Sony Xperia X Compact full review

The best smartphones of 2016 are generally huge. The 5.5in screen size of phones such as the iPhone 7 Plus or the OnePlus 3 are becoming the norm, where just a few years ago, we thought the 3.5in iPhone 4 was huge.

Times change, but Sony has been keeping happy those of us who prefer a smartphone to be small and usable with one hand; compact. The Sony Xperia X Compact is the latest of the company’s sub-5in handsets, but its sits in a confusing line up of devices.

Alongside it are the Xperia XZ, Xperia X and Xperia XA. Those phones are, respectively, high-end, upper mid-range and lower mid-range. So where does the Xperia X Compact fit in?

We break down why the world needs an Xperia X Compact, and, more importantly, if it’s you who needs one.

Sony Xperia X Compact review: Price and where to buy

Sony is now stocking the Xperia X Compact for £379. View it here.

The Sony Xperia X Compact is available in the UK SIM free and on contract from Carphone Warehouse. Plans start at £28 per month on a 24 month contract, or you can buy it outright for the RRP of £359.99.

View the Sony Xperia X Compact at Carphone Warehouse.

Sony Xperia X Compact review: Design and build

While not immediately obvious, the Xperia X Compact is quite a departure in design from last year’s Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. Sony has taken the 4.6in screen phone and updated it – or has it? The Z5 Compact had a stylish frosted glass rear panel and rounded metal edges that gave it a premium look and feel, and it’s one we expected with its £429 price tag. The attention to detail was great, down to the metal rim around the side-edge fingerprint sensor.

A year on, the Xperia X Compact retails for £379, £50 less, while the Z5 Compact is available for just £349. As well as in the specs, which we will get onto, the design and build quality has taken a hit. Thankfully the clever fingerprint scanner is present, and works excellently, but there’s no thoughtful metallic finishes. Gone are the glass and metal. Instead, the X Compact is completely glossy plastic in body, with only the top and bottom flat edges retaining a sniff of the glass.

The glossy body to our ‘Mist Blue’ unit was smeary with prints in seconds flat and also picked up hairline scratches very easily. They are hard to see, but more than anything the blue colour of the phone is an acquired taste. Some will think it kitsch and retro, others will definitely not. We recommend either looking at one in store, or opting for the black or white models.

It’s a shame, as this all makes the phone feel distinctly blocky, and it is; it’s 9.5mm thick. Another popular sub-5in phone is the iPhone SE, which is 7.6mm. It doesn’t sound much, but it’s noticeable. Very few smartphones are nearly 1cm thick these days. Overall the X Compact measures 129 x 65 x 9.5mm and weighs 135g.

The rear has a camera and flash, with the two speaker grills at the top and bottom of the front face of the device, making video viewing volumes surprisingly decent.

Despite this though, it’s still a pleasure to use, particularly one-handed, a rarity after smartphones got stretched to nearly 6in. Even with our smaller hands, it’s easy to unlock and reply to messages, swipe down the notification tray or play games with one hand. Along the right edge below the fingerprint scanner is the volume rocker and also a dedicated camera button (a long-time welcome Sony addition).

The 3.5mm headphone jack is on the top edge, while the Compact welcomes USB-C connectivity to the bottom edge. On the left edge is the SIM and microSD tray that still, infuriatingly, shuts down the phone if you take it out. This doesn’t happen on any other phone and it’s frustrating if you want to swap out a memory card or change SIM.

Despite these points, it doesn’t really matter it’s a tad chunky when it’s this conveniently small. It’s just a shame it’s not as premium as Sony is capable of.

Sony Xperia X Compact review: Hardware, specs and performance

Along with the design compromises, the specs of the Xperia X compact sre clue to its lowered price from last year’s model. The Z5 Compact had a high end Snapdragon 810 processor with 2GB RAM, whereas the X Compact has the decidedly midrange Snapdragon 650. It does bump the RAM to a respecatable 3GB though, which we’ll explore in our benchmarking of the phone.

We benchmarked the X Compact against phones we feel it is competing against in the market currently. Annoyingly for Sony, that means it's up against the Xperia X and Xperia XZ, while Apple's iPhone SE represents a similar sized phone.

As you can see in the results, not only does the X Compact beat the Xperia X on one test, it also runs the Xperia XZ (which has superior processor) very close too. This muddies the waters even more in Sony's range considering the Compact is, in some respects, as good a performer as the flagship XZ. Of course, real life use may prove otherwise.

This helps us to decipher Sony’s odd product line. While not overtly clear, we see the X Compact as the smaller version of the Xperia X. All that’s changed from the big brother/little brother aesthetic of the old Z range is that both versions now have midrange processors. This means the Xperia XZ, released at the same time as the X Compact, is now the high-end option.

The Xperia XA falls in at the lowest end of the range. It’s a confusing line up for consumers, and enough to put a lot of people off. It’s frustrating also because we very much want to recommend the Compact as in previous years, but Sony is making it harder for us to do so given it now has an inferior processor to the flagship Xperia XZ. It’s odd that the Xperia X even exists, now just 6 months after its launch.

With the confusing product line out of the way, the X Compact actually performs very well. The display is an IPS LCD with 319ppi and a resolution of 1280x720. It looks pin-sharp, perhaps due to its smaller size, but we have no complaints on its quality for a phone of this price and specs. Video streaming load times are good, and apps display with vibrancy.

The screen brightness is excellent too, and didn’t seem to massively affect the battery life. Sony has a good track record for battery life, though it doesn’t claim the magical two days of use like it has before. Having said that with fairly heavy use using the phone daily for a week, we regularly went through a whole working day and well past lunch the following day before reaching for the charger. Sony still impresses in this regard, which is admirable given the relatively small 2,700mAh battery.

As ever, Sony boasts of the 23Mp camera sensor in the phone, though it tends to make less of its Carl Zeiss affiliation these days. As we found with the Xperia X, this phone’s big brother, the software and processing isn’t as good as the sensor. This means you get perfectly adequate smartphone pictures, but nothing out of the ordinary. Landscapes come out sharp and bright but close up photos, particularly in lower light, are a tad grainy.

It’s a shame that Sony has seemingly dropped the waterproofing of its phones for good. The X Compact is not waterproof, and nor, now, are the rest of the Xperia X line. Waterproofing and excellent battery life were Sony’s great market differentiators. Now they have just the latter, and there are some competitors catching up in that regard also. This ultimately means we can’t recommend the X Compact as highly as we might have, despite it being a good handset.

Sony Xperia X Compact review: Software and apps

Like many other Android devices at the moment, the Xperia X Compact runs Marshmallow 6.0.1, and it runs it very well. It may receive an upgrade to Nougat 7.0, but that is unconfirmed. Sony’s Android overlay is not too far from stock Android, but you definitely notice the tweaks. While the app tray and notifications menu are normal, the icons for basic apps like texts and phone are different, while the Sony software onboard won’t be to everyone’s tastes. The speed of the phone in day-to-day use was never an issue.

Some apps you can uninstall, like the PlayStation app, but others like News and What’s New?, a media suggestion app, feel obtuse and unneeded, and you can only disable them, not uninstall. Having said that, we still prefer using Sony phones to the highly altered EMUI OS that Huawei use with Android and even in some instances it works better than Samsung’s TouchWiz.

The only thing you may find is that you make typing errors, particularly if you have big hands. Even with smaller hands, we found tha using two thumbs to type quick texts actually saw us making a fair few errors. Perhaps we used to bigger phones, but Sony ships the X Compact with the SwiftKey keyboard as default. We found it better to switch to using Google Keyboard, which is also preinstalled. Daily operation of the phone could be fiddly if you’re used to a bigger screen, so again, we’d suggest trying one out in store if you are unsure.

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Specs

Sony Xperia X Compact: Specs

  • Android Marshmallow 6.0.1
  • 4.6in 1280x720 IPS LCD touchscreen
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 hexa-core processor
  • Adreno 510 graphics
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB storage with microSD up to 256GB
  • 23Mp main camera, LED flash
  • 5Mp front camera
  • 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • 4G LTE
  • Nano SIM
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • 2700mAh non-removable battery
  • 129 x 65 x 9.5 mm
  • 135g