Sony Xperia X review – the Z6 in all but name

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Say hello to your new Xperia Z6. Yes, you read that correctly. The Xperia X is the new name for Sony’s flagship smartphone. It’s actually one of several Xperia X phones Sony’s launching this year, as there’s also the mid-range Xperia XA, the huge Xperia XA Ultra selfie phone, and the Xperia X Performance, a high-end version of the X that’s finally been confirmed for a UK release later this year.

In a way, it’s strange that the Xperia X has top billing, as it’s the Xperia XA which has Sony’s gorgeous edge-to-edge display. This makes the X’s cheaper sibling the more desirable-looking handset out of the two, and it leaves the X feeling rather dull by comparison. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its own sense of style, as its curved, rounded corners feel great against your palm and the metal (not glass) back provides plenty of grip. It’s just very familiar, and very safe, for a flagship Sony phone, and at a distance (ignoring the rather gross Lime Gold colour on my review unit) you could almost mistake it for the Xperia Z5.

It even has the Z5’s side-facing fingerprint sensor built into the home button. It’s rather narrow compared to your typical fingerprint-sensor, but it’s exceedingly fast and rarely made a mistake during testing. It’s a shame you still have to press the button before you can unlock it, but it’s still placed in a much more convenient position than other sensors I’ve tested that have been incorporated into the home buttons on the front of a phone. Likewise, since the Xperia X has built-in NFC support, you’ll be able to use the sensor to authorise contactless Android Pay transactions as well, just like current iPhone users who use Apple Pay.

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Display

Its looks aren’t the only thing the Xperia X has in common with the Z5, either, as Sony’s once again chosen a display with a 1,920×1,080 resolution instead of joining the rest of its competitors with a 2,560×1,440 panel. To be fair, it has decreased the size of the screen to 5in rather than stick with the Z5’s 5.2in screen, but it’s still rather odd that it hasn’t yet made the jump to a higher resolution. That said, those extra pixels make little noticeable difference to the overall sharpness of the display, and the sheer quality of the screen more than makes up for any shortfall in specification.

Covering an impressive 99.9% of the sRGB colour gamut, the display looks utterly fantastic, delivering almost AMOLED levels of depth and richness without appearing oversaturated. Likewise, our contrast ratio measurement of 1,356:1 ensured that highlights and lowlights had plenty of visible detailing and shadow gradation. It’s also exceptionally bright, hitting 578.84cd/m2 on its highest setting. This not only makes it extremely easy to use outside, but it also makes images pop out of the screen.

Battery life

Of course, having the screen constantly set to 578cd/m2 won’t exactly do the phone’s battery many favours, but much like the Xperia Z5 and Z5 Compact, the Xperia X packs a surprising amount of usage into its relatively small battery. With just 2,620mAh at its disposal, the Xperia Z lasted an impressive 12h 04m in our continuous video playback test with the screen set to our usual measurement of 170cd/m2. This puts it ahead of both the Z5 and LG G5, each of which had larger 2,900mAh and 3,000mAh batteries respectively.

You’ll be able to squeeze even more juice out of the Xperia X by enabling one of Sony’s energy-saving modes, too, although this will also limit some of the phone’s functionality in the process, such as GPS-tracking, haptic feedback and background data syncing. Still, twelve hours is pretty good going for heavy media usage, so you should always get a full day’s use out of it before putting it back on charge.

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Performance

Another slightly odd decision Sony’s made for the Xperia X is to go with a hexa-core 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 processor instead of the more powerful Snapdragon 820 that powers its rivals. The X still has 3GB of RAM, but it naturally fell quite a long way behind in our benchmark tests, as it managed just 1,445 in the Geekbench 3 single core test and 3,778 in the multicore test. The HTC 10 and LG G5, on the other hand, scored over 2,000 points in the single core and over 5,000 in the multicore.

In all fairness, though, the Xperia X still feels exceedingly fast, and its Geekbench 3 scores actually put it on par with the Xperia Z5, which had a Snapdragon 810 chip. This is no doubt partly down to Sony’s redesigned Android 6.0.1 interface, which was always one of the most streamlined and slickest versions of Android around. Here, it feels even faster, as menu animations were silky smooth and menu settings opened almost instantaneously.

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It became a little jerky when browsing the web, particularly on media-heavy pages like the Guardian’s homepage, but scrolling was smooth once it had fully loaded. Otherwise, it handled images and adverts reasonably well, and simpler, text-heavy articles were absolutely fine.

The Xperia X is also a pretty capable gaming machine. While its GFX Bench offscreen Manhattan 3.0 score of 920 frames (or 15fps) isn’t outstanding, it’s perfectly able to play games like Hearthstone, and Sony’s PS4 Remote Play feature is particularly good news for PS4 owners as well, as it means you can use your phone as a portable display when you want to stream your games around the house.

Storage

The Xperia X comes with 32GB of storage as standard, but there’s a microSD card slot hidden away underneath a slot on the side in the SIM card tray, so you’ll be able to expand it up to 200GB if you have the requisite card.

Camera

You might need more storage if you plan on taking lots of pictures, as the Xperia X’s 23-megapixel sensor can produce some pretty large images. However, I wasn’t overly impressed with the overall quality of the photos I took, as the final images looked far too sharp and over-processed.

Admittedly, our outdoor lighting conditions weren’t great, but there was an awful lot of noise and visible artefacts when viewed at its full resolution, which rather spoiled the rest of the shot. Its colours and exposure judgement was pretty good, but it lost so much fine detail that smaller objects were practically reduced to a single block of colour.

^ The weather was pretty overcast when this picture was taken, but viewing it at full resolution reveals a shocking lack of detail

Indoors wasn’t much better either, as even in bright lighting conditions the over-sharpening continued. Colours had plenty of punch, but there was a lot of noise and some very smeary-looking textures, putting the camera as a whole dead-last compared to the LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S7 and HTC 10.

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^ Colours look reasonably decent overall, but there’s a lot of noise and smeary, fuzzy textures

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^ Switching on our studio lights didn’t help either, as there was still a lot of obvious over-processing in the final image

Conclusion

This is a real shame, as the rest of the phone holds up well to its closest competitors. However, if the camera wasn’t enough to hold the Xperia X back, its price definitely is, as it currently costs £460 SIM-free or around £32-per-month on contract. This puts it in direct competition with the LG G5, which not only has a vastly superior camera – arguably the best out of all of this year’s flagship smarpthones – but it also has an equally gorgeous-looking screen and bundles of speed. When you put these phones side-by-side, the G5 wins hands down.

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