Sony Xperia XA Ultra review

XA Ultra marks the spot

Great Value

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Interface and reliability

  • Will be updated to Android Nougat in 2017
  • The interface doesn’t detract too much from stock Android
  • Comes with a few pre-installed apps that can’t be deleted

Sony’s recent lineup of smartphones (including the XA Ultra) have given a nice boost to the amount of Android Marshmallow-equipped devices available. And thankfully, Sony has announced that its mid-range phone will receive the Android Nougat update soon enough. But, let’s focus on the now.

The stock operating system is coated in Sony’s special Xperia flavor, which only noticeably changes the look of the icons, layout, and pushes through some notifications from the Xperia Lounge. Everything you love about Marshmallow, including Google Now on Tap and the enhanced permissions are here in full effect.

Here's the general look of the interface (click to expand)

Sony does you the favor of including several apps that cover the major bases. For example, there are apps that can handle messaging, music, and e-mail available from the get-go. However, if you’re coming from another Android phone, or an iPhone 7, you may want to opt for different choices to make yourself at home, like Textra, the stock Messenger app, and your choice of music subscription app.

The XA Ultra comes with only a few pre-installed apps, which is nice to see in a cheaper phone. Out of the box, Spotify, Facebook and AVG Protection are loaded onto the device and cannot be removed. Many people will find use in the first two, but the need for anti-virus software on a phone is debatable.

Music, movies and games

  • microSD support allows for extra 200GB of (unadoptable) storage
  • The 1080p screen is a welcome boost over the 720p Xperia XA

Queuing up your favorite music, movies and games is as easy and enjoyable as one would hope on the XA Ultra. Thanks to its 3.5mm jack and Bluetooth support, any and all headphones are welcome here. Keep in mind that this mid-range phone doesn’t have the hi-res audio file playback support found in the Sony Xperia X, Sony Xperia X Compact, Sony Xperia X Performance and Sony Xperia XZ. To compensate, Sony has included a number of settings to give the audio performance a boost, much like it does with its screen technology.

Speaking of the screen, while it doesn’t put forward a splendorous 2K resolution as seen with the LG V20 and Samsung Galaxy S7, the 1080p suits this phone just fine, especially since it helps to keep the price down and the battery life up. If you’d like to tweak the look of the screen, Sony has included options to enhance the contrast for videos and images, as well as a white balance slider.

Gaming is immersive can be thanks to this phone’s expansive screen. In addition to being plenty responsive to touch, gesture-filled games are supported thanks to its built-in accelerometer and gyroscope. The primary reason for mentioning what seems like an given these days is because the Moto G4 Play doesn’t ship with a gyroscope.

Lastly, Sony has packed in a microSD slot so that there’s basically no end in sight for the amount of content you can pack into the XA Ultra. However, keep in mind that the extra storage cannot be adopted, meaning that you cannot install apps onto it.

Specs and performance explained

  • Mediatek system-on-a-chip is totally sufficient for today’s demands
  • 3GB RAM works to make multitasking quick
  • Day-to-day performance feels like a slight cut-above mid-range

The Sony Xperia XA Ultra isn’t a powerhouse by any means, but what it’s capable of suits its $300 price tag. The Mediatek Helio P10, also known as the MT6755, octa-core chipset powers the phone, armed with the Mali T860 GPU in the graphics department.

While Mediatek currently doesn’t fetch as much attention as Qualcomm’s chipsets, the company is starting to pop up more and more. Breaking the Helio P10 apart, it contains eight ARM Cortex A53 cores, four clocked at 1.1GHz and four clocked at 2.0GHz. This positions it right in the middle of the pack. 

For some perspective, it’s not as lickidy-split as the Snapdragon 650 used in the Sony Xperia X Compact, but it’s not slow by any means. On the other hand, the XA Ultra handily outpaces the Snapdragon 617 used in the Moto G4.

Combined with its 3GB of RAM, the phone is enjoyable to use. It’s hard these days to find a phone that’s particularly bad in that regard, but it’s nice to see that even the more affordable options like this one are equipped with enough power to not be bogged down by day-to-day tasks. Good on Sony for rounding out its smartphone lineup with a cheap, but totally capable device.

Cameron Faulkner

Cameron is a writer at The Verge, focused on reviews, deals coverage, and news. He wrote for magazines and websites such as The Verge, TechRadar, Practical Photoshop, Polygon, Eater and Al Bawaba.