The mid-range smartphone landscape is an odd one. There are many players in the field, and every few months there is a new contender for this space. While most of these phones will be a far cry from what the flagships have on offer, many manage to hit that a balance of features and price that nevertheless make them good options in today’s mobile landscape. Sony has a new contender for the mid-range king, the Xperia XA2 Ultra, and while this model does many things right, a few odd design decisions keep it from achieving true greatness.
The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is overall a smart looking device. I rather enjoy the solid build, all metal construction with large bezzles, but I know I am an outlier in this opinion. If you’re not like me and actually demand 18:9 aspect ratios, reduced bezels, and general thinness and lightness, the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra will feel absolutely archaic in comparison to many of its competitors. The 6″ 1080P screen and large top and bottom bezel make the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra look positively massive, and thanks to the construction and battery, this is not a light phone either, weighing in at 221 g, so if you don’t have big pockets or a purse, this may be a hard phone to lug around.
Now that we are past the fact that this is a big, heavy phone, let’s talk about what makes the Xperia XA2 Ultra special. Firstly, the screen makes the phone a great media device. Although you are stuck with a 1080P screen, colour reproduction and clarity is spot on. Viewing images, watching videos, and browsing the web was enjoyable and accurate to what you would expect.
Sony has managed a screen that feels neither too warm nor too cool, such that consuming your media is an overall pleasing experience. The large screen makes watching youtube enjoyable, and the screen real estate makes gaming a joy. It won’t be giving the iPhone X or the Samsung S9 a run for their money anytime soon, but at the price, it is a more than adequate screen.
Powering the XA2 Ultra is the Qualcomm 630 SoC and 4GB RAM. While respectable, this by no means offers flagship levels of performance, but as has been seen in other devices, this chip balances power and longevity. It will play most modern games, and since the phone is only paired with a 1080P screen, you should have no real problems in terms of slowdown or stuttering. Unless you are running a slew of apps and games, you should have no problems using the XA2 Ultra as your daily driver, even under moderate to heavy load.
Benchmark-wise the XA2 Ultra achieved a single core score of 841, a multicore score with Geekbench 4 of 4,141, and an 86173 in Antutu. In games such as Skullgirls, Mortal Kombat, Fallout Shelter, and PUBG I noticed no major slowdown or hiccups. The XA2 Ultra even managed to stay cool to the touch after over an hour of solid gaming while charging, a feat many of the 2017-2018 models would have a hard time achieving.
The Qualcomm 630 paired with the 3580 mAh battery make the XA2 Ultra a near two-day device on a single change. Using the device at around 70% brightness while watching Netflix, YouTube, and even some light gaming, I managed to achieve well over a day on a single charge.
In fact, the XA2 Ultra managed to almost achieve a full two days worth of use on a single charge. Through testing, I managed to make it from 9 AM on the first day to 4 PM the subsequent day. Now there are a few phones that can manage close to this feat, but the XA2 Ultra is the first phone of 2018 to come even close to this level of longevity, and it is a welcome sight.
Sony is known for their cameras, so you can pardon my surprise when I found the rear camera on the XA2 Ultra to be a letdown. Nothing about it pushed what I expect from mid-range smartphone cameras. While the phone managed some decent shots in standard lighting, low light or bright days led to some over-processed, disappointing looking photos. The 23 Megapixel f/2.0, 24mm, 1/2.3″ rear shooter with autofocus, and LED flash lacks optical image stabilization making it hard to use in motion, especially when compared to cameras seen on the iPhone X, Samsung S9 or even Google Pixel 2XL.
If the rear camera is less than expected, the front-facing, selfie camera exceeds all expectations. The dual camera system, featuring a 16-megapixel sensor with OIS, autofocus and a f/2.0, and a wide-angle 8-megapixel f/2.4 lens ensure you are more than set when you are looking to take that perfect selfie.
Photos looked sharp and clear, and maintained a surprising level of details. Combine that with the wide angle 8-megapixel camera, and LED flash and you should have everything you need to take photos for your followers on Instagram or to capture the perfect gym selfie to keep you motivated.
Since this is 2018, AR is the must-have feature for phones to have, and the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is not one to be left out. Now while neither I nor anyone I know has ever made use of these features, someone must, or else why would they be included in so many devices? The XA2 Ultra implementation of these abilities is serviceable if not a bit disappointing. It gets the job done, but don’t expect anything near what the iPhone X or even the Samsung S9 has on offer. In all reality, it basically exists as a feature in name only. The tracking is not good by any stretch of the imagination, and with it being tedious to use, I would personally suggest forgetting about it unless you want to crack it out at parties.
On the software side, while Sony has kept things to a minimum, it is not quite on the level you would find on a Pixel device. The near stock Android 8.0 comes with all you would hope from a modern 2018 device, but it also comes with a few additions, notably the music, album, video, and PlayStation apps. These do not get in the way too much, but if you were hoping for a true stock device, you may want to keep this in mind.
Sony, with the Xperia XA2 Ultra, has built an all-around good device, though a few caveats may make it a hard sell for some consumers. If you can get past the weight and size, the XA2 Ultra offers plenty of bang for your buck, especially with the fantastic battery, and stunning selfie camera.
A retail version of this device reviewed was provided by the manufacturer. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Brendan Frye’s work such as his interview with EA Motive about Star Wars: Battlefront II, and his in-depth look at the Equifax Hack!
Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Fe, Monster Hunter World Beta: the Insatiable Nergigante, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, Star Wars Battlefront II, Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and Super Mario Odyssey!
Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!
CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!