By Gerard Ramos / Lifestyle & Entertainment Editor
Since the launch of the acclaimed Sony Xperia Z in 2013, the last letter in the alphabet has represented the flagship Android-powered smartphones of the global consumer electronics giant.
That, apparently, is no longer the case.
At the 2016 Mobile World Congress back in February, Sony unveiled a slew of Xperia phones all bearing an “X” in their appellation: the entry-level XA, the big-screened XA Ultra, the midrange-plus X and the premium X Performance—all recalling the clean lines and minimalist aesthetic of the award-winning Xperia Z smartphones, but with discreet refinements that make them even more joyous to use.
Beyond that joy, we can happily add that there’ve no reports from any part of the world of any of the new Sony smartphones bursting into flames while being charged.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve been playing around with both the Xperia X, which the local office of Sony Mobile loaned for review; and the Xperia XA Ultra, which we purchased on zero-interest installment from the Sony store at the new Glorietta in Ayala Center, Makati City (the customer service of which, by the way, leaves a lot—a whole lot—to be desired). Both smartphones, in Black Graphite, are Nano-dual SIM variants.
While both the Xperia X and XA Ultra don’t stray from the boxy “OmniBalance” design ethos of their predecessors, their corners and sides have been ever-so-subtly rounded out and softened, their glass front curving into the metal frame, all in all resulting in better usability and a better hand-feel, with the excellent matte finish of the XA Ultra’s polycarbonate back bringing the overall feel to the premium realm of the metal-encased X. However, neither boasts of the water- and dust-proofing that Sony’s smartphones have long had bragging rights to, especially the flagship models. (The Sony Xperia X Performance does offer such proofing.)
The Xperia X is fronted by a 5-inch display with a Full HD 1080 x 1920 resolution and ~441 ppi pixel density, the display protected by a scratch-resistant, oleophobic-coated 2.5D glass that curves and fuses into the metal frame. The XA Ultra, meanwhile, lives up to the “Ultra” standard with a 6-inch display that provides edge-to-edge viewing pleasure, with the screen also topped by scratch-resistant glass that slopes and disappears into the thin metal frame. The XA Ultra’s panel boasts of Full HD 1080 x 1920 resolution, and while its pixel density is pegged at only ~367 ppi, its reproduction of still and moving images is, nonetheless, solid.
Unlike the XA Ultra’s round power button, the X’s is shaped into an oblong—and doubles as a fast fingerprint reader that always gets it right. Both, however, share the same button, slot and port placements, with the microSD and SIM slot on left spine (the XA Ultra can carry two SIMs and a memory card, while the X can take in either two SIMs or one SIM and a microSD card), the microUS charging/data port situated at the bottom, the standard 3.5-millimeter headphone jack placed at the top, while found a little below the power button on the right spine are the volume rocker and, yes, a dedicated camera button.
The shutter key is indicative of the imaging muscle that Sony has packed into both smartphones. Touted as “the selfie smartphone”, the XA Ultra boasts for a rear-facing camera a 21.5-megapixel (MP) shooter with such features as f/2.2, phase detection autofocus and LED flash; while the front-facing camera is a 16-MP snapper with f/2.0, 1/2.6” sensor size, autofocus, LED flash and, yes, even optical image stabilization. The X, on the other hand, has been shoehorned with a 23-MP rear camera with f/2.0, 24-mm, phase-detection autofocus and LED flash; while the front-facing camera is 13-MP shooter with f/2.0, 22 mm and 1/3” sensor size. Either model would bring the selfie-obsessed to nirvana, as all that technology and Sony’s renowned low-light sensors result in selfies that pop and are blur-free, while both prove to be a more-than-adequate replacement to a point-and-shooter for those random moments that need to be captured for posterity.
True, neither smartphone packs the latest, most powerful processor (the X is powered by the hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 650, while the XA Ultra has the octa-core Mediatek Helio P10), but both are supplemented by 3 gigabytes (GB) of RAM, and in the weeks that we’ve been playing and pushing both handsets, they held up very well in typical everyday use. For us, that would be nonstop Internet use via LTE, checking on the road various social-media platforms (Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram), plus sorting e-mail and checking web sites; yet again attempting to level up on Fruit Ninja; revisiting a couple of episodes of Downton Abbey (we’re Anglophiles; deal with it); editing a copy or three on Google Docs while stuck in traffic; and listening to music on Spotify.
And, we should add there’ve been occasions that, besides having several applications running in the background, we’d also have some 2o-plus tabs open on Chrome and, still, neither the X nor the XA Ultra showed any signs of slowing down. Quite the workhorses, these two.
Both the Sony Xperia X and XA Ultra are handsomely crafted smartphones that handle routine usage with the finesse of a premium handset. Indeed, they are excellent additions to Sony’s mobile-phone portfolio, even if they won’t generate the kind of buzz or earn lustful glances as, say, a curved display. But at least they won’t explode and burn your car to a toast.
SONY XPERIA X AT A GLANCE
- 5″ 1,080 x 1,920px LCD display with ~441ppi, scratch-resistant glass, oleophobic coating
- Android OS v6.0 Marshmallow with Xperia launcher
- Hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 650, a dual-core 1.8 GHz Cortex-A72 and quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A53; Adreno 510 GPU; 3GB RAM
- Dual-SIM variant (hybrid slot; there’s a single SIM variant, but go for the dual instead)
- Fingerprint sensor
- 32 GB of built-in storage and a microSD card slot
- 23-MP camera with 1080p at 60fps video recording and tracking autofocus; 13-MP front-facing camera with 1080p at 30fps video
- LTE Cat.6 (300 Mbps); Dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; A-GPS/GLONASS receiver, Bluetooth v4.1, FM radio with RDS
- Active noise cancellation with a dedicated mic; 24-bit/192kHz Hi-Res audio
- 2,620mAh nonremovable battery
SONY XPERIA XA ULTRA AT A GLANCE
- Solid selfie camera: 16 MP 1/2.6″ sensor, optical image stabilization, LED flash
- The most slender phone with 6-inch screen
- MediaTek MT6755 Helio P10 chipset, octa-core 2GHz Cortex-A53 CPU; Mali-T860MP2 GPU; 3GB RAM
- Android v6.0 Marshmallow with Xperia launcher
- 16 GB of built-in storage and a microSD card slot
- 21.5-MP camera with 1/2.4″ sensor; 1080p at 30fps video recording and hybrid autofocus
- Dual-SIM (there’s a single SIM variant, but go for the dual instead)
- LTE Cat.4 (150Mbps); Dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n; A-GPS/GLONASS receiver, Bluetooth v4.1, FM radio with RDS
- Active noise cancellation with a dedicated mic
- 2,700-mAh nonremovable battery (Pump Express 2.0 charging supported).