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The revenge of the midrange.

AMID the shopping madness which unfolded over the holiday season at SM Mall of Asia, a terrifying scene of which I'm certain was replicated everyday in just just about every other mall in this urban nightmare also known as Metro Manila, a few automotive brands took over a chunk of prime real estate in the main mall for a slice of all that good cheer-and Christmas bonuses-going around.

I wasn't entirely sure how dear old Saint Nick would be able to fit even just one of those shiny new cars into his sleigh, much less deliver it by midnight of December 24 to some lucky chap who's been naughty and nice, but surely Santa and his earthly minions (mom, dad, hubby, wifey, grandma/dad) would've had no difficulty granting the Christmas wish of four wheels that don't come out of Toys R Us or Toy Kingdom.

In these days of everyone trying to make some extra cash by doing Uber after work, automotive companies are offering a new sedan to anybody who has, say, P20,000, sometimes even much less that, to hand over as down payment-and that amount ostensibly is already 'all-in,' the meaning of which I, having never been a car freak, am not exactly sure. Does an all-in downpayment price mean inclusive of registration fees, chattel mortgage fees and insurance?

I have no idea.

What I'm certain of is that with all these all-in down-payment offerings, it's much less costly to get a new car than, say, an Apple iPhone X or a Samsung Galaxy S8+: according to, the former's 256GB version costs P72,000 and the latter's 128GB variant fetches for almost P42,000. And while, indeed, either smartphone can be used to navigate one's way around horrible traffic as a part- or full-time Uber 'partner,' neither allows for actual passenger transport from Point A to Point B.

The good news is that these days, you no longer have to surrender a month's wage (or two) to enjoy a premium smartphone experience without the premium price. Already available are a number of midrange offerings from smartphone manufacturers with non-dodgy sounding names, some looking and performing in ways that belie their market prices. Two of these are the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus and the Motorola Moto X4.

The Xperia XA range from the Japanese global consumer electronics giant sits just below the company's award-winning premium Xperia XZ portfolio, and the XA1 Plus with its 5.5-inch display is obviously aimed at consumers who find the XA1's 5-inch screen not big enough, and the XA1 Ultra's 6-incher a tad too massive. There are, however, other pluses that the Plus offers, which neither sibling does: a fingerprint scanner and a beefier battery.

Launched in August last year and made available around these parts by Sony Philippines last November, the Xperia XA1 Plus-fueled by Android Nougat running on a Mediatek Helio P20 octa-core processor and 3GB RAM (Sony doesn't say if and when an Oreo upgrade will be available)-doesn't stray from the design language of the company's smartphone offerings past and present. It's boxy, angular and there will be some quibbling about the top and bottom bezels that frame the display at a time when even less pedigreed brands are going almost bezel-free. But the corners and edges of the XA1 Plus have been rounded out ever-so-gently that the phone, measuring 155 x 75 x 8.7 mm, feels good and solid in the hand, and the matte finish given to plastic body (the frame is crafted in aluminum) adds to the premium look and feel. Weighing in at 189 grams, there's a bit of heftiness to it, which I prefer over preciousness that mark many of these oh-so-slim premium phones, and it must be said that the XA1 Plus's heft detracts in no way from its usability. It also adds IP65/68 water and dust resistance to the XA range.

The phone should be available in Black, Blue, Pink and Gold variants, although the Black variety is the only model I've seen in stores.

On the right side of the phone is the hybrid power button/fingerprint scanner, with the volume rocker above it and far below, near the bottom of the spine, is the manual shutter button, a rarity in smartphones these days. The left side offers something else uncommon in phones, whether of the midrange or premium variety: a dual SIM card slot and a microSD card slot, both discreetly hidden by a sturdy flap. In most dual SIM smartphones, you get to work either two SIMs but no microSD card, or one SIM and a microSD to expand available user memory. Meanwhile, on the top side can be found the trusty and much-appreciated 3.5-mm headphone jack, plus a secondary mic is also here, while the bottom side hosts the USB-C port at the center, with the loudspeaker placed to the right.

The front of the Xperia XA1 Plus is dominated a sheet of Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protecting the IPS LCD capacitive touch screen with a 1080x1920 pixels (~401 ppi density). Its color reproduction is excellent and the maximum brightness level is more than capable of cutting out glare, making it an ideal panel for consuming entertainment (say, streaming an episode of The Crown on Netflix?) on the go. Meanwhile, the audio output measures up, as well, producing a rich, crisp sound when playing your favorite playlist on Spotify or from the music collection you've sideloaded onto either the SD card or the 32GB built-in memory.

Not surprisingly, you won't find a dual-camera setup in this super midrange Xperia offering from Sony, but the XA1 Plus's 23MP rear camera offers solid captures in environments with a decent amount of light. Even less optimal light conditions are handled well with the Superior Auto mode setting. And as far as selfies are concerned, the front-facing 8MP shooter should satisfy your inner social-media superstar, although I wasn't exactly thrilled to discover that the soft-skin effect is turned on by default (my pores may be obvious and my eyebags may be the size of a baguette, but I've never been a fan of such trickery; your preference may vary).

Given the Xperia XA1 Plus's multimedia strengths, no doubt you'd be pleased to know that Sony has packed in a 3430mAh battery, bigger than the 2,700mAh the company shoehorned into the current flagships Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact. The XA1 Plus's battery provides a surprising amount of juice, lasting me nearly a day and a half of media consumption, online activity, sporadic non-intensive gaming ('Monster Dash,' 'Epic Skater' and 'Wordscapes'), some document editing and the usual texts and calls. As with other Xperia phones, the XA1 Plus also offers such power-saving features as Stamina Mode and Ultra Stamina Mode.

Unlike the angularity of the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus, the Moto X4 from the resurgent Motorola reminds me so much of my beloved Pre from Palm, with its unabashedly rounded corners recalling that of an elongated pebble.

Make that a shimmering elongated pebble, with Motorola giving the phone's glass body encasing the aluminum frame a glossy finish that doesn't look cheap and vulgar, evoking instead liquid metal that looks absolutely handsome, whether you go for the blueish silver variant or the black. That said, the body-like all smartphones with a glass body-is a fingerprint magnet and, unless you don't mind buffing it up every so often with a polishing cloth, I'd suggest a trip to Decalboyz in Greenbelt 1 for a customized matte skin to mitigate the glossy situation without diminishing the Moto X4's gorgeousness.

This midranger from Motorola measures 148.4 x 73.4 x 8 mm and weighs in at 163 grams, certainly not in the willowy proportions of the company's Moto Z2 flagship but, as with the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus, I don't mind the heft at all, as it gives the Moto X4 a substantial feel in the hand that's furthered by a fit and finish I would typically expect from a premium-priced phone. Moreover, it also boasts of an IP68 certification for dust- and water-resistance, which means it can survive accidental spills or your being caught in an unexpected downpour. Nice, eh?

On the right side of the phone is the power button and the volume rocker, while the bottom part plays host to the Typc-C USB connector and-hurrah!-a 3.5mm headphone jack. The left edge of the Moto X4 is left untouched, with the hybrid dual SIM slot hidden away to the left of the top side, while the lone speaker is situated alongside the earpiece. Save for the embossed Motorola logo, the phone's backside is free of anything else-that is, except for the dual lens with flash camera system that protudes with a kind of prominence that gives the Moto X4 the look of a standalone point-and-shooter. Meanwhile, the phone's front is dominated by the 5.2-inch IPS LCD display with a 1080x1920-pixel resolution and ~424 ppi density. It's a very impressive panel given the phone's midrange pricing, reproducing colors with pop and a crispness that makes creating and consuming media on it an enjoyable experience. Below the display is the fingerprint reader, the function of which goes beyond simply securing the phone but also turning the screen on and off.

Going back to the Moto X4's imaging chops, Motorola has every reason to make the rear dual lens system (a standard 12MP camera and a wide-angle 8MP camera) look like you're carrying a standalone point-and-shoot camera: it captures images with admirable sharpness, clarity and even exposure, especially in well-lit environments.

In conditions where the light source isn't ideal, the resulting images will have a bit of grain and the occasional bit of blurring, sure, but all in all still worthy of posting on Instagram.

Meanwhile, selfie aficionados will be delighted with the front-facing 16MP lens with its own flash. Moreover, you can also fit more friends or elements into the frame with the 'selfie panorama,' which works the same way as taking a panorama shot on a smartphone's rear camera, stitching together additional images to your left and right into one image. Now, that's what you call a real 'groufie' (a term I deeply dislike by the way). The Moto X4's imaging muscle also offers bokeh effect and some AI recognition, applying the best possible settings based on the object being captured.

All that imaging prowess and overall performance of the Moto X4 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 octa-core processor and 4GB RAM (for the 64GB variant). Given its performance and pricing, the Moto X4 is definitely another winner from Motorola. There's much to say about all the good stuff offered by both the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus and the Motorola Moto X4, but we wrap things up here. Suffice to say, these two excellent smartphones show that you can always have more bang for your buck.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Jan 23, 2018
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