Sony Xperia XA1 Plus review

Stuck in the middle of Sony's range, but something of a bullseye in practice

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You'll never forget who made your phone

  • Lots of Sony additions to Android
  • Not the latest Android version
  • Oreo update confirmed

When Sony sells a phone, it's really selling Sony. All the Xperia phones come with a bunch of Sony stuff, intended to cross-promote whatever is at the top of its list right now.

However, while this can be annoying, it could be a lot worse - Sony's other products include successful films (for better or worse, we have them to thank for the Emoji Movie), PlayStation games and music by some of the biggest artists on the planet.

Still, it would be unrealistic to portray the Xperia interface as close to stock Android. It’s very much Sony-flavored, with Sony-made pre-installed apps including News Suite, What's New, PlayStation, Xperia Lounge, AR Effect (Sony's version of Snapchat filters, although it dates back ages), Sketch, and some third-party content including Rakuten's Kobo ereader and AVG antivirus.

Hope you like the word ‘Xperia’ because you’re going to be seeing it a lot

Hope you like the word ‘Xperia’ because you’re going to be seeing it a lot

Most of these apps can only be disabled, not uninstalled, and some can't even do that. It's annoying, especially when you've just got the phone, but bear in mind the handset would likely cost you more without these additions.

The other thing to be aware of is that you're not getting the latest version of Android, Oreo - as of the time of writing, the Xperia XA1 Plus is still on Nougat. That's not too terrible at this point in the year, but we'd expect to see that update fairly soon to make this phone worth buying over others.

Sony has confirmed the handset will get the update, but when will depend on carriers, countries, and the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow. Or something similarly arcane.

Aside from these points, the XA1 Plus offers a good Android experience with only minor tweaks to things like the menu layout and quick settings panel. Most people likely won't notice any difference, especially if they’re coming from another Sony.

Movies, music and gaming

  • Big full HD screen ideal for movies
  • Battery can handle lots of screen time
  • One mediocre speaker

The Xperia XA1 Plus is very much built for entertainment. The large, lovely screen, the big battery and… the single downward-firing speaker? Yeah, that one's a bit baffling on Sony's part.

You'd think with all the company's audio prestige, they could rustle up a couple of decent quality stereo speakers to sit in those enormous bezels, but no. Nor do you get a set of high-res earphones (though Sony will sell them to you separately).

But there is at least that 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can plug in a good pair if you already have some.

The speaker is okay: it goes reasonably loud but predictably gets distorted at higher levels. It sounds fine, if a little noisy, and of course very dependent on which way the speaker’s facing relative to you. It's not one for parties, put it that way.

Sound aside, the rest of the entertainment experience on this phone is superb, especially given the price. Movies and shows look gorgeous on that bright widescreen display, and the battery is very much up to the challenge of powering all your screen-on time.

Judging by our 90-minute 720p battery test, you could comfortably get through more than 7.5 hours of HD video on a single full charge, and that’s enough for anyone’s commute. Even in LA.

As you'd expect from the home of PlayStation, gaming is also an enjoyable experience on the XA1 Plus. The 5.5-inch screen is about ideal for handheld gaming in our opinion, and the graphics, frame rate and performance all left us satisfied on a range of titles, including some more demanding ones (read: racing).

And if you do have a PS4, you can get a handy mount that'll turn your XA1 Plus into a screen for your DualShock controller.

A solid mid-tier performer

  • Middling specs for a middling price
  • Supports microSDXC cards 
  • Solid performance on games and apps

The exact specs of the Xperia XA1 Plus will depend on where you buy it: it comes in both 3GB and 4GB versions, though both have 32GB of storage. Our review device reports 3.7GB of RAM.

The microSD card slot can accept the faster SDXC format and takes up to a 256GB card if you feel the need to expand on the onboard storage.

Chipset-wise, you've got a MediaTek Helio P20 octa-core 64-bit CPU (with 4 x 2.3GHz and 4 x 1.6GHz cores) and a Mali T880 MP2 GPU. That GPU can theoretically handle UHD content, but there's not much use for that with a 1080p screen.

Nonetheless, the phone does output very good graphics and performance on all our favorite apps and games, and we didn't experience any of the problems you might expect on a lower-end phone (lagging, stuttering, crashes).

It handled multi-tasking and intensive processing competently, and with the exception of the camera, we never found ourselves annoyed with how long anything took on the Plus.

It's mid-tier hardware for a mid-tier phone, and that'll suit a lot of people just fine. Benchmark performance is appropriately mid-table, with a single-core Geekbench 4 score of 836 and a multi-core of 3715.

You can compare those scores to the competition here, but suffice to say the top numbers at the time of writing are near enough double, placing the phone in the high centre of the table. And that's all we could ask, really.