The Sony XA1 Ultra is Sony’s large 6-inch screen mid-tier smartphone, an update of the Xperia XA Ultra announced in May last year.  The design looks similar to the previous model with some differences here and there, the feature list is comparable, the hardware and the cameras got an upgrade. The body is a hair thinner and lighter than the predecessor, at 8.1 mm (vs. 8.4 mm) and 188 g (vs. 201 grams)

Sony’s idea is to provide a great build-quality with a mid-range SoC (processor) and good cameras in a mid-tier product. Sony did not share anything regarding pricing, so at the time of publishing, we cannot provide an opinion on the bang for the buck, however, we can expect a mid-range price knowing that the previous model, the Xperia XA Ultra sells now for about $290, and was sold for about $370 at launch.

I played briefly with the new Sony XA1 Ultra and here are my first impressions:

Pros: elegant design, good built quality, large 6-inch screen, very good high-resolution front camera with flash for selfies addicts.

Cons: mid range processor, could be slower than pricierey devices for the compute intensive tasks, rear camera is good but last-gen high-end camera module (Xperia Z5), no fingerprint sensor – if pricing is done right, at about $350 / $370, this can be a very good smartphone for the price.

Bottom line: a good device with an elegant and thin design in a large form factor with good cameras, for a sweet price. Our guess is about $300, like the predecessor and the category’s competitors, however we still need to get the pricing from Sony. The device will certainly appeal to people who want a well designed  affordable smartphone, who do not need to perform compute intensive tasks, who like to look at pictures, read books and documents on their large smartphone, and take a lot of selfies at night.

What’s New: Xperia XA Ultra vs. the new Xperia XA1 Ultra

The Xperia XA1 Ultra features the same 6-inch 1080p (1920×1080) touch display at 367 ppi as its predecessor, which is the way to go when you need to preserve the performance while using a mid-range processor, since it gets less pixels to move around. In my opinion, 1080p is a sufficient resolution, even for a 6-inch form factor, as long as the image quality and the panel brightness are good, which is the case for the Xperia XA1 Ultra.

Sony upgraded the mid-tier Mediatek SoC, from the Octa-core Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 (2GHz) to the MediaTek Helio P20 Octa Core 64bit (Quad core 2.3GHz + Quad core 1.6GHz). On the camera side, the XA1 Ultra, like the XA Ultra, features a  high resolution 16 MP with a “Smart Selfie” Flash, however, the rear camera got an upgrade, from a 21.5 MP to 23 MP sensor. According to Sony, the rear shooter is the same as the one in the Xperia Z5, and it is very good, and as a matter of fact, many handset manufacturers, including Huawei, use the Sony mobile camera sensors.

Xperia XA1 Ultra Key Specifications

  • Colors: White, Black and Gold
  • Dimensions: 165mm x 79mm x 8.1mm
  • Weight: 188g
  • SoC: MediaTek Helio P20 Octa Core 64bit (Quad core 2.3GHz + Quad core 1.6GHz)
    Mali T880 MP2 900MHz
  • SIM: Nano SIM
  • OS: Google Android N 7.0
  • Sound: SmartAmp ClearAudio+ Stereo Recording, Bluetooth 4.2 wireless technology, aptX / A2DP
  • Display: 6” Full HD 1080p (1920×1080 pixels) 367 ppi, edge to edge design
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Internal memory: Up to 32 GB / 64 GB flash memory
  • Memory expansion: microSD™ card, up to 256GB
  • Network: LTE (4G), LTE Cat6 (EU)/ Cat4, GSM GPRS (2G), UMTS HSPA (3G)
  • Battery: 2700 mAh, Qnovo Adaptive Charging Stamina mode, Quick charging Pump Express+ 2.0

Camera Rear:

  • 23MP
  • 1/2.3” Exmor RS™ for mobile image sensor
  • Hybrid Autofocus 0.6s Quick Launch and Capture
  • 24mm wide-angle F2.0 lens
  • Low-light photo: ISO 6400
  • Low-light video: ISO 3200
  • 5x Clear Image Zoom
  • HDR for photos
  • SteadyShot

Camera Front:

  • 16MP
  • 1/2.6” Exmor RS™ for mobile image sensor Low-light
  • Low-light photo: ISO 6400
  • Low-light video: ISO 6400 23mm wide-angle lens F2.0
  • 23mm wide-angle lens F2.0 Front Facing Flash
  • Front Facing Flash
  • OIS
  • Autofocus

Xperia XA1 Ultra Demo Video

Industrial Design (Very Good for expected price)

The latest trend in mobile hardware is to offer mid-range devices ($300 to $400) with a high-end feel and the best possible key features that people are looking for. We have seen this with a number of smartphones, including the nicely designed 5.5-inch Huawei Honor 6X that launched in the U.S. market at CES 2017.

Besides its flagship, the Xperia XZ Premium, Sony is coming to MWC 2017 with the Xperia XA1 Ultra, a large 6-inch smart featuring a great built-quality. At 8.1 mm and 188g, the chassis, made of an aluminium plate on the back, is thin and sleek for the large size. Additionally, the back side has a unified color, since the Japanese manufacturer was able to place the antennas in such a way that it does not appear as a different texture, unlike in the Huawei Honor 6X.

The subtle Xperia branding combined with the single color on the back are also key factors that make this device feels high-end.

The stereo speakers are well hidden on the front, thanks to the tiny grids, and the large front camera with the flash is well integrated at the top of the display. At the bottom you will find the USB 3.1 Type C connector, alongside the microphone, and Sony kept the 3.5 mm audio jack at the top. On the back cover, the 23 MP camera module is placed at the top left, with the flash. On one side, you see the volume rocker close to Sony’s signature rounded silver power button and a dedicated camera shutter button. On the other side, you will find the micro SD and SIM card tray.

Display (Very Good for expected price)

Today, 1080p is not the best resolution for the large 6-inch form factor in the high-quality smartphone market, however, the Xperia XA1 Ultra features a good image quality in that resolution, and we know that most people are fine with Full HD when it comes to mobile devices. In my opinion, Sony was right to stay with the standard on the display side and allocate more budget for the cameras and the speakers.

Audio (Very Good on the paper)

Most high-end smartphones feature a mono speaker including the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and the LG V20 to name a few examples. With two front facing stereo speakers, Sony is providing a better audio quality to the XA1 Ultra, at least on the paper. Unfortunately, I had no time to test the audio quality during the demo meeting.

Camera (Very good for the expected price)

23 MP rear camera – from the previous flagship Xperia Z5

Knowing that shooting photos is one of the top activities on a smartphone, Sony cranked up the features on the camera side by offering its last generation top of the line camera in the 2017 mid-range XA1 Ultra.

The resolution is one of the highest you can find in a current flagship smartphone, most high-end devices from leading brands feature a 12-megapixel rear shooter, except for the Huawei Mate 9 that comes with a 20-megapixel sensor resolution.

OpinonWhat’s a Great Mobile Camera Experience?
Learn more: What is Image Stabilization?
Learn more: Dual Cameras vs. Single Camera

The Apple iPhone 7,  iphone 7 Plus, the Samsung Galaxy S7, the Galaxy Note 7 all offer 12-megapixel image resolution, and the LG G5 has a13-megapixel shooter.

We know that higher resolution does not mean higher image quality, so we still need to play more with the Xperia XA1 Ultra and check the photos in details to provide an opinion on that side. However, higher resolution means that users will be able to print their pictures in larger sizes if they need to. To be fair, once we will get our hands on the device for a longer period of time, we should compare it with the Huawei Honor 6X that plays in the same category.

The Sony Exmor RS sensor is well known for its good performance in general and specifically in low light, and here, it gets up to  ISO 6400 for still photo and ISO 3200 for video.
The wide angle 24mm equivalent (on 35mm film) lens is quite bright at F.2/0, so it is good for shooting landscapes. Thanks to the 5X zoom you can also get narrower field of view as well.

Other features include Sony’s digital image stabilization SteadyShot, HDR for photo, Hybrid Autofocus. 4K video capture is not listed in the specifications list that we received at the time of publishing, however, it was featured in the Xperia Z5 camera and we know that the Mediatek Helio P20 SoC supports 4K video encode and decode at 30 fps.

0.6s Quick Launch and Capture
The XA1 Ultra camera is very responsive on the paper, it features the 0.6s Quick Launch and Capture introduced with the Xperia X at MWC 2016, which was not in the Xperia Z5.

Basically, you can shoot a picture of a moving object almost instantaneously even when the phone is asleep.
Although we did not try it, we can expect it will be as fast as in the 0.6s quick launch and capture demo we saw last year. (see video below)

16 MP front camera with flash

Most high end smartphones deliver 5MP to 8MP on the front shooter, and Sony is pushing the envelop here with 16 Megapixel resolution sensor and a front facing flash. Additionally, the 23 mm equivalent wide-angle F.2/0 lens gets Optical Image Stabilization to shoot the perfect selfie with friends even in low light conditions.

Processor / SoC and Performance (Good)

Perceived Performance

When I was briefly playing with the phone, the user interface was fast and responsive. The device gets the latest Android version, Android Nougat 7.0, for more information on the new software, check our Android page here.

MediaTek Helio P20 Octa Core 64bit Performance

The MediaTek Helio P20 SoC is an octa-core processor which was introduced just about a year ago. It has eight ARM A53 cores (2.3 GHz max) connected to LPDDR4 memory. It also features an ARM Mali T880 MP2 graphics processor (GPU). The Helio P20 was designed to be a mid-range processor that provides decent performance, but won’t compete with the typical high-end chips such as the Snapdragon 8xx Series.

Learn morewhat is a SoC or System On a Chip?

Battery (Regular)

Although Sony provides a power consumption optimization tool in the software, called Stamina, we would expect a higher capacity than 2700 mAh is such a large smartphone. By comparison, the Huawei Honor 6X, a mid-tier competitor, has a 3340 mAh battery capacity.

Pricing & Availability

The Xperia XA1 will be available in three colors, White, Black and Gold, either in 32GB or 64GB, in Summer. There was no word regarding the price yet.

Conclusion (Excellent for expected price)

The Xperia XA1 Ultra is the large (6-inch) mid-range smartphone launched at MWC 2017 by Sony. The built quality is excellent for the mid-tier category and the feature-packed cameras make the device a great mobile device for the expected price ($300 to $370 our guess, we need to update when the official price will be announced).

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