Sony Xperia X Review: Great Camera, But No X Factor

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Like several smartphones this year, Sony Xperia's X ($549 unlocked) hopes to wow you with its cameras. And the Xperia X certainly delivers on that front, with a 13-megapixel sensor up front that makes your selfies look as good as any other shot, and a 23-MP camera in the back with predictive autofocus for keeping moving subjects looking sharp. Gamers have something to like, too, with the ability to access their PlayStation games on their phones.

But at this price, you'd expect something more from Sony. Instead, the Xperia X delivers a midlevel processor, 1080p display and a bloated take on Android. And unlike recent Xperia phones, the X isn't water-resistant. The Xperia X is a solid handset, but it lacks the kind of X factor to make it truly great.

Design: Same old Xperia

Like its siblings and predecessors, the Xperia X is a bland, metal rectangle with ever-so-slightly curved corners. But the "lime gold" Xperia X that we received is a whole new shade of revolting. It's like Sony shot for gold but ended up with mustard. Get the rose gold, black or white models instead.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide)

Like the Xperia Z5 Compact, the Xperia X's volume rocker and dedicated shutter button are on the bottom right side of the phone. This makes sense if you're holding the phone up as you would a camera, but it makes adjusting the volume or launching the camera very awkward and clumsy in portrait mode. The power button sits in the middle of the edge, making it easy for my thumb to reach, but I don't like that it's recessed.

The X is not water-resistant (although the high-end version, the Xperia X Performance, will be when it comes out later this year). Sony's new phone also lacks a fingerprint sensor, and it has a regular microUSB port at the bottom, instead of the USB Type-C that a lot of this year's flagships are sporting.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide)

Weighing 5.3 ounces, the Xperia X felt solid. It's heavier than the iPhone 6s (5.04 ounces), but lighter than the larger-screened Samsung Galaxy S7 (5.36 ounces) and the Google Nexus 6P (6.2 ounces).

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With a 0.3-inch profile, the Xperia X is fatter than the iPhone 6s and the Nexus 6P, but slimmer than the Galaxy S7 by a hair.

Cameras: Gorgeous colors, great clarity

Credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide)

With a 23-megapixel sensor on the back and 13-MP sensor in front, the Xperia X packs the sharpest cameras you'll find among today's phones. I loved the bold, vibrant colors and vivid details on my pictures of pink and yellow flowers at a farmer's market.

Credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide)

Landscape shots revealed a deep blue sky and clear building details, such as individual roofs and ridges on the walls. However, there was some slight distortion on the sides of the picture.

Credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide)

The cameras boast what Sony calls "predictive hybrid autofocus," which supposedly can tell where your subject is moving and keep focus on it. I found this feature mostly finicky when trying to shoot stills. I tapped on the lady with the blue shirt and pink pants in the previous landscape and kept shooting. She was clear in most of my photos after that, but so was the rest of the picture.

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Credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide)

The predictive autofocus made it easy for my co-worker to snap this shot of me striking a pose that pays homage to the character D.Va from first-person shooting game Overwatch. I could barely hold the challenging pose for longer than 3 seconds, and the fact that my colleague got a clear shot shows how quick the autofocus was.

Credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide)

Although it supports light sensitivity of up to ISO 12,800, the Xperia X doesn't offer an option allowing you to tweak the ISO in the camera's manual mode. You can adjust only white balance and exposure. In auto mode, the Xperia X did a good job of capturing all of my handsome colleagues' faces, although the camera muddied some facial features.

The 'lime gold' Xperia X makes it look like Sony shot for gold but ended up with mustard.

In even darker situations, the Xperia X did a great job of capturing relatively noise-free details, such as outlines of buildings and windows.

The camera's predictive autofocus is much more impressive during video capture. I watched on the screen as a green box followed the subject that I tapped on. It was hard to tell if the system was predicting where my dancing co-worker would go or if it was simply following him, but the camera stalked him effectively. The 1080p video I shot of my colleagues running around on the rooftop was smooth, bright and vibrant, accurately rendering Sam Rutherford's maroon jacket and the high five he exchanged with Mike Andronico.

The Xperia X's 13-MP front camera is one of the sharpest in the field and took painfully clear selfies.

Credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide)

Every strand of my hair was clear, and my blue eye shadow and pink lips looked true. A group selfie was even more vibrant, with blue and maroon shirts popping. We managed to squeeze five people into the shot and still get a decent portion of the background in the frame. Buildings in the background looked crisp.

Sony's camera app offers a bunch of fun modes, including AR for superimposing cartoons onto your real-world images, face-in-picture (which uses both the front and back camera at the same time to put your selfie on the rear camera's scene), as well as the standard panorama and time-lapse options you find on smartphones these days.

Display and Audio: Customizable screen, mediocre sound

The Xperia X's 5-inch 1080p display feels a bit cramped compared to the 5.2-inch and larger displays on other Android devices. But Sony said it found a 5-inch screen to be the right balance between space for video-watching in landscape orientation and easy one-handed use in portrait mode. It was definitely easy to reach across the panel with my thumb, making for convenient one-handed typing and gaming. 

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide)

I enjoyed watching a 1080p trailer for Star Trek Beyond, particularly the way Chris Pine's beautiful baby blues leapt off the screen and pierced through my soul. Orange flames were vibrant, and red vines on a cliff were crisp. Viewing angles were generous, as image quality did not degrade as I tilted the phone side to side while watching the clip.

With a 23-megapixel sensor on the back and 13-MP sensor in front, the Xperia X packs the sharpest cameras you'll find.

Sony also offers display profiles so you can select between X-Reality for Mobile and Super-Vivid Mode image enhancements. When I moved from X-Reality to Super-Vivid, I noticed deeper blues and blacks. X-Reality is supposed to give you clearer, sharper and more natural images, which could be better for looking at pictures of people, while Super-Vivid would amp up landscapes. You can also adjust the panel's white balance to suit your preferences.

Registering 462 nits on our light meter, the Xperia X has a brighter display than the average smartphone (435 nits), the iPhone 6s and the Nexus 6P. The Galaxy S7 (487 nits) is brighter, though.

The Xperia X reproduced 168 percent of the sRGB color gamut, making it more colorful than the average smartphone (139 percent), the iPhone 6s and the Nexus 6P. The Galaxy S7 again took the lead in this round, with a whopping 197 percent.

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Sony has one of the most accurate panels in the category. With a Delta-E error rating of 0.68 (0 is perfect), the Xperia X shows truer colors than the average smartphone (2.68), the Galaxy S7 and the Nexus 6P. The iPhone 6s was better, though, scoring 0.3.

The Xperia X's stereo speakers filled a small meeting room with sound, though they were somewhat feeble at half-max volume. The back of the phone vibrated a little at top volume, and Nick Jonas and Tove Lo sounded hollow and canned in Close. Sony's S-Force front surround-sound made sure that I heard the music better when I held the phone facing me, and the sound was muffled when I placed the phone face down on a table.

Software and Apps: Too much Sony

Fans of stock Android may not like Sony's take on Android Marshmallow. As with most Sony phones, the Xperia X comes with the company's own Video, Music, Album (photo gallery), Weather, News, Calculator, Phone, Messaging and Contacts apps instead of the regular Android ones.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide)

The Xperia X has a search feature that lets you swipe down from the middle of the page to search for an app. This panel also recommends a recently used app or a popular option you can download from the app store.

I was surprised by how well the Xperia X's 1.4-GHz hexa-core Snapdragon 650 held up during my testing.

You'll get a boatload of apps that run the gamut from useful to redundant. I don't mind the Movie Creator, Lifelog fitness and phone tracking, WPS Office, Facebook, and Spotify apps. But I didn't appreciate having Amazon Shopping, TrackID (Sony's Shazam alternative) and Xperia Lounge taking up screen space. PlayStation fans will appreciate the PlayStation app, which lets you fire up your PS games anywhere at home over Wi-Fi with PlayStation 4 Remote Play.

Performance: Almost as Good as the Big Boys

I was surprised by how well the Xperia X's 1.4-GHz hexa-core Snapdragon 650 processor held up during my testing, considering that many flagships these days use the more powerful Snapdragon 820 chip. Although drones in Futurama: Game of Drones moved a bit more sluggishly than I'm used to on my iPhone 6s, the game moved seamlessly from round to round despite a dozen open apps in the background. The Xperia X opened a complicated PDF document in 8 seconds, which is nearly twice as fast as the average smartphone, and 1 second swifter than the Nexus 6P.

On general performance test Geekbench 3, the Xperia X scored 3,851, beating the average smartphone (3,171), though it trailed the Nexus 6P, the iPhone 6s and the Galaxy S7. The Xperia X took just 5 minutes to convert a 240MB video from 1080p to 480p, which is faster than the average smartphone (7:43) but slower than the Galaxy S7 (4:30).

Notching 17,542 on graphics benchmark 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, the Xperia X beat the average smartphone (14,472) and the Nexus 6P, but lost to the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s.

Battery Life: 9 to 5, and then some

It's not about size; it's about how you use it. That saying definitely applies to the Xperia X's battery. Despite the phone's relatively small, 2,620-mAh battery, the Xperia X's power pack lasted 9 hours and 10 minutes on Tom's Guide's battery test (web surfing over T-Mobile's LTE network at 150 nits of brightness). That's longer than the average smartphone (8:25), the iPhone 6s and the Galaxy S7. The Nexus 6P remains the champ, with a 12:25 runtime.

When you run out of juice, the Xperia X offers Qnovo adaptive charging and comes with Sony's UCH10 quick charger, which the company says can deliver 5.5 hours of power after just 10 minutes of charging.

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Bottom Line

The Sony Xperia X is a very good option for shutterbugs and gamers. The Remote Play feature will delight PS4 owners, while the phone's excellent cameras will please smartphone photographers. Plus, the Xperia X offers long battery life. Too bad Sony continues to stuff a bit too much bloat into its phones.

For $150 less, you can get the Nexus 6P, which also boasts superb cameras, superior performance, a sharper display and epic battery life. But at 5.7-inches, the Nexus 6P isn't as easy to use with one hand as the Xperia X.

Those who want a relatively petite, all-around-solid phone and don't mind Sony's software will find the Xperia X a worthwhile option. Just don't get the lime gold version if you want a phone that looks as nice as it performs.

Cherlynn Low

Cherlynn is Deputy Editor, Reviews at Engadget and also leads the site's Google reporting. She graduated with a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University before joining Tom's Guide and its sister site LaptopMag as a staff writer, where she covered wearables, cameras, laptops, computers and smartphones, among many other subjects.