While the hype from Sony this year centres around their new Xperia XZ2 range and the updated full-screen design which adopts the 18:9 aspect ratio, it seems there’s still some life left in the old design for their mid-range devices like the Xperia XA2. Landing in Australia this month, the Xperia XA2 still maintains the OmniBalance design language they’ve been famous for, and it’s available in a refreshing range of colours.
Though mid-range, Sony has packed a relatively high-end 23MP camera on the rear of the XA2, but unlike the higher end Xperia XA2 Ultra it was announced alongside of at CES this year, it’s not quite as ‘balls to the wall’ as it could have been – but it also doesn’t have the price tag of that phone.
Priced at $549, you won’t find the Xperia XA2 on carriers in Australia, instead it’s only available in the full range of colours from Sony through their website, or from JB Hifi – though only in black. It’s a decent price, but is it worth spending your hard earned dollars on? I’ve spent the last couple of weeks with the Xperia XA2, so I can tell you.
Hardware and Design
Sony gets some credit from me in terms of colour options, bringing silver, black, blue and pink coloured options to Australia. JB Hifi is only offering black, so if you want something a bit different – and I suggest you at least check them out – you’ll have to go to the Sony website or one of their Kiosks.
The reason I encourage people to check out the colour options is that they really are lovely. Sony sent me a pink XA2 to review and it’s gorgeous. It’s not too outlandish, but it’s a simple, clean colour that draws the eye and allows you to see the details in the metal and plastic body.
There’s not a lot to see in the design Xperia XA2 though. The Xperia XA2 is as typical Sony in terms of design as you can expect. There’s large bezels above and below the 5.2″ FullHD resolution display, though it’s symetrical so it doesn’t irk my OCD and it stretches from almost one side to the other leaving almost no side bezel. Sony unfortunately take advantage of those top and bottom bezels though, with no front-facing speakers just a speaker for the phone and front-facing camera above the screen, and nothing below.
The Sony phone design is rather square when you look at it, the flat top and bottom which are made of a lovely brushed metal allow you to simply stand the phone up on end if you so desire. The bottom of the phone includes the single loudspeaker on the phone, a USB type-C jack and the top is where you find the 3.5mm headphone jack – yes, it still has one.
The plastic rear of the phone is curved and houses a slightly recessed centre mounted fingerprint sensor and a 23MP camera sensor (with LED flash next to it) that just peeks out from the rear. The curved rear fits comfortably in the hand, and it feels warm especially with the colder weather descending on us. The plastic is also great for anyone annoyed by fingerprint smudges as it doesn’t show any, it’s actually kind of great after using successive glass backed phones which you’re constantly wiping down.
The sides of the phone house a metallic volume rocker, power button and as usual, a camera shutter button on the right, with a combination dual-SIM tray/microSD card expansion slot on the left.
Internally, Sony has gone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 SoC, with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage backed up by a microSD card slot. It’s not over the top, and it works. It hums along for the most part with not a huge amount of fuss. Sure there’s the odd time when it hangs for a half a second, but those instances are thankfully few and far between.
Sony has used the same IMX300 sensor, 23MP camera sensor we’ve seen in phones from as far back as the Xperia Z5. It’s a decent sensor though affording a rather large amount of raw MegaPixels to a mid-range phone as well as features like 4K video recording, HDR, a manual mode and 120fps slow motion video.
On the front, Sony has used an 8MP sensor with an option for 120° super wide-angle shots. They’ve dubbed the Xperia XA2 ‘the ultimate Selfie Phone’ in their marketing materials for the release, so we expect to find good things when it comes to this camera.
The curved rear of the phone allows Sony to include a nicely sized 3,300 mAh battery. The addition of battery smarts – Smart Stamina, Qnovo Adaptive Charging, and other Battery Care technologies in the software allow the battery to last longer without copping damage from over-charging.
In terms of usage, the combination of a 5.2″ FullHD resolution screen, Snapdragon 630 SoC and a 3,300mAh battery meant I averaged around about 5 hours of screen on time per day with about 12-13 hours of charge. It’s decent enough without being outstanding, and it got me through the day.
I’ve been pretty impressed with the display on the Xperia XA2. It’s relatively small at 5.2″, but packs in FullHD (1920×1080) resolution. It’s about where most phones should be without going overboard to the QHD resolution of the flagships.
The screen, as it comes out of the box is bright enough and shows a good range of colours. If you want though, you can tweak the display in the settings menu with a ‘Standard Mode’ for enhanced image and video viewing, or a ‘Super vivid mode’ which gives you super vivid colours and brighter images. Quite frankly the Super vivid mode is too overblown for my liking, but for AMOLED fans, it may suit you.
The design of the XA2 means you get very little bezel on the sides. It’s easy to hold and I had no issues with phantom touches which I’ve had on phones from other manufacturers who opt for no bezel with curved screens. The smaller screen combined with minimal bezel means that single handed use is quite easy.
To help with one-handed use, Sony packs in a compact mode in software that lets you shrink the phone screen down for single handed use in either right or left hand. To activate swipe diagonally up from either side.
Sony makes some of, if not the best mobile image sensors in the world. One thing Sony has never been able to do right though is great cameras in their Xperia smartphones. Sony has used the IMX300 sensor in several phones, and it suffers from the same issue we’ve seen in previous smartphones from Sony – it’s sooo sloooooooow.
Loading the camera app on the XA2 is an exercise in pain. If you’re attempting to quickly capture a shot, then you’ll definitely miss it with the Xperia XA2. Whether it’s tapping the shutter button to capture a photo or starting to record video, it takes literal seconds of waiting for anything to happen.
With a single sensor on board, and none of Google’s AI magic, the XA2 does lack any options for Bokeh, the new hotness in photos it seems. If you’re Ok with this, it’s going to be fine.
In terms of features, the Xperia XA2 has it pretty good, with a decent manual mode that allows you to tweak a number of features. You can change the focus from Auto to manual focus which can be changed with a slider, as well as change the shutter speed (anywhere from 1/4000th/s through to 1 second), ISO and white balance.
In Superior Auto mode – the mode most of us humans use to just snap a picture – you get options for capturing in either 16:9 Aspect Ratio at 20MP, or 4:3 AR at 23MP. The photos in Superior Auto are actually quite good with HDR seemingly auto-enabled. You get a good breadth of colours in your photos, though they are a little noisy even in full sunlight.
Night time pictures do suffer fairly significantly from a lot of noise thanks to the f/2.0 aperture. It’s simply not enough light coming into the sensor to allow a good shot at night.
On the front, the 8MP sensor also tends to suffer in low-light conditions with an f/2.4 aperture. The saving grace for the front camera is the 120-degree wide-angle lens that allows you to capture a group of people in a shot. The results aren’t going to ‘wow’ the world, but it’s an acceptable shot that will capture a memory.
Sony has bundled a number of ‘apps’ into a separate section of the camera software. In this section you’ll find apps to enable both 4K Video and Panorama photos, as well as their AR Effects, Timeshift Burst, Sound Photos and Creative Effects apps. As a regular user of both 4K video and Panorama pictures Sony should really re-think the layout of their app and include 4K as an option in the video section, and Panorama in the Auto mode.
If you’re a videographer, then the XA2 will do a decent, if not hugely compelling job. On the standard video, you can capture in FullHD resolution in either 30 or 60fps (or 120fps at 720p), and using either h.264 or h.265 codecs. On both the 4K and standard video capture you can enable steady shot for less hand shake in your videos using electronic stabilisation and Sony does a pretty admirable job of smoothing out the little bumps you normally get in video.
I’m a bit of a fan of the Sony audio experience, the single speaker on the base is actually fairly decent with a mostly crisp sound. You’re obviously not going to get a magical audio experience from the speaker but it works – though dual front-facing speakers installed in the under utilised front bezels would have been brilliant.
The Xperia XA2 does include a headphone jack and for those who use headphones you do get a pair of earphones thrown in with the phone. These aren’t anything beyond the usual, there’s an inline mic with a call answer/end control and they sound pretty decent.
In their advertising Sony says the Xperia XA2 includes some Audio enhancements: ‘Our Smart Amplifier technology, backed up by ClearAudio+ and Clear Bass fine-tunes your sound so every note is clear.’
You can find the setting to enable ClearAudio+ in the Settings under Sound, it’s an on/off arrangement that Sony says ‘delivers an immersive, enriching audio experience at a single touch’. In practice, I didn’t find any discernible difference between having it on or off – perhaps it was the basic earphones included with the phone, the choice of music, or my ageing ears, but to me there really wasn’t much to hear from turning this on.
The one addition I did enjoy was the inclusion of an equaliser. You can use some of their pre-defined settings, or branch out and investigate what settings sound best to you. Again, I couldn’t tell much of a difference, but there was subtle changes so if you want to play with it, you may get some joy.
Sony has delivered a phone that’s pretty up to date in terms of software, the phone runs Android 8.0.0 and has the March 1st security patch. It’s not the latest but it’s fairly current and that’s pretty good.
The Sony ‘Skin’ if it can be called that is as light as ever, the launcher offers a fairly light dusting of basic improvements to the standard Pixel Launcher for Android including a Theming engine – you can download various Themes from their Xperia Lounge app – as well as changes to the App Drawer – it sidescrolls and apps are sorted by install date, but you can change that, and Settings is a little different, but again, not overly so. When it comes to things like Notification shade though, it’s pretty much stock.
There are quite a few apps included with the phone by default, it’s the usual replacement of system apps like Contacts, but then they also include decent Video and Music apps for playing local multimedia content. The Video app is fantastic for people with a Sony device, with the option to pair your Sony hardware with it to use the app as a remote control.
As far as ‘Bloatware’ goes, the only apps I really define in this context are totally unnecessary apps like the Amazon partnership that Sony appears to have entered into. The Xperia XA2 includes both the Amazon Shopping and Amazon Kindle apps pre-installed on the phone. While you can’t uninstall the apps completely, you can disable them. It’s this partnership that appears to be how Sony get the Amazon Prime Video on their Bravia Android TVs, so it’s a bit of give and take in that respect.
For Playstation fans, there’s a PS App installed, you can get access to your Playstation profile, but unlike the higher end Sony Xperia phones there’s no Playstation Remote Play for the XA2.
Wrap up – should you buy one?
As a summary, the Xperia XA2 runs quite well on the internal hardware, and it should last you all day on the battery. It doesn’t have the best camera at night but it does pretty well during the day, and offers pretty decent 4K video. I also quite like the design, the rear mounted fingerprint sensor is fast and works well, and it’s USB-C which is good to see in the mid-range.
The Xperia XA2 is right up there in terms of price though. At $549 you have to balance the decision to purchase a good looking, well performing mid-range phone against perhaps looking at buying a previous years flagship phone like the Galaxy S7 which is getting down to this range in price.
Sony has been pretty decent about getting updates to their mid-range devices, and the XA2 is running a fairly recent version of Android with a recent security patch. The main difference between the Xperia XA2 and other mid-rangers like the new Nokia 6 and HTC U11 Life is that software experience with the partnership with Google offering a lot more software updates with the Android One program.
It comes down to how much you want to spend and really what you like the look of. You can go hands on with the Xperia XA2 at JB Hifi stores or Sony Kiosks around Australia to see if it appeals to you once you get it in the hand.