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Sony Xperia XA review: Desirable design, but little else

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The Good With a super-skinny bezel, the Sony Xperia XA is a great-looking phone that's comfortable to use in one hand.

The Bad Its low screen resolution, short-lived battery and meagre amount of built-in storage are major setbacks. Sony has loaded the phone with a horrible mess of bloatware.

The Bottom Line Unless slick style is your only concern, skip the Sony Xperia XA for a cheaper phone with better features.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.6 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 5
  • Performance 6
  • Camera 7
  • Battery 6

Review Sections

Sony's recent phones, such as the Xperia X, have been too blocky to be called truly stylish. Not so with the Xperia XA. This 5-inch phone has an edge-to-edge display with only the merest sliver of a bezel. It gives the XA a lusciously premium look that belies its affordable price tag.

The XA will set you back $280 in the US, £240 in the UK and AU$499 in Australia. Design this slick is not usually a high priority for phones of this price.

But that's where my positive feelings for this phone end. The price is still too steep for its low-resolution display and unimpressive specs, especially when you compare it to the cheaper and more powerful Motorola Moto G4 Plus.

Yes, the XA has a cool design, but it comes at a too high a price.

Edgeless screen

  • 143.6 by 66.8 by 7.9 mm
  • 137 grams (4.83 ounces)
  • Tiny bezel around the display

The almost total lack of edge around the sides of the screen strikes you immediately. It doesn't curve at the side like the Galaxy S7 Edge. It gives it a classy look. It makes the XA feel smaller than you might expect from a 5-inch phone. I could comfortably stretch my thumb across the display to type with just one hand and it slid easily into my pocket.

The screen itself is a letdown, though. It has only a 720p resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 293 pixels per inch, which is low for a phone of this size and price. The Moto G4 Plus costs significantly less, but it packs a full HD panel with a much more impressive 401 ppi. While apps such as Twitter and Facebook look fine, small text is fuzzy and high resolution images lack clarity.

Colours don't impress, either, and the display is not very bright. Though Sony was able to squash the screen into a small space, it picked the wrong screen to squash in.

sony-xperia-xa-product-3.jpg
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The back panel is plastic, but my white model had a pearlescent finish that glints with a pinkish sheen when it catches the light. Hardly a killer feature, but it's a welcome touch and a key element of the XA's aesthetic appeal.

What you won't find on the phone is a fingerprint scanner, which is disappointing given that most of Sony's recent phones, like the Xperia X, have it. It's yet another point where the cheaper Moto G4 Plus wins out. If Motorola can add a fingerprint scanner without ramping up the price, why can't Sony? Without a scanner, you'll have to type in your PIN at the terminal when using Android Pay, for example. That's just not as fast and easy as using your finger.

Sony Xperia XA spec comparison chart

Sony Xperia XA Motorola Moto G4 OnePlus 3 Apple iPhone SE
Display size, resolution 5-inch; 1,280x720 pixels 5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels 5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels 4-inch; 1,136x640 pixels
Pixel density 294ppi 401ppi 401ppi 326ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.7x2.6x0.31 in 6x3x0.39 in 6.01x2.94x0.29 in 4.87x2.31x0.3in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 144x67x7.9 mm 153x76.6x9.8 mm 152.7x74.7x7.35 mm 123x58x7.6mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 4.8 oz (137 g) 5.47 oz (155 g) 5.57 oz (158 g) 3.99 oz (113 g)
Mobile software Android 6.0 Marshmallow Android 6.0 Marshmallow Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow iOS 9.3
Camera 13-megapixel 16-megapixel 16-megapixel 12-megapixel
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 5-megapixel 8-megapixel 1.2-megapixels
Video capture 1080p 4K 4K 4K
Processor 2GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P10 1.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Apple A9 chip (64-bit) with M9 motion co-processor
Storage 16GB 32GB 64GB 16GB, 64GB
RAM 2GB 2GB 6GB 2GB
Expandable storage 200GB Up to 128GB None None
Battery 2,700mAh (nonremovable) 3,000mAh (removable) 3,000mAh (nonremovable) 1,624mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor None Below screen Home button Home button
Connector Micro-USB Micro-USB USB-C Lightning
Special features None Water-resistant Notifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash Charging None
Price off-contract (USD) $280 $249 $399 $399 (16GB); $499 (64GB)
Price (GBP) £240 32GB: £229; 64GB: £264 £329 £359 (16GB) £439 (64GB)
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$390 16GB: AU$399; 32GB: AU$449 Converts to AU$540 AU$679 (16GB); AU$829 (64GB)

Clean software, with too much bloatware

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • Lots of preloaded bloatware
  • 64-bit, octa-core processor

The XA runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, largely untampered with -- thank you, Sony, for not adding a special skin. That makes it easy to use for Android experts and novices alike.

What Sony has done, though, is load the phone up with a whole mess of software right out of the box. Beyond its own PlayStation app, there's an Xperia Lounge app and something called What's New (confusingly, all have different curated lists of games, music, movies and so on). There's a handful of third-party apps too, including AVG antivirus, the Kobo ebooks app and Amazon's shopping app.

The few widgets preinstalled on the home screen also make the phone feel somewhat cluttered from the first time you switch it on. Thankfully, you can uninstall some of them, but it's a tedious process that you should be spared.

sony-xperia-xa-product-4.jpg
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's particularly annoying that the XA comes with a very limited 16GB of internal storage, of which fully 6GB is taken up by the Android system files and preinstalled nonsense. You'll absolutely want to use the microSD card slot to save your images, videos and music as you'll eat up the on-board space very quickly.

The XA runs on a 64-bit octa-core processor, which delivers enough power to make swiping around the Android interface a smooth experience. Apps open quickly and photo editing in Snapseed, for example, is smooth. It copes with gaming reasonably well -- both Asphalt 8 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas were playable, although frame rates noticeably dipped in more intense moments. Less demanding games such as Candy Crush will play fine.

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