • Oppo F3 Plus
    3.218
  • Huawei Mate 9 Pro
    3.206
  • Huawei P9
    3.195
  • Lenovo Vibe Shot
    3.113
  • Motorola Moto X Force
    3.105
  • LG Nexus 5X
    3.092
  • Huawei Mate S
    3.073
  • Microsoft Lumia 640 XL
    3.065
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    3.012
  • Sony Xperia X
    2.989
  • Huawei Mate 8
    2.949
  • Xiaomi Redmi 3S
    2.913
  • Sony Xperia XA Ultra
    2.906
  • LG G5
    2.905
  • HTC One S
    2.901
  • Xiaomi Redmi 3s Prime
    2.893
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    2.884
  • Sony Xperia XZ Premium
    2.877
  • Sony Xperia XZ Premium (sRGB)
    2.877
  • Sony Xperia Z5
    2.876
  • Microsoft Lumia 550
    2.851
  • Lenovo Moto M
    2.813
  • Xiaomi Redmi 3 Pro
    2.803
  • Sony Xperia Z5 compact
    2.784
  • Meizu MX6
    2.751
  • LG V10
    2.744
  • Xiaomi Redmi 3
    2.735
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    2.714
  • Meizu M5
    2.71
  • Sony Xperia M5
    2.69
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime
    2.679
  • Huawei P9 Lite
    2.679
  • Vivo V3Max
    2.659
  • Xiaomi Mi Mix
    2.658
  • Xiaomi Mi 4i
    2.641
  • Sony Xperia XA
    2.609
  • Motorola Moto G4 Plus
    2.582
  • Motorola Moto G4 Plus (max auto)
    2.582
  • Meizu M5s
    2.58
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c
    2.574
  • LeEco Le Max 2
    2.567
  • Microsoft Lumia 640
    2.563
  • Asus Zenfone 3 ZE552KL
    2.563
  • Lenovo Moto G4
    2.544
  • Lenovo K6 Note
    2.544
  • Oppo F1
    2.528
  • Sony Xperia Z5 Premium
    2.525
  • Huawei Honor 7 Lite / Honor 5c
    2.506
  • Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
    2.503
  • Oppo F1s
    2.481
  • Motorola Moto G
    2.477
  • Lenovo Vibe K5 Plus
    2.473
  • Huawei G8
    2.471
  • Huawei nova
    2.467
  • Sony Xperia Z
    2.462
  • Lenovo Vibe K5
    2.459
  • Meizu m3 max
    2.447
  • HTC 10 evo
    2.407
  • Huawei Honor 7
    2.406
  • Sony Xperia E5
    2.386
  • ZUK Z1 by Lenovo
    2.382
  • HTC 10
    2.378
  • Samsung Galaxy J5 (2016)
    2.378
  • Oppo F3
    2.376
  • vivo V5 Plus
    2.371
  • Meizu m1 note
    2.362
  • Huawei nova plus
    2.329
  • HTC One E9+
    2.305
  • Alcatel One Touch Hero
    2.272
  • Lenovo Vibe K4 Note
    2.254
  • Sony Xperia C5 Ultra
    2.253
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (MediaTek)
    2.249
  • Sony Xperia C4 Dual
    2.235
  • Xiaomi Mi Note
    2.234
  • Motorola Moto G (2014)
    2.233
  • Huawei P8
    2.196
  • Meizu M5 Note
    2.189
  • Huawei Honor 6
    2.169
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 2
    2.166
  • OnePlus Two
    2.165
  • HTC One X
    2.158
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (X20)
    2.145
  • LG Aka
    2.145
  • Archos 50 Diamond
    2.134
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note
    2.119
  • Xiaomi Mi 4S
    2.095
  • Acer Liquid X2
    2.084
  • Huawei P8lite
    2.078
  • vivo V5
    2.059
  • Moto G 3rd gen max manual
    2.026
  • Xiaomi Mi 3
    2.001
  • Xiaomi Mi Max
    1.996
  • Sony Xperia E4g
    1.972
  • OnePlus One
    1.961
  • Meizu m3 note
    1.923
  • BlackBerry Leap
    1.892
  • Meizu m2 note
    1.892
  • HTC Butterfly
    1.873
  • ZTE Nubia Z9 mini
    1.759
  • Sony Xperia U
    1.758
  • Asus Zenfone Selfie
    1.68
  • Motorola Moto E (2nd Gen)
    1.675
  • ZTE Nubia Z9
    1.659
  • Motorola Moto E
    1.545
  • Sony Xperia M
    1.473
  • Sony Xperia L
    1.351
  • HTC Desire C
    1.3
  • Meizu MX
    1.221
  • Sony Xperia E
    1.215

Hardly a first for a Sony phone, the Xperia XA1 Ultra puts a bluish tint to whites with a grayscale DeltaE of around 9, and an average DeltaE of 6.0, when compared against the sRGB color space.

You can tweak the color reproduction with the RGB sliders in the white balance section of the display settings. You'd need a colorimeter and dedicated software to calibrate it, though. Our trial-and-error attempts led to an average DeltaE of 2.6 with RGB values of 197, 83, 0. That, however, results in a massive dip in maximum brightness - with these white balance settings, the phone only pumped out 380nits. The blue and green pixels are brighter than the red ones and taking away some of the bluish cast lowers the screen's maximum brightness. That's not a glitch as it can be observed with any LCD out there but the dip on the XA1 Ultra after the calibration is more serious than usual.

Connectivity

The Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra comes in single and Dual SIM flavors. Ours is the single SIM version, so we can't comment on how the Dual SIM variety handles the two cards. Cat.6 LTE is supported by the Helio P20's modem for download speeds of up to 300Mbps.

Wi-Fi b/g/n over 2.4GHz and a/n over 5GHz is supported, but not ac. You can stream video wirelessly over Miracast but the XA1 Ultra isn't DLNA certified.

The supported Bluetooth is now v4.2 LE, as opposed to the XA Ultra's 4.1. Bluetooth comes with the audio-focused aptX protocol as well.

NFC is available too, and so is an FM radio receiver.

For positioning, you get GPS and GLONASS, but no BDS or Galileo.

Peripherals can be connected via the USB-C port, but USB 2.0 limits transfer speeds to 480Mbps. There's a good old 3.5mm jack for attaching headphones too.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra battery life

Just like the small XA1, the Xperia XA1 Ultra relies on the same capacity battery as the model it replaces - that's 2,700mAh. Our skepticism was proven unfounded on the XA1, which posted quite respectable endurance results out of its tiny 2,300mAh cell, so we dived into our testing without worrying all that much.

And that turned out to have been the right attitude as the the Xperia XA1 Ultra's endurance is anything but disappointing. Let's start with what matters most - the tests we carry out with the display on are particularly demanding on the 6-inch Ultra, and 10 hours of video playback is admirable, even if the competition might be capable of more. Almost 12 hours of browsing the web over Wi-Fi is even more praiseworthy.

That's hardly a word to describe the phone's longevity in voice calls, where it couldn't make it to the 13-hour mark. Apparently, Mediatek's modem isn't as efficient in this use case as the competing solutions. But we still think talk time comes a distant second after all the other screen-on activities that you are bound to carry out on your big-screen smartphone.

The less than exciting showing in voice calls means, however, a lower overall endurance rating. Dialing in the numbers from the individual tests into our formula results in an overall endurance rating of 68 hours - not bad, but certainly not class-leading.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra

Our endurance rating stands for how long a single battery charge will last you if you were to use the smartphone for an hour each of telephony, web browsing, and video playback daily. We've established this usage pattern as they are common day-to-day tasks and it allows our battery results to be comparable across devices. The battery testing procedure is described in detail in case you're interested in the nitty-gritties. You can also check out our complete battery test table, where you can see how all of the smartphones we've tested will compare under your own typical use.

On the software side of things, Sony has also baked in their proprietary Stamina battery saving feature. It has two modes: regular Stamina, and Ultra Stamina. The first disables non-essential features like GPS and vibration, and takes performance down a notch.

Ultra Stamina is for absolutely dire occasions when you don't expect to be able to be near a power outlet for a long period of time. Enable that and it's back to basics where you get a single homescreen with access to the dialer and contacts, text messages, camera, clock - just the basics. Going out of Ultra Stamina requires a restart.

Stamina modes - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review Engage at... - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review Ultra Stamina - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review Available apps - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review Homescreen - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Stamina modes Engage at... Ultra Stamina Available apps Homescreen