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Sony Xperia X review: A great one-handed phone

Its compact shape and 5-inch screen makes Sony's less expensive Android phone a great fit.

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Jessica Dolcourt
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

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Well, well, well, Sony Xperia X. You are a conundrum. I admit that I like you more now than I did when we first met at your February debut, and that's largely thanks to your sneaky-awesome trait of being really easy to operate one-handed. There aren't a lot of phones out there these days that are compact enough and proportioned well enough to pull this off, especially for people on the smaller end of the hand-size spectrum.

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7.3

Sony Xperia X

The Good

The Sony Xperia X is a winning compact phone for its high-quality camera and ergonomic in-hand fit. The dedicated camera button gives you a convenient quick-shoot option.

The Bad

Battery life is constrained, and the fingerprint reader won't work on the US version of the phone.

The Bottom Line

A reliable and likable midrange phone, the Xperia X stands out for its palm-friendly build and strong camera, but we can't recommend it for US customers.

But you do, and that's extremely useful for all the times when I've got my arms full with my giant purse, work badge, groceries, a cup of tea, a handhold on the bus, whatever. With your square sides that are easy to grip and the fast-acting fingerprint reader built right into the power button on your right spine, you make it incredibly easy to whip you out of a back pocket to read the news or act on notifications without having to uncomfortably stretch my hands to reach your 5-inch screen. Since my thumb is larger than the fingerprint reader/power button, I don't have to worry about precise positioning to unlock the screen, and your accuracy is spot on.

Sony's Xperia X phone in all its angles

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But that fingerprint reader is also what gives me pause, Xperia X, because while it works flawlessly for your global variant, it won't work in the US market at all. Sony is disabling it intentionally, just like it did on some of your brethren, like the Z5 and Z5 Compact. ("Sony Mobile has decided not to include fingerprint sensors in the US models at this time.") This strikes me as a silly omission that will keep one large market from unlocking you this way and from quickly, conveniently authorizing payments through Android Pay, the Amazon app, their banking app and so on.

Because of your stingy ways stateside, I can't recommend you for the US. You'll get 4G LTE speeds on T-Mobile and AT&T if customers buy you directly from Sony's website or from retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and B&H. But without that fingerprint reader, I just can't recommend you over the Google Nexus 6P, which has a fast fingerprint reader as well, costs $50 less and will be first in line for Android software updates like Android N this fall.

But for the rest of the globe, I do like you as a less expensive Android 6.0 Marshmallow option. You probably won't be as fast as the same-size Xperia X Performance that's coming out July 17, and you certainly won't have its water-resistant body, but you do cost much less.

Sony Xperia X camera takes on Tokyo (pictures)

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Still, you're pricier than the HTC One A9 (but you take better photos) and customers who prefer a larger screen should absolutely get the 5.7-inch Nexus 6P over you. Sorry, it's harsh but true. ZTE's newly-announced Axon 7 also looks promising, with a larger base-model storage capacity (64GB versus 32GB) and comparable camera specs (which doesn't always equal better performance) -- and it costs less than you do. (Read a full specs comparison breakdown with these phones below.)

So while I can easily hold you with one hand while giving your dimensions and camera a thumbs up with the other, you do face intense competition from less expensive phones.

Sincerely,
Jessica


Well, that felt good to get off my chest, but I still want to walk about the Xperia X camera, battery life and hardware specs. Also, you should know that this review and specs apply to the 32GB version of the Xperia X. Sony will also offer the phone in a 64GB, dual-SIM model, but hasn't shared pricing yet.

Camera quality

The Xperia X's images are truly impressive for a midrange phone, and it's a credit to Sony that the same 23-megapixel camera that's on the Xperia X Performance also makes it to this stepped-down device. Photos are colorful and detail-rich, but sometimes overexposed, and low light shots are more pleasing (if more artificially brightened) on Samsung's Galaxy S7. I don't love that image resolution defaults to 8-megapixels for the rear lens. This is to save on space, but you'll need to manually switch resolutions if you want to go higher. Images focus quickly, but take a few seconds to process.

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Shot taken in a shaded alley, in automatic mode. Click to enlarge.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Sony's expertise in the standalone camera space brings some cool options to its phones, like a fill flash and manual mode. There's a lot of complimentary skin softening and soft focus, which is sometimes great and sometimes takes effort to turn off if you're itching for a little more reality.

The camera automatically switches shooting modes, like night mode, macro, landscape and sports. The 13-megapixel front-facing camera automatically helps you look your best -- unlike other phones, there's no slider for controlling how much touching-up you get.

I also like the dedicated camera button on the right spine, and a settings option that immediately takes a photo when you wake up the camera by pressing this button. Here's an extra tip: Swipe straight down on the screen to switch camera modes (like from still to video), and swipe diagonally right to toggle from the front to rear cameras. The phone's gestures really work.

Battery life

Three CNET editors tested the Xperia X's battery on three different review units. Together, we got about a 9-hour average on the 2,620mAh battery on a looping video test. That's an hour or two less than we'd expect, and you'll see your battery drain faster with heavy use like navigation and music or video streaming over your carrier network.

However, do keep in mind that as an Android 6.0 phone, the X does includes Doze, which prolongs battery life while the handset's idle -- which is to say that real-world use should still last a standard work day between top-ups. There's also a built-in battery-saving mode, and the handset charges up in under two hours thanks to Qualcomm's quick-charge 2.0 standard.

Hardware specs

Sony Xperia X versus X Performance, Google Nexus 6P, HTC One A9, ZTE Axon 7

Sony Xperia XSony Xperia X PerformanceGoogle Nexus 6PHTC One A9ZTE Axon 7
Display size, resolution 5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.7-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 443ppi443ppi515ppi440ppi538ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.6x2.7x0.31 in 5.6x2.8x0.33 in 6.3x3.1x0.28 in 5.7x2.8x0.29 in5.98 x 2.95 x 0.34 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 143x69x7.7 mm143.7x70.5x8.6 mm 159x78x7.3 mm145.75x70.8x7.26 mm151.8 x 75 x 8.7 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.36 oz; 152g5.8 oz; 164.43g6.3 oz; 178g5.04 oz; 143g6.53 oz; 185g
Mobile software Android 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Camera 23-megapixel23-megapixel12.3-megapixel13-megapixel20-megapixel
Front-facing camera 13-megapixel13-megapixel8-megapixel4-"Ultrapixel"8-megapixel
Video capture 1,080p HD1,080p HD4K1,080p HD4K
Processor 1.8GHz hexa-core Snapdragon 6502.1GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8202GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8101.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6172.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 820
Storage 32GB32GB32GB, 64GB, 128GB32GB64GB, 128GB (varies by region)
RAM 3GB3GB3GB3GB4GB, 6GB
Expandable storage 200GB200GBNone200GBUp to 128GB
Battery 2,620mAh (nonremovable)2,700mAh (nonremovable)3,450mAh (nonremovable)2,150mAh (nonremovable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Power button (disabled in US)Power button (disabled in US)Back coverHome buttonBack cover
Connector Micro-USBMicro-USBUSB-CMicro-USBUSB-C
Special features Hardware shutter buttonWater-resistant"Pure" AndroidBoomSoundDual Sim
Price off-contract (USD) $549$700$499 (32GB); $549 (64GB); $649 (128GB)$429$450
Price (GBP) Converts to £374Converts to £479£449 (32GB); £499 (64GB); £579 (128GB) £399.99Converts to £346
Price (AUD) AU$799AU$999AU$899 (32GB); AU$999 (64GB); AU$1,099 (128GB)AU$579Converts to AU$604
Dimensions (Inches) 5.6x2.7x0.31 in 5.6x2.8x0.33 in 6.3x3.1x0.28 in 6.0 x 3.0 x 0.39 in5.98 x 2.95 x 0.34 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 143x69x7.7 mm143.7x70.5x8.6 mm 159x78x7.3 mm153 x 76.6 x 9.8 mm151.8 x 75 x 8.7 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.36 oz; 152g5.8 oz; 164.43g6.3 oz; 178g5.47 oz (155g)6.53 oz; 185g
Mobile software Android 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Camera 23-megapixel23-megapixel12.3-megapixel16-megapixel20-megapixel
Front-facing camera 13-megapixel13-megapixel8-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 1,080p HD1,080p HD4K1,080p HD4K
Processor 1.8GHz six-core Snapdragon 6502.1GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8202GHz eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8101.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6172.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 820
Storage 32GB32GB32GB, 64GB, 128GB64GB64GB, 128GB (varies by region)
RAM 3GB3GB3GB4GB4GB, 6GB
Expandable storage 200GB200GBNoneUp to 128GBUp to 128GB
Battery 2,620mAh (nonremovable)2,700mAh (nonremovable)3,450mAh (nonremovable)3,000mAh (removable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Power button (disabled in US)Power button (disabled in US)Back coverBelow screenBack cover
Connector Micro-USBMicro-USBUSB-CMicro-USBUSB-C
Special features Hardware shutter buttonWater-resistant"Pure" AndroidWater-resistantDual Sim
Price off-contract (USD) $549$700$499 (32GB); $549 (64GB); $649 (128GB)Converts to $285$450
Price (GBP) Converts to £374Converts to £479£449 (32GB); £499 (64GB); £579 (128GB) £199Converts to £346
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$760Converts to AU$974AU$899 (32GB); AU$999 (64GB); AU$1,099 (128GB)Converts to AU$395Converts to AU$604
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7.3

Sony Xperia X

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Camera 8Battery 6