It’s the best Sony’s got. The Xperia X Performance is the chosen one to fly the banner of Sony’s revamped smartphone lineup. The top of the range, the Deus ex machina, the one to make you forget about your ex – the Z-series. Or is it?
The Xperia X Performance packs Qualcomm’s top-end chipset of the season. It’s also got a premium price tag but Sony is a premium brand to begin with and going 2 notches up or down the alphabet weren’t going to change that.
Still, the 2016 flagships have more RAM, more and more of them have higher-res screens, and most can do 2160p video, if nothing else it’s future-proofing.
Then again, stereo speakers aren’t too widespread among the competition and water-proofing is even harder to get – both boxes checked on the Xperia X Performance spec sheet.
So we have a rare breed of flagship on our hands. It’s priced as a flagship and it has one or two features that few other flagships have, yet it doesn’t strive to beat everybody else in their specs race. We sure don’t know what to make of it but we bet that some further digging might show us what it’s all about.
Sony Xperia X Performance key features
- 5″ 1,080 x 1,920px LCD display with 441ppi, X-Reality for Mobile, Triluminos technology and Dynamic Contrast Enhancer; scratch-resistant glass, oleophobic coating
- Android OS v6.0 Marshmallow with Xperia launcher
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset: quad-core Kryo CPU (2×2.15GHz +2×1.6GHz); Adreno 530 GPU; 3GB RAM
- 23 MP camera with 1080p@60fps video recording and tracking autofocus; 13 MP front-facing camera with 1080p@30fps video
- 32GB of built-in storage and a microSD card slot
- Single and dual-SIM models (DualSIM has a hybrid slot shared with the microSD card)
- LTE Cat.9 (450/50 Mbps); Dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; GPS/GLONASS/Beidou, Bluetooth v4.2
- Active noise cancellation with a dedicated mic;
- 24-bit/192kHz Hi-Res audio
- 2,700mAh non-removable battery
- Fingerprint sensor
- Stereo speakers
- IP68 rating for dust- and water-proofing
- No 4K video recording
- No FM radio (which the Xperia X has)
- Fingerprint recognition not available in the US
The absence of 4K video recording from the spec sheet is baffling. The only plausible explanation is that Sony is reserving it for an even higher-end model further down the line. But even so, the Xperia X Performance commands a flagship price, and yet it’s missing a feature that’s taken for granted in its segment.
The omission of fingerprint recognition for the US is an odd decision too, and one that probably has its roots in licensing and such, so we won’t ponder on it too much, and let Sony deal with disgruntled US buyers. Of course, it’s easier for us to dismiss it – our review unit (international version) comes with all the trimmings.
The X Performance pricing is certainly ambitious, but Sony’s name alone commands a price premium across their entire product portfolios. Brand loyalty is strong with the Japanese company too, and that’s something you build with successful products over the years.
But let’s see whether the Xperia X Performance has what it takes to carry the brand’s banner forward. Join us on the next page for a detailed look at the X Performance’s exterior.
The Xperia X Performance arrives in what appears to be a plain white box with the logo printed on top. The colors are on the inside though, a pleasant surprise for the unsuspecting buyer.
Box is final, contents aren’t necessarily so
Our review unit came with just a USB cable and a charger, a basic 5V/1.5A unit. We were told that our package contents aren’t representative of the market bundle, and indeed there’s room in the box for headphones too. Whether the Sony UCH10 Quick Charger will be included is a region-dependent decision as well and may even differ from supplier to supplier so make sure you reasearch what you’ll find in your particular box.
Sony Xperia X Performance 360-degree spin
The Sony Xperia X Performance measures 143.7 x 70.4 x 8.7mm, which is about a millimeter more in each direction than the Xperia X’s dimensions. There aren’t many 5-inch flagships left, but the Samsung Galaxy S7, for example, manages to fit its marginally larger 5.1-inch display in an overall smaller package.
Have an Xperia X and an Xperia X Performance side by side, and there’s hardly a person outside of Sony’s design department that will be able to tell their fronts apart. The Xperia X Performance is a millimeter larger in every direction but try spotting that in real life. The difference however is easily felt when you hold both models in your hands – the X Performance is thicker and heavier even though both phones have the same screen diagonal.
The resemblance to the flagship model is surely a bonus point for the Xperia X but we’re not quite sure it works the other way around too.
To be fair here, we’ll only mention that only the X Performance has the more premium brushed metal finish on the back on the gray and silver models.
Sony has always had a particular liking for the simplicity of the rectangle, corners ever so slightly rounded. The Xperia X Performance favors subtlety in design, but adds a premium touch with a curved 2.5D display glass that is a joy to swipe away at. It’s scratch-resistant too, though Sony doesn’t seem too keen on working with Corning, and it’s not Gorilla Glass-branded.
Design in keeping with tradition
The smartphone is clearly a descendant of the original Xperia Z, a design refined and polished over generations.
That said, it looks like it’s the Xperia Z3 that the X Performance seems to share most of its genes with – but that may be just us.
The similarity is most obvious in the two slits above and below the display, which house the stereo speakers. The top one also integrates the status LED, keeping it from spoiling the relatively clean top bezel.
Top bezel with earpiece/speaker, front camera and sensor array • nothing but a speaker slit on the chin.
As we already stated, it’s the back where the Xperia X Performance differs from the vanilla Xperia X. The panels on the Graphite Black and White options have a brushed finish, while the Rose Gold and Lime Gold variants get a finer satin surface. Regardless of color and finish, the panels are all made of metal.
All color options • different finish on the rear panel
The White model is our top pick, the black one being a touch too generic, and the two shades of gold…well, let’s say we’re obviously not the right demographic for those colors.
When we say ‘White’, it means only the front, the rear is more like what you could call ‘Silver’ or ‘Stainless steel’ – if you’re willing to excuse your color-vocabulary-challenged writer.
The camera is in its usual position in the top left corner, the single LED flash below it. There’s a ring around the lens to serve more as a design element, rather than protection.
Brushed metal back • 23MP camera
In an odd turn of events, the frame on the Xperia X Performance, like on the Xperia X, is made of polycarbonate, contrary to what you may have assumed considering the market segments these two smartphones occupy. There’s likely a reason for that, be it radio signal reception, assembly considerations, durability or otherwise.
There’s plenty of stuff going on all around the frame. The right side is the busiest, holding all of the controls. The Power button/Fingerprint reader is the centerpiece, by significance and location alike.
The reader is fast and accurate, but it may not be equally comfortable to use with either hand. Whether you’re a leftie, of just prefer to use your smartphone with the left hand, unlocking with the left forefinger doesn’t feel as natural as with the right thumb.
The other less than ideal bit about the Xperia X Performance’s control layout is the low position of the volume rocker. Using it requires a major readjustment of your grip, which makes for a potential dropping hazard.
The hardware two-step camera shutter release button is a rarity outside of the Sony lineup. Here, it has the added benefit of launching the camera and taking a shot in as little as 0.6s. Sony claims this is way faster than even the Xperia Z5 camera.
One thing we don’t quite like about this concept is that when taking a picture before the screen is even on means framing is almost always bad.
Right side • controls
On the left side is the card tray that now gets pulled out together with the flap, which has rubber lining to ensure no water or dust enter the phone. Sony phones don’t like having their SIM cards taken out without warning and restart immediately once you take out the tray. Then once again, when you insert it back in. And with the tray shared between SIM and microSD cards, the same will happen if you want to replace the microSD card.
We have got to note that on the Dual SIM model of the Xperia X Performance – the slot is actually of the Hybdird type that allows a combination of either two SIM cards or a SIM card and a microSD card. This solution has been getting quite popular lately on phones by other brands but this is perhaps the first time we see Sony utilize it as well.
Left side • card tray
At the top, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack and a secondary mic pinhole. A standard-issue microUSB 2.0 port is on the bottom – Sony’s not yet ready to make the jump to Type-C connectivity yet – not that we’re overeager either. The primary mic is here too.
3.5mm jack and a mic on the top • microUSB and a mike on the bottom
In the hand the Sony Xperia X Performance feels heavy and expensive. Thanks to its flat panels there isn’t the subjective effect of thinning towards the side edges like the Galaxy S7 for example. The upside to this is that the sides give plenty of area for your fingers to secure a tight grip.
In the hand
Sony also gave us samples of the accessory cases that will be available for the Xperia X Performance – all members of the Style Cover family. All except the SBC 20 are made of soft faux leather in the same selection of colors, as are available for the phone itself. They all leave the fingerprint sensor exposed, but do cover the other buttons.
The Style Cover Touch (SCR56) is the smartest of the bunch if you could call a case that. Its front is not leather, but frosted plastic instead, so it’s relatively transparent with the premise to allow you to use the phone without flipping the cover open. You pair the phone with the cover via NFC and an icon in the app drawer pops up where you can enable the cover’s only option – to boost the screen brightness when it’s closed.
The Style Cover Flip is similar, minus the transparency – so it’s basically a flip cover with no brains. Flipping it open does wake up the phone, so there’s that.
The Style Cover SBC30 is a bumper case which protects the back and the sides, leaving the display unobstructed (unprotected too). The SBC20 does the same, but is made of clear silicone.
Marshmallow with a dash of Xperia
Sony’s new X line of smartphones comes with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out of the box. As usual, a few proprietary apps and features are baked in as well, but the company’s always had a light touch when it comes to modding Android.
Keep in mind we use “light” in terms of the number of changes it makes, not how much storage it uses up. The X Performance is available with 32GB or 64GB of internal memory of which you’re left with either 20GB or 48.6GB. On the positive side, if you need more storage, you can always add a microSD card unlike with many of the phone’s competitors.
The fingerprint reader is a recent addition to the Xperia line and Sony firmly believes the best place for it is on the side, integrated into the Power button. We can’t deny the convenience, as waking the screen and unlocking the phone are tightly related. It just isn’t equally well suited to use with both hands.
Smart Lock gives you conditional security – trusted nearby devices, locations, faces, or voices can allow you to skip the security unlock protocol.
Lockscreen • Lockscreen settings
There’s optional double-tap-to-wake if you just need to check notifications (there’s a notification LED in the top loudspeaker too). Then there’s double-tap-to-sleep, so you can send the phone to standby by tapping on an empty area. If you’re in a fullscreen app, tapping on the notification bar won’t do it though.
Also, the first feature is in the display settings, the second – in the homescreen settings. While there’s clearly a logic behind such an arrangement, perhaps the best logic would be to have the two in one place, maybe?
Tap to wake up (by double-tap) in Display settings • Double-tap to sleep in Homescreen settings
We had a good experience with the fingerprint reader. It’s fast and fairly accurate. There’s an animation that slides the lockscreen away from your thumb (as if you pushed it out of the way), which helps hide the small delay, so it feels seamless.
It’s the same animation that’s played when you unlock with an upward swipe if you’re not using any form of lockscreen security – it’s a bit disconcerting to swipe up but have the lockscreen fade out to the left. You also can’t swipe right to unlock – it’s either left or up. We feel Sony could have worked a bit more on the user-friendliness of this interface.
The homescreen appears unchanged. This includes the swipe down gesture, which shows a screen of the apps you use most along with recommendations for new apps to install. A search field is highlighted so you can start typing the app’s name immediately.
Homescreen • App suggestions and search
The traditional app drawer is still on board and it features an above average amount of vendor apps. Sony takes great pride in their AV prowess, so there is now way that they could have gone for the stock multimedia apps made by Google.
Standard app drawer
Themes are available (both free and paid) that can customize the look and sound of the Xperia X Performance UI.
The notification area is plain Android. You can re-arrange the quick toggle tiles and adjust the screen brightness. Note that just like in vanilla Android, there’s no toggle for Auto brightness (you need to go into the settings for that). That’s the one thing we don’t mind skins changing and still, many manufacturers like to keep it stock.
Notification area is vanilla Android
The app switcher is similarly a vanilla Android affair with the 3D rolodex look. The small apps are gone, however, and there is no longer floating app multitasking.
What there is, is screen pinning, which locks the display on the current app, blocks incoming calls and prevents other apps from retrieving your location. You can think of it as a Toddler mode. To get out of it simply press and hold the back and recent apps keys simultaneously.
So is the app switcher (note: no small apps) • screen pinning
The Smart cleaner feature will periodically empty the cache of apps you haven’t used in a while. You can switch this off or just manually tell it not to bother for certain apps.
Smart cleaner frees up memory of both kinds
One thing Android has been missing for years is a proper backup solution and Sony gives you one. It can backup applications, contacts, messages, phone settings. The backup info itself can be stored on your Sony online account, on the microSD card or an external USB device.
Backups can be scheduled, including conditions like “Connected to Wi-Fi” and “Charging device”, depending on your preferences.