Smartphone Showdown: Sony Xperia XA2 v HTC U11 Life

Introductions

The HTC U11 Life is mid-tier refresh of the last year’s flagship U11. It’s the cheapest smartphone with squeezable Edge Sense technology around and it comes IP67-rated against water damage. It’s also the first Android One handset available in Australia.

You can read our full review of the HTC U11 Life here.

Then, the Xperia XA2 is Sony’s swan song for their OmniBalance design language. It’s got a classic blocky design, 5.2-inch display and a 23-megapixel rear camera that comes augmented by Sony’s Exmor RS for mobile image sensor. It also features 4K recording, 120fps slow motion video capture and a 120 degree super wide-angle 8MP camera on the front.

You can read our full review of the Xperia XA2 here.

Which is the better buy?

Hardware

Next Page: Software, Performance, Camera

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Software

In terms of software, both these devices run Google’s Android OS. However, that’s not to say there aren’t a few differences.

Unsurprisingly, the Sony Xperia XA2 uses Sony’s Xperia UI skin. In practice this one isn’t too far from stock Android - but it does come loaded with a enough Sony-specific apps - from a movie creator to the Xperia Lounge social app - that is, by definition, a little extraneous. I don’t know if any of this is egregious enough for Sony to be slammed on but the majority of what’s here did come across as a bit unnecessary, even if its relatively unobtrusive as Android skins go.

HTC have gone a similar route. The HTC U11 Life is part of the Android One program. This means that, out of the box, it runs pretty much as close to stock Android as you can get. The only real exceptions here relate to the camera app and anything to do with the U11 Life’s Edge Sense feature and their USonic noise-cancelling earbuds.

Winner: HTC U11 Life

This one is a tricky to call but we’re going to go with HTC on this one. Though the U11 Life does incorporate some Sense UI software features, the device’s participation in Google’s Android One program means that it’s a little more nimble and clean than the XA2.

Performance

While your everyday performance with both of these devices is - inevitably - going to vary based on how many apps, what those apps are, how you configure the brightness on the screen and whether or not you make use of the array of battery-saver options - which can affect performance as a side-effect.

The most straightforward way to compare the two smartphones is to use benchmarks.

3D Mark / PC Mark

GeekBench

Winner: HTC U11 Life

This one is super hard to call, given the margin between the two reflected in the benchmarks results. Futuremark tended to favor the U11 Life. Geekbench saw the Xperia XA2 triumph. Given the raw numbers here, we’re tempted to give it to the XA2. However, the U11 Life does come with a little bit of extra RAM, ROM and a nicer display - all of which are reflected in our everyday experience of the performance offered.

Next Page: Camera and The Verdict

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Camera

In terms of specs, the HTC U11 Life’s main camera features a 16-megapixel sensor, flash, Phase Detection Autofocus and a HDR Boost feature - which promises to deliver more balanced results by taking multiple shots that measure and combine the darkest shadows with the brightest highlights.

Then, you’ve got the Xperia XA2. It’s got a 23-megapixel rear camera that comes augmented by Sony’s Exmor RS for mobile image sensor. It also features 4K recording, 120fps slow motion video capture and a 120 degree super wide-angle 8MP camera on the front. All up, the Sony Xperia XA2 is hardly a sloucher.

It wins some points for its 4K support and 120fps slow-motion video. However, it also loses points for relying on a simple and single-lens set-up. We found that images taken on the XA2 were noticeable more noisy than those taken on other mid-tier handsets I’ve recently reviewed. That said, there’s a processed quality to the images that sometimes pays off during daytime shots.

At A Glance - HTC U11 Life

At A Glance - Sony Xperia XA2


Close Up - HTC U11 Life

Close Up - Sony Xperia XA2

Winner: HTC U11 Life

This isn’t easy to call, as both smartphones deliver results that - to the eye - look pretty similar and come with a lot of the same hardware limitations. Neither supports a bokeh or portrait mode. However, we’re going to give the HTC U11 Life the edge here. The colors have a bit more pop and details are just a little less grainy.

The Verdict

Of these two handsets, the HTC U11 Life is probably the one we’d favor. The price-point is a little higher but you do get a lot of bang for your buck by comparison. Unlike the XA2, it comes with IP67 waterproofing, a better display, more RAM and additional on-board storage.