Sony Xperia X US review: A mid-range device with no clear direction

At US$550, the Xperia X should have much better build quality and features. Sony is definitely off to a shaky start for its smartphone reboot in the U.S.

If nothing else, the Xperia X is impressive simply because it exists. The last Xperia phone that even had a chance to hit U.S. shores was the Verizon-exclusive Xperia Z4v. But that phone effectively fizzled into thin air in late 2015—along with Sony’s entire U.S. smartphone strategy. Or so it seemed.

Earlier this year, Sony announced that it would drop its Xperia Z line of smartphones and re-brand. And so we now have the Xperia X, the first in a new breed of Sony devices. It’s a 5-inch, mid-tier smartphone wrapped in a boring plasticky chassis, and it’s nothing like Sony phones of yore.

The Xperia X isn’t totally bad, mind you. It’s just not exemplary, and that’s sad, as Sony used to dress to impress for its Android users. Even worse, the new Xperia’s $550 asking price is outrageous considering there are plenty of other Android smartphones that cost less and do more. It really feels like Sony is phoning it in.

Chassis design: Not quite plastic

xperiax  1 Florence Ion

The Xperia X is a comfortable 5-inch device, but won't win any design awards.

Sony’s Xperia Z series had sharp design. The phones were wrapped in a fancy, water-resistant chassis made of metal and glass, and they felt premium compared to competing devices.

But for the Xperia X, Sony’s packaging is a combination of glass, aluminum, and plastic. On the front, there’s a nice slab of glass covering the display, but the backside’s flimsy aluminum tells a different story, and polycarbonate on the sides pushes the X even further downmarket. The end result is a chassis design that feels like an afterthought. And it isn’t even water-resistant.

xperiax  4 Florence Ion

The Xperia X’s glass-covered display offers the illusion of a premium device.

xperiax  3 Florence Ion

But the backside tells a different story. It’s boring and plasticky.

We lament the diminished design standards, but Sony does redeem the Xperia X with some other features. The phone’s dual front-facing speakers are loud enough to start a dance party in your backyard, and its 5-inch, 1080p LCD display is just the right size for people who are exhausted by all the ginormous smartphone options making the rounds.

However, be forewarned that the display does suffer from slight over-saturation. It’s especially noticeable when you’re looking at the Xperia X at an angle.

xperiax  5 Florence Ion

A thin build and compact body may draw you to the Xperia X.

Also, while the Xperia X does have a fingerprint scanner embedded in its recessed power button, it’s been disabled for the U.S. market. As a result, you won’t be able to unlock the phone with your thumbprint, buy things with Android Pay (unless you enter your security pattern), or sign in to your bank account with just a tap. It’s like living in the past.

Performance that’s en fuego

The Xperia X uses Qualcomm’s latest mid-tier chip, the 1.4GHZ Snapdragon 650, which is the update to last year’s Snapdragon 615. It’s not a blazing-fast processor, but it’s enough for playing games and using Snapchat. The 3GB of RAM certainly helps, as well.

sony xperia x benchmarks geekbench

The Xperia X’s Snapdragon 650 processor performed more impressively in Geekbench than both the Nextbit Robin and Nexus 5X’s Snapdragon 808.

sony xperia x benchmarks 3dmark

However, the Snapdragon 650 still trails a bit in GPU performance.

You’ll be fine when playing casual games on the Xperia X, but anything more graphically intense will heat up the phone. Indeed, the device became almost scalding hot while playing with augmented-reality effects in the camera app. The phone will alert you when it’s on the brink of overheating, but this happened a few too many times during my week and a half of testing.

sony xperia x benchmarks battery life

Battery life is particularly impressive given its 2620mAh battery pack.

On the flipside, the Xperia X’s battery life is pretty impressive. Its 2620mAh battery pack managed to outlast both the Nextbit Robin and the Nexus 5X. In PCMark’s rundown test, the X lasted a whopping 7 hours and 36 minutes, and in GeekBench’s test, it managed about 6 hours and 14 minutes. My daily use of the phone seemed to correspond with those numbers, though I saw a drastic drop in battery life after Snapchatting my way through a visit to the farmer’s market.

The camera: Megapixels mean nothing without OIS

xperiax  7 Florence Ion

The Xperia X’s 23-megapixel camera would be more capable if it had the support of OIS.

The Xperia X boasts a 23-megapixel rear-facing camera with an aperture of f/2.0. However, the phone shoots in 8-megapixel mode by default, so you’ll have to go in and manually change the resolution if you want the full 23 megapixels. The camera is especially capable in well-lit situations, but it’s slow, taking a few seconds to save each photo after you’ve snapped an image. And, no, those save times don’t improve at lower resolutions.

xperiax moretestshots

A sampling of test shots. You’ll notice that the colors are slightly over-saturated and overexposed. At dusk, the colors appear dull (far right photo).

xperiax badzoom

Despite its 23 megapixels, the Xperia X suffered with digital zoom. Notice the overexposed sky in the zoomed shot on the right.

xperiax testshot3

Even in our artfully lit video studio, the Xperia X could hardly keep it still without the extra light.

The Xperia X employs what Sony calls phase detection auto focus. It works pretty well for tracking objects, but it makes it hard to lock on a focal point in the viewfinder. I like to keep auto focus on—it’s just one less thing to worry about—but I had little faith that the Xperia X would come through without me picking my focal point first.

xperiax labtest

The Xperia X is a darling shooter when there’s lots of light available.

xperiax labtest low light

It’s capable enough in low-light environments, but there’s too much graininess when you zoom into the photo.

Sony insists that it doesn’t need optical image stabilization (OIS) because it employs its own branded BIONZ image processor. But I’m here to tell you that it desperately needs OIS, especially with this many pixels to corral. Low-light photos are grainy, and the Xperia X is particularly susceptible to even the slightest hand-shake.

xperiax lookhowshakey

No, we weren’t in the midst of an earthquake. The Xperia X’s 13-megapixel front-facing camera also lacks OIS, and it’s hard to shoot a selfie while walking.

You’ll notice the same issues with the 13-megapixel front-facing camera, too. I had to keep my hand absolutely still to avoid blurry images, and that’s a difficult balancing acting when you’re using the phone to capture everyday events. The Galaxy S7 produces exponentially better-looking selfies with fewer megapixels, and I don’t have to stand perfectly still for every GS7 photo.

xperiax cameraui

The Sony camera UI devotes too much space to its extra effects and not enough to its manual camera controls.

Sony’s camera app is also bloated. I’d rather the company toss out its hokey augmented reality effects and opt for more robust Manual settings instead. The Xperia X also offers an exhausting list of “scene” choices, which seems counter-intuitive for a manual mode. Isn’t the whole point to enable you to manually adjust the camera settings?

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