Hands on: Sony Xperia XA Ultra review

A big phone with big ambitions

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Our Early Verdict

An impressive-looking phone that will be empowered by a mid-range price. The front facing camera offers smarts that others can't match.

For

  • Great edge-to-edge screen
  • Strong front-facing camera

Against

  • Price unknown
  • Unproven CPU

If you're wondering why there are so many big-screen phones out there at the moment, then you're probably missing the point. They're designed to hit a certain market, a more youthful user that cares less about phoning their parents and wants more to take pictures of themselves and browse the web or use apps.

Well, that's the theory that Sony's putting forward for the reason it's created the Sony Xperia XA Ultra - a large-screen version of its forthcoming Xperia UA handset.

It's simple to see what this phone is all about, as it's got a 6-inch screen and a hugely powerful front-facing camera - both of which are designed to attract the more youthful user, as well as appealing to a segment of the lucrative Asian audience.

Xperia XA Ultra review

And this thing is BIG, make no mistake. As you can see in the pictures, it's something of a palm stretcher, although what impresses the most is how easy it is to wrap your hand around it.

I'm not saying that it's comfortable, but at the same time the edge to edge display allows for a larger screen in a chassis that you might see on a phone 5.5-inch display.

Xperia XA Ultra review

The Full HD screen is pretty clear too, with Sony using its tech smarts to make everything look crisp and clear. It's not got the clarity of something like the Google Nexus 6P, but at the same time we're expecting a cheaper price for the Xperia XA Ultra.

The specs aren't too bad for a phone aimed at the youth market (where you'd expect the price to be a little lower) with a Helio P10 CPU on board from Mediatek, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage - which can be expanded using a microSD card.

Xperia XA Ultra review

Sadly that's not adoptable to let you expand the internal memory for increased app storage, but Sony says it's still looking at that tech at the moment.

Those internal specs apparently will allow for a two day battery life - it's hard to believe many phones can match that number at the moment, but it will be interesting to test whether Sony has deployed its full range of power-saving smarts here to help achieve that number.

Xperia XA Ultra review

Let's talk cameras - and there's some powerful spec on offer here. The rear camera has a 21.5MP sensor (which is an odd number, but hey, that's what it is) and a 1/2.4 aperture Exmor RS sensor. Indeed, the test pics I took weren't terrible at all, even in varying light levels.

Sadly there's no predictive hybrid autofocus used on the XA Ultra, the technique on offer with the Xperia X where it'll guess where an object is going to be in order to keep the picture as sharp as possible.

The front facing camera on the Xperia XA Ultra is a powerful sensor, with a 16MP Exmor RS sensor coming with a very wide angle picture taking ability and optical image stabilisation. In short, great selfies even in low light (with a screen flash on offer as well to help when things are a little darker).

Xperia XA Ultra review

There's also a new feature used here, one that takes the usual HDR option (where a sequence of shots are snapped at various exposures and mixed together) to another level.

The Xperia XA uses a similar theory but adds a flash into one of the photos, meaning you've got a perfect level of brightness for the fore and background of the snap - at least, that's the theory as I wasn't able to test this.

You can use a hand to start the selfie too, where the phone will recognise your palm and start the selfie countdown when needed.

Xperia XA Ultra review

In terms of design, there's not a lot to say about this phone that's not the same as other Sony devices already. The boxy design is back, but at the same time it's got a nicely rounded metallic rim, and feels very well constructed.

Xperia XA Ultra review
There's a smaller UI mode just in case...

The Sony Xperia XA Ultra will be coming in black, lime gold and white. The good news is that the release date has been set for July and it'll be coming to the UK and (likely) the US, although the latter isn't confirmed. Sadly, no word on price though.

Early verdict

The Sony Xperia XA Ultra is a phone that will live and die by its price - there's clearly a new wave of handsets coming from the Japanese brand under the 'X' moniker, and this is the big-screen, youth-oriented model that would previously have sat in the 'C' or 'M' lines.

Whether this replaces those ranges or sits alongside remains to be seen - but without things like the USB Type C connector that's coming in a lot of flagship phones, there's definitely room for improvement here.

Xperia XA Ultra review

That said, the powerful selfie camera and beautiful edge to edge display are winning traits of this phone - if the brand gets the pricing right, the Sony Xperia XA Ultra could be an affordable phablet with very few flaws.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.