Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra vs. Moto X4: 2018’s new midrange challenger

Xperia XA2 Ultra
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
It might be tough at the top, but it’s even tougher in the middle. The midrange market is a highly competitive space, and handsets from above and below constantly challenge the midrange for the ultimate goal of being your favorite pocket filler.

Sony announced the follow-up to 2017’s XA1 Ultra, the Xperia XA2 Ultra, into that very market. But before it can challenge anything above or below its price range, it needs to prove its mettle against another great midrange device. The Moto X4 is a fine phone, and one of the front-runners in this category. We took a look at the two phones, side by side, to figure out which deserves your time and your money.

Specs

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra
xperia xa2 ultra
Moto X4
Moto X4
Size 163 x 80 x 9.5 mm (6.42 x 3.15 x 0.37 inches) 148.4 x 73.4 x 8 mm (5.84 x 2.89 x 0.31 inches)
Weight 221 grams (7.80 ounces) 163 grams (5.75 ounces)
Screen 6-inch Super LCD 5.2-inch IPS LCD
Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels (367 ppi) 1920 x 1080 pixels (424 ppi)
OS Android 8.0 Oreo Android 8.0 Oreo/Android One
Storage 32GB, 64GB 32GB (64GB international market)
MicroSD card slot Yes Yes
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 Qualcomm Snapdragon 630
RAM 4GB 3GB (4GB international market)
Connectivity GSM / HSPA / LTE, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi GSM / HSPA / LTE, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Camera 23MP rear, dual 16MP & 8MP front Dual 12MP & 8MP rear, 16MP front
Video 2160p up to 30 fps 2160p up to 30 fps, 1080p up to 60 fps
Bluetooth Yes, version 5.0 Yes, version 5.0
Audio 3.5mm headphone jack Front speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Other sensors Accelerometer, proximity, compass Gyroscope, accelerometer, proximity sensor
Water resistant No Yes, IP68 rated
Battery 3,580mAh 3,000mAh
Charging port USB-C USB-C
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Colors Silver, black, blue, gold Black, blue
Availability To be announced Newegg, Amazon, Motorola
Price To be announced $399
DT review Hands-on review 3.5 out of 5 stars

Specifications aren’t everything, but they are a good baseline for the general performance of a device. Based on these specs, you’re likely to see a similar level of day-to-day performance from these phones, since both come with the Snapdragon 630 processor. It’s a decent chip, but as we pointed out in our Moto X4 review, if you’re a heavy user who likes to play high-performance games, you might want to look elsewhere, as performance is simply not as smooth as it is on phones with cutting-edge processors. Anyone who is not an avid gamer (or is a more casual gamer) should find good, steady performance here, with an occasional sluggishness that reflects the lower price of the devices.

Both devices have space for a MicroSD card for additional storage, and they both come in 32GB and 64GB packages, though the 64GB Moto X4 only seems to be available in international markets, so if you’re looking for more storage, then the Xperia might be your bag. The Xperia gains more points with the addition 4GB of RAM — the Moto X4 only has 4GB options available in international markets. That said, RAM isn’t everything in smartphones, so the 3GB offered by the U.S. Moto X4 is going to be plenty for most people.

Moving on, we find even more similarities. Both devices are rocking the latest Bluetooth 5 with all the benefits that brings, both devices offer NFC for Google Pay, and both have the increasingly rare headphone jack.

With the specs being as close as they are, we have to award the win to the phone that creeps ahead, even ever so slightly. The extra RAM and additional extra onboard storage in the Xperia XA2 Ultra takes the day.

Winner: Xperia XA2 Ultra

Design and display

Moto X4 tips and tricks
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends

While there were rumors of a redesign for the Xperia range throughout 2017, we’re not really seeing that with the Xperia XA2 Ultra. The bezels have shrunk when compared to last year’s models, especially the Xperia XZ1, but it’s still not at the point where we could call it “bezel-less“. It’s clear the bezels around the sides of the phone and the top and bottom edges have reduced, but it’s still a phone that looks very 2016 — and it’s safe to say we’re a little disappointed. One nice addition is the fingerprint sensor being moved from the side of the phone to a more conventional area on the back. It’s also finally being included in the U.S. model, which must be a relief for anyone who had been put off by the bizarre omission in previous Sony smartphones.

With that said, we still prefer the Xperia Omnibalance style to the also dated looks of the Moto X4. The glass and metal design on the X4 is nice, but the extremely large camera bump means the phone rocks when placed on its back, and the glass used tends to attract fingerprints very quickly. It’s a problem solved with a good case, but it would still have been nice to not feel compelled to buy one. Still, it’s a decent design, and not ugly. It’s just fairly basic, and not as nice as some of the previous Moto X models.

There is a massive difference between the two phones in terms of their displays. While both devices have IPS LCD screens displaying a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution, the Xperia XA2 Ultra has a much larger 6-inch screen, compared to the 5.2-inch display on the Moto X4. If you’re a fan of a larger screen, then the XA2 Ultra is the perfect midrange device for you — but fans of sharper displays may appreciate the larger pixels-per-inch measurement on the smaller Moto phone. It is also worth mentioning that the Xperia XA2 Ultra is significantly larger and heavier than the Moto X4, being a plus-sized version of the regular sized Xperia XA2, so keep the additional bulk and heft in mind when you’re considering the Xperia.

For pure physical durability, you’re going to be looking at the Xperia XA2 Ultra over the Moto X4. While the aluminum frame and polycarbonate back on the Xperia doesn’t exactly feel premium, it is more resistant to damage than the glass on the Moto X4. However, the Moto X4 turns the tables with a very impressive IP68-rating that should see the Moto phone survive trips down the toilet or into the bath; not something the Sony phone can boast since it has no water-resistance at all.

This is a tough category to call. The XA2 Ultra has the edge in looks and pure physical durability, whereas the Moto X4 has full IP68-rated water-resistance and a sharper display. It really comes down to which set of advantages you prefer and the disadvantages you’re willing to put up with.

Winner: Tie

Camera

Xperia XA2 Ultra
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Moto X4 has a dual-sensor rear camera, pairing a 16-megapixel lens with an 8-megapixel lens. It’s a good combination, and as well as offering “bokeh” style selective-blur shots, it also offers a wide-angle mode like the LG G6 or V30. It takes good photos, but you need good lighting to get the best out of it; low lighting led to some disappointing shots in our review testing. The shutter lag in the camera software itself was also quite significant.

Around the front of the Moto X4 you’ll find a 16-megapixel selfie camera with an accompanying flash. It performs OK but the quality doesn’t seem good enough for such a high megapixel count. Still, it took good enough selfies during our tests and the flash was useful.

We haven’t had any significant time with the Xperia XA2 Ultra’s camera yet, but the raw numbers are encouraging. Sony has prided itself on cameras with exceptionally high megapixel counts and that continues here with the 23-megapixel monster mounted on the rear of the XA2 Ultra. In the small amount of time we had with it, we noticed very little shutter lag and a very high ISO of 12,800 — which should mean the XA2 Ultra is very good at handling low light. We will delay proper judgment until we’ve really tested it.

In the front, you’ll find major changes on the Xperia phone. The XA2 Ultra is rocking two front-facing selfie sensors; paired 16-megapixel and 8-megapixel lenses. The 16-megapixel lens seems to do most of the work, but the 8-megapixel lens kicks in when you want to take a wide-angle shot for group selfies, or if you want more of the background in view. It’s well-implemented, with little lag when switching between the two lenses. Sony has also included a “slow-sync” flash on the front that helps to illuminate the background of shots, as well as the foreground. It’s especially handy in dim areas you want to show off, like nightclubs, and it worked well in our short amount of time with it.

The Moto X4 has a good camera, but it’s let down by poor low-light performance and too much shutter lag. We might not have had too much time with the XA2 Ultra’s camera yet, but we are confident it will be the better performer.

Winner: Xperia XA2 Ultra

Battery life and charging

moto x4 hands on review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Battery life shouldn’t be too much of an issue with either of these devices thanks to their large battery capacities. The Moto X4 comes with a 3,000mAh battery that should easily last you the day, even with heavy use. With lighter use, it should last even longer than that. When recharge time came around, Motorola’s TurboPower fast-charging charged the Moto X4 from zero to 85 percent within 40 minutes. That is really good.

But it’s up against a monster. Sony has taken battery capacity seriously in this generation of phones and has significantly increased the battery capacity of all of 2018’s models so far. The XA2 Ultra comes with a massive 3,580mAh battery that should easily see you through the day. That is bolstered by Sony’s Smart Stamina battery technology to help your charge last for as long as possible, and QuickCharge 3.0 means that your battery refills quickly when plugged in. We have not had a chance to test the XA2 Ultra in the wild yet, but we’re anticipating the battery life to be one of its high points.

While we are fans of the Moto X4’s battery capacity, with its significantly bigger battery, the Xperia XA2 Ultra takes this round.

Winner: Xperia XA2 Ultra

Software

Xperia XA2 Ultra
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There are two versions of the Moto X4 that you can pick up: The regular version, and the Android One version. Android One is essentially a pared-down version of Android made for lower-end phones that comes without any additional manufacturer bloatware and benefits from security patches directly from Google itself. However, unless you’re really into the idea of Project Fi, you might want to stick to the regular version of the Moto X4. It still runs close to stock Android and comes with additional features like Amazon Alexa integration, and the Tempow Bluetooth Audio Profile that we really liked. Updates to Android 8.0 Oreo have been rolling out since December as well, so there is no need to worry about being left behind.

How’s the Android 8.0 Oreo experience on the Xperia XA2 Ultra? Again, we need longer with it to really give you the low down, but despite being close to stock Android, the model we saw did have a good few pre-installed apps from Sony. Your mileage on that will vary, and patience for bloat depends entirely on your previous experiences, but it’s certainly not ideal for us. The XA2 Ultra does come with AptX HD as well, combating Tempow on the Moto X4.

Android versus Android is always a tough task, and it’s made extra difficult when Android One is thrown into the mix. However, we prefer the implementation of Android on the Moto X4, and the option for Android One is good, if you want it. The Moto X4 takes this round.

Winner: Moto X4

Price and availability

moto x4 vs. moto z2 force
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Moto X4 is currently available, and you can grab the Android One version from Google’s Project Fi for just $324 at the time of this writing. Alternatively, if you want the regular version of the Moto X4, then you can grab it from a number of retailers, including Newegg and Motorola for a reduced price of $350. Amazon Prime members can increase their savings by buying a version with lockscreen ads and “offers” for just $280 — but you have to make the choice of whether that’s worth it for you.

At the moment, we’re not sure of the price of the XA2 Ultra. We are hoping it’ll be around $400, putting it in a similar initial price bracket as the Moto X4. We’re also not sure about who will be offering the phone, but we expect it will at least be available from Sony and on Amazon.

Sony’s Xperia phones haven’t traditionally been supported well in the U.S. We’re giving this to the Moto X4 for the better value, as well as the larger marketplace.

Winner: Moto X4

Overall winner: Xperia XA2 Ultra

Xperia XA2 Ultra
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There might be a lot of elements of the XA2 Ultra that we’re unsure about, but based on what we’ve seen, there is also a lot to love. At the moment, the Xperia phone looks to be a fine contender in the midrange smartphone market, capable of trading blows with the very best. But that doesn’t mean that the Moto X4 is bad; quite the contrary — there are plenty of reasons to buy the Moto phone over the Xperia, not least value. The much smaller size is also a big selling point if you don’t fancy the massive XA2 Ultra.

Still, for our money, the Xperia XA2 Ultra is currently the stronger of these two handsets.

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