Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra review

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra offers up a big display and dual selfie camera to entice an audience 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.

Arriving alongside the easier to hold Xperia XA2, the larger XA2 Ultra shares pretty much the same feature set aside from its larger screen, dual front cameras, bigger battery and expansive body size. 

Price and availability

  • Launch price: £379, $449.99 (around AU$670)
  • Release date: February 2018

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra price is £379, $449.99 (around AU$670) SIM-free at launch, pitching it below the likes of the OnePlus 5T and Honor 9, which is fair considering that its spec sheet isn't as strong at those of the two more flagship-focused devices.

It slides comfortably into the 'affordable' bracket though, considering its supersized display, and when it lands on contract (which should be soon) it won't carry hefty monthly fees.

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra went on sale in February, but for now it's not widely available, with Amazon the only major retailer with obvious stock of the handset. We expect more retailers to pick up the phone very soon though, so watch this space.

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 boasts a familiar Sony design, which isn't the most exciting out there, but it is at least functional.

There's a metal frame to the handset which makes it feel solid, but the rear is plastic, which reminds you that this isn't a premium device.

It measures 163 x 80 x 9.5mm and weighs 221g, which means it's sizable, and heavy in the hand. You'll need to employ both hands if you want to do some serious typing, as it can get a little unwieldy in just one palm.

The finish also doesn't offer a huge amount of grip, and considering the size and weight of the phone there is a drop risk to factor-in here, especially if you have smaller hands.

The fingerprint scanner on the rear is relatively easy to hit, although we sometimes found that we'd hit it with a lower part of our a finger, rather than the tip, and we'd have to have another go to properly locate the scanner.

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra hands on gallery

We also found the scanner to be overly sensitive at times, thinking our finger was touching it when our hands were nowhere near it. It was just sat in our pocket. This led to reading errors that cause the phone to vibrate, making us think we'd received a notification – alas, we're not that popular.

Sony has shifted the scanner to the rear from its more common (on Sony phones) side-mounted location, and claims the new location makes it easier for everyone (both left- and right-handed users) to hit. However the old location was arguably easier to locate, and didn't result in unwanted in-pocket scans. 

There's a headphone jack on the top, which will please cord-preferring audiophiles, while on the base you'll find a USB-C port alongside a single, downwards-firing speaker.

The power/lock key is centrally located on the right-hand side of the phone, and it’s easy enough to locate, with the volume rocker just above it.

We found that during right-handed use the volume key was a stretch for our thumb, which meant that increasing the volume required us to shuffle the handset a little in our palm. We'd have preferred the volume key to be a little lower down, on the left side of the device.

There's no doubting that the Xperia XA2 Ultra is a Sony smartphone, with the firm's DNA coursing through its veins.

The angular rectangle still has its fans, but it's quickly becoming less and less relevant as manufacturers look to squeeze bezels, slice off millimeters in thickness and attempt to provide more futuristic-looking devices.

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

Display

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

One of the big talking points on the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is its screen, which measures six inches and packs in a Full HD 1080p resolution.

There isn't a huge choice of smartphones with screens of this size at this price point, which allows the Xperia XA2 Ultra to carve out a nice little niche for itself.

If you're looking for an affordable Netflix/gaming device the XA2 Ultra is a strong contender. The LCD IPS display doesn’t quite have the color punch of rival AMOLED displays, but it's still crisp and clear, providing a good canvas for video content.

We watched many hours of Netflix during our time with the handset, and can confirm that the screen is well up to the task. 

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

More discerning viewers may notice a slight blue tint to the display, but you can adjust the color temperature of the screen in the settings to counter this – although you may witness a perceived loss of brightness if you opt to tinker.

While the sizable bezels above and below the display aren't exactly 'on-trend' in the current smartphone market, they do provide a handy space to rest your thumbs when holding the phone in landscape orientation, ensuring that your digits aren't obscuring any of the action.

Sony has managed to push the display right to the edges of the phone on the left and right of the handset, redeeming itself somewhat from the aforementioned bezels, and in turn this provides 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 packs in a sizable 3,580mAh battery, which results in some impressive performance on the endurance front.

We were easily able to get a full day of use from a full charge during our time with the phone, even with moderate-to-high usage which including a couple of hours of Netflix, two hours of gaming, a handful of phone calls and photos, and a liberal amount of emailing, social network activity and general web browsing.

Even with all this, we were still getting into bed with at least 15% left in the tank after taking it off charge at 7am and plugging it in after 11pm – and if we curbed our gaming habits we were ending the day with 30% still left at times.

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

If your usage isn't as extensive there's a good chance that you'll find even more left in the tank, and for really economical users the XA2 Ultra can last a day and a half before requiring a trip to a power socket.

We ran our standard battery test on the handset, which involves playing a 90-minute Full HD video with screen brightness at maximum, and accounts syncing over Wi-Fi in the background.

After the 90 minutes was up the Xperia XA2 Ultra had lost 20% of its charge, which isn't a particularly great performance, although it's worth noting that this was with the screen at full brightness, which is a level we rarely used day-to-day.

There's no wireless charging built in, so you'll need to connect a cable to the USB-C port on the base of the phone. The XA2 Ultra does support fast charging, but the plug block you get in the box doesn't, so you'll need to purchase a quick-charger separately.

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 features not one, not two, but three cameras – although only one of those is located on the rear of the handset.

That rear-facing snapper is a 23MP offering, which is the same megapixel count as the sensor found on this phone’s predecessor (the Xperia XA1 Ultra), although it’s not exactly the same sensor.

Thanks to the Snapdragon 630 chipset inside the XA2 Ultra, the camera on this phone can shoot 4K video, plus it performs slightly better in low light.

It's round the front where things get interesting though, as the Xperia XA2 Ultra comes with 16MP and 8MP snappers.

The 16MP camera features OIS (optical image stabilization), which improves low-light performance, and is assisted by a LED flash to really brighten up shots without a loss of quality.

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

Meanwhile, the 8MP camera boasts a super-wide 120-degree field of view, allowing you to pack in a whole group of people for a selfie. You can easily switch between the two cameras in the camera app with two buttons just above the shutter key.

You'll also find a dedicated camera button on the right side of the phone, giving you one-click access to launch the camera app, and then a physical shutter button to snap photos with. If you're taking a selfie, especially using the wide-angle group lens, this button is much easier to hit than the on-screen one.

Dive into the camera app, and Sony offers up a wealth of features and settings. If you just want to snap a photo though, the default mode is Sony's Superior Auto, which will adjust the various settings on your behalf.

The rear camera performs very well outdoors in daylight, capturing a high level of detail and nice colors, but things aren’t as good when the lights go down, indoors or out.

We found the Xperia XA2 Ultra had noticeable lag when shooting in darker situations when compared to its rivals, which led to additional blur as we would move the camera before it had finished processing.

Once you've understood that patience is needed, and have tapped to focus on your subject you can get some reasonable shots, but Sony's image processing reduces the level of detail in an attempt to remove noise, which means your pictures can end up looking a bit muddy and muted.

If you like to tinker with their shots, you can slide your finger from left to right over the screen to enter manual mode.

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

This adds a button next to the shutter key, and tapping this opens up a settings overlay allowing you to adjust the ISO, white balance, focus, exposure and shutter speed.

These settings can aid your low-light and indoor shots, plus there’s an option to manually turn on/off HDR, giving you better control over how your photos are lit.

The HDR mode is actually very good, and we found it became our preferred shooting mode when using the XA2 Ultra. Keeping the other manual controls on auto and switching on HDR made for better-lit, more detailed and more colorful shots is most scenarios.

We'd recommend ignoring Superior Auto for day-to-day shots, in favor of sliding over to manual mode and enabling HDR.

Hit the settings cog when it manual mode to enable HDR

As we mentioned earlier, the Xperia XA2 Ultra can shoot 4K video, but you won't find that option in the video section of the app. Swipe from right to left in the camera app to get to video mode, and in the settings you'll find the best resolutions available are full HD (30fps) and Full HD (60fps).

You have to continue to swipe across the screen to get to the other modes, where the 4K camera is one of the options. Select it and a warning appears on screen, saying that the phone may get hot and switch off – not very encouraging, but it’s something we’ve experienced on previous Sony phones.

It means you'll want to limit your 4K recording to a few minutes only, otherwise the phone will really start to struggle.

For many, Full HD will be a high enough resolution, and considering that the XA2 Ultra only has a Full HD display the jump to 4K recording isn't particularly necessary – even if you're sharing the video with friends, there's currently just one phone in the world that has a 4K display (the Sony Xperia XZ Premium), so the chances of someone being able to quickly and easily view the video in all its glory are low.

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 runs Android 8 Oreo, the latest version of Google's operating system, ensuring that the phone is up to date straight out the box.

Sony has applied its own interface skin to Android, which slightly alters the look and operation of some areas of the operating system, but it’s not heavy handed and it's still easy to use.

A couple of the key tweaks are in the app drawer, where Sony has opted for a horizontally scrolling list of apps when Google and the majority of the Android phone manufacturers have now adopted a vertically scrolling list.

Sony has also added a recommended apps tab to the panel to the left of the app drawer, with suggestions based on your usage habits. We found this a little redundant, but it does stay out of the way so it’s not a big issue.

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

Something that's slightly more irritating are the additional applications that come pre-installed on the Xperia XA2 Ultra. 

On top of Google's suite of applications – which for many manufacturers are sufficient – Sony has added its own music, album, and video apps, along with the Playstation, Xperia Lounge, Kobo Books, Amazon Shopping, Prime Video and Kindle apps.

What makes the inclusion of these apps more annoying is the fact you can't uninstall them; you can 'disable' them, which hides them from view, but they're still taking up some storage.

Our bloatware grumble aside, the Xperia XA2 Ultra works like pretty much any other Android phone, and if you're already familiar with the operating system you’re unlikely to have any real issues here.

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 comes with 32GB of storage, although around 17GB is already in use by the system out-of-the-box, leaving you with roughly 15GB to play with.

If you download a lot of music and videos, you may need to utilize the microSD slot included on the XA2 Ultra, which can support cards up to 256GB in size.

As we've already mentioned, the large 6-inch Full HD display on the Xperia XA2 Ultra lends itself very well to watching video and gaming.

You get four preinstalled video apps on the XA2 Ultra, with Google Play TV & Movies and YouTube joined by Sony's own video app and Amazon’s Prime Video.

While YouTube and Prime Video offer specific services, both Sony's and Google's apps allow you to watch any videos you have on the phone's storage, whether shot with the camera or ones you’ve downloaded separately.

Playback is smooth and color reproduction is good. Movies don't look quite as spectacular as they do on phones boasting the more punchy AMOLED panels, plus there's no HDR support here, but considering this is a mid-range phone the experience is still great.

What's not so great is the sound, with the single, downwards-firing speaker on the base of the handset pumping out pedestrian-quality audio. It does go reasonably loud, but the sound becomes more distorted in the process, and when you hold the phone in landscape orientation it’s easy to cover the speaker with your hand.

The good news is that Sony has kept the headphone jack – located on the top of the XA2 Ultra – allowing you to plug in a set of wired headphones. Bluetooth is also on offer for those who don’t fancy getting tangled, but audiophiles will appreciate the wired option.

Sony's pre-loaded Music app gives you a solid music player for any tunes you transfer onto the handset, and the audio quality through headphones is very good – the less said about the aforementioned internal speaker, the better.

Gaming is another hit on the Xperia XA2 Ultra, with the large screen and decent slug of power ensuring smooth gameplay and respectable load times, while when you’re gaming in landscape orientation the bezels either side of the screen make for good hand rests.

Performance

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

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is well equipped in the power department, with Qualcomm's mid-range Snapdragon 630 chipset accompanied by 4GB of RAM under the hood.

That's more than enough power for streaming video, playing games and even excessive social media action. Aside from the slightly lagging camera app, the rest of the Xperia XA2 Ultra runs very well.

We didn't experience any erratic app behavior, and games such as Clash Royale, Micro Machines and Pokemon GO loaded and played without issue.

Running Geekbench 4 on the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra, the phone achieved an average multi-core score of 4,185, which is comparable to its smaller sibling, the Xperia XA2, which managed to clock up 4,222 in the same test despite having 1GB less RAM.

It comfortably outperforms the handset it replaces too, with the XA1 Ultra only capable of registering an average score of 3,724 in Geekbench 4.

What this means is you shouldn't experience any serious performance issues, with the Xperia XA2 Ultra capable of handling most things you throw at it.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is a smartphone with niche appeal, but the niche audience it’s targeting will be pleased with what it's offering.

A huge screen, great battery life and a price tag that's around half that of flagship phones makes the Xperia XA2 Ultra a top buy.

Sony hasn't done anything out of the ordinary here, but what it has done is deliver a phone that hits a number of marks to make it a compelling option.

The camera feels like it should be better than it is, the Sony design isn't the most attractive or modern, and the Android overlay won’t be to everyone’s taste, but these are compromises we can live with.

Who's it for?

Anyone who's looking for a big-screened smartphone without a flagship price tag should definitely check out the Xperia XA2 Ultra.

Its large screen and decent battery life make it great for video streaming and gaming – perfect for a Netflix binge during the commute.

Those with small hands may want to steer clear, as it's big and and heavy, while those focused on getting the best camera phone for their money may want to take a look at the Honor 9 or OnePlus 5T.

Should I buy it?

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is a solid smartphone that won't let you down if you want a big screen at a reasonable price.

There are a lot of good phones around this price point, so it's worth shopping around, but few offer the large display and generous battery life of the XA2 Ultra.

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.

OnePlus 5T

If your budget can stretch a little more, the OnePlus 5T is a better all-round phone.

Its dual rear cameras perform better more consistently than the XA2 Ultra, while its full-metal unibody looks and feels more premium.

There's a sizable 5.7-inch display on the front, with a QHD resolution to boot, to ensure videos and games look great and there's more power under the hood.

First reviewed: February 2018

John McCann
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