Sony Xperia X review: The most expensive mid-range phone ever

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Sony announced a brand new line of Xperia phones this year, replacing the Xperia Z line that we all shared a love/hate relationship with. Now we have the Xperia X series of devices, which includes the Xperia X and other mid-range devices.

Sony has always struggled to really find their groove in the Android market, which might explain the entire reboot of their phone models. The Xperia Z was bogged down with confusing names (they skipped from the Xperia Z3 to the Z5, depending on what country you’re in) and poor advertising, so an entirely new series of phones might be just what the doctor marketing department ordered.

I had a chance to use the $549 Xperia X for a few weeks, which is the device that gives its name to the entire line of devices. However, it is not the highest end device of the family; that’s reserved for the Xperia X Performance.

Mixed messaging already? Classic Sony.

Design

While the Xperia X is a new line of phones from Sony, they’re sticking to their tried and true Xperia design language, for better or worse. The phone could very easily pass for the Xperia Z6, which isn’t a bad thing. Xperia phones have a very distinctive and attractive design, even if they are a little utilitarian.

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That’s not to say the Xperia X doesn’t have a few changes. The corners are slightly more rounded than what we last saw on the Xperia Z5 family, and a few of the cameras and sensors have shifted around.

On the face of the device, you have a spacious 5-inch 1080p display, with two speakers above and below the screen. On the top left is the front-facing camera, and the top right houses the ambient sensor.

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The back of the device is plain as always, with a simple Xperia logo and a large camera on the top left. The LED flash has moved below the camera lens.

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On the left of the device you’ll find an easily-opened flap that stores the SIM card and microSD card. The right side of the device has Sony’s signature silver home button, the volume rocker, and a dedicated camera button.

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On the international models of the Xperia X, the power button also doubles as a fingerprint scanner. You know, that thing that’s nearly universal on all flagship phones in 2016? In the US model, it’s just a power button, no fingerprint scanner in sight. Sony did this with the earlier Xperia Z models, and for whatever reason, they still won’t release a US phone with a fingerprint scanner. It’s beyond frustrating, especially when they aren’t compensating by reducing the price of the US models.

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Side note, I love dedicated camera buttons. Why more OEMs don’t include them is beyond me. There are many things Sony does wrong, but this is one thing that I absolutely love them for.

The top of the device homes the headphone jack, and the charging port is centered on the bottom of the phone. Pretty standard configuration here.

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The actual design of the phone is pretty great, which it should be when you’re dropping close to $600 on it. It isn’t made of fancy metal and glass, but Xperia X feels sturdy and pleasant to hold. The slightly rounded edges help make it extremely comfortable, and the soft finish on the back feels great in hand.

On the black color option, the face of the phone is glossy, which does tend to pick up smudges easily, and the curved glass on the edges seem to accidentally pick up debris, but those are small complaints for what is otherwise a fantastically designed phone. Sony also offers the Xperia X in white, rose gold, and an awful lime gold.

Hardware

 Sony Xperia X
AnnouncedFebruary 22, 2016
ReleaseMay 2016
Display5-inch Full HD (1920x1080) IPS LCD
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 650
RAM3GB
Storage32GB / 64GB
Rear Camera23MP with phase detection autofocus, LED flash
Front Camera13MP
Battery2620mAh (non-removable)
Chargingmicro-USB
SoundFront-facing stereo speakers
SoftwareAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Xperia overlay
ConnectivityNFC, Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, compass, gyro, barometer, fingerprint (pending on market)
Measurements142.7 x 69.4 x 7.9mm
Weight153g
ColorsGraphite Black, White, Lime Gold, Rose Gold

Performance

The Xperia X gives its name to Sony’s newest family of devices, but it’s only running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 processor. It’s not a high-end flagship device. That’s not a knock against the 650, because it runs wonderfully and contributes to great battery life, but for a device that bears the moniker of an entire lineup of phones, it’s not unreasonable to expect a little more. And for a device that costs $549, you should definitely expect more.

The phone zips along nicely without any major hiccups, but it’s still not on par with other phones in this price range. Opening up apps is quick, but not immediate. Graphically intensive apps and games work just fine, but aren’t buttery smooth. Again, not a knock against the CPU here, but more against Sony pricing the phone above what it’s capable of.

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Fortunately, Sony included quite a bit of RAM here, and the Xperia X seems to manage its memory very effectively. Opening an app that isn’t in RAM will pause just slightly, but as long as you’re hopping back and forth between just a few apps that the device is keeping in RAM, it’s as snappy as you could want it to be. This also lends itself to great battery life, which Sony always seems to nail down.

The screen is the okay-est part about the Xperia X. It’s a Full HD LCD panel, and it gets the job done. Text is crisp, and you won’t see any jagged edges anywhere. The colors don’t really pop, which seems to be a trend with LCD screens as opposed to LED screens, but overall it’s a good display. Three years ago, it would have been phenomenal, and compared to cheaper phones it’s fantastic. But compared to other phones in this price range, I can’t think of a single phone that the Xperia X beats anywhere close to this price range when it comes to screen quality.

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The speakers on the Xperia X are pretty standard for Sony. Better than average, but still not enough to dethrone HTC as the king of smartphone speakers.

Battery

The Xperia X houses a 2620mAh battery, which might seem a little small compared to what other OEMs are cramming in their devices this year. However, like always, Sony seems to be one of the better manufacturers when it comes to battery efficiency.

I had no trouble lasting an entire day with the Xperia X, which is great considering I can usually run most phones dead by 9 or 10 PM. I’ve never used a phone that could consistently last me for two entire days without a charge, but you’d be able to pull it off with the Xperia X if you’re typically a light phone user.

Doze helps a ton, too. Standby battery life has always been a major pain point for Android devices over the years, but we’re finally getting to the point where you can normally use your phone without worrying about excessive battery drain just from being in your pocket.

It’s worth pointing out that Sony opted only to include Quick Charge 2.0 in the Xperia X, not Quick Charge 3.0. It’s not a deal breaker, but if you want the absolutely fastest charge possible, you’re not getting it out of this phone. The smaller battery does help to speed charge times up a bit, however.

Software

With all of the other changes to the Xperia X, Sony didn’t change the software much at all. If you’ve ever used another Xperia device, you’ll pretty much know what you’re getting into with the Xperia X, and if you’ve never used a Sony device but have used stock Android, you’ll still have a pretty good idea. The phone is currently on Android 6.0.1, and that includes all of the features that Google brought in with Marshmallow.

Sony takes the approach of minimally adjusting Android itself and simply baking in a ton of apps on the phones, which is good and bad. That means the software is relatively untouched and closer to Google’s version of Android than what you get with most other OEMs, but that also means you’ll end up with quite a few Sony branded apps that you may or may not actually care about. This includes things like Sony’s music player with built-in Spotify integration, which is nice, but it also means your device ships with three music players installed: Music, Google Play Music, and Spotify. You can at least trash the latter two to get them off your phone to clean things up, though.

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Other stock apps feature a ton of third-party integration too, including the Album app with Facebook and Flickr sections. You’ll also find a Video app that handles all of your local content but also doubles as a channel guide and streaming player, if you happen to have a media server set up. There are a ton of extra, but it’s all mostly cleanly integrated and out of the way, and not at all intrusive.

Sony also includes things like a Sketch app, TrackID for identifying music, the Xperia Lounge, movie editing software, lifelog fitness tracking software, and a few other things.

One major catch on the Xperia X: say goodbye to Sony’s Small Apps. This was Sony’s attempt at multi-screen multitasking, and it worked fairly well on every other Sony I’ve ever used. Sadly, it’s completely absent on the Xperia X, so if you like being able to manage multiple windows and floating apps, keep that in mind when looking at the X. Hopefully Google’s native multiview implementation makes up for it down the line.

You’ll still find Sony’s famous theme engine on the Xperia X, which is always one of the best parts about Sony phones. There are tons of available themes that customize your navigation bar, settings menu, and things like Sony’s native SMS app. There are some tasteful themes that are pretty muted, but you can also go for an Uncharted 4 theme if you’re a PlayStation fan. Can’t blame Sony for utilizing their cross-market influence. The launcher also allows you to mix and match icon themes with Sony themes, which is a nice touch.

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Those are the highlights of the software, but there are a few other changes throughout the phone that might either be incredibly irritating or extremely useful. One thing I love, for example, is the ability to swipe down anywhere on the home screen to access a quick app search engine. This makes it easy to find an app on your phone if you have a ton installed, or allows you to quickly search Google Play for it if you don’t have it. One thing I hate about that feature I love is that it’s completely limited to just searching apps. Why not expand that to search emails, text messages, and maybe Google?

Also, on the lock screen, Sony implemented an animation where the screen slides to the left, even if you swipe up from the lock icon on the lock screen. That inconsistency is very small, but I never managed to get used to it.

Overall, Sony did a great job with the software here, with a few minor quirks. If you like lightweight OEM skins, you shouldn’t have any complaints here.

Camera

The good news is that Sony stuffed a 23-megapixel camera in the Xperia X. The other good news is that the camera itself is very fast, and there’s a speedy shortcut to accessing the camera while the phone is asleep, too. Simply hold down the shutter button and the phone is ready to take a photo in a second.

For all the disappointment that Sony likes to bring to its fans, they actually didn’t let anyone down with the camera this time around. I’m not the kind of person to buy into the megapixel count race, so the 23-megapixel rear camera didn’t really mean anything to me at first, but it absolutely pays off for the Xperia X camera. Every shot you take with the phone captures a ton of detail, which is great for someone that likes to try and snap large shots to crop and zoom in on later. Outdoor shots especially come out exceptionally well, with accurate color representation and tons of detail without ever looking washed up or blown out.

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Low light shots were also very strong, which is almost a selling point by itself for many users. A camera is significantly less useful if you can’t use it wherever you are, and Sony knows that. Dim lighting and artificial lighting didn’t ever slow the camera down, which is one instance where the Xperia X actually punches above its weight class. These were results that you usually only see on the extremely high-end of phones. It’s a nice contrast from the Xperia Z5 Compact, which I didn’t have the best luck with when it came to low-light performance.

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The front facing camera of the Xperia X absolutely matches the rear shooter, too. It’s only a 13-megapixel camera as opposed to the 23-megapixel rear camera, but you’re not going to be using it for taking your scenery shots. It holds up very well in low light, too, focuses quickly, and everything comes out crisp with plenty of detail.

Videos are what you’d expect, with the caveat that you can’t record 4k with the Xperia X. You’re limited to 1080p at 30 fps or 60 fps, both of which it does very well. We’ve had phones that can reliably shoot HD video for a few years now, though, so it’d a little disappointing that Sony doesn’t manage to push things past that here.

Closing

The Xperia X is a fantastic phone. It really is. Battery life is solid, performance and screen quality are decent, the camera manages to consistently impress, and it still manages to capture everything that makes Sony phones unique. The caveats here really, really hurt the Xperia X, however, considering the device is no longer waterproof, Sony still left out the fingerprint scanner in the US version, and it’s $549. Sony priced themselves out on this one, and that makes it really hard to recommend over anything else on the market at similar price points. If you’re really just itching for a Sony phone, you can even pick up the Xperia Z5 for close to $500 and get better specs and waterproofing.

I don’t disagree with Sony rebooting their flagship line of phones. After the rocky few years they’ve had with the Xperia Z, it makes sense. But overpricing their phones with confusing naming schemes is what got them into this position in the first place, and it doesn’t seem like they’ve learned their lesson. I will say that they are taking the US market slightly more seriously this time around though, which is clearly evident on their web page where they list multiple locations to buy their phones. I don’t know that it makes up for everything else, but hey, baby steps.

Buy it now: Best Buy, Amazon, B&H Photo


About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid, but the tech enthusiasm currently covers just about everything. He likes PC gaming, Lenovo's Moto Z line, and a good productivity app.


  • Hunter Medney

    Minor suggestion – noticed the 2nd hardware table column is labeled “Google Nexus 6P”. Was it a copy/paste? :-)

    • Justin_Herrick

      Good catch! The rest of the spec sheet is right. ;-)

  • Sorry, but I can’t tell that the design is good such enormous bezels. Plus, the price is ridiculous for what it deliver. The only selling point is a good nocturnal camera and a dedicated camera button.