Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets
Reviewed by our Technology Expert are Sony Xperia XA and the Huawei Mate S.
Nice-looking but too slow
Sony Xperia XA
Rating: 3 Stars
In the new five-inch Xperia XA, Sony has the best-looking, nicest-handling budget phone on the market with iPhone-style curved corners and glass. But it's not without its faults.
In aesthetic appeal, the back of the phone is a smooth, brushed-metal matt surface which is pleasingly non-slip compared to some of Sony's previous glass-backed handsets.
The screen comes right out to the sides of the phone, cutting out a half-inch from the device's girth. This makes it easier to hold and operate with just one hand, a critical ergonomic advantage that stymies most big-screen phones.
The XA's 13-megapixel f2.0 camera is good, but not of the pedigree (23 megapixels) that Sony usually serves up in its higher-up models. The 8-megapixel selfie-lens is also good, but a shade down from the 13-megapixel selfie cameras of the Z5.
Battery life is not bad on the XA.
Bear in mind that this is, relatively speaking, a budget phone. And many of the areas where Sony has cut corners don't really matter to lots of phone-users. For example, it's not waterproof like other Sony Xperia phones. But when is the last time underwater usage was an advantage for anyone? (Besides, it's still okay to use in a bit of drizzle.)
I'd also bet that the lack of a fingerprint sensor won't be a deal breaker for too many. Nor will the absence of 4K video shooting: 1080p 'full HD' is still the benchmark standard for all but the highest of video recordings.
On the other hand, there is one shortcut Sony has taken that negatively impacted the phone when I was using it. It appears to be significantly underpowered, with a chip that sometimes can't keep up with the phone's operations. For example, switching from one app to another often took two or three seconds; opening the camera sometimes caused a lag, too. It doesn't sound like much on paper, but it's enough to make you miss a special moment. And it's something you won't get on more expensive phones (including Sony's own pricier models).
While we're talking about small annoyances, I might also mention storage. This phone comes with 16GB of internal storage. But within a day of installing my usual apps and taking just a few photos, it told me that I had used up 13.4GB (83pc) of it. Upon further inspection, it seems like you only get a tiny amount of the 16GB storage to use - as little as 6GB. This is by no means just a Sony thing. It's just that a 16GB storage device may not cut it for lots of people anymore.
Friendly phablet on a modest budget
Huawei Mate S
Price: €460 from Three
Rating: 4 Stars
No phone-maker has upped its game quite as much as Huawei in recent times. From high-performing bargain models such as the G8 to the photo prowess of its recent P9 (reviewed on these pages last month), Huawei legitimately has top contenders for the Android crown. So how does its Mate S fare?
The 5.5-inch Mate S looks great, housed in a sleek, metallic unibody with two decent speakers located at the bottom of the casing. The edges of the phone are nicely chamfered although some might find the corners a little angular for comfortable palm clutching.
It has a 13-megapixel main rear-camera lens with optical stabilisation and an 8-megapixel selfie camera. Both are fine, although I would have expected a little better from the rear lens, especially considering the excellent dual-lens on its sibling phone, the P9. There are some nice photo effects, though, including a range of easily accessible filters and shortcuts to time-lapse and light-painting processes. And for aspiring videographers, there’s a ‘director mode’ included. This lets you wirelessly connect your phone’s camera to two other (Huawei) phone cameras while filming: you can then pick which angle to choose from the three.
There is no shortage of power, with an octacore processor and 3GB of Ram, backed up by 32GB of storage within the device.
Huawei has put its fingerprint reader on the back of the phone which is easier to manage in the normal way that you hold a phone. It does mean that you have to turn the handset over when it’s sitting on a table, though. The Mate S’s 2,700mAh battery is moderately good, which is to say that if you’re a heavy user, you’ll need to give it an extra charge around tea time.
For what you’re paying, this is a good, solid phablet. However, bear in mind that it appears only to be available on Three thanks to a deal between Huawei and the operator.