[highlight color=#336699 ]Introduction[/highlight]
Sony are back with the Xperia X, a rebirth in name but its still essentially the same Sony device we’ve seen year in, year out.
I’m a massive fan of Sony, my TV, games consoles, laptop (at one point) were all Sony devices because Sony are associated with quality long lasting products, which have a deep place in my heart. Recently I can’t say I’ve been a massive fan of Sony’s smartphones, the recent Z5 and Z4 didn’t set the world alight. So when Mobile World Congress came around and Sony announced the rebirth of their flagship range, I was genuinely excited to get to grips with what they had to offer.
Sony has dropped the Xperia Z moniker and rebranded their entire flagship line Xperia X, this was their chance to do what Samsung did so well. Redesign from the ground up, bring new innovations to the table and retain what fans loved. But it just seems Sony went on a naming carousel with Lenovo and swapped letters. Lenovo got off the carousel and introduced the innovative Moto Z range, whereas Sony remained on the proverbial carousel, endlessly spinning around, getting nowhere.
A lot of weird decisions have been made since the Xperia X was announced. First of all the marketing has been poor with many, including us, were led to believe that the Xperia X range was to be released alongside the Xperia Z range. The spec sheet we thought corroborated this thought as none of the Xperia X devices use Qualcomm’s latest and greatest, the Snapdragon 820 at the time.
To add even more confusion, the Xperia X has a baffling high price, retailing for £459. For such a high-end price, what are you paying for? Let’s find out.
OS Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Processor Snapdragon 650
Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels (565 DPI)
Memory 3GB RAM
Micro SD compatible Yes, up to 200GB
Rear camera 12MP
Front camera 5MP
Connectivity WiFi, 4G, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth
Dimensions 146 x 72 x 9mm
Battery 3,000 mAh
[highlight color=#336699 ]Design[/highlight]
The Xperia X is distinctly a Sony device through and through with its minimal almost rectangular design, that can be spotted a mile off. While we moan about Sony not giving us a fresh design, it wasn’t bad to begin with. The Z5 was a bit thick, particularly the Premium version, but it did look decent with excellent build quality.
Sony has improved on what wasn’t working with the Z5 and made the Xperia X so much better functionally. Instead of the glass panel on the back, Sony have opted for aluminium which grips better and most importantly, its not a finger print magnet. More importantly it won’t be susceptible to everyday drops, with less chance of shattering. Although it does feel and look less premium than its predecessor.
The edges have seen refinement as they are now smoothed and curved. Also getting the curve treatment is the FHD 5.0-inch screen. The combination of the two provide a remarkably comfortable device that is great in your hands and slides into your pockets with ease. It’s a bit strange the Xperia XA and XA Ultra got the edge-to-edge screen treatment, seeing as the Xperia X is the top device. It would have added substantial weight to the aesthetics.
Returning from the Z5 is the dual-front facing speakers, a rare feature in today’s modern smartphone. We saw HTC abandoning their much loved BoomSound version, instead opting to engineer a digital audio converter into the HTC 10. With dual front-facing speakers, watching Netflix is leaps and bounds better than on my single speaker Huawei P9.
Those of you living in North America, I have some bad news. The fingerprint sensor on the side is not useable. I mean, the sensor is physically there inside the Xperia X, but Sony has disabled it via firmware. The reason is unknown, could it be a patent issue? Poor planning? Who knows. What we do know is Sony has always had a poor track record in the US, skipping an entire generation of devices (e.g. Xperia Z4), and failing to ensure their devices are on affordable contracts with network carriers.
Luckily I’m reviewing a European version of the Xperia X with the fingerprint sensor enabled. It’s not blistering fast like the recent OnePlus 3, it doesn’t even compare to the Huawei P9’s level 4 sensor. But it does the job nicely due to the natural placement of the sensor down the side.
For those that swap SIM cards for travelling, the SIM card slot does not require an annoying SIM key, simply pull it out on the left side. There’s a noticeable omission from the Xperia X and that is water-resistance. It would have given the Xperia X some much needed status as there isn’t really much else to shout about.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Camera[/highlight]
The camera is usually one of the first things we hear Sony shout about, which is fair enough as Sony are quite reputable in the photography field, even making sensors for its smartphone rivals.
You’ll find a Sony Exmor sensor in the iPhone 6s, Samsung Galaxy S7 and a host of other devices from different manufacturers. It is one of the best sensors in the business, providing excellent picture quality. Having said that there has never been an Xperia camera that has had me in awe. The Xperia Z5 was really nothing special when we put it against its rivals, in certain categories it didn’t even come in the top two!
The Exmor sensor has been carrying Xperia devices, as they are always bogged down with a dawdling software and jarring post-production.
Sadly it’s the same story with the Xperia X. Clearly Sony still hasn’t looked at what fundamentally makes a camera great on a smartphone. I’ll start with the camera app – it’s the same camera app on the Z5, so expect a slow and not so intuitive app.
There doesn’t seem to be a manual mode, due to some omissions, but its kind of there. For photography fans you’ll find yourself asking “is this it?” You’re given control of the ISO and a handful of other options. But where’s the control over shutter speed, exposure value and autofocus? You’ll find these usual manual control staples in for example the P9. Huawei’s marketing for the P9 was almost solely the camera. Within the P9 you’ll find all the aforementioned options, and basically backing up their words to a degree (unsure about the contribution from Leica). Something Sony, I feel, hasn’t done.
It may all sound quite negative but the Xperia X does take some good photos. The rear-facing shooter is 21-megapixels, a whole lot more than any rivalling devices. Sony are going the other way it seems in the camera race and it’s not a bad thing. Colours in pictures are vibrant without being overly exposed as you would find with the HTC 10.
In low-light the Xperia X doesn’t perform as well as its rivals. Sony opted for a smaller f/2.0 aperture lens, which does not allow in as much light as the f/1.8 lens seen on the LG G5 and HTC 10. The Samsung Galaxy S7 has a f/1.7 lens, and it gets a nod from us as the best low-light camera phone at the moment (runner-up HTC 10). That being said it does a decent job in low-light, although it does produce a bit of blur.
Predictive Hybrid Autofocus was a big part of the camera’s marketing, Sony showed it off at Mobile World Congress for the first time with colourful remote control balls. At the time I wasn’t too impressed with it, now personally using it my opinion remains unchanged. It jumps around too much and can’t even follow my adopted pet pigeon Peter, as he flew away as I ran out of bread to give him. Saying that, the Xperia X does a great job in taking pictures of fast moving objects. Even a waving hand (not at super speed) can be caught without that much noise.
Not including optical image stabilisation (OIS) does not help with low light shots with as images look shaky with noise. It produces a decent night pic but one that you’ll probably delete tomorrow morning at breakfast. There’s also no 4K video recording, which is strange as the Snapdragon 650 does support it.
The selfie shooter is 13-megapixels and produces good selfies, although the beauty mode is a bit fake, as it is in every phone. Sony has included a wide sensor on the selfie camera, so no one in your friendship circle will be left out awkwardly.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Screen[/highlight]
Sony showed great innovation by putting a 4K (QHD) screen into the Z5 Premium. We were all in awe at such audacity by Sony, only to be massively disappointed when the 4K screen was not even active for the majority of screen time. Instead Z5 Premium users were faced with a full HD display.
The 4K screen did not make a comeback this time around, instead we get an LCD full HD panel which does the job nicely. Blacks are deep while colours are well saturated, which is well presented with the screen savers Sony provided. Sony threw in a lot of marketing spiel to try and sex up their screen technology. It’s apparently a ‘Triluminous Display’ which we’re not sure about, but what we can tell you is it’s a great display, one worthy of being on a flagship device. I’m also quite impressed with the colour contrast, not sure if that’s got to do anything with the ‘Dynamic Contrast Enhancement.’
With it being a LCD panel, it isn’t as impressive compared to an OLED counterpart. Colour saturation is usually better on an OLED display, due to the shutting down of dark pixels. But the difference is negligible, a 4K screen is a bit unnecessary if you’re looking for a standard phone. A 4K screen is useful for devices with virtual reality intentions. Thanks to the 5-inch screen the 1080 x 1920 panel brings a lot of spark to every pixel on screen.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Performance[/highlight]
We have to wonder first ask why didn’t Sony go with the number one processor choice of 2016. Of course we’re talking about the Snapdragon 820, a chip present in the majority of 2016’s flagships.
It’s in the Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, HTC 10, LG G5 and the Xiaomi Mi5. Sony has priced the Xperia X at a flagship standard between £459 – £529, which makes us question why a processor to match such a price hasn’t been included.
Instead we see the upper mid-range Snapdragon 650, a decent enough chipset with 3GB of RAM to compliment the processing speed. Its a chipset that runs sightly better than the Snapdragon 617 seen on the HTC One A9 and the new Moto G4, the latter of the two only costs £169. The Snapdragon 650 is present in the wallet friendly Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, the phablet will only set you back at most £130 on importing websites.
The Xperia X reminds me a lot of the HTC One A9. Decent enough to do the standard things; checking emails, Facebook and opening apps. But push it hard and it will start to stutter. The Snapdragon 650 brings with it the Adreno 510 GPU, it does the job in making Asphalt look a great game it playing for half an hour will yield lag. The lag is not game breaking, just a mere annoyance to get used to, but shouldn’t have to for a device at that price range.
The load times are quite noticeable compared to a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. We’re already selecting a new Audi by the time the adverts load up on the Xperia X. Speaking of load times, image heavy websites are a problem. It takes the Xperia X an extra few seconds to load up What Mobile or any other image heavy site.
Going through the standard Geekbench tests we found the Xperia X to be expectantly an underachiever compared to rivals in the same price range. It recorded on average a multi-core score of 3,864, falling massively short compared to the Huawei P9 which scored 6472.
The S7 Edge beat both devices, by a margin against the P9 and by a country mile against the Xperia X, with a score of 6502. The Snapdragon 650 is meant to be comparable to Snapdragon 810 but it doesn’t event come near the Nexus 6P which scored 4,134. So the Xperia X does not even match the power of a last generation flagship, despite being marketed as a flagship.
If you enjoy pushing your device to the limit, there is the Snapdragon 820 powered Xperia X Performance, but unfortunately Sony does not have any immediate plans of selling it in the UK.
Sony continue to support Hi-Res audio offering excellent audio quality through headphones. It’s not on the same level as the HTC 10 with its incredible DAC, but it produces top-notch audio quality with sufficient bass.
With the Snapdragon 650 the Xperia X is capable of connection speeds of LTE CAT 7, more than enough for clear phone calls and mobile data usage. Somehow the Xperia X manages to produce some of the worst signal I’ve seen in a smartphone this year. I’m on EE, who are the biggest operator in the UK. I rarely saw the signal bar hit the full five and quite often I just lose signal completely whenever I’m in certain buildings.
Battery on the Xperia X is actually quite impressive. From a full charge in the morning, going onto the next day I would still have a sufficient amount of juice left in the tank to make it to work. Just in case you have a longer commute than I do, Sony has included ‘Ultra STAMINA mode,’ which claims some bold battery time estimates. Currently I’m at 14% with ‘Ultra Stamina Mode’ claiming to extend it to 41 hours of life. It does this by restricting what you can do with the Xperia X. Apps are stripped down to a chosen few; camera, contacts, calculator, calendar.
Its a great move from Sony to not overlay Android 6.0 Marshmallow with an annoying skin. That’s not saying all Android skins are annoying, Samsung’s TouchWiz offers multi-screen, something Google were late to adopt and will introduce in the Android Nougat update this year.
The near vanilla Android experience presents a simple interface with, differing in only small details in the aesthetics. The Sony Xperia X offers the best user interface of any recent Sony device, as it doesn’t just shoehorns in features to make it more Sony, instead it works with vanilla Android, adding features where needed to make it a smoother experience. There’s a search bar you that can be accessed by swiping down on the home screen, to make it easier to find your desired app.
Vanilla Android isn’t all ‘Kool and the Gang’ as there is stupidly no ‘clear all’ button to shut down all apps. Thankfully Sony has tweaked it to include ‘clear all,’ I just wished it stuck on the screen as I passed judgement on running apps, instead of having to scroll all the way to the beginning to execute them all. This dictator is not satisfied.
Bloatware is just a given with Sony devices, they’re not the only ones that are guilty of it, just one of the ones that have been doing it longer. So many unnecessary apps such as ‘What’s On’ and ‘Xperia Lounge.’ Apps like these you’ll never user again after opening them for the first time as you give your shiny new Xperia X a thorough examination. Remote Play is still there to beam your PS4 to your small screen. You wouldn’t really use this often, maybe once or twice when your significant other really needs to watch Eastenders.
I’m still wary about the Xperia X as Sony’s previous effort the Z5 is currently being loaned to a friend who is complaining about the lack of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. A significant amount of time has passed, surely an update for a flagship like this should be around the corner?
Google’s Android Nougat is around the corner, how long will it take for the Xperia X or any Sony devices to get it? Considering the Z5 isn’t even on Marshmallow yet.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Conclusion[/highlight]
Sony gets more wrong than right again and that’s just the unfortunate truth. By all means that does not mean the Xperia X is a bad device, it’s just not great. We’re spoilt this year, like every year with great options, so I find it hard to recommend the Xperia X, especially at the current price point.
I can’t work out what’s so special about the Xperia X, is it the camera? No. Music player? No. It’s just a decent device that will get you through simple things at an excellent rate, just don’t ask too much. If you really want a Sony device in your life, go for the Xperia X Performance, the Xperia X is hard to justify with the current price point, unless you get lucky in a flash sale and get it for under £400. Good luck.