Review: Sony Xperia XA1’s camera boosts otherwise so-so device

Looks won’t distinguish mid-range smartphone but imaging tech is top class

Sony Xperia XA1: At 23 megapixels, its images are bright and crisp, and although the display is not the highest quality in Sony’s pack, it is more than adequate

Product name: Sony Xperia A1

Price: €290.0

Where to buy: argos.ie

Website: sonymobile.com

Thu, Sep 7, 2017, 06:45

   

If you were looking for one reason to buy the Sony Xperia XA1, it would have to be the camera. While the rest of the phone is so-so, the camera is by far the standout feature.

Given the expertise Sony has built up in imaging over the years, you would expect nothing less; according to Bloomberg, the company controls about half of the world’s image sensor market. They’re popping up in everything from Sony’s own range of cameras and smartphones to a number of rival devices. So the camera should be a selling point.

As far as smartphones go, however, the XA1 is standard fare. While its 5 inch screen seems large, that size is fairly commonplace these days.The XA1 now fits under the description of “compact”; if you had said a few years ago that this would be the case, people would have thought you had taken leave of your senses. But in a smartphone market where displays exceed 5.3 inches on a regular basis, the XA1 doesn’t feel oversized.

Part of that is the slimmed down bezel on the phone, which gives more screen width than you’d anticipate.

That aside, the XA1 looks like you would expect a Sony phone to look. There’s little to distinguish this device from its predecessor (and probably its successor, the recently announced XA1 Plus, but we’ll reserve judgement on that until the phone lands on the desk). But that’s an issue facing the industry as a whole, and focusing on an eye-catching design doesn’t always result in the most usable smartphone. Remember Nokia and its circular keypads, lipstick sized phones and the like?

So the XA1 looks like many recent Sony phones, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s functional, and it gets the job done. Sony hasn’t gone all-out here either. The sides are metal, with plastic back. That’s reflected in the price, and in fairness, you’re unlikely to notice that plastic too often.

Back to that camera though. The lens is protected by a metal ring, so your photographs will remain unblemished by scratches on the lens. There’s a 23 megapixel sensor built in, with an aperture of f2.0. That’s not the widest out there, but the photographs are still impressive.

Saving images

An initial problem with saving images from the camera turned out to be a corrupted memory card. The XA1 will take a Micro SD up to 256GB, which when teamed with the 32GB of internal memory adds up to a lot of photos and videos. Realistically if you’re buying this phone, you probably won’t be going for for a 256GB card, but it’s nice to have the option.

And if you want to use this phone as a camera, the dedicated camera button will be a bonus. It can take the camera a while to get itself ready if you’re starting from cold, which is a bit frustrating.

The front facing camera clocks in at 16 megapixels, which means your selfies will be better resolution – in theory at least – than some phones’ rear facing cameras.

Aside from the casing, the more budget-friendly price of the the XA1 comes thanks to a couple of omissions. There’s no fingerprint reader, which has become a staple on more high end phones. There’s no optical image stabilisation either. The display is also a slightly lower resolution, with the XA1 opting for 720 instead of 1080. It’s not as crisp as some of its rivals, but unless you’re comparing side by side, you probably won’t notice too much. Text is less crisp for example, but it’s still a long way from the low-res displays smartphones used to sport.

The good:

The camera, hands down, is the winning feature. At 23 megapixels, the images are bright and crisp, and although the display is not the highest quality in Sony’s pack, it is more than adequate.

The not so good:

While the camera stands out, there’s little else to make this smartphone stand out from the pack. The software for the camera can run a little slow at times too.

The rest:

There’s 32GB of storage space built in but if you want more space, you can expand it by up to 256GB with a memory card.

The verdict:

Come for the camera, stay for a solid mid-range phone. But exciting features are thin on the ground.