It may be a bitter pill to swallow and admit to, but Sony has not been setting alight the smartphone market in recent years. In fact, a may be struggling to keep up with the high sales of Huawei, Samsung, and Apple. But, that isn’t to say that Sony has been creating subpar smartphones. Far from it. For many Android fans, Sony creates some of the best looking and have been ahead of the pack in that regard, but that isn’t enough in this volatile market. With the lower than expected sales of the flagship Z-series, Sony has released the X-series, which includes the Xperia XA (previously reviewed), and the more premium, Xperia X.
The Sony Xperia X was released in February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and the buzz from pundits and fans were quite positive at the unveiling. But, the buzz faded after a limited global release, with only a few countries received the launch in May, almost 3 months after the announcement, and a further few months before landing on South African shores, a total wait of close to 6 months. And that’s not ideal at all when the turnaround of the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S7 only a month or two after an announcement at the same show. We finally get our hands on the illusive Xperia X, and finding out whether it was worth the wait, and whether it’s able to compete once again on the world stage.
Build and Design
As with the long line of Sony Xperia devices, the Xperia X doesn’t venture too far from the tried and tested OmniBalance design. And why should it? I like the OmniBalance design, it’s almost perfectly rectangular shape, but for some slight curves, and overall minimalist approach. The metallic tones and reinforced glass front and rear make for a solid build to pair with the design. The sides of the devices are actually a flexible polycarbonate, which gives some leeway to owners, as it won’t break as easily as most phones when sat on, although I wouldn’t go as far as to test that myself. The polycarbonate approach on the sides also has a dual purpose, as it makes for stronger radio signal strength when compared to an all metal finish. It may just all be an excuse, but we’ll let it slide for now.
Many of the buttons are very similar to that of the XA, with a few exceptions. The power button doubles as a fingerprint sensor, automatically unlocking the device as you click on it. But it isn’t all smooth sailing, as I’ll touch on a bit later when discussing the software. The other noticeable change is the positioning of the volume rocker. Sony has moved this from the left on other flagships, and on the right (below the power button) on a few others. Instead, we find it right next to the, ever-present, dedicated camera button. And if you hold the X as you would any other smartphone, it makes it really touch to adjust the volume in one hand. The remaining ports and trays remain unchanged, elegantly blending into the design.
While the design is based on previous smartphones from Sony, there is one rather noticeable omission. I wouldn’t have expected it on the mid-range Xperia XA, but I did for the Xperia X. And that’s the IP68 certifications. Sony hasn’t released a single smartphone in 2016 as yet with water and dust proof capabilities.
Overall, then, a mixed approach by Sony for the Xperia X, but the bulk of the build and design beauty remains unscathed.
Screen and Display
Sony has fitted a 5″, IPS LCD panel on the Xperia X, with a 1080x1920px resolution at 441ppi. This is powered by Sony’s Triluminos Display and X-Reality Engine technology, making for some good viewing pleasure for your eyes. In a nutshell, the Triluminous Display increases the amount of colours you can replicate on an LCD display, whereas the X-Reality Engine enhances the images to look more clearer, and more realistic.
While it isn’t the brightest around, it is bright and colourful enough, brighter even than the Galaxy S7, although not as vivid in colour. This means that viewing in direct sunlight is good, along with viewing angles. Sony has always produces good quality visuals for their smartphones, and the Xperia X is no different. While it stops short at providing 4K, it doesn’t really need to. One of the complaints I had with the XA was how easily it smudges. The same isn’t the case on the X, with its higher quality screen, which produces less smudging.
Performance and Battery Life
The Sony Xperia X is fitted with a Qualcomm MSM8956 Snapdragon 650 chipset, which has a Hexa-core setup, split as four 1.4 GHz Cortex-A53 and two 1.8 GHz Cortex-A72 CPUs. The chipset is paired with 3GB RAM alongside the Adreno 510 GPU. Running through a few benchmark tests, the scores are reasonably good, but only in the realm of a mid-range smartphone. When compared to other flagships, however, the Xperia X is consistently between 15 and 30% less powerful. That said, it is more than capable to complete day to day tasks (bar one), along with running the most resource intensive games. The device also fared well under multi-tasking conditions, video and Wi-Fi tests.
Another of the shortfalls on the Xperia XA was its poor battery performance, barely making it through the work day. Thankfully, that issue does not appear to have affected the Xperia X. The Non-removable, Li-Ion 2620mAh battery easily makes it through the day, and often can last a few hours of the next as well. Using some of Sony’s battery efficient setting, you can eke out additional battery life while not in use, yielding about two days of usage as a result. But this setup may not be ideal of all consumers, especially those with a larger social presence, wanting on-the-fly Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp updates, or even for normal work emails. You are able to customise this a little, but if you’re not satisfied, you’ll have to make due with the standard one day of battery life, which isn’t bad at all.
Despite being a mid-range smartphone at it’s core, in the review thus far, one of its touted features for the Xperia X is it’s camera. The 23MP rear-facing camera has a f/2.0 aperture, 24mm lens, 1/2.3″ sensor size, phase detection autofocus and an LED flash. The camera software features geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, HDR, panorama, and check quality. But all the specifications and features for the camera doesn’t make it an open and shut case.
The Xperia X’s camera has Sony’s Exmor RS sensor built in. What this means is that users are able to tap the screen on what you’d like to focus on, and the software will follow the target if moving, while still taking clear photos. Well, that’s the theory. The feature on the Xperia X, however, doesn’t always work as flawlessly as one would hope, but when it gets it right, makes for a good action shots.
For normal still photography, the camera does a slightly better job. With good lighting, the camera produced quality shots, which were clear, and colourful. A lot of the features adjusted for the colours, focus, lighting and the likes. For more advanced users, you will be able to switch to a more manual setup, with a decent selection of options.
The camera falls short in one particular area, a combination of the lack of power and inefficient software programming. As a result, taking continuous bursts of photos makes for a slowed performance, and after 3 or 4 snaps in a row you’ll notice the lag. For most users, taking photos often means a quick look at the gallery to view the snap, which again poses a challenge for the Xperia X. When opened from the camera, the gallery is slow to respond as the photo is still being processed in the background.
There is also a 13MP front-facing camera bolted onto the Xperia X, which results in quite a few decent selfie shots, something that continues to be a hit with smartphone users.
While the camera app may not be the best indicator of a good piece of software for the Xperia X, the rest of it is pretty good. The variant of Android Marshmallow is a lot more vanilla than many previous Xperia smartphones. It feels very lightweight for the most part, which always helps the user experience. The animations were sharp, while performing tasks was a breeze. There are some pre-installed apps that some users may not use at all, with a few that can be disabled from the settings menu.
There, however, two issues. The first, we’ve already discussed with the camera app. The second is the fingerprint reader. For the most part it works, but when it doesn’t it becomes quite annoying. Every few days or so, you’ll need to restart your device to make sure the fingerprint scanner is in good working order, or you’ll have to use the added pin to unlock. The second issue I had was a bit trickier. When you get a message, most users click the power button to view the notification from the locked screen. In the case of the Xperia X, clicking the power button will either unlock the device (if the correct finger was used) or give you an error that the reader is unable to detect the finger used. It would make sense, then, to offer a double tap to view the locked screen, like many smartphones make use of these days, but isn’t an option on the Xperia X.
Let’s not forget the tie-in that most Sony smartphones have with the PlayStation ecosystem. Sony’s PS4™ Remote Play allows owners of a PS4 to play remotely via their Sony Xperia smartphones. While not as useful, the
PlayStation®App allows users to purchase digital games, and the have the game remotely install, and have the game ready to play upon arriving home. I wouldn’t expect there would be a big uptake on this in South Africa given the obvious data limitations.
The Xperia XA is undoubtedly a mid-range smartphone, with a price tag of R5,500. But, with the poor Rand-Dollar exchange at the time of its release, Sony made the decision to release the Xperia X at a RRP of R12,000. Compared to many other regions around the world, this puts it almost at the same level as the likes of the Galaxy S7, which sells for $750 compared to the Xperia X at $450 in the US.
Despite the awkward South African price, there are one or two other aspects that count against the Sony Xperia X being a sort after smartphone. There aren’t really any standout aspects that you’ll be able to take away, apart from the good looking and well-built body. When you consider that there are few competitors for the Xperia X at nearly half the price, you start to wonder whether it’s worth buying, irrespective of test results.