Saturday, 7 July 2018

SONY XPERIA XA2

Hurrah! At last Sony Ditches Side-Mounted Fingerprint Scanner
Cut to the chase..? I've really now had it with £600-£1000 flagships. Or even £400-£600 Mid-rangers. When you can get a device of this quality with this functionality for £269, the writing's on the wall, certainly for many, and as very expensive phones get more so, the more demand will drop off, so the price will go up. And so on. I put this alongside the Moto X4 in terms of market position, that being now £199 brand new.

When considering the XA2 today, however, I shall have it alongside my Pixel 2 as it's a similar size physically, if not in screen size. That's a good place to start as always. The XA2 has a 5.2", 1080p, IPS LCD, 16:9, 424ppi, Gorilla Glass 4 covered front panel. For the first time really, Sony has been thinking about bezels and although it still has a sizeable chin and forehead compared to some competition (though not the Moto X4 or Pixel 2) it has shrunk the left and right down to almost nothing and swept the glass around the edges, just everso slightly.

It's not AMOLED of course, but the screen is bright and vibrant with some software switches to make it more saturated, in terms of colour, available. It's that gorgeous Sony sharpness and lovely black black, even for an LCD, that makes it special. In many ways it looks very much like AMOLED and I've had to keep the brightness on about 30% for indoor viewing which, for me, is on the lower end of other LCD screens.

It's a heavy phone at 171g/6oz but that makes it feel classy in my view. It has some heft and the aluminium band round the edge along with the glass front make it feel premium. The back is plastic, but that matters not one jot to me as it has a case round it! The heft also reflects the size of the battery. Remember the 'compact' Xperia devices from the last few years being well specified but small, like this? Well they had batteries around 2600mAh. They've managed to pack in 3300mAh now in 2018 in a body much the same size. Well, OK, a little bit bigger!

Granted, the Compact Xperias always returned great battery usage life in tests and with real people, but this takes things from great to amazing. Genuine 2 day battery life (for my average use) which is no doubt also helped by the optimisations of Android Oreo which this arrives with (8.0.0.) along with January 2018 Google Security Updates. They've also squeezed in Quick Charge 3 for use with the USB-C socket.

The device doesn't quite have the blazing speed of the various flagships out there, but the Snapdragon 630 has proved with various devices recently that it's a good choice for balance of speed, performance and battery. You have to be really nitpicking to spot the slowdown here and there, in comparison, but I guess a Razer Phone user would cry! There's also 3GB RAM in a world now dominated by 4GB+ but actually, again, it really is ample and multi-tasking is just fine. I can't detect any slowdown switching between Apps.

What might be a show-stopper, on the face of it, for me at least, is the 32GB of storage onboard whilst I've been bangin' on recently about devices needing 128GB minimum and to dispense with SD Cards. So I've had to turn tail on that and convince myself that armed with a 128GB MicroSD Card, it's fine. The read-write times in reality and unnoticeable, but the powers that be have really not helped people by removing Adoptable Storage. It's missing now on a growing number of devices as manufacturers run shy from it, as people report problems. Apparently. I've used Adoptable on some devices with low storage and haven't ever had a problem. Anyway, MicroSD Card it is as I only end up with 40% of the 32GB left after I'm all set up with my c.100 Apps.

A fiendish move (at last) from Sony is to get rid of that stupid side-mounted fingerprint scanner, as far as I'm concerned! It's blighted every Sony Xperia phone since scanners started and it's just a dumb place to put it. I know there are people in this Community who disagree with me on this, but my post is my opinion, and that's it. We've had the discussion 100 times, so we won't rake over it again. Having said all that, there really wasn't any reason, with the large chin here, why they couldn't have made it even better and put it on the front. But kudos to Sony, I say! Well done! Having said that, the scanner isn't very fast. Not sure why and it will be fixable in software updates, I guess, but there certainly is a quarter-second lag after touching before the screen comes on. It is nicely centred and high on the back though, just under the camera lens.

Going back to the screen for a moment, I'm saddened to see that there is no always-on whatsoever. There's no double tap to wake, there's no lift to wake, nothing. When a Notification comes in you can get it to vibrate/make noises and there's a blue LED at the top of the front, but that's it! You could probably prefix most of these points here with "...for the price..." but I really don't want to - and when you see what Motorola have done in this screen-on intelligence with the Moto X4, you realise that this isn't good enough.

And so, to the speaker. The mono bottom-firing speaker. It's pretty loud. Much better than many out there costing much more than this, but it really needs some taming. Unadjusted it's tinny, with no quality hardly. Fortunately, the phone comes with a range of equaliser tools which can be employed to good effect. As always, the pay-off for such meddling is volume, but it's still loud enough to hear in most non-public situations.

I've tested the 3.5mm earphone socket with my AKG 701 headphones and the sound is sweetness to my ears. It sounds just great and even more equalising is possible. As always, the Sony Music App. shines with a range of album-art and playlist options and provides a great all-Sony solution for OffGrid listening. If you're invested into the Sony way, this will fit right in. Similarly, the Bluetooth 5 provides with bang up-to-date features and NFC supplies for pairing, when not executing Google Pay duties. There's a basic FM Radio (which doesn't record) and seems functional with headphones used as the aerial in the usual way, then a switch to go to speakers once running.

The supplied launcher, like many running Oreo, has got very close to Vanilla Android with many options emulating the standard. There's a right-swipe to get to the Google Feed Cards view if you want it - option to switch off, Notification Dots on Icons if you like, dark theme (amongst many themes available via the Sony Themes section), then some stuff of their own, like sizing the grid for Widgets and App. shortcuts to cram more on or have less, shrink screen down for one-handed use - what?! This is as one-handed device! The only thing that springs to mind which I don't see is the base dialogue to make App. shortcuts into Squircles (and the like) though I'm sure these can be Theme'd in. The App. Drawer can be accessed either by having a button in the Dock or removed and user can swipe-up from anywhere. Sadly, the App. drawer is side-scrolling with no way to change.

So now we come to the stuff that some of us call bloat and others seem to think is 'enhancements'. I consider that anything which is (particularly, but not exclusively) third party as an App. excluding Google's core Apps. is bloat. So I can't see the point of Sony (or Huawei et al) supplying a Calculator App. for example, if they know that the Google one will be there anyway - at least until Google don't insist on core Apps. being included and everything is an App. from the Play Store. Yet another topic which divides opinion (and one which has been aired 100 times here already) so again, each to their own - we don't need to do it again! Sony have done much better than ever before here. There's not many Apps. which are a) not useful and b) uninstallable. Just a handful. And they can be disabled or not used. So, like the fingerprint scanner, Sony are falling into line. Hurrah!

Another area which I don't buy into with Sony is Gaming, but the PlayStation App. is present here, though I understand that the Remote Play and Second Screen Apps. and functionality is a bit underdeveloped and PS4 users are a bit naffed off with it. But what do I know! If it doesn't have Mario, I ain't bothered about gaming anyway! Again, those embedded into the Sony range of services and devices will find cross-over and Sony still working on stuff.

Looking round the device, the only things I've not mentioned are the SIM Card Tray covering up the separate MicroSD Card Tray inside and underneath to the side and separately drag-outable with a nail. What?! Sony continue to make a mess of this. While other manufacturers just have a tray with a pokey-hole and to put the cards on the tray and put it back in, no - that's not good enough for Sony who have to complicate things. It really is a cluster of mess the way they've done it. Anyway, that's on the left. The earphone socket is on the top, volume rocker on the right alongside the usual stylish circular Power Button and - hurrah - the camera's shutter button is still there! Sony, I forgive you all the above-moaned-about as you kept the shutter button! Long-press at any time to start the camera, even if locked.

The camera on this unit is a 23MP f/2, 24mm unit with stereo sound recording for video and an 8MP f/2.4 selfie unit. As usual for Sony cameras, they're full of bells and whistles and knobs and dials and plug-ins and graphics and AR and all the gubbins - and also as usual for me, I declare the camera to be nothing staggering which people are going to rave about but perfectly adequate for 95% of uses for 95% of users. From what I understand this is no step forward over previous Xperia models for those wanting to pixel-peep and benchmark this and that and the other. I'm very impressed with low light performance. It's no Pixel 2 or Samsung Galaxy S9 but it's just fine, dare I say, for the price. £269 don't forget! Slap the camera into Superior Auto mode and just enjoy!

I got this for £269 from AmazonUK in black, though I notice that the Silver, Blue and Pink ones are £299. Still an amazing bargain for what you get. It's virtually the same physical size as the Pixel 2 but with much more screen, half the price at most, a bigger, better battery and arguably a nicer unit in the hand. The Moto X4 has some functional benefits over this phone but it's not as pretty and nicely stylish. Depends what features you like, I guess, how much money you have and what's important to you. You can get three of these for the price of the latest Samsung.

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