After a confusing introduction at Mobile World Congress earlier this year, Sony is finally gearing up to bring its new Xperias — the Xperia X, X Performance, XA and XA Ultra — to the US this summer. Alas, the Xperia X is set to land here first (June 26th for $550), though it’s arguably the least interesting of the bunch. It’s a handsome little phone and channels many of the Xperia Z5’s design and construction strengths, but after a week of using it, one thing is clear: There isn’t a great reason to actually buy one.
I’ve been playing with the 32GB lime-gold version, because really — how often can you go out and buy a cute green phone? The correct answer: not often enough. Sony went all out with the color, too. In fact, the only splashes of not-green you’ll find are the silver Sony logo, a silver sleep/wake button and a sticker indicating the NFC touchpoint is next to the 13-megapixel front-facing camera. There’s a micro-USB port on the bottom edge (sadly, not everyone has embraced the USB Type-C revolution yet) and a nano SIM tray that also has a spot for microSD cards as large as 200GB.
Expandable memory is always a nice touch, but it doesn’t make up for the Xperia X’s two most troubling omissions. Unlike global versions of the Xperia X, the US model’s power button doesn’t double as a fingerprint sensor. And unlike the Xperia X Performance, which will hit the US on July 17th, the bog-standard X isn’t waterproof. D’oh.
Speaking of mild disappointments, the Xperia X’s main rear shooter is a reminder that it takes more than just megapixels to make a good camera. The 23-megapixel sensor is quick to shoot and there’s virtually no downtime between snapping photos, but there’s some noise to be found in detail-heavy pictures — it seems like Sony’s software goes a little heavy on the processing. While there is a full manual mode and camera effects like an AR mode and artificial bokeh available for download, most of the time you’ll be shooting in the superior-auto mode.
As usual for smartphone cameras, the Xperia fares best in bright shooting conditions. Though colors are usually punchy and expressive, they can get washed out in harsh lighting. As you might expect, the Xperia X also suffers from blur and muddiness in dimmer light; indoor shots on a cloudy day came out a little hazy. On the flip side, though, the 13-megapixel front camera consistently churned out detailed selfies.
Those selfies look great on the Xperia X’s 5-inch, 1080p IPS LCD screen, by the way. That shouldn’t come as a surprise: Just about everything looks great on this display. More importantly, it’s absolutely fantastic in direct sunlight; the sweltering weather we’ve had in New York these past few days couldn’t keep the Xperia X from letting me see all the sweet, sweet social updates that make modern life a waking nightmare. Colors (including Sony’s custom wallpapers) look vivid, and blacks are surprisingly deep by default. Not your style? Fair enough: You can make colors look even more vibrant, or turn off image enhancements entirely. Nicely done, Sony.
So far the Xperia X feels like a mixed bag, but surprisingly enough, it’s the mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 that makes the phone feel so premium. It’s a hexa-core chipset in the vein of the classic Snapdragon 808, albeit with two cores clocked at 1.8 GHz and four clocked at 1.4GHz. Throw in 3GB of RAM, an Adreno 530 GPU and a relatively uncluttered version of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, and we’ve got a slick little package that never stuttered or felt sluggish during my week of testing. A brief aside: My only beef about Sony’s Android skin is that swiping down to search for apps from the launcher brings up a list of apps the phone thinks you should install, including a few sponsored options. Get. Out.
Anyway, there’s enough horsepower here to satisfy most people’s daily routines, but the Xperia X still lags behind last year’s Xperia Z5 when it comes to graphical performance. It feels a little weird to recommend a months-old phone over a brand-new one for mobile gamers, but that’s the long and short of it. On the other hand, though, battery life has been surprisingly good so far — I’ve been getting more than a full day of pretty frequent usage out of the X, and it sat patiently on my desk for nearly three days waiting for me to do something with it before dying.
It’s easy to write off Sony as a smartphone also-ran, a company that could’ve been a mobile giant if not for years of questionable decisions. The Xperia X stands as a reminder that, even after all that, Sony still knows how to make a fine handset. That doesn’t, however, mean you should rush out and buy this thing. While there might have been production and supply issues at play, I’m a little disappointed we’re getting this model instead of the far more interesting Xperia X Performance, which comes out July 17th.
The price feels a little silly too: You could spend $549 on the really-rather-nice Xperia X, but the Z5 Premium and its heartbreakingly nice 4K screenwill set you back just as much. Frankly, the argument to buy an Xperia X is pretty flimsy, but hopefully, it does well enough that Sony doesn’t change its mind about launching the phone(s) we really want later this summer.