Reviews

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review: Geared up

Introduction

Sony’s love for big screens goes all the way back to 2013 and the 6.4″ Xperia Z Ultra, which was followed by a phablet in every generation since. Some four years later we have the Xperia XA1 Ultra at our doorstep, all 6 inches of it. And since we headed down memory lane, the Xperia T2 Ultra certainly deserves a mention too. While the Z Ultra packed some flagship-grade internals, the T2 Ultra was less obsessed with specs – and screen size for that matter, its display diagonal coming in at 6 inches sharp.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review

But it’s really the Xperia C3 that we’d call the XA1 Ultra’s spiritual ancestor, even if it was on the “small” side in phablet terms, a 5.5-incher with zero Ultra in its name. You see, the C3 sported a high-res selfie camera (5MP was pretty high at the time) that was among the first to have a flash. The C4 brought some improvements, but it wasn’t until the C5 that Ultra returned to the model name. The Xperia C5 Ultra added even more megapixels and autofocus to the front cam, putting a 6-inch screen in a slimmed down body.

The X-ifying of Sony’s smartphone lineup marked the next chapter in the XA1 Ultra’s past. Its predecessor was called the XA Ultra – X because they all were part of this series, A for midrange, and Ultra for, well, 6 inches. Yet another upgrade in the selfie camera department saw a hike in resolution (of course), but also the introduction of OIS – a checkmark on only a select few spec sheets. The flash went without saying.

So, there we are,today with the Xperia XA1 Ultra. The name we already broke down to bits, and there’s the 1 that signifies second generation in Sony’s twisted logic. There’s not much in terms of front-facing camera upgrades this time – a flagship-grade shooter goes on the back instead, the basics like RAM and storage are now more than just barely adequate, and an efficient 16nm Mediatek chipset will try to get better mileage out of the same measly battery capacity.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra key features

  • Body: Aluminum sides; plastic top, bottom, and back; scratch-resistant display glass (>9H pencil hardness).
  • Display: 6.0″ TFT LCD, 1,920×1,080px resolution, 367ppi.
  • Rear camera: 23MP Type 1/2.3″ sensor, f/2.0 aperture, 24mm-equiv. focal length; autofocus; single LED flash; 1080p/30fps video recording, SteadyShot EIS.
  • Front camera: 16MP Type 1/2.6″ sensor, f/2.0 aperture, 23mm-equiv. focal length; OIS, autofocus, single LED flash; 1080p/30fps video recording.
  • OS/Software: Android 7.0 Nougat.
  • Chipset: 16nm Mediatek Helio P20 – Octa-core CPU (4×2.3GHz Cortex-A53 + 4×1.6GHz Cortex-A53), Mali T-880MP2 GPU.
  • Memory: 4GB of RAM; 32GB of storage (64GB for G3226 version); microSD slot up to 256GB.
  • Battery: 2,700mAh Li-Ion (sealed); Mediatek Pump Express+ 2.0 fast charging.
  • Connectivity: Single-SIM (model names G3221/3223) and Dual-SIM (G3212/G3226) versions; Cat. 6 LTE (300Mbps/50Mbps); USB Type-C (v2.0); Wi-Fi a/b/g/n; GPS, GLONASS; NFC; Bluetooth 4.2.
  • Misc: single bottom-firing loudspeaker, 3.5mm jack, dedicated two-stage hardware shutter release button.

Main shortcomings

  • Smallish battery capacity
  • No stereo speakers on a phone that’s clearly targeted towards multimedia use
  • No fingerprint sensor

Sony only fits fingerprint sensors in its high-end phones (though the feature is disabled in the US), but the XA1 Ultra isn’t one of them. Fingerprint recognition has become more or less a given on even much cheaper devices, and its absence on the XA1 Ultra can’t go unnoticed. We’re also not massive fans of the top and bottom bezels that can almost be described with the same adjective.

The side bezels, on the other hand, are probably among the slimmest in Sony’s Xperia lineup. It’s bewildering why Sony wouldn’t trim them on its more expensive phones in a similar manner, but we’re sure they have their reasons.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra press images - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSony Xperia XA1 Ultra press images - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSony Xperia XA1 Ultra press images - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSony Xperia XA1 Ultra press images - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSony Xperia XA1 Ultra press images - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSony Xperia XA1 Ultra press images - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra press images

Ask us and you’d get a unanimous ‘more is better’ response when it comes to battery backup. Ask Sony and you’d be told that last year’s capacity is just fine. After spending time with the smaller Xperia XA1 (sans the ‘Ultra’), we’d be inclined to reconsider – the more advanced chipset sure helps, but brute force (a.k.a. larger battery) can’t hurt either, right?

Right, but let’s stay on track – before we get to the battery life, there’s unboxing and hardware overview to be done.

Unboxing

Sony’s retail boxes barely differ from one model to the next but the XA1 Ultra’s is special. As in larger. That’s it. There’s still a standard issue 5V/1.5A charger (so not really PumpExpress+ 2.0 capable), and a USB cable. There are no headphones in the box.

Just the basics in the box that we got - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Just the basics in the box that we got

Once again though, this may not necessarily apply to the retail bundle in all corners of the world. Sony likes to tailor its package contents to different markets and carriers, so check before you buy.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra 360-degree spin

The Xperia XA1 Ultra measures 165 x 79 x 8.1mm, so it’s a millimeter taller than the XA Ultra, but also 0.3mm thinner while keeping battery capacity unchanged. More importantly though, the new model is 14g lighter and it tips the scales at 188g.

Six-inches is not an overly popularr screen size, but we’ve reviewed a few models with this diagonal already. The Oppo F3 Plus, for example, measures 163.6 x 80.8 x 7.4mm and weighs 185mm, while the Galaxy C9 Pro measures 162.9 x 80.7 x 6.9mm and weighs 189g. So for a phone of this display size, the Xperia XA1 Ultra is about right with points to be had for the almost 2mm less in width.

Hardware overview

Now, here’s a phone we’ve seen before. The Xperia XA1 Ultra is practically the XA1, only larger. Strictly speaking, it’s not exactly a straight-up ‘multiply everything by a factor of 1.2’ type of upscaling. The XA1 Ultra actually fares a little better in screen to body ratio – the display of the Ultra is 22mm taller, while the difference in physical height between the two is just 20mm more. So not only are the bezels not proportionally larger, they’re actually slimmer.

The Ultra’s forehead does also have a prominent selfie camera staring at you, compared to the XA1’s more incognito shooter. The front flash that’s been a staple of the lineup since the Xperia C3 is also hard to miss. The smaller model doesn’t have that, it’s an Ultra feature.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review

Other than those peculiarities, the Ultra’s top bezel arrangement is similar to the one on the non-Ultra – an earpiece, camera on its left, ambient light/proximity sensors to the right. There’s also a notification LED in the top left corner.

You won’t find anything under the display even if the cutout at the bottom would have you think otherwise – it’s not a speaker, the XA1 Ultra doesn’t have stereo speakers. That’s a bummer, really, as a phone of such proportions is clearly built with multimedia in mind.

A lot of screen, bezels in check - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewBottom one disappears - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewFamiliar arrangement at the top - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewNothing at the bottom - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
A lot of screen, bezels in check • Bottom one disappears • Familiar arrangement at the top • Nothing here

Even before Sony went all Xperia X with its smartphone lineup, the C5 Ultra was already a head-turner if minimal side bezels were your thing. That didn’t change with the XA Ultra, and it doesn’t change now either. In Sony’s world that makes the XA1 Ultra the champ in fitting the most screen in the smallest footprint.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review

The sides are made of aluminum, and that’s probably part of the reason they could be kept so thin. They also provide adequate grip for you to handle the device securely. The loop surface design where the front flows through the sides into the back is realized with a different set of materials on the XA1 Ultra (and the XA1 proper) compared to the XZ Premium – it’s aluminum sides/plastic back here, compared to the Premium’s nylon sides/glass back. It does achieve a similar effect more or less.

In the hand - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewIn the hand - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
In the hand

The XZ Premium has aluminum on its top and bottom, but that would have been too much metal for a mere mortal like the XA1 Ultra – the top and bottom plates are plastic here.

You’ll find the USB-C port centered on the bottom, the loudspeaker to its right. Up top, there’s the 3.5mm headphone jack and a secondary mic.

 - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
USB-C port and loudspeaker • the only loudspeaker • 3.5mm jack and secondary mic up top

In what is a common Sony practice, all controls are on the right side of the phone. The power button is a centimeter above the midpoint and it’s the old circular knob from the OmniBalance days – there is no fingerprint reader here. Above it is the volume rocker, which is a convenient location. Towards the bottom is the two-stage shutter button, which can also double as a camera shortcut.

On the left side is the card compartment – the SIM card has its own tray, which you need to take out to access the microSD slot. The memory card clicks into a push-to-insert, push-to-eject kind of slot but by the time you get to it, the phone will restart because you’ve taken the SIM card out.

OmniBalance throwback - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe buttons click nicely - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewCard tray on the left - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewCard tray on the left - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
OmniBalance throwback • The buttons click nicely • Card tray on the left

The XA1 Ultra may be a different kind of smudge-magnet next to the Premium, but it still is one – the midranger is a little better at concealing the grease on its back, but it’s also not quite as easy to wipe clean. Oh, well.

The matte black rear panel is tough to keep clean - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe camera is in its customary position in the top left corner. - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
The matte black rear panel is tough to keep clean • Camera in its customary position in the top left corner.

You’d be looking at the display and not the back, so let’s see how that performs in our tests on the next page.

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 reviewEngage at... - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewUltra Stamina - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewAvailable apps - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewHomescreen - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Stamina modes • Engage at… • Ultra Stamina • Available apps • Homescreen

Android 7.0 with a select few Xperia bits

Non-flagship Xperias of the day are running Android 7.0 Nougat at launch – such was the case with the XA1, and the Ultra is the same. In this sense, if we were to be picky, we’d have to say that the 6-inch phablet is not as up-to-date as the XZs and its v7.1.1. You’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference, though, as Sony’s customizations are both very light and consistent between devices and OS versions. The big things, like the proprietary Stamina battery saving modes and the home-baked multimedia apps, are all available here too.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review

In the absense of a fingerprint sensor, it’s Smart Lock that you can turn to for some conditional security – trusted nearby devices, locations, faces, or voices can allow you to skip the security unlock protocol that you may have set up on the phone.

Lockscreen - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewA notification - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewClock styles - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSmart lock with face detection - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSmart lock with face detection - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Lockscreen • A notification • Clock styles • Smart lock with face detection

The homescreen appears unchanged from the rest of the X series. This includes the swipe down gesture: it shows a screen of the apps you use the most, along with recommendations for new apps to install. The search field is highlighted so that you can start typing the app’s name immediately.

Homescreen - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewHomescreen - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewApp search and suggestions - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewFolder view - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewHomescreen settings - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Homescreen • Homescreen • App search and suggestions • Folder view • Homescreen settings

The traditional app drawer is present, and you’ll find a number of proprietary apps pre-installed. Sony takes great pride in the A/V prowess of their devices, and the multimedia apps are all custom and feature-rich, but more on them in their dedicated chapter.

The app drawer is quite functional as well, letting you sort the apps by frequency of use, name, date installed or a custom arrangement. The app search works here too, and you can go into a management state, allowing you to uninstall multiple apps instead of having to drag each one to a virtual waste bin.

App drawer - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSorting options - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewApp management - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewApp search - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
App drawer • Sorting options • App management • App search

Themes are available (both free and paid) that can customize the look and sound of the Xperia XA1 Ultra. Some themes are even interactive, with their wallpapers reacting to your touches.

Xperia themes - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewPlenty available to download - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewToucan theme - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewToucan theme - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewToucan theme - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Xperia themes • Plenty available to download • Toucan theme

The notification area is plain Android. You can re-arrange the quick toggle tiles and adjust the screen brightness. What’s missing is a toggle for Auto brightness (you need to go into the settings for that). It’s the way stock Android is set up, but we’ve always missed that option and we’re always relying on custom UIs to enable it.

The app switcher is similarly a vanilla Android affair, with the 3D rolodex look and a Close-All button. The native Nougat multi-window is present – in Sony’s implementation if a running app supports split screen, you will be able to snap it at the top or bottom of the screen right from the rolodex. It’s easy to use the split screen mode, but there is no way of knowing which app supports it – you have to start it first and then try to snap it to see. It’s also a 50/50 split always, you can’t resize the windows – it sure would have been handy on this massive 6-incher.

No-nonsense task switcher - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSplit screen apps - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewNotification area is vanilla Android - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewNo auto brightness toggle - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewNo auto brightness toggle - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
No-nonsense task switcher • Split screen apps • Notification area is vanilla Android • No auto brightness toggle

The Smart cleaner feature will periodically empty the cache of apps you haven’t used in a while. You can switch this off, or just manually tell it not to bother with certain apps.

Smart cleaner frees up memory of both kinds - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSmart cleaner frees up memory of both kinds - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSmart cleaner frees up memory of both kinds - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSmart cleaner frees up memory of both kinds - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Smart cleaner frees up memory of both kinds

Sony ships its latest Xperias with a proprietary backup solution built-in. It can backup applications, contacts, messages, and phone settings. The backup info itself can be stored in the cloud under your Sony online account, or locally on the microSD card or an external USB device. Backups can be scheduled, including conditions like “Connected to Wi-Fi” and “Charging device”, depending on your preferences.

Scheduled backups are the best way to prevent data loss - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewScheduled backups are the best way to prevent data loss - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewScheduled backups are the best way to prevent data loss - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewScheduled backups are the best way to prevent data loss - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Scheduled backups are the best way to prevent data loss

There’s a one-handed mode for those occasions when you can’t be bothered to use both limbs. It needs to be enabled in settings and is then evoked by a diagonal swipe from one of the bottom corners. You can then resize the window, and even move it up and down, though sending it all the way to the top feels like defeating the purpose – or is it just us?

One-handed mode - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewOne-handed mode - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewOne-handed mode - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewOne-handed mode - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewOne-handed mode - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
One-handed mode

Synthetic benchmarks

The Xperia XA1 Ultra has the Helio P20 chipset as its heart – a midrange offering from Mediatek based on two quad-core Cortex-A53 clusters in a big.LITTLE configuration – 4×2.3Ghz + 4×1.6GHz.

Midrange Mediatek chipsets have been getting a bad rep in the past couple of years for not being quite energy efficient. The best bit about the new Helio P20 is that unlike any of the company’s other chipsets, this one is built on a 16nm fabrication process. Compare that to the 28nm used for the Helio P10 for instance and you’ll know that the new chipset should really offer better power efficiency, less heat and why not better performance than the previous gen.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review

Indeed, that was our experience with the 5-inch Xperia XA1, and we expected a similar showing from the Ultra. The caveat with the big one is that it’s got a FullHD display, as opposed to the XA1’s 720p unit – a drop in graphics frame rates was to be expected.

But first things first – we start off with GeekBench to get a feel for CPU performance. Unsurprisingly, the XA1 Ultra posts similar numbers to its smaller bro in this benchmark, particularly in the multi-core test. The Ultra has a slight advantage over the non-Ultra in single-core, but it’s not a night-and-day difference.

The Snapdragon 625 matches the Helio P20 near perfectly in single-core performance – look at the results posted by the Huawei nova plus, vivo V5 Plus, or the Redmi Note 4.

In multi-core applications, however, the Helio P20 has an advantage, hence the XA1 Ultra outperforms the competition. A Snapdragon 652, on the other hand, is a much more powerful affair in both single-core and multi-core benchmarks. It’s represented here by the Galaxy C9 Pro. But that chipset comes from a higher performance tier than the Snapdragon 625 as its name suggests.

GeekBench 4 (single-core)

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 3T
    1890
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    1815
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    1546
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    1440
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    862
  • vivo V5 Plus
    846
  • Huawei nova plus
    843
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    832
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    800
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    795
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    776
  • Lenovo Moto M
    771
  • Nokia 6 (Chinese version)
    638

GeekBench 4 (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    4456
  • OnePlus 3T
    4364
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    4333
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    4102
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    3976
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    3610
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    3554
  • vivo V5 Plus
    3136
  • Huawei nova plus
    3100
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    3011
  • Lenovo Moto M
    2921
  • Nokia 6 (Chinese version)
    2719
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    2621

For an assessment of the overall performance, not just the CPU, we turn to Basemark OS II 2.0. The XA1 Ultra underdelivers here, posting lower numbers than the XA1, and we gather it’s the higher resolution to blame. The Snapdragon 625s of this world are scattered pretty wide with the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 ranked lower than the XA1 Ultra, but the Huawei nova plus comes out ahead of the Sony phablet.

Basemark OS 2.0

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 3T
    2678
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    2434
  • Oppo F3 Plus
    1890
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    1770
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    1728
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    1351
  • Huawei nova plus
    1215
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    1163
  • vivo V5 Plus
    1107
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    1050
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    1031
  • Sony Xperia XA Ultra
    987
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    497

According to Antutu 6, the Snapdragon 625s and the Helio P20s are quite on par with each other in terms of overall performance. That’s also true for the 14nm Exynos 7880 (represented here by the Galaxy A7 2017), which scores closely to the other energy-efficient chipsets.

AnTuTu 6

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 3T
    165097
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    155185
  • Oppo F3 Plus
    91458
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    85181
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    85162
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    64983
  • Huawei nova plus
    64680
  • vivo V5 Plus
    63812
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    62217
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    61616
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    60767
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    60707
  • Lenovo Moto M
    51831
  • Sony Xperia XA Ultra
    50109
  • Nokia 6 (Chinese version)
    44062

Let’s move on to graphics benchmarks. Looking at the frame rates in GFX Bench offscreen tests (rendered at 1080p regardless of actual display resolution) – there’s hardly anything to split the S625s and the Helio P20s, but the Exynos 7880 has more oomph and this gives the Galaxy A7 (2017) an edge.

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 3T
    49
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    44
  • Oppo F3 Plus
    17
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    17
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    15
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    14
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    9.9
  • Huawei nova plus
    9.9
  • vivo V5 Plus
    9.9
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    9.8
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    9.6
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    9.6
  • Sony Xperia XA Ultra
    7.2
  • Nokia 6 (Chinese version)
    7.2
  • Lenovo Moto M
    7.1

GFX 3.1 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 3T
    33
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    30
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    11
  • Oppo F3 Plus
    10
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    9.5
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    9.1
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    6.2
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    6.2
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    6.2
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    6.2
  • Huawei nova plus
    6.2
  • vivo V5 Plus
    6.2
  • Lenovo Moto M
    4.7
  • Sony Xperia XA Ultra
    4.7
  • Nokia 6 (Chinese version)
    4.6

GFX 3.1 Car scene (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 3T
    20
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    18
  • Oppo F3 Plus
    6
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    5.8
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    5.4
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    5.2
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    3.7
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    3.7
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    3.4
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    3.4
  • Huawei nova plus
    3.4
  • vivo V5 Plus
    3.4
  • Lenovo Moto M
    2.5
  • Sony Xperia XA Ultra
    2.5
  • Nokia 6 (Chinese version)
    2.5

Since most of these phones feature 1080p displays, there’s not much of a difference between offscreen and onscreen results. However, the 720p XA1 manages practically double the frame rates of the Ultra in all three tests. That said, the Ultra’s scores are perfectly in line with what other phones in its class are capable of, save for the Galaxy A7 (2017), which has a notable advantage.

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 3T
    48
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    47
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    19
  • Oppo F3 Plus
    17
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    17
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    15
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    15
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    10
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    10
  • Huawei nova plus
    10
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    9.7
  • vivo V5 Plus
    9.7
  • Lenovo Moto M
    7.6
  • Sony Xperia XA Ultra
    7.5
  • Nokia 6 (Chinese version)
    7

GFX 3.1 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 3T
    33
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    32
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    15
  • Oppo F3 Plus
    11
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    11
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    9.4
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    9
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    6.7
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    6.7
  • Huawei nova plus
    6.6
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    6.2
  • vivo V5 Plus
    6.1
  • Lenovo Moto M
    5.2
  • Sony Xperia XA Ultra
    5.1
  • Nokia 6 (Chinese version)
    4.6

GFX 3.1 Car scene (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 3T
    20
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    19
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    7.9
  • Oppo F3 Plus
    6
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    5.8
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    5.4
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    5.2
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    4
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    3.7
  • Huawei nova plus
    3.7
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    3.4
  • vivo V5 Plus
    3.4
  • Lenovo Moto M
    2.7
  • Sony Xperia XA Ultra
    2.7
  • Nokia 6 (Chinese version)
    2.5

Basemark X puts a tiny bit more separation between the S625 and the P20 – the XA1 and XA1 Ultra are trailing the Qualcomm bunch. The Exynos 7880 is again out of reach, using the Galaxy A7 (2017) in our comparison.

Basemark X

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 3T
    36958
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    36062
  • Oppo F3 Plus
    16695
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    15814
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    14619
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    13666
  • vivo V5 Plus
    10542
  • Huawei nova plus
    10524
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)
    10446
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    10401
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    9714
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    9598
  • Nokia 6 (Chinese version)
    7522
  • Sony Xperia XA Ultra
    6754
  • Lenovo Moto M
    6732

It’s the exact opposite in Basemark ES 3.1, at least as far as the S625-P20 feud is concerned. The Mediatek chip posts substantially higher scores than the Snapdragon, even if the two seemed more evenly matched in the OpenGL 3.1 parts of GFX Bench. Once again, the Exynos-powered Galaxy A7 (2017) is a notch closer to the devices packing upper-tier chips.

Basemark ES 3.1 / Metal

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 3T
    641
  • Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
    538
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)
    287
  • Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro
    261
  • Oppo F3 Plus
    261
  • Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
    229
  • Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
    192
  • Sony Xperia XA1
    191
  • Huawei nova plus
    138
  • vivo V5 Plus
    138
  • Motorola Moto Z Play
    138
  • Sony Xperia XA Ultra
    131

In a single sentence – the Xperia XA1 Ultra is a dependable performer, putting out benchmark results in the ballpark of competitors’ numbers. The GPU of the Helio P20 chips is better suited to the 720p Xperia XA1, but in fairness none of the FullHD rivals in the Ultra’s class have a lot going for them in this respect either. Well, except maybe the Galaxy A7 (2017).

Telephony

The Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra we have for review is the single SIM version (G3221). Dual SIM versions are also available in some markets.

The list of favorites, the call log and the contacts are all tabs within the same app, and the dialer is summoned with a tap on a button. The call log can be filtered by missed, incoming and outgoing calls. Smart dial is supported too.

Dialer with smart dial - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewIn-call screen - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewCall log - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewPhonebook - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewFavorites - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Dialer with smart dial • In-call screen • Call log • Phonebook • Favorites

Loudspeaker

Even if the two slits, top and bottom, on the Xperia XA1 Ultra hint at a stereo speaker setup, the phone actually packs just a single bottom-firing driver. It is, however, plenty loud, unlike the XA1, but it still falls slightly behind the XA Ultra from last year. Even so, the flagship XZ Premium with its pair of speakers has nothing on the Ultra in terms of sheer loudness.

Speakerphone test Voice, dB Pink noise/ Music, dB Ringing phone, dB Overall score
Sony Xperia XA 61.6 66.2 68.3 Below Average
Sony Xperia XZ Premium 62.9 65.2 71.6 Below Average
Sony Xperia XZs 62.4 65.5 73.3 Average
Sony Xperia XA1 61.7 69.7 71.8 Average
Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus 65.0 68.2 70.8 Average
OnePlus 3T 61.0 69.3 78.3 Good
Moto M 64.5 72.9 72.0 Good
Moto Z Play 62.9 70.3 77.0 Good
Huawei nova plus 68.3 68.0 76.9 Good
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) 66.6 66.1 81.5 Good
Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625) 67.3 70.3 81.5 Very Good
vivo V5 Plus 65.8 73.5 80.8 Very Good
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra 68.3 71.6 81.0 Very Good
Honor 8 Pro 64.0 71.4 87.8 Very Good
Google Pixel XL 73.4 72.1 84.1 Excellent
Huawei Mate 9 83.1 74.5 85.0 Excellent
Sony Xperia XA Ultra 88.9 79.3 82.7 Excellent

Text input

For text entry, Sony has been sticking with the SwiftKey keyboard for a while now. It’s touted as having one of the best prediction algorithms and offers pretty much everything: multiple layouts and themes, 5 different sizes, undocking, secondary symbols upon long press, swipe input, and emojis.

Swiftkey keyboard is the default text input method - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSwiftkey keyboard is the default text input method - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSwiftkey keyboard is the default text input method - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSwiftkey keyboard is the default text input method - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSwiftkey keyboard is the default text input method - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Swiftkey keyboard is the default text input method

Other apps

The News app is a news aggregator, pulling stories from sources on topics of your choice. It can also issue two daily bulletins for you at a time you specify, so you don’t miss out on current events.

News - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewNews - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewNews - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
News

Xperia lounge is Sony’s own entertainment app, feeding you exclusive content and competitions related to music, movies and games.

Xperia Lounge - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewXperia Lounge - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewXperia Lounge - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Xperia Lounge

There is a file manager, strictly speaking, but it’s buried in the storage options in the Settings menu. It does allow basic copy and move actions, on multiple items too. However, you can’t access it from the app drawer, all you get there is a shortcut to a downloads folder.

Sony’s health-tracking app Lifelog doesn’t come pre-installed, though all it takes to download it is a trip to the Play Store.

Sony’s great Album is on the Ultra as well

The Album app that handles image viewing on the Xperia XA1 Ultra is among the most comprehensive and feature-rich gallery apps we’ve seen, and it’s fast and easy to use.

At the very top of the list is a slideshow, showing off your photos. Lower down, the first photo of each month is shown at twice the size of other images.

Photos are organized by month, and you can use pinch-zoom to change the size of thumbnails (then they smoothly animate into the grid).

The Album app is beautiful and functional - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe Album app is beautiful and functional - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe Album app is beautiful and functional - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe Album app is beautiful and functional - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe Album app is beautiful and functional - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
The Album app is beautiful and functional

You can also browse photos on a map (you can manually add geotag info too) or by folder. This includes network storage so that you can view photos from a DLNA server (your home computer, for one). Then there’s integration with online albums – Facebook, Flickr, and Google Photos (someone should tell Sony engineers this is no longer called Picasa).

Image editing is handled by several apps, including the default Image Editor, Sketch and Sticker creator (so you can create your own custom stickers to send to your friends).

Viewing an image - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe image editor is quite powerful - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe image editor is quite powerful - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe image editor is quite powerful - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Viewing an image • The image editor is quite powerful

Sketch lets you fingerpaint over a photo or a paper-like texture, add text, stickers, photos and so on. If you’re talented, (the below screenshot reveals our mediocrity), you can share your creations on the Sketch mini-social network. We stuck with just browsing through what others drew.

Sketch is a fun image editor with a mini social network for sharing art - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSketch is a fun image editor with a mini social network for sharing art - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSketch is a fun image editor with a mini social network for sharing art - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSketch is a fun image editor with a mini social network for sharing art - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Sketch is a fun image editor with a mini social network for sharing art

Movie Creator is similar to the Google Photos Assistant. It automatically creates short videos from the photos and videos you’ve shot. You can do it manually too: pick photos and videos, change their order, and add color effects and music (you get a small audio collection to start off with, but you can use custom files too). Then tap the Share button and send out your animated slideshow.

The Movie Creator can automatically or manually make shareable slideshows - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe Movie Creator can automatically or manually make shareable slideshows - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe Movie Creator can automatically or manually make shareable slideshows - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe Movie Creator can automatically or manually make shareable slideshows - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewThe Movie Creator can automatically or manually make shareable slideshows - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
The Movie Creator can automatically or manually make shareable slideshows

Music app

The Music app is Sony’s custom player that comes pre-installed on the XA1 Ultra, and it feels like part of the same software package. The contextual side menu offers many of the same browsing options – by folder, network folder, and online services like Spotify (it’s just a link to the Spotify app though). You can share music from the phone to compatible players.

Music app - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewMusic app - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewMusic app - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewMusic app - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewMusic app - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Music app

The app can find the track’s video on YouTube, look up info about the artist on Wikipedia, and search for lyrics on Google.

The Music app offers a variety of audio settings – ClearAudio+ determines the best audio quality settings depending on the track you’re listening to. Then there’s DSEE HX, which uses an almost wizardly algorithm that is supposed to restore or rather extrapolate compressed music files, like MP3s into high-res audio. According to Sony, the result is near Hi-Res Audio Quality, but it only works with wired headphones. It also helps with streaming audio but not Spotify.

Dynamic normalizer evens out the volume differences across tracks, which is great if you’ve mixed multiple albums from multiple sources.

Audio settings[NO MENTION OF THE MODEL NAME AT ALL? LET'S SPRINKLE IT HERE AND THERE.] - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewAudio settings[NO MENTION OF THE MODEL NAME AT ALL? LET'S SPRINKLE IT HERE AND THERE.] - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewAudio settings[NO MENTION OF THE MODEL NAME AT ALL? LET'S SPRINKLE IT HERE AND THERE.] - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewAudio settings[NO MENTION OF THE MODEL NAME AT ALL? LET'S SPRINKLE IT HERE AND THERE.] - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Audio settings[NO MENTION OF THE MODEL NAME AT ALL? LET’S SPRINKLE IT HERE AND THERE.]

FM Radio with TrackID

The Xperia XA1 Ultra comes with an FM radio receiver and an app to go with it – and Sony’s is probably the best one we’ve seen. It has nice visuals, pulls the stations’ names over RDS, and you can pick favorites. You can also assign colors to group the stations – say blue for news, yellow for rock music, or purple for house stations.

TrackID doesn’t come pre-installed for some odd reason, but it’s such a perfect fit for the FM radio, that we downloaded it anyway. TrackID is Sony’s trusted song identification software which has since evolved way past simple recognition. It can now show you music charts by country, give you live updates on recent searches across the world, and store your search history as well.

FM radio - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewFM radio - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewTrackID - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewTrackID - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewTrackID - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
FM radio • TrackID

Video

Named simply Video, the app does little than what it says on the tin. It can play your local videos and videos on your home network, plus it has extensive subtitle settings. Unfortunately, the TV guide functionality has been removed (pretty much since yesterday – they pulled the plug on May 30).

Video player - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewVideo player - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewVideo player - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewVideo player - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Video player

Impressively loud audio

When plugged into an active external amplifier, the Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra truly impressed us. It delivered the excellent clarity we’ve come to expect from smartphones these days, but its loudness was higher than anything we’ve tested for years now.

Sadly, plugging in a pair of headphones did some noticeable damage to the output with the stereo separation and the frequency response suffering a moderate amount and some distortion creeping in. It’s certainly not a poor showing and considering the volume levels, which were again impressive, we’d actually call it good, but with that kind of a start, we were really hoping for perfect in both tested use cases.

Test Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD IMD + Noise Stereo crosstalk
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra +0.02, -0.18 -93.9 94.0 0.0053 0.0089 -91.3
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra (headphones attached) +0.65, -0.18 -93.2 93.3 0.176 0.485 -51.9
Oppo F3 Plus +0.03, -0.01 -93.5 93.3 0.0010 0.0066 -92.0
Oppo F3 Plus (headphones attached) +0.55, -0.02 -92.4 92.5 0.0090 0.315 -58.1
Huawei Honor 8 Pro +0.04, -0.01 -93.3 95.0 0.0018 0.0075 -93.3
Huawei Honor 8 Pro (headphones attached) +0.15, -0.02 -92.6 94.2 0.0023 0.100 -63.9
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) +0.05, -0.28 -91.9 92.2 0.0037 0.051 -90.3
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) (headphones attached) +0.18, -0.05 -91.0 91.6 0.019 0.230 -57.9
OnePlus 3T +0.03, -0.01 -94.3 94.3 0.0034 0.0063 -93.4
OnePlus 3T (headphones attached) +0.53, -0.30 -92.9 93.0 0.017 0.434 -49.7

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra frequency response
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra frequency response

You can learn more about the tested parameters and the whole testing process here.

23MP in 4:3, or 20MP in 16:9 – multi-aspect IMX300 on board

The Xperia XA1 Ultra, just like its smaller stablemate XA1, is equipped with a 23MP camera on its back, and not just any 23MP camera. The in-house IMX300 sensor sits behind a 24mm-equiv. f/2.0 aperture lens, a setup we’re quite familiar with.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review

Sony flagships have relied on the same sensor and lens combo since its debut on the Xperia Z5 series, all the way up to the Xperia XZ. Now the IMX300 has been retired in favor of a new 19MP imager. Or, should we say, the IMX300 is now relegated to Sony’s mid-tier devices, represented here by the XA1 Ultra.

Depending on whether you shoot in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio, different portions of the sensor are used; you get either 22.8MP or 20.1MP images, respectively, and never the full 24.8MP. Hence the official 23MP designation. Among the benefits of having such a multi-aspect sensor are the similar field of view in both modes (measured diagonally), and higher-res 16:9 shots than what you’d get by cropping from a regular 23MP sensor which has a 4:3 aspect ratio.

You can read more about the IMX300 it in our dedicated article, which we published back when the Z5 came out (when the sensor’s designation wasn’t official, strictly speaking).

The Xperia XA1 Ultra doesn’t get the laser autofocusing and the RGBC-IR sensor that came with the same 23MP image sensor on the Xperia XZ and X Compact – there’s only so many niceties allowed on this mid-range phone. Then again, they weren’t game changers on those models, so their absence here is no big deal.

Camera interface

Sony’s camera UI has been polished over the years, and the Xperia XA1 Ultra comes with the latest iteration. You change modes by swiping up and down (or left and right, if you’re holding it in portrait). A swipe will also let you switch to the selfie camera single-handedly.

Speaking of modes, Superior Auto will probably be the main mode you use, and the 23MP resolution is available here as well, unlike the Xperias of old that limited it to 8MP.

Superior Auto will try to adjust image parameters to better match the scene by recognizing among some two dozen different scenarios. It can also engage HDR for you (Backlit scene it’s called), which isn’t available as a toggle in this mode – it’s only found in Manual mode.

Camera UI - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewCamera UI - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewCamera UI - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Camera UI

Other than HDR override, in Manual mode you get access to full range shutter speed selection (1/4000s – 1s), exposure compensation, white balance, and a manual focus slider. The ISO setting (50-3200) is still tucked away in an extra settings menu, though, and you can select sensitivity OR shutter speed, but not both at the same time.

Manual mode - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewManual mode - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewManual mode - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Manual mode

Image quality

The 23MP IMX300 Sony sensor was behind the flagship cameras of the Xperia Z5 and X series, but the samples we got from those devices failed to impress us. Sure, they were good, getting better with each new smartphone, but the corner softness was the most notable disappointment, and sometimes the over-sharpening was getting in the way. Our experience with the XA1 non-Ultra showed us that much more likable results were possible from the same sensor, so we were keen to examine the Ultra’s output.

Only, we were in for an unpleasant surprise. The XA1 Ultra produced images with a strong green cast across multiple shooting scenarios, reliably missing the white balance by a huge margin. Before we go any further, though, let’s just say we’re attributing this to a faulty unit – we can’t imagine Sony’s used a different setup between the XA1 and the XA1 Ultra, and it only makes sense that we received a bad review unit. Surprisingly, color saturation is noticeably higher than what we’re used to seeing by other Sony phones so this may be related in some way but we can’t be sure.

Colors aside, the Xperia XA1 Ultra resolves a ton of detail (as does the XA1, duh!), and noise isn’t an issue in daylight. The images are sharp, sometimes sharpened beyond what we like, but we found very few over-sharpening artifacts on the samples if any. The dynamic range is wide and even if the Super Auto fails to recognize the scene as Backlit, you would still get a great sample.

Sony has indeed put some work on improving its post-processing algorithms, but we also suspect the XA1 Ultra uses improved lens setup as well. The annoying corner softness of the past is down to some very tolerable levels with this implementation.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra 23MP camera samples - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/1188s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSony Xperia XA1 Ultra 23MP camera samples - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/978s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSony Xperia XA1 Ultra 23MP camera samples - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/2770s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra 23MP camera samples - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/978s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSony Xperia XA1 Ultra 23MP camera samples - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/978s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSony Xperia XA1 Ultra 23MP camera samples - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/1779s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra 23MP camera samples - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/1835s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSony Xperia XA1 Ultra 23MP camera samples - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/33s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSony Xperia XA1 Ultra 23MP camera samples - f/2.0, ISO 320, 1/33s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra 23MP camera samples

We also noticed some barrel distortion that weren’t straightened out by the algorithm. Such distortion is quite expected with a lens that wide (24mm), but it should be easily correctable in-camera and yet Sony has failed to fix this here.

HDR

While Superior Auto would occasionally activate the HDR mode (Backlit scene), if you really want to force it, you’d have to go to Manual mode and select HDR from Settings. The HDR mode brought back more detail in the shadows, while it prevented the highlights from clipping. There is less resolved detail in the HDR images, though, especially in the foliage, while the colors turned were often over-saturated. Note these happen only in the manual HDR mode, the Superior Auto is much better in getting the right settings for a Backlit scene.

HDR: Superior Auto Backlit - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/2976s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewHDR: Manual, HDR Off - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/2625s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewHDR: Manual, HDR On - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/2770s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
HDR: Superior Auto Backlit • Manual, HDR Off • Manual, HDR On

Panorama

Sony has seriously increased the panorama resolution since the Xperia XZs smartphones – up to 4000px vertically, while the previous phones were only capable of panoramic images that are up to 1000px in height. Also, you can stop the panorama at any time you like, while older phones used to get confused if you don’t do the full 360° (which was a minor thing, but annoying all the same). While the quality isn’t on par with the still images, there is enough detail, wide dynamic range, and very good stitching. It’s certainly an improvement over the panoramas last year’s Sony phones were taking.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra panorama sample - null, ISO 48, 1/2500s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra panorama sample

Selfies

The XA1 Ultra has one major difference in hardware, when compared to the 5-inch XA1 – a 16MP selfie shooter with an LED flash replaces the 8MP unit we saw on the XA1. The setup is a direct reuse of the one found in last year’s XA Ultra, and that’s no bad thing.

Expect highly detailed selfies with excellent detail, good dynamic range and true-to-life colors. Plus the 16:9 native aspect promises to fit more of your friends in the frame, though the lens isn’t too wide itself.

Selfie samples - f/2.0, ISO 200, 1/33s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSelfie samples - f/2.0, ISO 250, 1/33s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSelfie samples - f/2.0, ISO 125, 1/100s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Selfie samples

The front-facing flash lends the XA1 Ultra some exclusivity, but it’s not strictly a gamechanger. It will help you in absolute darkness, there’s no denying that, it’s just that it won’t produce miracles. Check the images below – first one’s with the fluorescent lights on, for the next one, we killed them, and the third shot is with the flash.

Selfie samples, indoors: Well lit - f/2.0, ISO 250, 1/33s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSelfie samples, indoors: Dim lighting - f/2.0, ISO 800, 1/11s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra reviewSelfie samples, indoors: Flash on - f/2.0, ISO 400, 1/15s - Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review
Selfie samples, indoors: Well lit • Dim lighting • Flash on

A quick word of warning – the skin-softening effects are always on in Superior Auto mode so if you don’t like your skin processed, you’d better switch to Manual mode for your selfies (you don’t need to tinker with any of the other settings despite what the name of the mode would suggest).

Picture Compare Tool

Feel free to check how the Xperia XA1 Ultra stacks against the Xperia XA Ultra (the old one) and the Galaxy A7 (2017) in our Photo Compare Tool. You can, of course, pick another set of competitors among the wide selection of devices we’ve tested over the years.

Photo Compare ToolPhoto Compare ToolPhoto Compare Tool
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra vs. Xperia XZ vs. Xperia X Performance in our photo compare tool

Video quality

The Xperia XA1 Ultra tops out at 1080p/30fps when recording video, but we’ve seen Sony consistently keep 4K to its higher-end phones so that’s not a surprise. Truth be told, in this particular case, the Mediatek chipset is not capable of 4K video recording anyway (unlike the similarly midrange Snapdragon 625 chipset).

You also have the option for capturing the 1080p clips in HDR, but that won’t get you a quality improvement.

The standard 1080p/30fps mode is encoded at about 17Mbps, which is the defacto standard. Audio is recorded in stereo at 128Kbps.

The video samples are soft and lacking in detail ioon contrast to the main camera. Contrast is high and the framerate is smooth, but otherwise the recorded videos are far from good.

You can also download a 1080p@30fps (10s, 22MB) video sample taken straight off the XA1 Ultra.

As usual, the final step would be to examine the phone’s video output in our video comparison tool. We’ve pre-selected the XA Ultra from last year and the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017), but you can go ahead and pick your own set for comparisons.

Video Compare ToolVideo Compare ToolVideo Compare Tool
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra vs. Xperia XA vs Xperia X in our video compare tool: 1080p

Final words

Six-inchers are few and far between. They are far from the established sweet spot for screen size in most markets. We’ve definitely seen the segment pick up in the last year across various manufacturers portfolios but the fact remains that phones this big remain a niche product for now. Regardless of how tastes evolve, it is always a good time for us when a Sony Xperia Ultra comes our way.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra review

And the Ultra moniker doesn’t make any promises the phablet can’t keep – the 6-inch display doesn’t fear any test and posts respectable numbers across the board. And it’s the proper aspect for the day, for you YouTube buffs. If only there were speakers at its both ends.

Huge screen, tiny battery – poor endurance? Not really. While the overall rating is just okay, the results in the individual tests with real on-screen time are more than encouraging. And about 13 hours on a voice call should be enough for the occasional meet-up arrangement if you’re not one to text. Calls aside, the excellent efficiency comes courtesy of the 16nm Mediatek Helio P20, and it also breezes through the light Android skin – easily a match for the Snapdragon 625, which seems to be the prevailing choice in this segment.

Stick to daylight stills and camera output is very good with heaps of resolved detail and wide dynamic range. We experienced some issues with white balance on our unit, but we’re willing to write it off as a one-off, reviewer’s curse type of thing – especially since there was nothing of the sort when the XA1 non-Ultra was around. Video is consistently mediocre between the two, so no ‘asides’ there.

The selfie camera is another of the XA1 Ultra’s headline features, and we like it as much as we did in the previous generation. It captures a lot of detail, it has wide dynamic range and renders accurate colors, plus it’s got the flash to (just barely) rescue shots in extremely low light.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra key test findings

  • The XA1 Ultra could pass for a flagship Xperia – build quality is high and the aluminum sides have a premium feel in the hand. The narrow sides help keep the large 6-inch device manageable, and the top and bottom bezels are actually thinner than on the XA1 proper.
  • High maximum brightness and contrast, good outdoor legibility, color accuracy kept in check – it’s hard to find fault with the Ultra’s 6-inch LCD.
  • Battery life is quite good all things considered – 10 hours in local video playback (which could be a key use case for the large display) and close to 12 hours in web browsing are the numbers we find most important. Not even 13 hours in 3G voice calls is that much of a letdown, but again, it’s the endurance with the display on that really matters for a 6-inch smartphone and it’s there that the phone performs admirably especially for its battery capacity.
  • The Ultra doesn’t stray from the rest of the Xperias in user interface – Vanilla Android Nougat, Stamina-branded battery-saving modes, and Sony’s own multimedia apps – that’s what we’ve come to expect.
  • Benchmark performance of the Xperia XA1 Ultra is nearly identical to the Snapdragon 625-equipped competitors in the segment, the Exynos 7880 in the Galaxy A7(2017) is snappier than both the Mediatek and Qualcomm chips.
  • It may be a single one, but the Ultra’s loudspeaker can make some noise. Even if a notch below the Excellent mark of the last year’s model, the XA1 Ultra’s Very Good rating puts it ahead of the pack.
  • Audio quality through the analog jack delivers spectacularly loud output – perhaps the loudest we’ve seen – and clarity is really good too.
  • The primary camera captures detail in abundance, and we can hardly complain about its dynamic range or noise properties.
  • The 16MP selfies are very detailed too, colors are spot-on and dynamic range is excellent for a front cam.
  • Completely lackluster video output from the primary camera – soft and lacking in detail. The good colors and contrast can’t really save it.

If you must have a 6-inch display and nothing smaller will do, there’s little the big names have for you so far this year. That is unless you’re willing to spend double and go for the Galaxy S8+, but that’s more than a little stretch.

Xiaomi unveiled the Mi Max 2 a few days ago, but the 6.44-inch phablet (the ‘ph’ part there is barely justifiable) might be too much of a stretch on your pocket, only this time literally. This one’s packing the Snapdragon 625, coupled with a 5,100mAh battery, and we’re pretty sure it’ll beat the Xperia in endurance despite the larger display, though we haven’t had a chance to test it yet.

It’s also running a newer Android 7.1.1 and can record FullHD video, but we can’t see it matching the Xperia’s stills. And the 5MP selfie shooter on the Mi Max 2 – Xiaomi is not even trying to stand up to the tricked-out 16MP front cam of the Xperia XA1 Ultra. The Mi Max 2 is cheaper however, but not available everywhere.

Xiaomi Mi Max 2
Xiaomi Mi Max 2

Another one of those region-specific offerings, the Oppo F3 Plus is a somewhat more expensive 6-incher out of China. It’s powered by the vastly more powerful Snapdragon 653 chip, with 4K video recording support being a direct benefit. The F3 Plus also has a strong selfie game, but its interpretation is of the dual camera variety – read ‘bokeh effects’. In terms of battery life, the XA1 Ultra’s stamina isn’t on the same level as the F3 Plus’.

Oppo F3 Plus
Oppo F3 Plus

Opting for the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) means you’ve conceded the 6 inches requirement, but at 5.7″, it’s not that big of a difference. In return, you’d be getting IP68-rated dust and water protection, a consistently more powerful chipset, and also notably better battery life. The A7 (2017) may be more expensive depending on region, and may actually not be available in your market, especially if that’s Europe.

Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)

In the absence of a Mi 6 Plus, the Mi 5s Plus is the sensible phablet to have in Xiaomi’s lineup. Dual rear camera with 4K video, Snapdragon 821, excellent endurance, bargain price. Only it’s no Sony, and aftersales support may be lacking in large parts of the world, where you’d also need to resort to gray imports to buy one in the first place.

Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus

The Huawei Nova Plus’ display measures ‘just’ 5.5 inches in diagonal – that wouldn’t be Ultra in Sony’s world. It is, however, more affordable in some places and it can record 4K video. On the other hand, it’s still running Marshmallow. It is getting a replacement – the nova plus 2 was recently announced, and that one has got a dual camera on the back, and a 20MP selfie snapper – the Ultra’s been outnumbered.

Huawei nova plusHuawei nova 2 plus
Huawei nova plus • Huawei nova 2 plus

It’s transition time in the Moto camp, where the Moto Z Play is a viable alternative to the XA1 Ultra. The old one is pretty great already – Snapdragon 625 and 3510mAh battery made for a 100-hour rating in our tests. The 4k video recording comes as standard, as does support for MotoMods snap-on accessories on the back. The incoming Moto Z2 Play slashes battery capacity to 3,000mAh, but the Snapdragon 626 should be even more efficient. Both Motos have little to offer in the selfie department with their pedestrian 5MP shooters.

Motorola Moto Z PlayMotorola Moto Z2 Play
Motorola Moto Z Play • Motorola Moto Z2 Play

We’d mention the OnePlus 3T, which is great value for money if slightly more expensive than the Xperia, but with the OnePlus 5 around the corner and sales of the 3T discontinued, you can’t really bet on getting one.

Big display, adequate battery backup, high-res cameras front and rear, the Xperia XA1 Ultra is tailor-made for the YouTube-watching, selfie-snapping, Insta-sharing crowd that have the phone in their hands all day. Other phones can fill those shoes, yes – some cheaper, and some more powerful too. But Sony fans would pick the Ultra over all of the above any day, and (as it often happens with the company’s mid-tier) it would actually be a very reasonable choice.

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Sourced From: GSMArena.com – Latest articles

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