Sony is really good at releasing armfuls of confusingly-named phones and essentially leaving us to work out the differences. The Sony Xperia XA1 Plus is one of those, slotting in between the Xperia XA1 and the Xperia XA1 Ultra.
Since the XA1 range is Sony's mid-tier offering, that places the Plus in the middle of... the middle. If you're thinking that makes for a pretty unremarkable phone, you'd be right.
However, unremarkable isn't a bad thing in this case. The XA1 Plus won't set your world on fire, nor - at around £330/$380 (roughly AU$485) - will it thrill your bank manager - but it also won't have you howling in laggy frustration or missing the megabucks you spent on it.
It's the phone equivalent of a takeout meal: it's not cheap, it's not gourmet, but it's good and it works.
- Generous full HD screen
- Impressive battery pack
- Fingerprint scanner
It’s pretty clear what Sony is hoping will sell this phone: screen and battery. Full stop. As we noted in our initial hands-on, the 5.5-inch full HD display is perfectly suited to movies and gaming, and the 3,430mAh battery ensures you won't run out of juice mid-session.
The bezels above and below that display will bug some people, and others will be disappointed by the solo speaker instead of something that matches the sound to the image quality, but neither of those are deal-breakers at this price point - especially when the latter can be fixed with good headphones, as there's a proper 3.5mm jack.
The Xperia XA1 Plus has been pitched as 'super mid-tier', and we think that's about right. It offers middling processing, storage and memory, but amps up the battery and screen size to offer something like the phone equivalent of 'Premium Economy.' A little more this, a little more that, but still a (reasonably) little price tag.
The only question is who's going to buy it when it's lacking in standout features or any kind of marketing concept, and judging by the PR materials that came with its low-key launch, Sony doesn't appear to have an answer.
Sadly, this probably means it'll sell less well than it deserves to, based on our experiences in this review.
One of the family
- Chunky but robust
- Proper headphone jack
- Hardware camera key
Looks-wise, the XA1 Plus carries the Xperia DNA at every facet. That means a chunkier feel than you get from many manufacturers: the Xperia line has never been concerned about thinness.
However, if you haven't had one for a while, the newer models are less blocky than their predecessors, with gently curved sides giving an oval shape to the top and bottom edges.
This makes them much more comfortable to hold while still being satisfyingly robust, and the thicker profile means there's room for a proper 3.5mm headphone jack on the top.
That's not to say you don’t get USB-C: the charging port is indeed the reversible standard, offering the best of both worlds. It sits in the center of the bottom panel beside a single, grille-covered downward-firing speaker.
The left edge holds the door to the dual-SIM tray (on our model: some are single SIM) and a microSD slot, and refreshingly opens with a fingernail rather than those little tools you lose within the first ten seconds of owning the phone.
The right edge of the phone is similarly well thought-out: below the volume rocker is the power key with fingerprint sensor built in (unless you're in the US), and there's a hardware key for photography.
Youngsters probably won't appreciate that holding the phone in landscape means this key is where the shutter button would be on an actual camera, but we know.
Satisfyingly, it also does the half-press-to-focus thing. More Androids should offer this: it's a really enjoyable way to take photos. Especially for us oldies.
The plastic back panel is pretty minimal, with just the Xperia logo and a tiny NFC symbol to let you know where to hold your phone over the contactless reader. The sizeable lens for the 23MP camera sensor sits almost flush, with just a thin silver ring raised above the surface.
Below that is the LED flash - and that's it. No fingerprint pad because that's in the power key, no second sensor on the camera: this is a back panel you won't be sad to cover with a case.
The front of the phone sports the large top and bottom bezels we've come to know from Xperia phones, alongside the subtle-ish Sony branding beside the 8MP selfie camera.
There's nothing at all on the bottom bezel, which is disappointing: when you've got half an inch of chin on the front of your phone, you kind of want there to be a purpose to it.
There's no home key and not even capacitive keys. The Android navigation buttons on the XA1 Plus are software, so you can expect those to take up a little of your 5.5-inch screen real estate instead of that useless bezel.
It’s also sad to see that the screen doesn’t curve into those rounded handset edges - it feels like a missed opportunity, but perhaps that’s an unfair expectation at this price point.
Thin metallic bands finish the top and bottom of the XA1 Plus, which currently comes in a choice of black, blue, gold or pink, depending on the territory.
Displays for days
- 5.5 inches of full HD refinement
- Gorilla Glass 4
- Quite fingerprinty
Providing you don't mind the top and bottom bezels, the display is a high point on this mid-tier phone. Measuring a generous 5.5 inches (what we used to call a 'phablet' and now just call… a phone), it's coated with Gorilla Glass 4 and offers full HD in the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio (1080 x 1920, about 401 pixels per inch).
While it would have been nice to see the display wrap around into the curved sides (and indeed it seems Sony is planning curved displays), it's perhaps a little too much to ask for at this price.
We definitely would have preferred it a little less fingerprinty, however: on white backgrounds you can really see the dirty smudges. You'll want to clean it before loading up a video.
By default, the phone displays text and icons a little large for our liking, but that's easily fixed in the Display settings.
You can also change the image color profile there, from the default which is realistic if a little dull, to 'image enhancement' mode or even 'super-vivid'. There isn't a huge difference between them, but it's nice to have the option.
The brightness levels on the XA1 Plus' screen, however, leave a little to be desired. Adaptive brightness is on by default, and we found it generally left the screen a little dim for our liking.
Interestingly, with adaptive brightness on, you can turn the light slider on the settings panel all the way up to the top, and yet your screen still isn't at its maximum possible brightness.
Turn adaptive brightness off and the slider moved back to the middle, and turning it up to max revealed a much brighter top end than we'd otherwise have had. Worth knowing, especially if you like your screens to require sunglasses.