Phones

Competent performance but a so-so design

A top feature of the Xperia XA1 Plus is its rear 23-megapixel camera, which is good for a mid-range device.
A top feature of the Xperia XA1 Plus is its rear 23-megapixel camera, which is good for a mid-range device.PHOTO: SONY

Sony calls the Xperia XA1 Plus a super mid-range phone, presumably because it has certain best-in-class features for its price bracket.

Its design, however, is probably not its strong suit. The chunky bezel and the visible seams where its aluminium frame meets its plastic back do not make a great first impression. But users may be appeased by the fact that Sony's premium models sport a similar, old-fashioned appearance.

Because of its thick bezel at the top and bottom, the XA1 Plus feels large in the hand, despite its average-sized 5.5-inch screen. This full-HD display looks good - bright, vibrant and clear from any angle.

To Sony, the inclusion of the fingerprint sensor (at the edge of the XA1 Plus) may justify the "super mid-range" billing, because this biometric feature is unavailable on other models in the XA1 series.

Another top feature is its rear 23-megapixel camera, which is good for a mid-range device, especially one with a large 1/2.3-inch image sensor that captures detailed photos. But patience is required - the autofocus is not as fast as higher-end phones and there isshutter lag. The image also takes a couple of seconds to be processed.

I found the physical shutter button at the side handy for taking photos, considering the size of the device. But some may find it redundant as it has no other purpose.

While Sony's higher-end smartphones come with Android 8.0 Oreo, the XA1 Plus runs Android 7.0 Nougat. The good news is that Sony has applied a light touch to the interface and this is reflected in its general performance. Screen transitions are smooth and switching between apps is quick.

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $498

    PROCESSOR: MediaTek Helio P20 (Quad-core 2.3GHz and Quad-core 1.6GHz)

    DISPLAY: 5.5-inch, IPS LCD, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 401 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 7.0

    MEMORY: 32GB (microSD expandable up to 256GB), 4GB RAM

    CAMERA: 23MP, f/2.0 (rear); 8MP, f/2.0 (front)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,430mAh

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

More importantly, there is relatively little bloatware and you can easily disable preloaded apps like Amazon Shopping, AVG antivirus, Facebook and PlayStation.

The XA1 Plus has a MediaTek Helio P20 octa-core processor. Based on its Geekbench scores (871 for single-core and 3,743 for multi-core), this chip is almost comparable to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625. I could run graphics-heavy mobile games like Real Racing 3 smoothly.

Apps do take longer to load compared with more expensive smartphones.

In our video-loop battery life test, where the screen is set to full brightness, the XA1 Plus lasted over 11 hours, which is better than many of its mid-range rivals. To be fair, it has a larger battery than usual. Users can also turn on Sony's custom power management modes to disable certain functionalities to extend battery life.

•Verdict: Uninspiring design, but competent enough to be used on a daily basis for less demanding, mainstream users, especially with its good battery life.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2017, with the headline 'Competent performance but a so-so design '. Print Edition | Subscribe