Sony Xperia X Compact review: A small step backwards


The Sony Xperia X Compact took me a little by surprise, and sadly not in a good way.

You see, for years when people have asked me what “normal-sized” phone they should get, my answer has been simple: “Get a Sony”. While some manufacturers like to advertise compact versions of their flagship while secretly scrimping on the innards, Sony’s compact models tend to be the real deal: pint-sized powerhouses that offered flagship performance with less risk of hand cramp.

With the Sony Xperia X Compact, well… it’s complicated.

Sony has released two smartphones recently: the Sony Xperia X and the Sony Xperia XZ. Ignoring the linguistic abomination of a double-X in their titles, these are targeting the mid-range and high-end markets respectively. The Xperia X Compact pinches bits from both of them, making it harder to define and a tough old sell. And it’s an even tougher sell than usual, because Sony’s pricing structure remains as optimistic as ever for a company struggling to stay relevant in the global smartphone race.

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Sony Xperia X Compact: Design

At first glance, the Xperia X Compact doesn’t even look like it’s chasing “mini-flagship” status. Well, not in the year 2016 anyway. While it has the slab-like rectangle aesthetic that Sony have persisted with for years, this is a handset framed by glossy plastic rather than the frosted-glass stylings of old. It’s not a good change, to be blunt, bringing to mind the fashion of smartphones some six years ago.

Or at least that would be the case, were it not for the USB Type-C port it charges through. That’s right: you’re going to be upgrading your cables. It manages to keep the dedicated camera button and fingerprint reader on the side – a good move, as the Z5 Compact’s was the best I’ve used – but somehow loses its dust- and water-resistant status along the way.

(Update: It seems that while the fingerprint reader is present and correct on the UK version of the Xperia X Compact, it’s missing across the pond in America. Weirdly, the technology seems to be present, but disabled via software. The reasoning for this isn’t clear: could be down to privacy issues, it could be down to patents in the US. Whatever the reason, it’s not there in America, and that’s a great shame, as it’s one of the best I’ve used.)

This is baffling as Sony was among the first company to champion the advantages of a waterproof phone, going as far as to base all their Z3 marketing on underwater photography, but it has removed it just as the feature achieved mainstream traction, with Samsung and Apple installing it in their latest flagships.

It’s not an ugly smartphone by any means, but neither does it feel like it should cost £360. Realistic pricing has never exactly been Sony’s strong suit, but it’s all the more keenly felt in an age where you can grab Alphr’s favourite smartphone – the OnePlus 3 – for £31 less.

Sony Xperia X Compact review: Screen

Traditionally, Sony’s compact phones have matched their smaller screen sizes with a lower resolution, and that tradition is continued here. The Xperia X Compact packs a resolution of 1,280 x 720 into its 4.6in IPS display, giving it a pixel density of around 319 pixels per inch. To be honest, that’s absolutely fine for a display of this size, and although I took some flack in the comments of last year’s Xperia Z5 Premium for saying 4K on a phone screen was effectively like selling “magic beans”, it’s telling that Sony hasn’t pulled the same trick in 2016, and is maintaining more sensible screen resolutions across its range.

We don’t just look at resolution when judging a screen, of course, with brightness, contrast and colour accuracy arguably more important. I’ve put the Xperia X Compact in a table with phones in the same price bracket, as well as last year’s Z5 Compact, to give you an idea of how it stacks up.

Resolution Brightness sRGB gamut coverage Contrast
Sony Xperia X Compact 1,280 x 768 (319 ppi) 535cd/m2 99.2% 1,211:1
Sony Xperia Z5 Compact 1,280 x 768 (319 ppi) 461cd/m2 98.8% 1,161:1
OnePlus 3 1,920 x 1080 (420 ppi) 415cd/m2 100% Perfect
Huawei Nova 1,920 x 1080 (441 ppi) 424cm/m2 100% 1,494:1
Samsung Galaxy A5 1,920 x 1080 (424 ppi) 400cd/m2 100% Perfect

The Xperia X Compact’s screen is – as you can see – unfortunate to be up against some very strong opposition in the £300-£360 price bracket. But even then it holds its own pretty well, proving to be the brightest screen of the lot, with very good sRGB coverage and strong contrast. The Samsung and OnePlus models in the list use OLED displays, hence their perfect contrast. Displays using OLEDs technology also tend to fare worse on brightness tests, so take those stats with a pinch of salt.

So a great screen, and an improvement on last year’s model. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for its performance.

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