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Sony Xperia X Compact review: A tiny phone with a camera that will blow you away

The Sony Xperia X Compact packs tons of goodies into a small package.

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Patrick Holland
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Patrick Holland

Senior Editor

Patrick Holland has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing and fast-paced world of phones. He also is one of the hosts of CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast.

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4 min read

The Sony Xperia X Compact is a rarity -- a small phone with a big, terrific camera. That's 23 megapixels' worth of snapping power in a body small enough to fit into almost any pocket. And to me, the pint-size X Compact seems a pretty good fit.

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7.5

Sony Xperia X Compact

The Good

The Sony Xperia X Compact is a small, 4.6-inch phone with a beautiful display, an excellent camera and good battery life.

The Bad

Only the Japanese model is waterproof, and the fingerprint sensor is disabled in the US. There's a bit of lag when editing pictures or taking low-light photos.

The Bottom Line

Sony's Xperia X Compact is a small phone with an excellent camera, but it lacks some creature comforts, like waterproofing and, in the US, a fingerprint sensor.

For some people, the Sony Xperia X Compact will fit like a glove.

Josh Miller/CNET

Coming in at $449 and £379, the X Compact is large on charm. (No mention has been made of the X Compact coming to Australia, but hope springs eternal. In the meantime, its US price works out to AU$587, converted.) But the odd exclusion of conveniences found on the X Compact in other countries is a real head-scratcher. For example, buyers in Sony's home country of Japan get waterproofing and a fingerprint sensor, but UK residents don't get the H2O resistance, and US users get neither.

If you're an Android fan looking for a small-screen phone, your choices are few. You'd do right with the Xperia X Compact, so long as you can accept the omissions.

If iPhones are just as good for you, the SE sticks to the same pricing scale -- though it has a much smaller display. You can also upgrade to the similarly sized iPhone 7 or cheaper 6S -- but you'll definitely pay more.

Design and basics

No joke -- the first thing you notice about the Sony Xperia X Compact is that it's small. Or at least, it looks small. The screen is 4.6 inches, a filament smaller than the iPhone 7 (4.7 inches). But its chunky body and thick bezel mean there's actually more phone in your hand than you'd guess. Still, the X Compact is wonderful to use one-handed.

You will either love or hate its blocky, flat looks -- no camera bump here. In a market dominated by superthin phones made of glass and aluminum, the Compact X's thick plastic demeanor is refreshingly unique, especially in Mist Blue.

The 720-pixel display is bright and sharp, and it handles direct sunlight like a pro. Battery life was a solid 11 hours, 28 minutes in our video loop tests. Some of that longevity comes from it the fact that it runs Android 6.0.1.

Just how small is Sony's 4.6-inch Xperia X Compact?

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The X Compact handled daily-tasks without a problem -- posting social media, messaging and watching the occasional "Carpool Karaoke" video. Gaming (FIFA Mobile, Clash Royale) on the X Compact was a breeze, but made me yearn for a bigger screen.

If you own a PS4, Sony's preloaded PlayStation app connects you to the console as a remote or even a second screen.

A camera focused on technology

The phone's most standout feature is its 23-megapixel camera. It has a wide lens -- which is great for landscapes, street scenes and tight spots. There is a lot of tech inside: five-axis stabilization, predictive autofocus and an infrared sensor to help with white balance. Images taken with the X Compact have lots of detail and nice, natural colors. Also worth noting: I rarely got a blurry shot.

Sony's auto mode (Superior Auto) worked well in most situations. Occasionally, images looked overexposed -- slightly. The shots were usable but needed some editing.

If you want more from this camera, try manual mode. You get access to a bunch of settings like shutter speed, ISO and even a scene mode selector, like a point-and-shoot camera. Using some of these features results in an 8-megapixel image, as opposed to the full 23 megapixels. Don't worry too much; it'll still give you good snaps.

Then, there's the 5-megapixel front-facing camera. Its wide lens is great for selfies with your friends. If you find you need a touch-up, there are filters to smooth skin, add a suntan, even make you look like a black-and-white promo shot for the musical "Chicago."

Take a look at some of the shots I took with the X Compact.

Using the Sony Xperia X Compact's 23-megapixel camera

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Other small options

These days, phones with a display smaller than 5 inches are rare. Besides the Compact X, there's the iPhone SE, which has a more powerful processor, but a smaller 4-inch display. The SE costs $399, £379 and AU$679 for the 16GB model (64GB is a little more).

You also have the iPhone 6S and 7. Both are a tad taller and thinner than the X Compact, and both give you more processor power and built-in storage -- though you'll pay more, too. The 32GB iPhone 6S comes in at $549, £499, or AU$929 and the 7 at $649, £599 or AU$1,079.

As far as a small Android phone, Sony's biggest competition is itself: last year's Sony Xperia Z5 Compact can still be had for $400 and £430 (AU$520, converted). You get basically the same body as well as waterproofing and 4K video. But you give up the X Compact's more advanced camera features, faster processor and Android 6.0.1.

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Different people have different ideas about how small a small phone should be.

Patrick Holland/CNET
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7.5

Sony Xperia X Compact

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Camera 8.5Battery 7