- Good battery life
- Compact size
- Camera shutter button
- Ugly design
- Slow, unreliable camera
- No longer water-resistant
- Expensive for what you get
- 4.6-inch 720p display
- Snapdragon 650
- 3GB of RAM
- 32GB storage
- 2,700mAh battery
- 23-megapixel camera
- Manufacturer: Sony
WHAT IS THE SONY XPERIA X COMPACT?
Sony’s Xperia Compact line was a cult hit a few years back thanks to its no-compromise stance on putting flagship specs in a small body. But this isn’t the case with the Xperia X Compact, where compromises are evident everywhere.
This isn’t a flagship-quality device in miniature form, but a mid-ranger that struggles to stand out from an increasingly crowded market.
It doesn’t help that Sony has seemingly forgotten how to design a phone. On the bright side, at least the battery life is fantastic.
My initial impression on unboxing the Sony X Compact is that it resembles a baby-blue bathroom tile.
The Sony Xperia X Compact isn’t a pretty phone – in fact, I’d be as blunt as to say it’s an ugly phone. It’s built from plastic, but a slippery sort of plastic that’s a magnet for grease and fingerprints. The squared-off, boxy design doesn’t do it any favours either. It looks old-fashioned, and the blue colour of my review unit is more akin to a bottle of face scrub in my wash bag than a phone. A blessing, then, that it’s available in black and silver too.
The handset is thick as well – more so than an iPhone 7 Plus and a Nexus 6P. But this, along with the overall dinky size, does make it easy to hold in one hand. My thumb can move from one side of the 4.6-inch screen to the other without any issues. After having used a number of more sizeable handsets this year, I’ve had to force myself to not use the Xperia X Compact with two hands, since this results in covering up a large portion of the display.
The use of plastic does at least make the phone feel durable. So far it’s been kept free of any dents, and it managed to withstand a drop onto a stone floor. It’s safe to say that it’s unlikely that you’ll need a case for this phone – well, unless you want to cover up the ugly design, that is.
On the side of the handset is a lock button that sits almost flush to the phone, but feels good to press nonetheless. In Europe the button also integrates a fast fingerprint scanner, but this is a feature missing from US versions of the Xperia X Compact. For a near-£400/$600 phone, this isn’t good enough.
Opposite the lock button you’ll find the SIM tray, which is of the pull-out variety, rather than one requiring a finicky tool. There’s a microSD slot in there too, to bump up the 32GB internal storage. I do like the fact that the camera shutter button remains, providing quick access to the snapper.
Sadly, unlike Xperia Compact phones of old, there’s no waterproofing here. While the Xperia XZ is – just like the iPhone 7 – rated at IP67, the Xperia X Compact won’t take kindly to being dropped in the bath. This isn’t a vital feature, but it’s one that could have helped the X Compact to stand out.
At 4.6 inches, the display on the Sony Xperia X Compact is significantly smaller than those on pretty much every Android phone on the market. In a world where 5.5 inches is now considered normal, the fact that Sony is still making a phone with a small screen helps it stand out.
It’s a bonus that the panel is actually fairly good, although this isn’t unusual for Sony screens.
The 720p resolution might seem meagre next to 4K and quad-HD panels, but stretched over 4.6 inches, it’s perfectly fine. If someone had told me it was a 1080p display, I’d have probably believed them.
It’s an LCD panel, but Sony’s software pushes the colours up to those more akin to AMOLED. Blacks are deep, reds are bright and everything looks good – in that sort of surgically enhanced way. It’s nowhere near as accurate as an iPhone 7 display – greens, especially, look overblown – but you’ll probably only notice this is you put the two phones side by side.
Viewing angles are fantastic, while the brightness can be jacked up high enough to make the Xperia X Compact great for outdoor use.
While previous entries in the Compact line were filled with top-of-the-range silicon, the Xperia X Compact is far more modest beneath that plastic body.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 650 CPU provides the grunt, backed up by an Adreno 510 and 3GB of RAM. It’s a mid-range setup, but one that manages to get the job done.
It also means that the Xperia X Compact isn’t quite capable of matching the performance of the raft of cheaper options offering better specs, notably the OnePlus 3. Don’t let that worry you, however; I’ve been impressed by how well this dinky handset performs.
There’s obviously a performance benefit to be had from not having to push that many pixels around a small display, but lag and jerky animations are virtually non-existent.
Both basic (think Dots) and more intense (Real Racing, Modern Combat) games are smooth, with the only real issues surfacing when you try to play games that clearly aren’t properly optimised for mobile. On both the Xperia X Compact and the Xperia XZ – the current Sony flagship – Just Drive Simulator stuttered constantly and looked pretty poor.
Also included is 32GB of onboard storage, expandable by microSD, and a set of decent front-firing speakers. Volume is loud, if a little tinny, but it’s fine for alarms and YouTube videos. Call quality is great, with the mics picking up my voice clearly, even in testing surroundings.
Considering the Sony Xperia X Compact was officially announced before Android 7.0 Nougat was released, it isn’t fair to mark it down for not being fully up-to-date. Sony says the update is coming, though, but we have no details on a time frame as yet.
So you have a phone running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, but with Sony’s very likeable custom interface on top. It has the overall look of a Nexus device, but with slight tweaks to the menu and icons, plus a much deeper set of customisation options. You can alter themes, switch out the icons, and generally make this phone yours.
It’s a quick, fluid interface that doesn’t introduce annoying animations or pesky hoops through which you have to jump. In other words, it isn’t like a certain skin from Huawei. It even has the Google Now pane stuck to the left-most homescreen.
I still prefer the default vertical scrolling method used for the App Drawer, which Google introduced in Marshmallow, but it won’t take you more than a few days to become accustomed to this new method.
The Sony Xperia X Compact packs a very similar camera setup to the flagship Xperia XZ. There’s a non-stabilised 23-megapixel sensor on the back, with a wide 24mm f/2 lens and flash. It lacks the white-balance sensor added on the pricier model, however.
This sounds good on paper, but previous Xperia phones have often proved disappointing. They pushed you into using a lower resolution and then hampered the overall image when you tried to make full use of the big sensor.
The X Compact’s performance is much the same. It isn’t a bad camera, especially if your primary use is sharing snaps on Instagram, but it’s a pain to use and it’s the only part of the phone that’s slow.
As with the Xperia XZ, the photos look good at full resolution. Exposure is mostly on point, and while colours don’t pop as much as on the iPhone 7 and there isn’t as much pure detail as from the Galaxy S7, they’re accurate and pleasant to look at.
Zoom in slightly, however, and things aren’t so good. Pictures look weirdly fake, with lots of sharpening and strange effects. I managed to get around this issue by taking pictures at 8 megapixels, but this defeats the point of having such a big sensor.
There’s no OIS (optical image stabilisation) here – which isn’t a significant omission at the price – but it does make low-light snaps simply “OK”. Noise is commonplace around detailing, lights blur and focusing is slow. There’s also a strange greenish banding that appears on a lot of night-time shots.
Video is shaky, too, no matter the resolution at which you shoot. Oh, and there’s no 4K video recording here.
It’s possible to get a nice-looking bokeh effect, and there’s good detail here
Weird colours often intrude on low-light shots
There’s a lack of detail here, with fuzziness around the leaves and a soft finish
The Sony Xperia XZ’s camera app is another reason that I’m not a fan of this camera. It will be familiar to Sony point-and-shoot fans, but it could do with a redesign. It feels tired compared to the app on a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and it’s clunky too.
Switching modes and changing settings requires too many steps, and the once novel augmented-reality features are boring and grind things to a halt.
The selfie camera isn’t great, either. A 5-megapixel affair, it blurs out details and gives skin a strange shimmer.
The Sony Xperia X has a 2,700mAh battery – which might sound small, but for a phone of this size and with a screen of this resolution it performs admirably.
It will last for around 15 hours of looped locally stored video, and playing a graphically intense game for 30 minutes takes 7% off the battery, meaning it should last for around 4hrs 30mins of gaming.
An hour of Netflix streaming over Wi-Fi snips 9% off the battery, but switch to 3G/4G and that nearly doubles. Streaming from YouTube in 1080p results in a similar drop.
Charging is via the USB Type-C port
This is impressive, and I’ve managed to comfortably get through a day without having to reach for the charger. On a few occasions, the Xperia X Compact made it through to the end of a second work day.
The handset charges via a USB Type-C port, which is now pretty standard on Android phones, and offers support for Quick Charge too; note, however, that an adapter isn’t included in the box.
With a non-QC charger, the Xperia X Compact took 2hrs 7mins to recharge. With a QC-enabled charger this reduced to 1hr 10mins. It isn’t as quick a charger as the one supplied with the fantastic OnePlus 3, but it’s better than that of the iPhone 7.
SHOULD I BUY THE SONY XPERIA X COMPACT
The Sony Xperia X Compact is far from the worst Android phone I’ve used this year, even if it is one of the ugliest. If you want an Android phone with a display size smaller than 5 inches then it’s probably your only choice. Widen your horizons, however, and there are better choices out there.
This isn’t much of an upgrade over the Xperia Z5 Premium; in many ways, it’s worse – it isn’t a flagship-specced device in a more manageable size.
However, it isn’t a bad performer, and it certainly has the stamina to last – but the average camera and dodgy design really let it down. It isn’t cheap either, sitting above the OnePlus 3 and just under the iPhone SE.
Not quite as good as previous Sony Compact phones. It’s a passable mid-ranger, let down by an ugly design.