Sony Xperia XA1 Review

Introduction


Sony is breathing new life in its midrange offers for the US with the new Xperia XA1, which comes hot on the heels of its Xperia XZs release here. In Sony's case, it simply starts selling those in its shop or on Amazon, and they only work on T-Mobile and AT&T, but it's nice to have extra options.

The Xperia XA1 goes for $299.99 at Amazon, B&H, Best Buy, Fry's, and the other usual suspects, and offers an intriguing mix of entry level and midrange specs, such as a 5-inch 720p screen, but 23 MP camera and 3GB RAM. Is it worth the dough? Let's see...

Design

Sony's oldieblocky polycarb is now a breath of fresh air in the sea of metal or glass phones.

Sony Xperia XA1 Review
Sony Xperia XA1 Review
Sony Xperia XA1 Review
Sony Xperia XA1 Review

In the year of bezel minimalism, Sony's phones look especially out of the loop, and the XA1 is no exception. The 5” screen is framed between huge top and bottom bezel areas, making the Sony as tall as the 5.2” honor 8 or Galaxy A5, not to mention bezel-busting flagships like the 5.7” G6 or the 5.8” S8, which are only slightly larger than the XA1. The _phone_ still comes with on-screen keys, though, and this one doesn't have front-firing stereo speakers, as the lower slit is simply a mic, while the sole speaker is situated at the bottom. Despite this, the _phone_ has a pleasantly distinct and elegant look to it.

The Xperia XA1 is narrow enough to be comfortable for one-handed operation, and feels sturdy in the palm. In fact, it is solid as a brick, despite the all-plastic construction, and we appreciate the inclusion of a modern USB-C port at the bottom.

When it comes to buttons, the plastic volume rocker on the right is a bit smallish and wobbly under the thumb, with somewhat shallow feedback, while the signature metal home key of Sony is well-placed to comfortably feel and press without looking. There is a dedicated camera key, as usual, something we've learned to appreciate in Sony's Android designs.

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Front view | Side view
Sony Xperia XA1
Sony Xperia XA1
5.71 x 2.64 x 0.31 inches
145 x 67 x 8 mm
5.04 oz (143 g)

Sony Xperia XA1

Motorola Moto G5 Plus
Motorola Moto G5 Plus
5.91 x 2.91 x 0.38 inches
150.2 x 74 x 9.7 mm
5.47 oz (155 g)

Motorola Moto G5 Plus

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
5.75 x 2.81 x 0.31 inches
146.1 x 71.4 x 7.9 mm
5.96 oz (169 g)

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)

Huawei P10 Lite
Huawei P10 Lite
5.77 x 2.83 x 0.28 inches
146.5 x 72 x 7.2 mm
5.15 oz (146 g)

Huawei P10 Lite




Display

While unremarkable in resolution, the HD display does the job in color balance and outdoor visibility

Sony Xperia XA1 Review

A 5” 720x1280 resolution LCD screen is nothing to pop champagne about in the pixel density department, but an HD screen is sufficient at this diagonal, and there are battery gains to be had with this resolution. That's coming a bit further in the review, though, and for now we'll just mention that the picture doesn't lean to the colder side of the spectrum, as usual with Sony's mobile screens, but is rather spot on in terms of color temperature. It is also bright enough and with low screen reflectance to seem perfectly legible under direct sunlight, too.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
Sony Xperia XA1 578
(Excellent)
27
(Poor)
1:962
(Average)
6494
(Excellent)
2
3.13
(Good)
3.95
(Good)
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 581
(Excellent)
6
(Good)
1:1274
(Excellent)
7989
(Average)
2.21
6.07
(Average)
6.79
(Average)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 556
(Excellent)
1.8
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6725
(Excellent)
2.02
2.37
(Good)
7.25
(Average)
Huawei P10 Lite 539
(Excellent)
4
(Excellent)
1:1616
(Excellent)
9421
(Poor)
2.35
4.04
(Average)
9.08
(Poor)
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all


Sony Xperia XA1 Review

Introduction


Sony is breathing new life in its midrange offers for the US with the new Xperia XA1, which comes hot on the heels of its Xperia XZs release here. In Sony's case, it simply starts selling those in its shop or on Amazon, and they only work on T-Mobile and AT&T, but it's nice to have extra options.

The Xperia XA1 goes for $299.99 at Amazon, B&H, Best Buy, Fry's, and the other usual suspects, and offers an intriguing mix of entry level and midrange specs, such as a 5-inch 720p screen, but 23 MP camera and 3GB RAM. Is it worth the dough? Let's see...

Design

Sony's oldieblocky polycarb is now a breath of fresh air in the sea of metal or glass phones.

Sony Xperia XA1 Review
Sony Xperia XA1 Review
Sony Xperia XA1 Review
Sony Xperia XA1 Review

In the year of bezel minimalism, Sony's phones look especially out of the loop, and the XA1 is no exception. The 5” screen is framed between huge top and bottom bezel areas, making the Sony as tall as the 5.2” honor 8 or Galaxy A5, not to mention bezel-busting flagships like the 5.7” G6 or the 5.8” S8, which are only slightly larger than the XA1. The phone still comes with on-screen keys, though, and this one doesn't have front-firing stereo speakers, as the lower slit is simply a mic, while the sole speaker is situated at the bottom. Despite this, the phone has a pleasantly distinct and elegant look to it.

The Xperia XA1 is narrow enough to be comfortable for one-handed operation, and feels sturdy in the palm. In fact, it is solid as a brick, despite the all-plastic construction, and we appreciate the inclusion of a modern USB-C port at the bottom.

When it comes to buttons, the plastic volume rocker on the right is a bit smallish and wobbly under the thumb, with somewhat shallow feedback, while the signature metal home key of Sony is well-placed to comfortably feel and press without looking. There is a dedicated camera key, as usual, something we've learned to appreciate in Sony's Android designs.

Front view | Side view
Sony Xperia XA1
Sony Xperia XA1
5.71 x 2.64 x 0.31 inches
145 x 67 x 8 mm
5.04 oz (143 g)

Sony Xperia XA1

Motorola Moto G5 Plus
Motorola Moto G5 Plus
5.91 x 2.91 x 0.38 inches
150.2 x 74 x 9.7 mm
5.47 oz (155 g)

Motorola Moto G5 Plus

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
5.75 x 2.81 x 0.31 inches
146.1 x 71.4 x 7.9 mm
5.96 oz (169 g)

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)

Huawei P10 Lite
Huawei P10 Lite
5.77 x 2.83 x 0.28 inches
146.5 x 72 x 7.2 mm
5.15 oz (146 g)

Huawei P10 Lite




Display

While unremarkable in resolution, the HD display does the job in color balance and outdoor visibility

Sony Xperia XA1 Review

A 5” 720x1280 resolution LCD screen is nothing to pop champagne about in the pixel density department, but an HD screen is sufficient at this diagonal, and there are battery gains to be had with this resolution. That's coming a bit further in the review, though, and for now we'll just mention that the picture doesn't lean to the colder side of the spectrum, as usual with Sony's mobile screens, but is rather spot on in terms of color temperature. It is also bright enough and with low screen reflectance to seem perfectly legible under direct sunlight, too.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
Sony Xperia XA1 578
(Excellent)
27
(Poor)
1:962
(Average)
6494
(Excellent)
2
3.13
(Good)
3.95
(Good)
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 581
(Excellent)
6
(Good)
1:1274
(Excellent)
7989
(Average)
2.21
6.07
(Average)
6.79
(Average)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 556
(Excellent)
1.8
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6725
(Excellent)
2.02
2.37
(Good)
7.25
(Average)
Huawei P10 Lite 539
(Excellent)
4
(Excellent)
1:1616
(Excellent)
9421
(Poor)
2.35
4.04
(Average)
9.08
(Poor)
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all


Interface and functionality

Slick and fast, the Xperia UX is a joy on Nougat

Sony Xperia XA1 Review

The Xperia XA1 is underwritten by Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box, which we can only appreciate, plastered with a bit of the Sony UX on top. The company's overlay is near-stock, with Google's apps taking over most of the common functions, but with Sony's unique iconography footprint, and plenty of options for theming and extra personalization. A live, active wallpaper is an added twist, as it is simple visually, but reacts and morphs with every tap of your finger, making for some pretty interactions with the XA1.

Sony adds a lot of value with its proprietary apps, too, like Sketch and Movie Creator, which offer very good image and video editing abilities.. In addition, there are some thoughtful interface features like smart backlight management, too, which keeps the screen lit when you are looking at a photo without touching the display, for instance. To top it all off, the interface performance is very fluid and runs without interruptions – in fact, it's very close to what completely stock Android phones like the Pixel offer.

Processor and memory


Sony Xperia XA1 Review

An octa-core MediaTek Helio P20 processor might raise some eyebrows, but, clocked at 4x 2.3 GHz and 4x 1.6 GHz here, this one performs as good as Snapdragon 625, and is just as frugal, made with a 16nm process, and the same Cortex-A53 workhorse cores. The ARM Mali-T880 graphics subsystem is OEM and dual-core, so don't expect any wonders in heavy 3D visualizations, but it does the job for most any other task you'd throw at it.

The near-stock interface is not betting on complex animations, and moves swiftly, without notable hiccups. The phone offers a decent 3GB RAM amount, and starts you off with the generous 32GB storage (~21GB user-available), to which you can add more with the supplied microSD slot.

Performance benchmarks

AnTuTu
Higher is better
Sony Xperia XA1 62167
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 63191
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 60678
Huawei P10 Lite 58606
JetStream
Higher is better
Sony Xperia XA1 27.973
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 29.879
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 31.472
Huawei P10 Lite 30.750
GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen
Higher is better
Sony Xperia XA1 32
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 23
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 33
Huawei P10 Lite 19
GFXBench Manhattan on-screen
Higher is better
Sony Xperia XA1 15
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 6.9
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 9
Huawei P10 Lite 5
Basemark OS II
Higher is better
Sony Xperia XA1 1302
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 375
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 1432
Huawei P10 Lite 1209
Geekbench 4 single-core
Higher is better
Sony Xperia XA1 857.66
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 783
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 766
Huawei P10 Lite 844
Geekbench 4 multi-core
Higher is better
Sony Xperia XA1 3714
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 3586
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 3951
Huawei P10 Lite 3114
View all

Connectivity


The Xperia XA1 is a GSM handset, meaning you can only use it on AT&T or T-Mobile networks, and it supports Cat. 6 LTE with download speeds of up to 300Mbps in theory, if the two carriers can supply the goods. All other connectivity options one might expect are onboard, too, incouding NFC, and the phone offers a handy USB-C port for charging and data connections at the bottom.

Camera

Oh, Sony, your 20+ MP cameras are hit or miss

Sony Xperia XA1 Review
Camera UI - Sony Xperia XA1 Review
Camera UI - Sony Xperia XA1 Review
Camera UI - Sony Xperia XA1 Review
Camera UI - Sony Xperia XA1 Review

Camera UI


Given the midrange category, it is a pleasant surprise to see a 23 MP camera adorning the back of the Sony Xperia XA1, as well as a generous 8 MP shooter up front. The high-res sensor comes with small pixels that are soak in less light, so we wouldn't be writing home about it before we've looked at the pics first. The camera app offers a multitude of shooting modes and color effects with the trendy swipe gesture navigation between them, but most of the time you'd likely be shooting in the default Superior Auto mode that is set in a 16:9 (20MP) format.

Image quality


A typical Sony affair, the 23 MP sensor is hit or miss when it comes to color presentation or dynamic range in auto shooting mode. The image colors can be colder than reality, and a bit too saturated. One and the same scene can be exposed a step brighter or darker in the span of a second shot, depending on how the algorithms fall, and the phone often overexposes brighter spots too much, but overall it performs in sync with its midrange category by saving us any terrible exposure mishaps. There are too many pixels on this tiny sensor to keep noise in check, and it shows in frame sections like clear blue sky. The post-processing isn't very aggressive in terms of sharpness, and the pictures, especially indoor and low-light ones look a bit too soft for our liking, yet abnormal noise levels still rear their ugly head often.


Camera speed

Taking a pic (sec)Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec)Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
Sony Xperia XA1 1.4
4
No data
No data
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 1.8
2.6
1118
669
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 1.8
2.9
No data
No data
Huawei P10 Lite 1.8
2.1
667
614
View all

Video


The phone is capable of 1080p recording with 30fps, and that's that. Despite the resolution however, the footage is smudgy and lacking detail. At least panning around isn't too choppy. The SteadyShot software stabilization of Sony does the job in keeping the frame from shaking too much, but all in all, the recorded video footage is very hard to look at.



Multimedia


Sony prides itself in being a media company, not just a gadget maker, and it shows in the excellent Album, Video and Music apps it supplies on its Android handsets. The Album app serves as an alternative to Google Photos gallery that offers clean interface, rich in functions – from editing to Facebook or Instagram integration. Ditto for the music player which gives you minimalistic Material Design UI, but loads of tune categorization options, as well as lyrics display, song recognition, sound modes and equalizer presets.

Last but not least, the video app plays everything thrown at it, is integrated with the Movie Creator editing option, and, in the US, offers the excellent TV guide add-on that offers a visual grid of what's current and incoming on your cable subscription of choice. All in all, a stellar media bunch.


Audio output

Headphones output power (Volts)
Higher is better
Sony Xperia XA1 1.16
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 1.015
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 0.53
Huawei P10 Lite 0.19
Loudspeaker loudness (dB)
Higher is better
Sony Xperia XA1 74
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 77.6
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 75
Huawei P10 Lite 79
View all


Call quality


Sony Xperia XA1 Review

The voice quality in the earpiece of the Xperia XA1 came up a bit hollow and digitized compared to the actual person's timbre. The strength of the call is enough, but the voices have a certain echo to them and the caller's voice just doesn't sound too natural. The two noise-canceling mics top and bottom of the XA1's frame, however, do a stellar job in relaying voices loud and clear to the other end, with no parasitic ambient noises.

Battery

Not another “two-day battery phone” from Sony, but the endurance is decent and charging is fast

Sony Xperia XA1 Review
When it comes to Sony handsets, we usually don't scoff at capacities like the 2300 mAh unit in the XA1. Sony has proven time and again that it can wed its frugal screen tech to any chipset and achieve “two-day battery” phones before it was a thing, like with a lot of midrangers today. Is that the case with the Xperia XA1 as well? Well, the phone managed to score eight and a half hours of screen-on time during our demanding benchmark test, which, while not a “two-day” result, will easily get you through the day, and maybe until lunch on the next if you forget to put it on the charger.

Battery Benchmarks

Battery life (hours)
Higher is better
Sony Xperia XA1 8h 28 min (Excellent)
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 10h 26 min (Excellent)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 11h 9 min (Excellent)
Huawei P10 Lite 8h 23 min (Excellent)
View all

Conclusion


Sony Xperia XA1 Review

The Xperia XA1 is a fine upgrade over its XA predecessor, with a better camera, faster chipset, USB-C and more memory. Moreover, Sony's aging polycarbonate brick design is actually becoming fresh again in this day and age of glass or metal handsets with rounded corners.

The XA1 bezel-ful design puts it at odds with phones like the honor 8 or Galaxy A5 which offer slimmer chassis that fits more screen in the same footprint, and better specs, but also cost a $100 more, if not on promo. Sony's interface is also faster-moving and keeps close to stock, adding value via a set of excellent apps for creating, editing and enjoying media. When it comes to the camera quality, the XA1 is not the best out there despite the record resolution for its class, but is on par with the phone's direct competitors. One middling area is battery life, and not because it doesn't hit the average for the category mark, but just since we are used to Sony's HD display phones going the extra mile in battery endurance.

You can't ask much more from a $300 phone than what the Xperia XA1 already offers, yet Sony will have a steep hill to climb in the US, as for less than that you can get handsets like the Moto G5 Plus, and for a tad more the honor 8, OnePlus 3, or even a discounted Galaxy S7 are beckoning you. Still, the Sony brand, the blocky but distinctive design, and the solid all-around performance are points in the XA1 favor at this price point.