Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra review UAE

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is a selfie behemoth with a big display and dual front facing cameras. The phone is targeted towards an audience that is keen on consuming entertainment on the go and snapping pics for social sharing.

If your budget can't stretch to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or Huawei Mate 10 Pro, then the Xperia XA2 Ultra may very well be the phone you need.

It inherits Sony's now tiring design, but the edge-to-edge display, which we first saw on the original Sony Xperia XA, attempts to keep the look up to date with the current vogue for bezel-free smartphones – although the effort is undermined somewhat by the chunky bezels at the top and bottom of the screen.

The XA2 Ultra arrives alongside it’s smaller and easier to hold sibling, the Xperia XA2, which comes with all the bells and whistles as the Ultra except for the massive screen, dual front cameras and the larger battery.

Price and availability

  • Launch price: AED 1,549 / SAR 1,499
  • Release date: February 2018

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra price is AED 1,549 (SAR 1,499) at launch, pitching it below the likes of the Samsung Galaxy A8+ and Honor 9, which is fair considering that its spec sheet isn't as strong at those of the two more flagship-focused devices.

We feel that the phone is priced reasonably for what it offers: a super sized screen with snappy performance and a solid battery life which hasn’t been the case for most Xperia phones in the past. 

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is available at most major retail and online stores in the UAE and KSA with free shipping options and installment plans.  

A big screen and a big battery – is that enough to make the XA2 Ultra a winner?

Design

  • Boxy, bulky design feels a little tired
  • Rear fingerprint scanner can be temperamental

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra looks unmistakably like an Xperia phone with a familiar symmetrical design and wide bezels. The front is covered in glass that curves smoothly around the edges and the top and bottom are rounded with sharp, and we mean sharp, edges. A lightly textured metal frame runs along the sides giving the handset an overall solid feel but the plastic back takes away from the premium aura of the device. 

This is a massive handset that measures 163 x 80 x 9.5mm and weighs about 221g. The device has quite a bit of heft to it and can be tricky to handle for users with smaller hands or for those who prefer one-handed operation. 

It feels fantastic to hold but the finish and weight give it little grip. We had some issues with unwanted touch input from the edge of our palm hitting the screen when scrolling or adjusting the phone and found a two-handed operation to be much more comfortable.

The fingerprint scanner is placed in a convenient spot on the back of the phone just where your index finger would naturally land. It works like a charm for both left and right handed users and we like it more that the previous Xperia phones that had a side-mounted scanner on the power button.

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra hands on gallery

The phone unlocks pretty quickly and rarely failed to recognize our fingerprints. It can get overly sensitive at times though, resulting in unwanted in-pocket scans, but these cases were very far and few.

Old-school headphone users will be delighted to find a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. The lack of stereo speakers and water/dust protection is a disappointing but on the upside there is a USB Type-C port on the bottom right next to a single downward-firing speaker and a dual-SIM tray plus microSD slot on the left side. 

The volume rocker and power/lock button are placed on the right side with the usual dedicated two-stage camera shutter button that we’ve come to expect from Sony on the right edge. The power button is convenient to press but the volume rocker can be a challenge to get to with the right thumb when holding the phone upright and requires some shuffling in the palm. 

Overall, Sony’s angular rectangle design looks sleek and premium but the large bezels are an inefficient use of space and the design feels outdated in the current landscape of phones that have smaller and smaller bezels with each iteration, more curvature and slimmer builds.

The design isn’t anything new, but its solid and functional

Display

  • Large 6-inch, Full HD display is great for movies and games

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra has a wide and spacious display that sits in an edge-to-edge design. The screen measures 6 inches and packs in a Full HD 1080p resolution with 16:9 aspect ratio. 

There’s nothing particularly special about the screen’s specs. The display is an IPS LCD that feels a bit undersaturated at first glance with a blue-ish tint and the color accuracy leaves a lot to be desired. 

The color balance can be easily tweaked with a quick trip to the Display Settings where you’ll find two modes, Standard and Super-Vivid. Both modes help boost color saturation and temperature making the screen feel much more vibrant and pleasing to the eye. In our experience the Standard mode struck the perfect balance between color tones, resulting in a much more pleasant viewing experience.

The 6-inch, LCD IPS display is bright and clear

Despite the relaxed color tones, there is a ton to like here. The display feels super detailed and sharp making it perfect for a Netflix binge or a prolonged gaming session. It is surprisingly bright and easy to view under direct sunlight and the aspect ratio is perfect for consuming TV content.  

Videos look incredible and immersive on the edge-to-edge display. The large bezels on the top and bottom feel a bit dated but the extra space is super handy to rest thumbs on and make for a better viewing experience in landscape orientation. 

Battery life

  • Comfortably lasts a whole day with plenty left in the tank
  • Even power users will be able to get a day from a single charge

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is an endurance beast with a decent 3,580mAh battery that copes impressively despite the expansive screen. That being said, we would have liked to see a larger battery considering the dimensions of this phone.

The battery can easily last a day with moderate to heavy use and still have plenty of juice left by the time time you hit the hay. We consistently ended our days with 20-30% charge remaining even with medium-to-high usage which included a few hours of Netflix and YouTube, a couple of hours of streaming music, some light gaming, a handful of phone calls and emails with some light web browsing and social media activity. 

You’ll be able to get a full day of use on a single charge

If you are a more conservative user, the XA2 Ultra’s battery can easily last you a day and a half and the battery-saving Stamina modes can stretch that endurance even further.

There’s no built-in wireless charging but the phone does support fast charge. The power brick that came with the phone is painfully slow though, taking around three hours to top the XA2 Ultra to 100%. If that’s too slow, we recommend investing in a reliable fast charger, which Sony just happens to sell on the side.

The phone also held up its own during our standard battery test, which involves playing a 90-minute Full HD with screen brightness at maximum and accounts syncing over Wi-Fi in the background.

The XA2 Ultra lost 20% of its charge after 90 minutes which isn’t stellar by any means but is understandable given sizable display and it should be noted that we rarely find ourselves using a phone with max brightness, so take that as you will.

Various levels of Stamina mode provide extended battery life in times of need

Camera

  • Rear camera performs well in good light, struggles in low light
  • HDR in manual mode is your friend
  • Dual front cameras allow for wider selfie shots

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is a selfie behemoth that stands out from its competitors by featuring three high-end cameras. 

There is an interesting dual-camera setup in the front supported by a single LED flash. One of the snappers on the front is 16MP with f/2.0 aperture, optical image stabilisation to reduce blur and a standard 88-degree field of view while the other is a 8MP with f/2.4 aperture and a wide 120-degree lens allowing you to take selfies with large groups of people. The two buttons above the shutter key allow you to easily switch between cameras.

On the rear is a 23MP camera with f/2.0 aperture and an improved sensor aided by a single-tone flash but no image stabilisation which is a shame because the camera struggles in low light conditions.

There’s a 23MP rear camera on the Xperia XA2 Ultra

On the right side you’ll find a two-stage camera shutter button that really deserves a lot more love than it gets. The button is used to launch the camera applications and for taking snaps. This is particularly comes in handy when taking wide selfies and in scenarios where the shutter key on screen is hard to reach.

The camera does well in brightly-lit conditions and outdoors in daylight, capturing an impressive amount of detail and enough brightness to make the image look natural. But in low-light conditions images can turn out blotchy with distracting amounts of noise. Sony offers a wealth of features in its camera app but the default Superior Auto mode does a decent job most of the time.

There’s a manual HDR mode that can easily be accessed from the top and gives you control over settings like ISO, white balance, focus, exposure and shutter speed. Adjusting these settings produces much better images in low-light and it is nice to have the option to turn off HDR which can sometimes produce unnaturally vibrant photos.

The HDR mode does a great job in general, helping you capture highly detailed, colorful and well-lit photos and became our preferred mode of taking shots while keeping default settings in manual mode. 

The camera software on the phone doesn’t really take advantage of the full 23MP on offer and produces disappointing and muddy images in darker situations. There is also a noticeable lag when taking photos in low-light conditions and unless you’re super still and patient with the image processing you’ll end up with blurry images that have irritating traces of chroma noise. 

The Xperia XA2 Ultra can record HDR video with 1080p resolution at 30 and 60fps as well as slow-motion footage in bursts of 120fps at 720p resolution. The video results are good and detailed and we found auto-focus to be quite snappy but you’ll want to use your own microphone as the sound quality can get choppy.

Manual mode in the camera app provides more options for your to tinker with

The phone can also capture 4K video at 30fps but not from the regular video section. The 4K option is found in the extra modes drawer, which you can get to by swiping across the camera menus on top.

Selecting the 4K option triggers a warning that the phone may overheat and the camera app might shutdown (Yes, Sony phones still do that in 2018), which is not very promising but it means you’ll want to limit your 4k videos to just a few minutes long. Unless you have the means to view and share 4K video, there’s no compelling reason to choose this option but it is nice to have.

The cameras on the phone do an overall great job and considering what the phone costs, the offer good value for money.

Camera samples gallery

Interface and reliability

  • Runs Android 8 Oreo, the latest version of Google's OS
  • Relatively stock Android, with a light Sony skin and some bloatware

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra comes with Android 8 Oreo out of the box, much to our delight. There aren’t many mid-range phones out there toting the latest from Google and Sony does a relatively good job with frequent updates.

The Xperia user interface remains true to the stock version of Android for the most part with only minor aesthetic changes and a few quirks including a horizontally scrolling app drawer and a reachability-esque feature. 

Sony’s Android overlay is light, giving you a relatively pure Android experience

Our only gripe is with the heap of apps that Sony has pre-installed on the phone aside from the stock Google apps. These include Sony’s own music, album and video creation apps along with Xperia Lounge, PlayStation and an Amazon shopping app. 

These apps can’t be uninstalled which means that they will still take up precious space despite being disabled.

One thing we really dig is the plethora of customization options. You can change the look and size of icons and objects to pretty much anything you want and Xperia Assist offers convenient solutions for various usage scenarios such as making it easier to operate the phone with one hand.

Overall, the Xperia XA2 Ultra offers a clean and crisp UI that is very user friendly and familiar to Android users.

The XA2 Ultra does come with a number of pre-installed apps that can be disabled, but not uninstalled

Music, movies and gaming

  • Large screen is great for movies, TV and gaming
  • Headphone jack will please corded fans

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is perfect for those who prefer to watch videos and play games on the go thanks to the enormous 1080p screen. The 6-inch Full HD display is more than enough for most entertainment tasks and has an added benefit of using less power than higher resolution displays.

It does a good job of producing crisp graphics on games without visible pixelation and provides smooth playback for videos with decent color reproduction. The screen lacks the vibrancy of AMOLED displays and HDR support, but considering this is a mid-phone you still get an incredible viewing experience.

There is 32GB of storage built-in on the phone, but more than half is taken up by the system out of the box, leaving you with just 14-15GB to play with. This won’t be nearly enough if you’re a media hoarder in which case you’ll mostly likely be making use of the microSD card slot that can support cards up to 256GB in size.

The music app on the the phone does a great job of delivering good audio with plenty of options to customize sound. There is a headphone jack on top that allows you to use your favorite wired headphones. Also on-board is Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless headsets, which delivers greater range and better audio quality by using the latest wireless codecs.

Gameplay is smooth and lag free with respectable load times but demanding games consume a good chunk of the battery. Those dated large bezels above and below the display come in extremely handy as hand rests when playing games in landscape mode. 

Sony also offers a multitude of ways for you to consume videos with a slew of preinstalled apps. There’s Google Play TV & Movies and Sony’s video app for offline content and YouTube and Amazon Prime for streaming online videos.

One thing we don’t like is the single downward-firing speaker that blares mediocre quality audio from the bottom of the phone. The output from the speakers is relatively loud compared to most but the sound quality worsens the louder you go. The speakers are also awkwardly positioned and easy to cover up when holding the phone in landscape orientation.

Performance

  • Capable Snapdragon 630 chipset with 4GB of RAM
  • Runs games smoothly, with slick general navigation

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is powered by the capable and battery-efficient Snapdragon 630 chipset and an Adreno 508 GPU. There’s 4GB of RAM on board allowing users to run a healthy amount of apps simultaneously. 

This isn’t the quickest mid-range phone on the market but it feels snappy to use with almost no noticeable lag or stutter.

The phone was able to handle our intensive multi-tasking without significant lag and ran demanding games like Asphalt 8 and Dead Trigger 2 smoothly without any major drops in frame rate or overheating.

The 2.2 GHz octa-core CPU earned a multi-core score of 4,129 on GeekBench 4 and a single-core score of 843. While this is on par with most lower mid-range phones like the Honor 7x, it falls way short of phones like Honor 9 and OnePlus 5T, the phone’s stiffest competition. 

The only let down here is the camera app which is slow to load and slightly sluggish to use. Something we’re hoping Sony improves with a software update in the future. But aside from that, the phone can handle almost anything you throw at it without any serious performance issues. 

Verdict

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra ticks off all the right boxes for a mid-range phone making it a compelling option. It’s good looking, takes great pictures and videos when there’s plenty of light, and has a stellar battery life. 

The massive screen makes it ideal for enjoying all kinds of media and a capable CPU ensures smooth performance.

It is a heavy phone and not everyone will find its size appealing. But for those that do will be more than happy with what Sony delivers especially at this price point. 

There’s very little not to like about this phone. The cameras could be definitely be better and we do hope that Sony works on making the camera app faster. The design is sleek but boring and doesn’t live up to the modern design of phones in the market today. The custom Xperia Android UI is not to everyone’s tastes but is easy to use. 

Overall, the Sony Xperia XA2 is a well-rounded phone that offers excellent value and is a top buy at the mid-range price point.

Who's it for?

This is a great option for those looking for a big-screen phone with snappy performance under AED 1,800. 

The phone’s solid battery life and spacious display are great for watching videos, reading ebooks and gaming on the go.

This is a chunky phone though with quite a bit of weight to it which makes it tricky to handle with one hand. If you have smaller hands and are looking for a phone that fits nicely in the hands, you might consider the 5.2-inch Sony Xperia XA2.

If a better camera is what you’re after, then the Honor 9 is a superior choice.

Should I buy it?

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is a sleek phone that offers great value for money. 

There are many mid-range options available at this price point, some with slightly better cameras, but few live up to the battery performance of the XA2 Ultra or offer screens this large.

Talking of shopping around, here’s a selection of the Xperia XA2 Ultra’s rivals

Moto X4

The Motorola Moto X4 is cheaper than the Xperia XA2 Ultra, and boasts the same power, a similar camera and similar battery performance, but there is one key difference: screen size.

You get a 5.2-inch Full HD screen, which means a smaller frame that sits better in the hand – but it’s not as good for watching movies on.

If you’re looking for a phone in this price range that’s a little more pocket-friendly and will save you a few bucks, the Moto X4 is worth considering.

Honor 9

Priced almost the same as the XA2 Ultra, the Honor 9 bills itself as a flagship phone on a budget, in a similar way to OnePlus. Again, it's screen size isn't as big as the XA2 Ultra, but it is a good overall device at a similar price point.

Ammara Rounaq,John McCann
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