Of Sony's 2016 offerings, the Xperia XA is the one that managed to get under our skin. It reminds us of the Xperia T, which sold us on a curved back, solely on the basis of aesthetics and ergonomics. The Xperia P too, which tried to prove that metal phones do belong in the midrange (back in 2012, long before it became commonplace).
The XA is the narrowest phone with a 5" screen and even without calipers you can feel it when you handle the phone. Its proportions - width, thickness, weight - are just right and we're especially fond of the way the front and back neatly curve into the sides. This is the phone that makes all others feel chunky.
Designing the Xperia XA, Sony was conservative with numbers, but strict on quality. The metal frame and polycarbonate sides wouldn't be out of place on a higher-end phone, the 720p screen is bright and with good colors, both cameras deliver on quality.
All in all the only thing Sony missed the mark on was battery life.
Sony is living in a world of its own, always has been. Its products are not designed to beat the competing product from a rival company, they are not launched in a timeframe that considers other market releases and they aren't priced like it either.
That can be a strength at a time where copycats flood the market with "me too" products, but it could lead to head-scratching moments (like the Xperia X being more expensive than the Z5 while being hardly as good).
The Sony Xperia XA is actually competitively priced in the US - $280 and (at launch at least) you get a free 64GB microSD card! In Europe the price is a tougher pill to swallow - €300 (€330 even, in some markets) and no freebies. It puts it in a rather tough crowd, so the little XA will have to sweat extra hard to make an impact.
The Xiaomi Redmi 3 - metal shell, 5" 720p screen, 13MP/1080p camera, 4,000mAh battery - launched in January and it's less than half price. Xiaomi even had time to launch an improved version, the Redmi 3s.
Sure the software is older (Lollipop), the chipset isn't as fast, but it's not all bad. The 3s model has a fingerprint reader and is available in a 3GB/32GB configuration. Availability is problematic in some markets though.
Meizu are more or less in the same boat - both in terms of hardware and limited availability. They launched the m3 and then improved it with the Meizu m3s (a more meaningful improvement than the Redmi 3/3s). It's an all-metal phone with a 5" 720p screen, a fingerprint reader below that, a 13MP/1080p camera on the back, a 3GB/32GB option and a 3,020mAh battery.
A surprisingly attractive alternative comes from Sony's own camp - the Xperia M5. It's under €300 now and while all plastic, is waterproof. And you get the more upmarket Sony camera package - 21.2MP/2160p main camera, 13MP/1080p selfie snapper. Do note that Sony is still dragging its feet with the promised Marshmallow upgrade and the GPU on the M5 is weaker than what you get with the XA. The screen isn't quite as good either.
Time eroded the price of the HTC One A9 to reasonable levels (in this case, on par with the Xperia XA). It has an HTC-quality metal chassis and a beautiful AMOLED display (5" 1080p). The main camera has a 13MP sensor and OIS, while the selfie camera uses a 4MP UltraPixel sensor for low-light photography. You also get High-Res audio too. Okay, the chipset is a Snapdragon 617, but you do get 3GB of RAM. And the battery is small, 2,150mAh, but HTC got a bit more out of it than Sony.
The Huawei P9 lite offers a bigger, sharper screen - 5.2" at 1080p - and High-Res audio (which the XA lacks). It has a fingerprint on the back too. The P9 lite is powered by Huawei's homebrewed chipset (with a faster GPU, but not quite enough to make up for the jump to 1080p and a slower CPU). The camera is a similar 13MP + 8MP combo.
The Huawei Honor 5c has the same screen and chipset, same camera, battery too! At half the price of the P9 lite (and the Xperia), it is thicker and heavier, but only by a bit (8.3mm vs. 7.5mm, 156g vs. 147g).
Lenovo launched the Vibe K5 and Vibe K5 Plus simultaneously. The base model comes with a 5" 720p screen, the Plus ups that to 1080p. The base K5 is powered by a quad-core processor, so we'll skip it altogether, but the K5 Plus has a Snapdragon 616 (decent, if slower than XA's Helio P10 as benchmarks showed). You get a 13MP/1080p main camera and a 5MP front-facer for selfies. Everything is housed in an all-metal exterior.
The Oppo F1 is also based on the S616 and has a metal shell. Its screen is a 5" 720p LCD and you get a 13MP + 8MP camera setup. There's an F1 Plus model, but that's quite different - it jumps up to a 5.5" 1080p AMOLED and a 16MP selfie camera (better than its 13MP main camera!)
Having gone through the list of competitors, we feel better about the Sony Xpria XA than we did about the X. With the latter, we just couldn't shake the feeling of "Why not just get a Z5? Or, you know Galaxy S7/LG G5/Huawei P9/..." That's the thing though, the Xperia XA is not burdened with the responsibility of a flagship.
We love the build quality and Sony nailed the chipset and the camera. You'll get better gaming performance than similarly priced phones (as long as you can live with the 720p resolution). And the camera offers better quality than 13MP shooters in this price range. If Sony does something about the battery, the XA will certainly go down in our book as the modern day Xperia SP.