In modern times, Sony Mobile is king of the compact smartphone market. Nobody really makes flagship-tier Android smartphones that are smaller than 5 inches anymore. Sony dominated because their compact devices were only smaller than their full-sized counterparts in size, not performance.
However, with the recent release of the Sony Xperia X Compact here in Malaysia, some are fairly disappointed with what the handset has to offer.
And honestly, can you really blame them? Inside the X Compact, you get a mid-tier processor, an average amount of RAM encased in a plastic outer shell.
The X Compact also ditches one of the most popular features on a Sony handset but I suppose that’s not too surprising since the smartphone it’s based on doesn’t have it either.
Then we come to the one thing the smartphone is supposed to shine at — its camera. Sony developed a brand new camera system for the X Compact but was it worth it? If you ask me, I think Sony chose the wrong basket to put all their eggs in.
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Competition is important. It develops our society, pushing us hard and fast to either topple the king or stay ahead of the competition. If you want examples, just take a look at the tech industry and you’ll see plenty.
Sometimes, though, there are those who find their niche, a little corner of the market where their reign can go unchallenged. For me, Sony Mobile has a niche like that and it’s the compact flagship smartphone segment. Nobody really does it like they do, shrinking only the phone down in size while retaining all of its big flagship specs. It was great.
Then, they ditched their wildly popular Xperia Z series and started anew with the Xperia X. Their first wave of smartphones (the X, XA and X Performance) didn’t receive the best reception, which was a little worrying. Now, we’ve got Round 2 and I’m not so sure they fared any better, at least not where the Xperia X Compact is concerned. But, I think there’s one reason people will still buy this little phone.
Now I’m not saying this is a bad phone. Since it’s the X Compact, not the X Performance Compact, you won’t be getting a Snapdragon 820 processor or anything like that. You get the Snapdragon 650 hexacore chip because that is what powers the Xperia X. Mated to 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage, the phone does an admirable job of running everything smoothly. Although it still doesn’t feel as snappy as something running an 820 chip, I had no major issues with lag or freezing which is a good thing.
That probably has something to do with the 4.6-inch display the X Compact comes with: It’s only packing a 720p display resolution so there are fewer pixels for it to push. The screen itself isn’t all bad, however. With about 320 ppi, it’s definitely not as sharp as a Quad HD panel, but it does alright, especially at normal viewing distances. Colours are pretty nice too and so are the viewing angles.
Sony also severely improved upon one of my biggest complaints with the last Sony phone I reviewed — the battery life. The X Compact has great battery life. I’m consistently getting 4-5 hours of screen on time which means it easily lasts me an entire day on a single charge.
It’s also a really happy-looking phone. The model I had on review was this glossy Mist Blue colour which I think looks sweet. Thanks to the rounded edges, the X Compact has nice ergonomics too, though the top and bottom are flat so it’ll stand by itself no problem.
But that’s pretty much where the good news ends. The rest of the phone feels like Sony was deliberately looking for ways to make this worse than the flagship Xperia XZ. I mean, it’s a plastic phone that feels about as plasticky as it gets. Plus it’s glossy, so it attracts fingerprints and microscratches if you use it without a case.
Oh, and remember the excellent battery life? Well, that comes at the cost of fast-charging because the bundled 5V/1.5A charger takes more than two and a half hours to charge the arguably tiny 2,700 mAh battery. Sony says that the X Compact has smarter charging with their Qnovo Adaptive Charging technology. It’s designed to increase battery longevity by intelligently monitoring battery conditions but that’s something I can’t test in my short review period. Perhaps it’s worth the tradeoff for fast-charging in the long run. My money’s on otherwise.
One other cost-saving measure Sony has employed to keep the X Compact below the XZ is the absence of water-resistance. There is none. At least, not enough to give me the confidence to use it in the shower.
That said, the X Compact does, at least, come with a fingerprint scanner — even if it’s a frustrating one. When it works, the X Compact’s fingerprint scanner is fast and easy to reach. I never thought I’d like its position, but I did. What I didn’t like was how hit-or-miss this thing was. Just the smallest amount of moisture/dust/debris on your finger or the sensor and it just flat-out refuses to unlock.
There are also other annoyances too, like how soft the dual front-facing speakers are and the fact that there’s a really weird YouTube bug where the audio would play but the video would freeze. Not really the ideal media consumption device, but then again it’s a tiny phone so I can forgive that.
Despite the apparent cost-cutting, the Xperia X Compact still comes with a hefty price tag of RM1,999. This 4.6-inch plastic phone with no fast-charging and a mid-tier processor costs almost RM2,000! Surely it must have a killer feature up its sleeve.
Well, Sony wants you to believe that that killer feature is the X Compact’s 23-megapixel Exmor RS primary camera — one of the few things that it shares with its bigger brother, the XZ.
In reality, though? It’s a bittersweet feature at best. What makes this camera special is the brand new triple image sensing system Sony incorporates into the back of the X Compact. The three sensors consist of the camera sensor itself, a laser AF sensor and a dedicated RGBC-IR sensor that’s solely for getting the colours right.
The end result? Well, it does work. Colours I get from the camera are certainly accurate, if not a little vibrant (but I’m OK with that). Image quality is solid too with lots of detail and good dynamic range. Although, if you zoom in you can see quite a lot of sharpening going on (sort of like the S7 edge). That said, I think the camera does struggle a little in low light as shots tend to be noisy and a little less than sharp.
The X Compact’s overall shooting experience was pretty pleasant as well as the camera is quick to pull focus, expose and grab a shot…for awhile. After the initial few photos, the camera starts slowing down and choking. Sometimes I’d grab a photo, turn and want to grab the next photo, but the screen is still frozen on the last image I shot.
For all of Sony’s marketing about “never missing a photo opportunity”, I found that “missing a photo opportunity” actually sums up the X Compact’s camera most aptly for me.
Regrettably, it looks like Sony floundered yet again with the Xperia X Compact. It’s actually a pretty decent smartphone right up until you look at the price tag. I simply can’t fathom why this phone costs as much as it does since you can get a significantly more powerful phone (the ZTE Axon 7 or OnePlus 3, for example) for around the same price (lower, actually).
Maybe all of it went into the development of that sophisticated camera system that performs…just about as well as every other phone at this price point. I would much rather sacrifice a little in the camera department for a nice metal build and water resistance. Or maybe a Full HD screen. Or a more powerful processor. Or fast-charging.
But you know what, that doesn’t really matter to you if you’re someone who wants to buy the X Compact. Why? Well, in a word, it’s competition — there’s really no other phone that comes in this size with better specs than the X Compact. Unless, of course, you don’t mind switching to an iOS device or pick up an old Xperia Z5 Compact. I’m personally not a fan of the Snapdragon 810 processor in the Z5 Compact, however, so that’s a big no for me.
There’s simply no meaningful competition for Sony or the Xperia X Compact right now. They’re king. If you want a “flagship” compact Android phone, your hands are tied because this is really your only real option right now. So either you get something that has a larger screen or prepare to pony up for the X Compact.
If it was my money, I would rather buy an iPhone SE.
Here are more photos taken with the Sony Xperia X Compact’s camera. Click on each photo to view its full resolution.
This quasi-low-light food shot actually turned out pretty well. The food looks kinda delicious.