Otter: Portrait of Selen
Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional

Sony Xperia XA2 (2020)

Jim Carter, 2020-02-07

My existing Samsung Galaxy S5 (2015) is now five years old and it's showing its age. Plus it's in a time warp, updatewise. Now is the time to replace it.

Timeline of my pocket computers:

Model Purchased Upgrade Reason
To be determined 2020-02-07 (New)
Samsung Galaxy S5 2015-04-15 Works, elderly, no kernel updates
Samsung Galaxy S3 2012-10-23 No upgrade to CM-12 (Lollipop)
Motorola Droid 3 2011-11-23 Bit rot (memory failure)
HTC G1 Dream 2009-03-30 Insufficient memory for CM-7 (Gingerbread)

Table of Contents

Selection Criteria

This time around, my selection criteria for the new pocket computer are (in approximate order of importance):

A lot of pocket computer activities depend more on operating system support than on hardware components. However, the point here is to pick the hardware. But we need to keep aware whether the operating system uses that hardware effectively.

Kernel Versions in LineageOS Images

First, what's happened to CyanogenMod? Cyanogen (the lead developer), after a period of close relation with Samsung, made a deal with whoever makes the One-Plus to use CyanogenMod as the standard distro on their phones. But something bad happened, and they got divorced, with One-Plus retaining the right to CyanogenMod's name. In the mad scramble after that collapse, Cyanogen and the development team came up with LineageOS (Wikipedia article about it). Not the name I would have chosen: wouldn't WebScorpion or Boomslang be a better name for a killer OS image? Anyway, that's not really my business.

In forum posts the acronym LOS is sometimes used for LineageOS.

Web resources:

There are 126 supported devices (currently in early 2020) plus 143 devices with unmaintained (discontinued) images that could even so be downloaded. I've got to automate the process of detecting those with recent kernels.

The mapping from versions to maintenance date ranges may be found in the Wikipedia article Linux kernel version history. Here is the distribution of kernel versions.

It appears that the paradigm in cellphone kernels is to pick a LTS (long term support) release and never change it, whereas desktop distros update their kernels on a regular schedule plus upon security bugfix releases. My hope of finding a phone with a more desktop-like kernel update policy does not seem to be working out.

What are the currently known phones with the two most recent kernels, only 4 years old, compared to 8 years for my Samsung Galaxy S5? The dates are when Greg Kroah-Hartman announced the release of these particular LTS updates; note that these are relatively recent. Quickly scanning the changelogs, I notice that contemporaneously relevant issues were being addressed, i.e. backported, such as the Spectre branch prediction side channel exploit.

How much work should I put into adding to the ability of my unpacker program to determine the kernel versions of the 72 unknown phones? It looks like all of the vendors with recent kernels have newer models with unknown kernel versions. The major vendors are not represented (i.e. are represented with older models and older kernels). Probably there has been a change in the manner of packing the boot image, which my program does not know about. But how much is the selection still going to be driven by recency of the underlying kernel (version number) versus LTS and inclusion of backported patches? I think it's prudent to determine the kernel version numbers (and LTS release dates) of more major vendors, and specifically to find out why their offerings were not unpacked by my program.

Phones That I Might Actually Buy

Here's a list of targeted models, with these selection criteria: picking the most recent (having CyanogenMod support) of each vendor's product line; excluding vendors that I know little about or have had a bad experience with or which are blacklisted for security violations in other product lines. They are sorted by attractiveness with a very limited look at specs and availability. None is the vendor's latest product; it takes time to get CyanogenMod running on a new phone. Chassis names are capitalized (if words) whereas download dirnames and basenames are lower case.

Obviously only the first three are viable, and the Motorola River (Moto G7) has obvious advantages over the others. (One of CyanogenMod's missions is to bring recent AOSP images to older phones, no longer supported by their vendors or carriers, like the ones I'm excluding at this step.) The way forward is clear: do the research to unpack the images for these, and determine the kernel version. Prepare a comparison table of features. Assuming that the River wins on features, find review articles and look for gotcha's that I'll need to work around.

Steps in discovering version numbers:

Feature Matrix

Most of this information is from the LineageOS Devices List. In the feature column, numbers in parens refer to notes at the end indicating other sources of information.

Feature River Pioneer LG G3
Vendor Motorola Mobility Sony LG
Model (text) Moto G7 Xperia XA2 G3
Chassis Name river pioneer d851
Carrier Verizon AT&T T-Mobile etc Verizon (5) AT&T T-Mobile etc T-Mobile
Product Page (Moto G7) (Xperia XA2) (LG G3)
Price on Amazon (1) $200 (AZ) $315 (OV) $230 (OV)
Inception 2019-02-xx 2018-02-xx 2014-06-xx
Chipset Snapdragon 632 Snapdragon 630 Snapdragon 801
RAM 4Gb 3Gb 3Gb
CPU A53 1.8GHz x8 core A53 2.2GHz x8 core Krait 400 2.5GHz x4 core
GPU Adreno 506 Adreno 508 Adreno 330
Internal Flash 64Gb 32Gb 16/32Gb
SD Card Up to 256Gb Up to 256Gb Up to 256Gb
SIM size Nano
Cell Family GSM GPRS HSPA LTE (5)
Screen 158mm 1080x2270px IPS 132mm 1080x1920px IPS 140mm 2560x1440px IPS
Bluetooth 4.2 5.x 4.0LE
Wi-Fi 802.11 abgn,ac 802.11 abgn (4) 802.11 abgn,ac
Other (6) Finger Accel Compass Gyro Prox HallEf Light GPS FM-Radio (no NFC) Finger Accel Compass Gyro Prox NFC GPS FM-Radio Accel Compass Gyro Prox NFC
Rear Camera (+flash) (3) 12Mpx, f/1.8 23Mpx, f/2.0, 84° wide angle 13Mpx
Front Camera (no flash) (3) 8Mpx 8Mpx, f/2.4, 120° wide angle 2.1Mpx, f/2.0
Other Camera Depth sensor, 5Mpx, flash
Battery LiIon 3.0Ah non-rem LiIon 3.3Ah non-rem LiIon 3.0Ah remov
Bounding Box 157x75x8.0mm142x70x9.7mm146x75x8.9mm
Mass (3) 172g 171g 149g
Intrusion Protection Unrated Unrated Unrated
Supported Models -- H3113 H4113 H3133 H4133 H3123 d850 d852 d855 f400 ls990 d851 va985
Kernel Version (2) 4.9.203 4.4.153 (Failed)

Frequency bands (MHz) supported by the phones. For all, 2G means GSM, 3G means HSPA, 4G means LTE, for which individual bands are listed. While documentation is not very explicit, USA models of both the River and the Pioneer are advertised for all USA carriers, i.e. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and virtual carriers. This means they do both GSM and CDMA. The international models are GSM only. None of these phones support 5G. Update: there's a sticker on the Pioneer's box saying Only GSM! Note: phone does not work on Verizon… or any CDMA carrier, only GSM carriers. Please return phone without opening the box, thanks.

Band River Pioneer LG G3
700MHz -- -- 4G/17
800MHz 4G/20 4G/20 (*) --
850MHz 2G 3G 4G/5 2G 3G 4G/5 2G 3G
900MHz 2G 3G 4G/8 2G 3G 4G/8 2G
1700MHz -- 4G/4 (*) 3G 4G/4
1800MHz 2G 4G/3 2G 4G/3 2G
1900MHz 2G 3G 4G/2 2G 3G 4G/2 2G 3G 4G/2
2100MHz 3G 4G/1 3G 4G/1 3G
2600MHz 4G/7 4G/7 4G/7
(*) The product page says the Pioneer doesn't do 3G in 1700MHz, but the Startup Guide says that model H3123 does have it, and doesn't mention 4G/20 (800MHz). The Pioneer was seen using LTE (4G) in band 4, uplink at 1745MHz and downlink at 2145MHz.

See this Wikipedia article about E-UTRA, which is the formal acronym for LTE. It has links to various tables, specifically deployments by region. In particular, here is a table mapping supported LTE bands to regions where they are likely to work for roaming. Europe (ITU region 1) includes Africa; America (ITU region 2) includes both North and South; and Asia (ITU region 3) includes Australia and India. The River and Pioneer support all the bands listed here except 4 and 17; the LG G3 supported bands are noted.

Comparing the candidates on features:

The main conclusion from the feature comparison is, on most aspects the phones are generally equivalent. But newness is important and the River leads here while the LG G3 is ancient. One disappointment is in intrusion protection: while the old Samsung Galaxy S5 has IP67, none of the current candidates is IP rated. I'm going to read reviews on the River, and come back to the Pioneer only if something really nasty turns up for the River. Which it did: no NFC.

Press and Customer Reviews

Reviews for the Moto G7 River

Motorola Moto G7 review by Patrick Holland on CNET (2019-04-12)

The author likes the design, display, dual (?) rear cameras, turbo charging, good battery life. He doesn't like the speaker. Low-light photos and general video quality aren't fantastic. The Moto G7 is the best budget phone we've tried, hands down.

Apparently the MSRP at inception was around $300 ($230 at Walmart). It has Gorilla Glass front and back, which tends to attract fingerprints. The display goes right up to the top of the chassis except for a notch for the front camera. The display has rounded corners, and some apps are seen to act weird in dealing with them. The fingerprint reader is on the back. It has a headphone jack. The speaker is on the bottom, which is serviceable but often sounded tinny. Intrusion protection: IP54 (how come jimc didn't see this on the product page? Because it isn't there.)

The author devotes several paragraphs to a demo that the camera app is the main culprit in determining how good the photos are. He has a pair of photos of his sleeping cat, taken with the stock app and the one off the Google Pixel 2, stacked with a sliding window to show a fraction of each. The stock app tends to over brighten the picture, particularly white parts of the fur, while the Google app maintains dynamic range, and avoids over-sharpening the fine detail of the fur.

Playing looped video in airplane mode, the Moto G7 lasted almost 13 hours.

Flagship phones like the current iPhone model can outperform the Moto G7, but the Moto G7 comes very close to their level.

Motorola Moto G7 Review by Steven Winkelman on PC Magazine (2019-03-14)

Pro: solid performance, long battery life, supports all US carriers, attractive design. Cons: disappointing camera quality, mediocre call quality, relatively pricey so he says. It's a Gorilla Glass shell with an aluminum frame; he says it feels good in his hand. The display is bright enough to use in direct sunlight. On top is a hybrid SIM / micro-SD slot. (See jimc's note for the Pioneer.) On the bottom is the speaker (82dB, loud), a USB-C port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Testing cellular data on T-Mobile in Manhattan (heavily congested): he got speeds of 22Mbps down and 17Mbps up, similar to other midrange phones tested. He says NFC is missing. (Didn't jimc see this on the product page? It's there, but with the word No.)

He was pleasantly surprised by the Moto G7's performance. No problems with 12 apps open simultaneously. Playing a game for an hour used 14% battery. Streaming video over Wi-Fi at full brightness: the battery lasted just under 10 hour. He didn't like the camera.

Motorola Moto G7 and G7 Power review: still the budget phones to beat by Chris Welch on The Verge (2019-04-10)

This review was generally similar to the other two.

We've got a problem: the River does not have NFC, making Google Pay impossible. The UK version may or may not have it, but we're not in the UK. I'm going to have to use the contingency plan and read reviews of the Sony Xperia XA2 Pioneer.

Reviews for the Sony Xperia XA2 Pioneer

Sony Xperia XA2 review by GSMArena Team (2018-01-26)

Basics: Body: Aluminum frame, polycarbonate back; colors silver, black. blue (cyan actually), pink. Extra info on hardware: Rear camera: steroidal 23Mpx, 1/2.3in (11mm I hope) sensor size, f/2.0, 25mm equivalent focal length. Connectivity list: Single/dual SIM (Jimc discovered: some models, but not this one, have dual SIM sockets. Both are nano size. The second one is placed sideways in the SD slot, so you can insert a SIM or a SD card but not both. The River has a hybrid SIM/SD slot but I haven't confirmed how similar it might be.) LTE category 12/13 (600Mbps download, with tailwind), USB-C, Wi-Fi abgn not ac, GPS, NFC, Bluetooth 5.x, FM radio. Fingerprint reader on the back. Single speaker on the bottom. 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Physical camera activation key. In the box: phone, USB-C cable, generic 1.5A charger.

They like how it feels in the hand: yes plastic, but comfortable. The black version may show fingerprints, though. Good backlit IPS display, equal number of sub-pixels for each of RGB (unlike an earlier phone with weird pixel layout). 500nit brightness (is this in the spec page?); they measured 530nit. Contrast ratio at least 1300:1. Visibility in sunlight is average, OLED is better; quantitative contrast ratio is 3.765 (best of IPS competitors) vs. Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) (OLED) at 3.804. The out-of-box color balance was not to his liking, biased toward cyan, i.e. minus red, but this is tweakable.

GSMArena's battery test: 21.3hr voice chat (3G), or 13.2hr web browsing, or 11.5hr video playback. If combined with an hour per day of each task and 21 hours of standby, it would scale to 92hr. This is pretty good, for them.

Speaker: voice chat on speakerphone (presumably turned to loudest) is 69dB, music 73dB, ringer 78dB. Rated Very Good.

For the rear camera, they praise the provided app, and don't complain about picture quality like the reviewers of the River. They do, however, say that the front camera lacks autofocus (which the XA1 had) and so is not as sharp.

Overall they think the Pioneer definitely deserves a recommendation.

Sony Xperia XA2 review By Dominic Preston on TechAdvisor (2018-07-16)

It offers solid specs and performance for the price, but the 16:9 screen and chunky body are already out of step with the competition, and the camera just can't keep up at all. In other words, it does a cellphone's job well, but fails to follow styling trends. I want to see the details of what he's complaining about on the camera. MSRP appears to be $500 at the time of review.

He praises the camera hardware, but pins the blame for underwhelming camera performance on the stock camera app. Note the different judgments about the software between this review and the one from GSMArena.

Battery life: he doesn't get too quantitative, but he reports 8.5hr on Geekbench's battery life test, which is better than a typical flagshop phone (from 2018) can do, he says. It comfortably runs longer than one day, but not two days.

Amazon Customer Reviews for the Sony Xperia XA2 Pioneer

Watch out, searches will return the Xperia XA2 Ultra (wrong phone), and refurbished ones. Also the color radically affects the price. These reviews are from the product page for the Sony Xperia XA2 Factory Unlocked Phone - 5.2" Screen - 32GB - Silver (U.S. Warranty). $315, sold by Aimportar USA, fulfilled by Amazon. Condition: New. ($500 if you want black, from a different vendor.)

Customer reviews distribution: 55% 5 star, 17% 4 star, 7% 3 star, 8% 2 star, 15% 1 star, 310 total reviews. In this I'm going to read recent reviews first, and I'll concentrate on negative ones to try to get advance warning of problems. They separate USA and international reviews (Canada is international), and I'm going to narrow down my work by looking at USA reviews (199 of them). I'll exclude 4* and 5* reviews since I already know the phone is wonderful:-) Here are summaries of the most useful negative reviews (and one positive):


I purchased the Pioneer.

Otter: Portrait of Selen
Photo Credit