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Sony Xperia XA Ultra first impressions: big screen entertainment in your pocket

|June 1, 2016 |Android Phones, Sony, Dual-SIM, 4G, 4G LTE, First impressions

“The Xperia XA Ultra isn’t too unwieldy despite its massive display”

Sony’s foray into the world of large-screened smartphones started with the Xperia Z Ultra. With its 6.44-inch screen, it ventured quite close to tablet territory. It seemed as if Sony was out to prove a point, considering phablets had just started becoming popular then, and the brand just about loaded the device up to the gills with high-end hardware. That was back in 2013, and since then, Sony has added more models to the Ultra range, and the latest to join the league is the new Xperia XA Ultra. In a lot of ways, this phablet is a supersized version of the compact Xperia XA, which is a mid-tier smartphone that has just launched in India for Rs 20,990. That said, the XA Ultra has a few more tricks up its sleeve apart from the big, 6-inch screen. Sony hasn’t confirmed the pricing or the exact launch date for it yet, but we’re told it’s likely to land on our shores sometime in July. We went hands on with the big guy, and without beating about the bush, would like to give you a peak at what it brings to the table.

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The Xperia XA (first Impressions), which first unveiled at MWC, rocks a sweet design, and the best thing we like about it is the fact that its side bezels are almost non-existent. The Ultra version of the Xperia XA mimics the same design to the T, which is why we thought it apt to call it a supersized variant of its smaller sibling. Apart from the larger display (plus the larger lens for the front camera, along with the addition of a front-facing flash), the two devices are nearly identical in terms of design. This means that the bezel-less philosophy is carried over to the Xperia XA Ultra as well, and due to that, the phone doesn’t get unwieldy in terms of handling. Sure, any smartphone with a 6-inch display is bound to be large and less than ideal for one-handed use, but to the XA Ultra’s credit, its design makes it hardly bigger than most 5.5-inchers.

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The 6-inch, full HD display dominates proceedings at front, even more so since there are hardly any bezels on the sides and the screen almost stretches edge to edge. There are no hardware navigation buttons – they’re all available as on-screen virtual keys. Above the display, you’ll see the usual elements – a slim earpiece right at the top, sensors and the front camera. In the Xperia XA Ultra’s case, the lens for the front shooter looks unusually large, almost like an eye peering back at you. A front-facing flash is also present. We’ll come to the details on the cameras in a bit, but that large lens is probably the first thing you’d notice after the screen.

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On the left edge, you’ll find a plastic tap that flips open to reveal the microSD card and SIM slots. The right bears a circular power key in the middle, with a volume rocker below that, plus a dedicated hardware shutter key for the snapper. The latter is a staple feature of most Sony phones and is something we find really handy. The headset socket and micro-USB port are located on top and bottom respectively.

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On the rear, you’ll see the primary camera on top left, along with the flash. A small NFC log and Xperia branding is also visible at the back.

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In terms of software, you get Android Marshmallow, which is layered up with Sony’s custom UI. The latter is very close to stock and doesn’t change too many things in terms of the look-and-feel of the interface... apart from the custom icons. Ours was a pre-launch demo unit, and didn’t have too many apps preloaded apart from the usual Google apps and a bunch of apps from Sony. However, we’re sure the retail units would come with quite a few.

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We took a gander at the camera app as well, and again, didn’t find anything unusual or surprising. It was usual Sony fare with modes like Superior Auto and Manual, a range of scene presets, and the signature camera experiences from the brand, including the likes of AR effect, Creative effect, Sweep Panorama and Style portrait. More of these can be downloaded as per your requirements.

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The Xperia XA Ultra, just like its sibling the XA, comes powered by a MediaTek Helio P10 processor and offers 16GB storage. However, the XA Ultra bumps up the RAM to 3 gigs. In our brief usage, we found the operation smooth. The photography capabilities also get a serious boost as compared to the smaller sibling, as the XA Ultra boasts a 21.5MP, f/2.0 primary shooter with hybrid autofocus. In most cases, we give a passing reference to the front snapper, but not this time. That’s because not only does the phablet offer a high-res selfie camera that rocks a resolution of 16-megapixels, Sony has also crammed in optical image stabilisation into it. Note that OIS isn’t available in the primary camera, only in the front. Also, this makes it the second smartphone after the HTC 10 (first impressions) to offer OIS in the front shooter. Those are note-worthy features, and we can’t wait to take the phablet out on a shooting spree to see how well the photos turn out.

As we mentioned earlier, we don’t have an inkling of the Xperia XA Ultra’s pricing yet, so it’s tough to put things in perspective. Considering the Xperia XA is priced at Rs 20,990, the XA Ultra is bound to come in at a much higher price point. July is the expected timeframe, and you can bet we’ll have all the details out for you as soon as they’re made official… watch this space.



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