Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra review: selfie control

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

Looking for a big phone? You’ve come to the right place. Hide your skinny jeans and fashionable jeggings, because the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is a pocket breaker.

Sticking with Sony’s angular aesthetic is an incredibly large slab of aluminium and plastic, measuring more than 16cm in length, and 8cm across.

At 9.5mm deep, the XA2 Ultra’s also one of the thicker phones you’ll see debut this year. And yes, it’s probably going to the be only device you can stand up on its bottom without assistance.

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

The screens colour reproduction is excellent, and this doesn’t change at extreme viewing angles either

But just because the XA2 Ultra’s big, doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.

Sony’s taken great care in tapering its flanks, chiseling the circular power button and volume rocker, and garnishing the phone with a 6.0-inch screen.

You’re not getting many pixels on said screen, but the 1920×1080 display is one of the better LCDs I’ve ever seen at this particular size. Colours pop, the brightness threshold is high enough for use in bright light, and low enough to not melt your eyes at night.

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra specifications:

Dimensions: 163mm tall, 80mm wide, 9.5mm thick
SIM type: Nano SIM
Weight: 221 grams
Screen: 1920×1080 | 6.0-inch | IPS LCD | No HDR support | 16:9 aspect ratio | 367 pixels per inch
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 | octa core | 8 2.2GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores
GPU: Qualcomm Adreno 508
Battery and power: 3580mAh fixed | no wireless charging | Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0
Storage: 32GB, microSD card support
Rear camera: single camera array | 23MP 1/2.3″ sensor with f/2.0 23mm lens | phase detection autofocus
Selfie camera: dual camera array | 16MP 1/2.6″ sensor with f/2.0 23mm lens | Optical Image Stabilisation, autofocus | 8MP 1/4″ senor with 120-degree wide-angle f/2.4 lens
Video support: 2160p (4K) at 30fps
Radios: Bluetooth 5.0 LE | dual-band WiFi 802.11 n | NFC | Gigabit LTE | FM Radio | A-GPS | GLONASS
I/O: USB Type-C 2.0
OS: Android 8.0 Oreo
Other features: no water resistance | 3.5mm headphone jack | Corning Gorilla Glass 4 screen protection
Colours: Black, Blue, Gold, Silver

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

Still one of the smartphone world’s most over-engineered power buttons, but we love it

Even though it’s about as large a screen you’ll find in a phone in 2018, the Xperia XA2 Ultra has an equally massive forehead and chin. This also adds to the phone’s massive footprint.

Said forehead does house some notable features. Forget dual rear cameras, Sony placed dual selfie cameras up front. One is a 16MP snapper with OIS, and the other is an 8MP 120-degree wide-angle lens.

The latter’s better for group selfies, but the other is one of the best selfie camera I’ve ever used on a smartphone. Yes, even better than the Huawei P20 Pro, and the world’s more recent flagship smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S8.

OIS — optical image stabilisation, a technology that mitigates hand twitches — is a boon for selfies. And it’s especially necessary considering the phone’s bulk when held in one hand.

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra’s flanks gently taper away, making the phone easier to hold and nicer to look at

There’s also enough space for a Sony logo on the phone’s top bezel, a front-facing flash and speaker slit for calls.

The chin however, houses nothing. It’s wasted space that could’ve been done away with entirely, or used for hardware control buttons.

Around the back, there’s an Xperia logo, a fingerprint sensor above it, and a large 23MP main camera on the phone’s northern edge.

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra sample pictures
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Sony Xperia Xa2 Ultra Screenshots 1

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Sometimes the camera just didn't respond.

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Occasionally, the camera would oblige.

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Dynamic range is pretty stellar during the day.

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But inside, dynamic range isn't commendable in certain lighting scenarios. Like inside.

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This selfie camera is incredible. Focus is excellent, dynamic range is great, and colour reproduction is brilliant.

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That blue is totally free of noise, thanks to a pretty reliable auto mode.

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The Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra just couldn't focus on this spider.

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Focussing woes continue.

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It's interesting to note what the camera deemed the focal point in this snap.

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Colour reproduction, again, is excellent. Sony still makes great sensors.

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I tried to capture the flower in the foreground.

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The focal length isn't as wide as I'd like, and struggled to snap macros.

It might sound impressive, but this camera isn’t nearly as good as the selfie camera. Dynamic range is excellent, but the focal length is poor, which makes macro shots awkward and borderline impossible. Still, colour reproduction is good, even if focus and stabalisation remains Sony’s Achilles heel.

Nevertheless, the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra’s internals make up for its average imaging abilities.

Beneath its metal body, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 handles data processing duties, while 4GB of RAM, the Adreno 508 GPU, and 32GB of internal storage aid it (and more if you slide in a microSD card).

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

Sony’s UI is as clean as ever, but the stock Google settings shade still boasts plenty of wasted space

You’ll find this hardware cocktail in a number of other phones this year, but it suits the Xperia XA2 Ultra’s large screen. Notably, browsing resource hogs like Instagram and Twitter is a slick experience, while the phone can easily handle playing YouTube at 1080p and 60 frames per second.

This phone definitely doesn’t need a more premium chipset.

Gaming’s also a strong point of the XA2 Ultra. Thanks to the screen size, titles like Fast Like A Fox are easy to play, and are soaked in rich colours. Games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds will also benefit from the visual real estate.

The phone’s audio performance however leaves a lot to be desired, especially when watching content in, say, bed. You’ll need to find a balance between holding the phone comfortably, or muffling the speakers. It’s not an easy task.

So media consumption is a veritable strong point for the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra. But I feel that battery life isn’t as impressive as most other Sony devices.

Sure, it has the company’s legendary Stamina Mode, but the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra failed to last three days of extremely irregular use, with the WiFi and Bluetooth radios on, at maximum screen brightness.

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

Sony spends a large part of its marketing effort talking up the screen, and we can understand why

Watching YouTube for around three hours will drain around a quarter from the battery too, largely determined by the brightness settings and video quality. This was with WiFi on and LTE off, no less.

It’s not a terrible result, but you’d expect a little more from a phone that’s the size of a small family car.

Other annoyances further taint the otherwise solid XA2 Ultra experience.

For one, the phone is extremely overpriced. It debuted in South Africa at R7999, brushing the lower echelons of cheaper flagships. Hell, even the Nokia 6 2018, with the same chipset and arguably more attractive hardware setup, is priced at R3999.

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

A 6.0-inch screen benefits apps like Sony’s gallery, Netflix and YouTube. This phone’s a boon for media consumption

Of course, it doesn’t have dual selfie cameras, but I found the XA2 Ultra’s standard front facing camera to be used more than the wide-angle snapper at any rate.

So the question really is this: do you need a phone with a great front facing camera and large screen? If your answer is yet, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better device than the Sony.

But the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra could’ve been better, and more refined.

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

The fingerprint sensor’s in a great location, and is easy to reach

While it’s great to see Sony returning to form after so many years of making boring, outdated products. But it’s clear that some things never really change.

Still, it’s on the right path, even if that path is forged by a phone with a yeti-sized footprint.

Verdict: With a stellar selfie camera, a beautiful screen and a capable chipset, the Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra is a solid choice if you’re looking for a larger phone for media consumption and social media use. But its price and overall size makes it an awkward pill to swallow.

Score: 7.5/10

All images: Andy Walker/Gearburn

Andy Walker, former editor


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