The  Sony XPERIA XA2 Ultra was announced on January 8 2018 and was initially targeted at the mid-range market. At publishing time, the XPERIA XA2 Ultra price was not officially announced, but this product line has historically been sold between $350 and $450. This model model greatly improves the battery life, the LTE connectivity and the selfie camera technology.

With cost as main criteria (and display size as the secondary one), we chose a group of suitable competitors which will be used to assess how the Sony XPERIA XA2 Ultra fits in its immediate smartphone landscape. Sony XA1 Ultra (~350 USD), Xiaomi Mi Max 2Huawei Mate 9 (~595 USD), Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro (~370 USD).

Key Specs

  • 6” IPS LCD Display (1920×1080)
  • 23 Megapixel Camera, ( f2.2 aperture?), no Optical stabilization
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 platform 4 RAM, 32,64 GB of Storage + MicroSD (256 GB max)
  • 3580 mAh battery capacity
  • Android 8.0

Note that the Huawei Mate 9 is here because of its display size, but it is priced in a different category. The same would be true for other large-display phones such as the S8+ or the LG V30, which can sell for well above $600.

We put the link to the XA1 in case you are curious about what changed since last year. A quick glance at the specs reveals that the main processors represent the major change, going from a Mediatek chip to a Qualcomm chip.

Industrial Design

With a width of 80mm (3.15 inches) and a thickness of 9.5mm (0.37 inches), the smartphone feels slightly large in hand. We use U.S M-size gloves for male hand-size reference, so this will vary from person to person. The device weighs 210 grams which we would consider to be slightly above average for its size, but all the others are within 10% of this weight, with the XA1 Ultra being the smallest of this list at 188g.

Build Quality

The build quality and the general industrial design of this handset seems nice. We will come back to this section with  more photo examples, but the construction is very decent, although not as fancy as Sony’s high-end models, which is completely normal given the price range of this product.

The frame all around the phone is made of Aluminum and the corners are made of non-brittle materials, which is good in case of a drop. Granted, there are more seems and this makes it easier to hide where the antennas are. Metal normally blocks the radio signal, that is why many phones have obvious antenna slits.

There is always a risk if glass shattering, but because there isn’t glass in the back and on the edges, the odds are relatively low with this model. Corners and edges represent 50% of the impacts.

Durability

Surprisingly, these models don’t have an IP-rating, which is a bit weird since Japanese customers usually demand some water protection. Also, Sony was among the first OEM to include it back in the days.

Without an IP rating or a Mil-Spec certification, it is very hard to tell how much this smartphone design can endure. Out of caution, you should assume that the XPERIA XA2 Ultra will not sustain the same level of water/dust exposure and shocks/vibrations than those that have received the certifications. Without an official rating, some device may resist more or less, but you should consider that to be luck. Do not count on it.

The XPERIA XA2 Ultra has not passed the MIL-STD 810G certification. You can check the link we added to see all the details, but this standard is a series of test by the U.S military to ensure that devices can survive a certain level of shocks and vibrations.

Design Ingenuity

This handset design has decent performance in relation to its size. From another angle, the amount of battery capacity the customer gets is quite good for a phone of this size. However, there are phones with bigger batteries. The Mi Max 2 has 5300 mAh of capacity, which is 48% more than the XA2 Ultra, but that Xiaomi model is not easy to find in all markets. The Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro has 4000 mAh, or 12% more.

The screen display-to-body ratio isn’t particularly impressive because the phone has big bezels at the top and bottom – but the bezels on the left/right are quite thin. In the mid-range category, it us not completely surprising, but you can bet that competing models will come out with that “all screen” feel later this year.

Display

The XPERIA XA2 Ultra display has a IPS LCD panel. IPS/PLS LCD technology made LCD displays reach the next level, first on mobile, then everywhere else. IPS/PLS can reproduce more colors than basic LCD, with better color saturation and wider view angles.

Within the range of IPS LCD displays there are still some differences, but frequently IPS/PLS are much superior to basic LCD displays. However, LCD an IPS/PLS LCD displays as a whole are not as technologically advanced as OLED displays which have even better contrast ratio and color saturation.

Technically speaking, large phones in this category are fighting in equal terms here. All our competitors have the same 1920×1080 resolution, and the Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro can distinguish itself by featuring an OLED panel, while others use LCD.

While it is possible to design excellent LCD displays that compete at a similar level to some OLED, these LCD displays should be considered the exceptions, and they may not have any of the normal benefits associated with LCD (vs. OLED). You can read our complete LCD vs. OLED article to learn more.

Camera

Mobile cameras have become impressively good over the years. But, it is true that there is an enormous gap between them based on price, but also depending on technology and expertise of the OEM.It is critical to understand that mobile imaging has two foundations of great importance: Software and Hardware.

The software is usually very secretive, and it is very difficult to have reliable insight to gage its quality through an unbiased process. Also, photography is not just science. It is also art. For example, Sony has a LOT of software processing in its camera app.

The camera equipment is the other aspect which is more measurable. Camera hardware is potentially a high limiting factor to mobile photo performance. Even if you use the smartest algorithms on it, the quality of the input image data still plays a major role in the final photo outcome.

In the XPERIA XA2 Ultra, the camera aperture has not been revealed yet, but it is probably an f2.0, just like the X1A model. In fact, the camera seems to be nearly identical to the X1A model.  The 23 megapixel count is impressive, but only test photos can reveal if Sony’s seemingly high-powered specs (for this category) gives them a huge advantage over the competition.

The 23 Megapixel count should never be used as a metric of photo quality. In low-light situations, the high Megapixel count (>12) does not sway the outcome. Keep in mind that the physical size of each sensor pixel is important. With higher megapixel counts, sensing pixels (sensels) may have to be smaller. Each obtains less light information and in low-light conditions, it is better for the overall photo quality to get more light with fewer (but bigger) sensels than the opposite. It is a balance that needs to be found. Today, 12 Megapixel seem to be the best sensor compromise between sharpness, low-light and autofocus performance.

On a sunny day or in very bright light situations, Megapixel could be a good proxy for photographic detail and sharpness. For example, on a sunny day, a nature photo with a higher megapixel count could show finer details. Between 12 MP, 16 MP and 21 MP differences in small details can be quite noticeable, if printed or viewed on a large and/or high-PPI display.

The XPERIA XA2 Ultra‘s camera does NOT have Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) on the primary camera module. The lack of OIS support will decrease the chances to take great photos, especially in dim scenes

OIS helps to improve image clarity and higher low-light performance by offsetting tiny hand-shaking motion. OIS makes it possible to leave the shutter open longer to capture more light (longer exposure). Optical and digital stabilization are completely different, with digital stabilization suitable to improve video recording smoothness

The autofocus of the XPERIA XA2 Ultra camera is based on Phase Detection technology.

Phase-detection AF that started in discrete AF sensor chips in the DSLR days. Then it got integrated into the camera primary sensor. It works by adding specialized AF pixels sensors that would tell if specific points in the image were in-focus. This method is very advanced and the AF capabilities work well in most cases. AF performance is more or less proportional to the number of hardware AF sensels. Typically this number can go from dozens to hundreds of Phase-Detection AF points. Phase detection AF is an excellent system, which is only inferior to Dual-Pixel AF.

Powerful Selfie Camera(s)

The Dual Selfie camera seems particularly interesting, but unfortunately, it will not support a faster version of Bokeh, the background blur effect which is accelerated by having dual-cameras.

Both cameras are separated by a large space, could be very good at Bokeh. It works by triangulating the distance to the camera for each pixel of the photo. The larger the space in-between the camera, and the better the triangulation is – potentially. With this addition, Sony may find itself in a very good position for selfie quality.

Each camera have their own standalone purpose: the primary selfie camera is a 16 Megapixel model with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). The secondary selfie camera is an 8 Megapixel model without OIS, but with a 120-degree super-wide angle. This is great for group selfies or photos with something interesting behind you.

Battery Life

The battery capacity of XPERIA XA2 Ultra is 3580 mAh, which is very good in general, and quite good in its own category. Again, the Mi Max 2 has 5300 mAh and the Galaxy C9 Pro has 4000. Last years Sony XPERIA X1A had only 2700 mAh, so this is still very good progress.

Battery life is one of the most critical features of a smartphone. A key metric is undoubtedly its battery capacity — especially within the same ecosystem (Android, iOS or other). Battery life can be affected by a great many factors, but the main ones are the main processor aka SoC, display and wireless radios (LTE broadband, WiFi, the cell towers location and more). It is impossible to precisely predict through synthetic tests how much energy drain YOUR unique usage pattern will generate. However, two things are surely always good:

  • A greater battery capacity
  • Faster charging

It is generally not possible to predict real-life battery life by running synthetic tests. Factors such as display brightness, (LTE/WiFi) radio usage and distance to access points will change too much. Also, how many apps on-board and their activity cannot be estimated. Battery capacity is the most important battery-life indicator for YOUR usage.

This product does NOT have a removable battery, which is the norm for smartphone these days. Closed batteries cannot be taken out or easily exchanged, but they do allow for smaller designs and slightly larger battery capacity inside the same product volume. There is not wireless charging either, but none of the competitors do. This remains a feature mostly for Premium ($500-$600) and high-end phones.

Since this product has a very large screen, keep in mind that larger screens tend to consume more energy to accommodate the greater surface area to light up. It depends on the brightness levels screens are being used at, but the potential for higher energy is there, so a greater battery capacity is better.

This handset has a relatively normal screen resolution. Although this may be less competitive from a display quality perspective, having fewer pixels to compute is a good thing for battery life.

Performance

This handset main processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 (8 Cores, 2.2 GHz) which has access to 4 GB of memory (RAM).

The amount of RAM is important for heavy usage, or for having many apps/services on the phone. When the memory is tight, the system may become slow if the OS has to read/write from the slower Flash storage instead. This was one of the differentiator between low and high tiers of phones, but this line is blurry now.

Important: the benchmark numbers are estimated and are thought to be representative, so don’t form a final opinion before we can run numbers on a final retail unit.

You can look at CPU benchmarks scores below, but in our estimation, this smartphone’s performance places it in the mid-range class of products. If you compare it with a Premium phone such as the Huawei Mate 9, you will immediately see a large performance gap in the charts. There is also a large price gap to explain it…

Before you focus on the charts, it is important to realize that most benchmarks are only loose indicators, usually for system or graphics performance. It is possible to perceive sharp performance deltas between different classes of devices (entry-evel, mid-range vs. high-end), but it is much harder to do so within handsets of the same class. Benchmarks alone should NOT lead to a smartphone purchase decision. To learn more, read our Are Benchmarks Important? article.

Overall, the XPERIA XA2 performs as expected. In its price range, the Galaxy C9 Pro might outgun it with 6GB of RAM and a slightly higher-class main processor. It’s something that would be to be examined more closely. Other phones in the same price range are likely to have similar speed, or even use the exact same Qualcomm chip.

Wireless Broadband Performance

Wireless networks (3G/4G) performance is often thought as peak download/upload speeds, but it is the average speed that counts. These days 4G/LTE is the primary network of interest, but 5G is coming. The higher the theoretical LTE performance and the better the average true experience. Also, cellular carriers have better and more efficient LTE networks to lower their own costs.

The XPERIA XA2 Ultra has an LTE CAT12 modem. This level of wireless performance is excellent in its category and very good in general. High-end phones have better modems, but in this price range, the LTE support quality is just excellent. This is one of the advantages of buying a more recent phone. Modem advances has been brisk over the past years, and we expect it to continue for now.

Conclusion

The Sony XPERIA XA2 is a pretty good upgrade from last year’s XPERIA X1A. With the longer battery life and much better LTE connectivity, it should provide an improved user experience. The camera still has impressive “paper” specs, and we can’t wait to take it in the field to see what kind of photos it can snap. The dual-selfie camera will prove particularly interesting. There is a surprisingly large market for that.

Although the 6-inch market is not as crowded as the 5.5” one, Sony has some competition. In this round, we notice that Xiaomi and Samsung are the most potent competitors.

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews. Read more about CES, CES 2018, Sony, Sony Xperia.

ProductXPERIA XA2 UltraXPERIA XA2
Display Diagonal (inches)6" (15.2cm)5.2" (13.2cm)
Megapixel Count23 Megapixel23 Megapixel
Battery Capacity (mAh)3580 mAh3300 mAh
Processor/Soc NameSnapdragon 630Snapdragon 630
RAM Options4 GB,3 GB,
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