Sony announced the X series of smartphones at Mobile World Congress 2016, marking the death of the Z line and a new path for the Japanese manufacturer. There were several X devices announced, including the lovely Xperia XA with its edge-to-edge display.
One year on and Sony has followed up this device with two more edge-to-edge mid-rangers: the Xperia XA1 and Xperia XA1 Ultra. Ignoring the odd naming convention, the XA1 is the successor to the XA, while the XA1 Ultra is a larger version of the new model. Here are our first impressions.
Sony Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra: Design
The Sony Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra offer almost identical designs, aside from their physical size and a silver ring around the front-facing camera on the XA1 Ultra. The smaller model measures 145 x 67 x 7.9mm and weighs 145g, while the larger model measures 165 x 79 x 8.1mm and weighs 210g so there is quite a big difference in size and weight, with the XA1 definitely the more manageable in the hand.
Both feature the signature Xperia design features, including large bezels at the top and bottom of the display, a side power button and a rear camera lens in the top left corner. The two devices also offer the OmniBalance flat-slab design which is associated with all Xperia smartphones, from the lower-end to the flagship models.
The rear is a lot less fussy than the Xperia XZ and XZs however, with one sheet of metal rather than the combination of textures offered on the flagship devices for a much more fluid finish. The speakers and microphone are also tucked out of the way at the very top and bottom of the devices, keeping things fuss-free.
Where the XA range really sets itself apart from the rest of the Xperia handsets is its edge-to-edge screen though. This feature results in a more seamless and interesting design than the likes of the Xperia XZ and its Xperia XZs successor, allowing the edges to curve into the display as you'll find on more premium smartphones at the higher end of the market.
The edges of the XA1 and XA1 Ultra are flatter than the original Xperia XA, tying them into the XZ models better and resulting in both devices delivering a slim and consistent design. The edge-to-edge display means there is no fingerprint sensor on either model though, as there wasn't with last year's model. The oblong power button with the built-in fingerprint sensor found on the higher-specced Xperia models has to be traded in for the circular power button found on the older Z devices in order to accommodate the screen, meaning you lose what is now considered a pretty key feature on all smartphones.
There is no mention of waterproofing either, but the rest of the overall designs are familiar and up-to-date with USB Type-C over Micro-USB at the bottom, a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top, camera launcher button on the right-hand side and a microSD and SIM slot covered by a flap on the left. Both the XA1 and the XA1 Ultra are available in four metallic finishes, like the original XA.
Sony Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra: Display
The Sony Xperia XA1 comes with a 5-inch HD edge-to-edge display for a pixel density of 294ppi, like the original model, and it looks great. We loved the design last year and we love it again this year. We just wish Sony would consider doing something like it with its flagship devices. The XA1 Ultra also has an edge-to-edge display, as we mentioned, but it adds an inch and a few more pixels, resulting in a 6-inch Full HD display that delivers a pixel density of 367ppi.
As with the original Xperia XA, the XA1's display seems to do well enough, despite it being a lower resolution than the likes of the Xperia XZs. The Xperia XA1 Ultra also seems to do well, although we will reserve judgement on both until we have had the opportunity to test them properly in the real world.
There is no HDR on board either the XA1 or XA1 Ultra, like the flagship Xperia XZ Premium, and there is no mention of Triluminos or X-Reality technologies, both of which can be found on the XZ and XZs, but Sony does offer Super Vivid mode on the XA range. As we said with the XZ Premium and XZs, we would have loved to have seen Sony reduce those top and bottom bezels on these two devices too for an even more striking display, but we suppose you can't have it all right?
Sony Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra: Cameras
The Sony Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra are mid-range handsets so unfortunately they don't get the latest and greatest when it comes to Sony's camera features, though they do improve on last year's model and they certainly don't settle for mid-range specs.
That means that while you won't get the new Motion Eye camera with its super slow motion video feature that has been introduced on the Xperia XZs and XZ Premium, you will get a 23-megapixel rear camera on both models. The XA1 also has an 8-megapixel front facing snapper, while the XA1 Ultra has a 16-megapixel front snapper, with an f/2.0 aperture, optical image stabilisation and a flash so theoretically this larger model should really help you up your selfie game.
There are a couple of features that transfer over from the higher end Xperia devices too, such as Hybrid autofocus and SteadyShot, plus they both have five times Clear Image Zoom too. Ultimately though, if you're after for Sony's latest camera technology, you'll need to be looking a little higher up the Xperia food chain.
We didn't get a chance to test the XA1 and XA1 Ultra cameras during our brief amount of time with them but we will be sure to put them both through their paces when we get our hands on them in the real world.
Sony Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra: Hardware and software
The Sony Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra both have the same octa-core MediaTek processor under their hoods, along with 32GB of internal memory that can be expanded via microSD. The XA1 Ultra has 4GB of RAM compared to the XA1's 3GB, but considering these two devices are mid-range as we mentioned, these are pretty good hardware specs.
The XA1 has a 2300mAh battery capacity, while the XA1 Ultra has a 2700mAh battery, both of which are charged via USB Type-C and both of which feature Sony's Stamina Mode software. We of course didn't get a chance to test either the performance or the battery life of either model during our time with them but we will do as soon as they come in for review.
The XA1 Ultra's battery seems small for a 6-inch device, but Sony smartphone's battery life has been very good in the past, bar perhaps the Xperia XZ which wasn't as great as previous models, so we aren't too concerned.
Both the Xperia XA1 and Xperia XA1 Ultra will launch on Android Nougat with Sony's software over the top, meaning Sony fans will get a familiar experience. It looks as though the software has been refined slightly again compared to the Xperia XZ but we will be taking a closer look when we are able to spend more time with the two devices.
Sony's Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra might not be flagship devices, but their edge-to-edge displays are great. So much so that we'd love to have seen them on both the Xperia XZs and the Xperia XZ Premium. Just imagine how fabulous a 4K HDR edge-to-edge display could be.
We're not entirely sure what Sony was thinking when it chose the names for these two devices, but we are big fans of their designs, as we were when the Xperia XA launched last year.
Considering they are mid-range devices, the Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra show a lot of promise on paper. They are definitely be up there with the most exciting Xperia devices in Sony's portfolio, mainly thanks to offering something a bit different. If only Sony had given them the Motion Eye camera with its super slow motion video too. Huff.