By Aaron Lim

TL:DR; Verdict:

Everything about this phone is large – from the picture quality, to the build, to the screen and battery. However,  if you’re a phablet enthusiast, it may be hard to swallow the RM500 price increase from the regular XA2 – even the spec sheet is practically the same.

PROS

CONS

R

Decent rear and front cameras – 23MP on the back and dual 16MP and 8MP on the front

R

Has a huge and vibrant screen for an LCD

R

Battery life is stellar in most situations

Q

It’s thick, even for a phablet

Q

Bezels are unfashionably huge for a 2018 phone

Q

Xperia UI, although improved still has some performance issues

Sony’s recent forays into the smartphone industry haven’t been all that successful. With a market share eclipsed by other phones which provide more or better for less, it’s been hard for them to achieve the sort of widespread appeal they’d once enjoyed with their older Xperia Walkman line. But of course, this hasn’t stopped Sony from trying anyway. And to be quite honest, their recent attempts – although still a little short of the mark – haven’t actually been too bad.

And if you have a thing for selfies (but also have big hands – which actually seems counterintuitive), then the XA2 Ultra might scratch the itch you never knew you had. Packing dual front lenses with a respectable 16MP + 8MP shooter combo, selfies look surprisingly great on this thing – it comes with the whole suite you’d expect to find on a full camera setup usually reserved for rear shooters on phones – image stabilization, flash and large megapixel counts.

The rest of the phone, although not quite as remarkable, also holds its own when it comes to functionality. In terms of value for money – though, the phone may end up falling short – especially when considering the price gap with budget phones that rock similar specs.

Pricing and Availability

Build and Design

Despite being released in 2018, the XA2 Ultra still retains most of Sony’s Loop design philosophy. It’s got a metal top chassis on top of plastic backing which curves around the back, and despite the mix of materials it didn’t feel cheap at all – actually feeling quite solid and sturdy while being held. This may have something to do with the hefty 221g of weight and my big hands – but people who like large phones may appreciate the heavier build quality.

It’s quite large too – as a point of reference, it’s about as big as my Seagate External HDD – albeit a bit longer. The bezels on the phone are just as thick, having to accommodate the full camera tech for the dual selfie shooters. It looks pretty out of place for 2018, but seeing as it’s a mid-range phone, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 octa-core
  • RAM: 4GB RAM
  • Storage: 64GB on-board, microSD expansion
  • Ports: USB-C Quick Charging (Qualcomm® Quick Charge™ 3.0)
  • Screen: 6″ full HD 1080p LCD
  • Weight: 221g
  • Size: 163x80x9.5mm; W x D x H
  • Cameras: 23MP, f/2.0 rear w/ PDAF, LED flash. Dual 16MP, f/2.0 + 8MP, f/2.4 front w/ OIS, PDAF, LED flash
  • Battery: 3580mAh non-removable
  • Operating System: Android 8.0 Oreo w/ Xperia UI

 

Performance

As one of the original Xperia users back in 2014, I can honestly say that the Xperia UI has come a long way. Back then my Xperia phone had the habit of slowing down after a mere 6 months of use due to the amount of bloatware that was stockpiled onto the internal memory.

The new Xperia UI – although still not really my thing in terms of style and general usability, seems a lot more pared back in comparison. I did experience minor hiccups here and there during usage, but the bloatware was minimal and the general experience was speedy. The big chassis of the phone also meant a bigger battery – the 3,580mAh cell was admirable and drained only 20% on standby after half a day of usage.

You’ll be pleased to know that since the XA2 ships with the Qualcomm 630 chipset, one of their newer mid range offerings, the phone does offer Quick Charging through its much appreciated inclusion of a USB-C port. Although you need to make sure to use a compatible charger for that.

As for the cameras itself, the XA2 Ultra probably has one of the best shooters for a phone in this price range. With a rear camera packing the full 23MP you’d usually see on pricier phones and equally impressive 16MP + 8MP combo on the front, it’s clear to see that Sony’s focus on camera quality has paid off. Despite it’s relatively lackluster night scene performance and some hiccups with the portrait mode, images taken with the cameras were clear, sharp, and had decent color accuracy and contrast in comparison to most mid-range phones and even some flagships that cost a premium.

Of course, it still isn’t a match for the Pixel 2’s AI powered cameras or the iPhone X’s carefully engineered photo tech, but it’s still one of the best mid range shooters I’ve used at this price point.

Value

It’s hard to definitively define how much value the Xperia XA2 Ultra is – Sony has always priced its products a bit above the norm, and the XA2 Ultra is no exception. It’s priced similarly to upper mid-range phones like the Samsung A8 and A8+ (2018), but lacks a lot of the same upper mid-range features such as the AMOLED screen and IP58 water resistance which the Samsung has.

Even when placed next to other competitors in the same price range like the Oppo R11s, Vivo X21, Nokia 7 or Huawei P20 Lite, almost all of them have the advantage of a better chipset with the Snapdragon 660 – the Vivo X21 even coming in with a full AMOLED display (that also sports minimum bezels). Aside from the dual selfie shooters and 23MP rear camera, the XA2 Ultra doesn’t have a lot to offer when considering the contenders that it’s up against.   

Conclusion

I do value a good phablet, considering my penchant for large baggy jeans with huge pockets and massive grubby hands, and the XA2 Ultra came pretty close to what I’d call a really good experience. The large screen made watching Netflix pretty immersive and the selfie cameras and rear shooter did a good job of taking any shot I needed to take. The UI was minimal and close to stock Android 8.0, and it handled most tasks I threw at it without too much trouble. It even makes for a great experience in group selfie settings (or “wefies”, as the kids like to call it).

Would I use it as my daily driver though, given the option of any other phone as this price point? The short answer would probably be… No. I had a pleasant experience with this phone, no doubt. But the extra features other similarly priced phones had would be too much of a temptation for me to stick with the XA2 for long. Had I been more obsessed with selfies my answer may have changed, but Sony’s pricing model might need a thorough makeover if it really wants to enjoy the same successes the Xperia line once enjoyed back before the advent of smartphones. As it stands, I’d probably slap on another 200-300 ringgit and go for a OnePlus 5T instead, which would be way more bang for the buck overall.

 

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PROS

  • Decent rear and front cameras – 23MP on the back and dual 16MP and 8MP on the front
  • Has a huge and vibrant screen for an LCD
  • Battery life is stellar in most situations

CONS

  • It’s thick, even for a phablet
  • Bezels are unfashionably huge for a 2018 phone
  • Xperia UI, although improved still has some performance issues

Sony’s recent forays into the smartphone industry haven’t been all that successful. With a market share eclipsed by other phones which provide more or better for less, it’s been hard for them to achieve the sort of widespread appeal they’d once enjoyed with their older Xperia Walkman line. But of course, this hasn’t stopped Sony from trying anyway. And to be quite honest, their recent attempts – although still a little short of the mark – haven’t actually been too bad.

And if you have a thing for selfies (but also have big hands – which actually seems counterintuitive), then the XA2 Ultra might scratch the itch you never knew you had. Packing dual front lenses with a respectable 16MP + 8MP shooter combo, selfies look surprisingly great on this thing – it comes with the whole suite you’d expect to find on a full camera setup usually reserved for rear shooters on phones – image stabilization, flash and large megapixel counts.

The rest of the phone, although not quite as remarkable, also holds its own when it comes to functionality. In terms of value for money – though, the phone may end up falling short – especially when considering the price gap with budget phones that rock similar specs.

Pricing and Availability

Build and Design

Despite being released in 2018, the XA2 Ultra still retains most of Sony’s Loop design philosophy. It’s got a metal top chassis on top of plastic backing which curves around the back, and despite the mix of materials it didn’t feel cheap at all – actually feeling quite solid and sturdy while being held. This may have something to do with the hefty 221g of weight and my big hands – but people who like large phones may appreciate the heavier build quality.

It’s quite large too – as a point of reference, it’s about as big as my Seagate External HDD – albeit a bit longer. The bezels on the phone are just as thick, having to accommodate the full camera tech for the dual selfie shooters. It looks pretty out of place for 2018, but seeing as it’s a mid-range phone, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 octa-core
  • RAM: 4GB RAM
  • Storage: 64GB on-board, microSD expansion
  • Ports: USB-C Quick Charging (Qualcomm® Quick Charge™ 3.0)
  • Screen: 6″ full HD 1080p LCD
  • Weight: 221g
  • Size: 163x80x9.5mm; W x D x H
  • Cameras: 23MP, f/2.0 rear w/ PDAF, LED flash. Dual 16MP, f/2.0 + 8MP, f/2.4 front w/ OIS, PDAF, LED flash
  • Battery: 3580mAh non-removable
  • Operating System: Android 8.0 Oreo w/ Xperia UI

 

Performance

As one of the original Xperia users back in 2014, I can honestly say that the Xperia UI has come a long way. Back then my Xperia phone had the habit of slowing down after a mere 6 months of use due to the amount of bloatware that was stockpiled onto the internal memory.

The new Xperia UI – although still not really my thing in terms of style and general usability, seems a lot more pared back in comparison. I did experience minor hiccups here and there during usage, but the bloatware was minimal and the general experience was speedy. The big chassis of the phone also meant a bigger battery – the 3,580mAh cell was admirable and drained only 20% on standby after half a day of usage.

You’ll be pleased to know that since the XA2 ships with the Qualcomm 630 chipset, one of their newer mid range offerings, the phone does offer Quick Charging through its much appreciated inclusion of a USB-C port. Although you need to make sure to use a compatible charger for that.

As for the cameras itself, the XA2 Ultra probably has one of the best shooters for a phone in this price range. With a rear camera packing the full 23MP you’d usually see on pricier phones and equally impressive 16MP + 8MP combo on the front, it’s clear to see that Sony’s focus on camera quality has paid off. Despite it’s relatively lackluster night scene performance and some hiccups with the portrait mode, images taken with the cameras were clear, sharp, and had decent color accuracy and contrast in comparison to most mid-range phones and even some flagships that cost a premium.

Of course, it still isn’t a match for the Pixel 2’s AI powered cameras or the iPhone X’s carefully engineered photo tech, but it’s still one of the best mid range shooters I’ve used at this price point.

Value

It’s hard to definitively define how much value the Xperia XA2 Ultra is – Sony has always priced its products a bit above the norm, and the XA2 Ultra is no exception. It’s priced similarly to upper mid-range phones like the Samsung A8 and A8+ (2018), but lacks a lot of the same upper mid-range features such as the AMOLED screen and IP58 water resistance which the Samsung has.

Even when placed next to other competitors in the same price range like the Oppo R11s, Vivo X21, Nokia 7 or Huawei P20 Lite, almost all of them have the advantage of a better chipset with the Snapdragon 660 – the Vivo X21 even coming in with a full AMOLED display (that also sports minimum bezels). Aside from the dual selfie shooters and 23MP rear camera, the XA2 Ultra doesn’t have a lot to offer when considering the contenders that it’s up against.   

Conclusion

I do value a good phablet, considering my penchant for large baggy jeans with huge pockets and massive grubby hands, and the XA2 Ultra came pretty close to what I’d call a really good experience. The large screen made watching Netflix pretty immersive and the selfie cameras and rear shooter did a good job of taking any shot I needed to take. The UI was minimal and close to stock Android 8.0, and it handled most tasks I threw at it without too much trouble. It even makes for a great experience in group selfie settings (or “wefies”, as the kids like to call it).

Would I use it as my daily driver though, given the option of any other phone as this price point? The short answer would probably be… No. I had a pleasant experience with this phone, no doubt. But the extra features other similarly priced phones had would be too much of a temptation for me to stick with the XA2 for long. Had I been more obsessed with selfies my answer may have changed, but Sony’s pricing model might need a thorough makeover if it really wants to enjoy the same successes the Xperia line once enjoyed back before the advent of smartphones. As it stands, I’d probably slap on another 200-300 ringgit and go for a OnePlus 5T instead, which would be way more bang for the buck overall.

 

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