Introduction and design
The Sony Xperia X Performance is a phone that makes a statement. It’s just not a very consistent one.
Like the others in the new X series, the Sony Xperia X Performance is really good at waving all the signs of a flagship phone. The eye-grabbing glass and brushed metal design make it enjoyable to look at and its 5.6-inch body fits nicely in one hand.
Underneath the hood, though, there’s a mix of what you’d expect to find in a top-tier smartphone, but with a few unpleasant surprises tossed in.
It contains the high-end Snapdragon 820 processor, but backs it with only 3GB of memory. The waterproof phone comes with the latest build of Android Marshmallow, offers PS4 Remote Play, and expandable storage. But the screen is limited to 1080p, and the battery capacity is a rather meager 2,700mAh.
These shortcomings would be excusable if the Xperia X Performance were the least bit competitive in price with some of recent unlocked movers-and-shakers, like the OnePlus 3 or ZTE Axon 7. But it’s not even close.
At US$699 (about £541, AU$913), this phone just about doubles the price of some more capable options, even costing slightly more than the Samsung Galaxy S7. It’s puzzling.
For a phone positioned near the top of Sony’s offering, the Xperia X Performance is either woefully under-specced, or just too expensive for what you’re getting. How about both?
If you’re hoping for a flagship smartphone that balances power, design and value in equal measure, you’ll be better served by another phone on our best phones list.
- Glass, brushed metal finish
- 5-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 LCD display
- 143.7 x 70.5 x 8.6mm, 5.8oz
If you’re seen one Xperia device within the past few years, you’ve seen them all. The Xperia X Performance falls neatly into that group, but it’s not a bad thing at all.
Minimalists will love the Xperia X Performance for its subtle design touches. In the rose gold review unit provided to TechRadar by Sony, the brushed metal back and edges nicely play off the ever-so-slightly curved front panel.
The port layout is thoughtfully placed around the phone, and at first glance, it seems that so too are the buttons. While the power and dedicated camera capture buttons are easy to use and access during everyday use, the volume rocker is a bit of a nightmare.
Located on the bottom right side of the trim, it makes a simple task needlessly difficult. The odd reach even caused the phone to slip out of our hands on occasion.
If you’re looking to get this phone in the US, here’s one more knock against the X Performance: it doesn’t have a fingerprint sensor built-in like its UK counterpart. For whatever reason, it has been omitted, though Sony’s website states otherwise.
Given the fashion-forward look of the Xperia X Performance, it’s a delightful surprise that it’s dust and waterproof with a rating of IP68, which means that it can be plunged under water no deeper than a meter (under five feet) for up to a half hour. So a drop into the sink, a puddle, or even the toilet will be fine (just wash it reeeeally well afterward.)
What’s it like to use?
Interface and reliability
Sony’s Xperia X Performance runs on Google’s latest official release, Android Marshmallow 6.0.1, but with a twist. The custom user interface will feel familiar to anyone who has used an Android smartphone, though it’s a far cry from the stock Android experience that you’ll find in the Nexus 6P.
You’ll find Sony’s spin on the basic apps, like messaging and music, along with some other pre-loaded apps to keep you looped into the world of Xperia. Some of it’s useful, like providing tips for taking advantage of the phone’s features, a Shazam-like TrackID app that helps you quickly identify a song in the wild, and exclusive themes and the occasional voucher for free digital goods via the Xperia Lounge.
It even goes the extra mile in some regards. The Video app, for example, is (you guessed it) where you can watch your locally stored files. But Sony also lets you tie up your cable provider, which in turn morphs this seemingly basic app into a robust TV guide of sorts, complete with some small traces of Nintendo Wii U’s now-defunct TVii social functionality.
People who are new to Xperia, or smartphones in general, will appreciate the way things are laid out and the overlay’s measures to hold your hand through the experience. On the other hand, the veteran crowd will be happy to know that each of the custom apps can be disabled through the app drawer.
Music, movies and gaming
Even more than we use phones for calls, we rely on them for entertainment. Whether you’re streaming movies, listening to tunes, or playing the occasional (or frequent, very frequent) game, delivering a pleasurable experience is an expectation that needs to be met by today’s devices. In the case of the expensive Sony Xperia X Performance, make that doubly so.
On its full HD display, high-resolution streaming looks relatively crisp and the phone’s X-Reality function adds more contrast to the picture. The effort to compensate for the lack of QHD is appreciated, but the price of this phone makes it especially difficult to swallow the omission. The screen definitely doesn’t pop like most other Android flagship smartphones.
In terms of sound quality, the dual front-facing speakers do their best to push out sound, but the end result is rather tinny. And we found that when things get loud, the phone tends to buzz a little bit in the hand. It’s not a great experience, but it’s just fine in a pinch.
Casual listeners can expect the basic plug-and-play convenience brought about by the 3.5mm jack –an odd, obvious statement that we now have to make in a world of headphone jack-less phones, like the Moto Z and, very likely the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, too.
Audiophiles will be happy to see and hear that the Xperia X Performance supports all major hi-res audio file formats, such as LPCM, FLAC, ALAC, DSD. It even supports the company’s own LDAC wireless codec, which streams over three times as much data as a standard Bluetooth connection. However, its compatibility is currently limited to Sony audio products.
Lastly, the X Performance supports PS4 Remote Play, a futuristic and exclusive feature that streams whatever the PS4 is outputting straight to the phone. If you’re in constant battle for the TV in your living space, this function will be a lifesaver.
It’s as easy to set up with the DualShock 4 as one could hope, and we were playing Uncharted 4 right on the phone within minutes. If you’re a PS4 owner, this could be the feature that sells you on the Xperia X Performance. But then again, the more affordable Sony Xperia Z3 and Sony Xperia Z5 can do this trick, too.
Specs and benchmark performance explained
- Snapdragon 820, Adreno 530
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB onboard storage, microSD support allows up to 200GB
The spec sheet of the Sony Xperia X Performance is sort of all over the place. At times, it looks every bit as flagship-worthy as its looks and price would indicate. While other times, it seems like a mid-range smartphone, which is confusing given that this phone is being positioned near the top of the company’s 2016 offering.
But specs aren’t everything, and we’re pleased to say that this device offers up a smooth experience on the whole. There was no significant slowdown from basic tasks, like messaging and video calls, to gaming with our current obsession, Pokemon Go.
All thanks to the Snapdragon 820, no doubt, which brings along with it the Adreno 530 graphics processor. You’ll find this hardware at the core of this year’s most popular smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy S7, LG G5, Moto Z and more.
The phone 3GB RAM can easily handle several apps open, but as buying a phone is a big investment for the future, we expected a higher memory count at this price. 2015’s Nexus 6P gets along just fine with this amount of memory, but it costs much less.
Sony’s Xperia X Performance strut its stuff in TechRadar’s benchmark test, which spits out a number based on its multi-core performance in GeekBench 3. It averaged 5,476, a score that places it above the results put forward by recent releases, like the HTC 10, Moto Z and OnePlus 3. It even eked out a win against the US variant of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, but not the Exynos-driven model available elsewhere.
Battery life and camera
Inside of the Xperia X Performance, Sony stocks a non-removable 2,700mAh battery. It is, by no means, the largest ever to be fit into this form factor, but it should be enough to power through your day.
And like the X-Reality function is in place to spruce up its 1080p screen, Sony has added some extra functionality to make the somewhat sub-standard battery capacity last as long as possible. You can switch on the phone’s Stamina or Ultra Stamina mode on to put it into power-saving mode, heavily reducing its functionality depending on the option you choose.
After a day of mixed use, which involves texting, streaming music, taking the occasional photo, and some light gaming, the X Performance usually had about 20% remaining. On days with heavier use, the Stamina mode really helped to preserve the battery while we hunted down a plug.
Equipped with QuickCharge 2.0-enabled micro USB port, bringing the Xperia X Performance back from the dead doesn’t take too long. Unfortunately, our review unit arrived opened and without the charger and cable, but we had a QuickCharge 3.0 charger handy to give it a fair look.
At 0%, it took 20 minutes to bring it up to 33%. This is enough power to give you 5.5 hours of use, according to Sony. Of course, that depends on how you use it. After an hour, the charge rate slowed and it had 70% ready in the tank. It takes about two hours to fill it completely, which lags way behind the recharge rate of most current Android smartphones.
During our 90-minute HD video test, the battery dropped 27% at full brightness and volume up. If you’re using an application that involves sensors in addition to the screen, expect the battery life to plummet even faster.
When deciding on a phone, the quality of the cameras, both rear and front facing, are pretty important factors to consider. So, consider this.
Both sensors in the Xperia X Performance are provided by Sony’s own imaging department. Digging into the major details, the rear-facing 23MP Exmor RS sensor offers a fairly wide aperture of F2.0, HDR support, 5x digital zoom, and an ISO of up to 12,800 for pictures and 3,200 for video recording in full HD. You won’t find optical image stabilization or 4K recording here.
The front-facing camera is a 12MP Exmor R sensor that also boasts an F2.0 aperture, and a respectable ISO 6,400.
Each camera boasts a manual mode for those who want to tinker with ISO, white balance and toggle between presets of different types of shots. There’s also a Superior Auto mode (Sony’s name for it, not ours) that does all of the heavy lifting for you.
In addition to snapping normal pictures, Sony has installed several camera applets that can be easily accessed in the app. From there, you can do some typical tricks, like shoot panoramas or add stickers to an image, as well as some cool tricks with the AR function that can insert 3D objects into the environment a la Tango, but without the detailed environment mapping.
You can either quick launch into the camera by holding the shutter button, swipe up from the lock screen, or click into it from the home dashboard. Once you’re inside, flipping between the cameras is as simple as a quick swipe down on the screen.
All said, Sony has provided enough goods on the hardware and software side to make taking nice-looking pictures a relative breeze. But it’s not the powerhouse that is the Samsung Galaxy S7, its closest competitor in terms of price and performance.
Brilliance can be captured by Sony’s sensors (we take our own stab at trying to accomplish that on the next page,) and while its auto mode, which most people will be using, can more or less keep up with Samsung’s flagship phone, it falls flat when it comes to crispness and low-light shooting. Despite its ISO 12,800, the photos taken on the Xperia X Performance never looked as good as they do on the S7. Even the Nexus 5X makes an appearance to school the X Performance.
Click to view the high-resolution image.
Click to view the high-resolution image.
Verdict and Competition
After spending a few weeks with the Sony Xperia X Performance, we’re conflicted. It’s a phone that clearly offers a lot of good, but the high price only acts to magnify what isn’t there.
Sony’s phones aren’t known for being the most affordable out there, and the X Performance is no exception. And while its stellar build quality isn’t being called into question, you aren’t getting as much for your money as you would with some of its high-end competitors, a few of which are priced at nearly half the price.
It’s a gorgeous phone no matter which way you look at it, but if value is key in your purchase decision-making, this one just doesn’t paint a very consistent picture.
Who’s this for?
For Xperia loyalists and design minimalists who are completely aware of the competition and their prices, yet still want to pay too much money for a phone that, frankly, isn’t worth the cost.
Should you buy it?
In a world where you can nab an Android smartphone that matches and, in some cases, exceeds what the Sony Xperia X Performance is capable of for a fraction of the price, we can’t recommend it for the average user.
The waterproof build, microSD support, fast Snapdragon 820 processor and exclusive PS4 Remote Play are undoubtedly all nice to have, but not when the rest of what’s on the plate is run-of-the-mill.
Samsung Galaxy S7
Samsung’s latest is the perfect example of a smartphone that neatly balances value with industry-leading performance and design.
Sony’s Xperia X Performance and the Samsung Galaxy S7 definitely have their differences, namely in the spec and OS overlay departments, but they are more alike than not.
Each phone is IP68 protected, offers microSD support and charges over micro USB. They are even similar in price unlocked, with the Sony coming out just ahead of it.
The key advantages of Samsung’s S7 are that you can purchase it on a subsidized basis through a carrier, the 2,560 x 1,440 screen, the 3,000mAh battery, its incredible camera, and the fingerprint sensor are clear steps above what the X Performance puts up.
While Sony’s flagship effort isn’t on the same modular mission as the LG G5, they fight in the same ring in terms of specs and build quality.
Like the S7, LG’s fifth generation flagship trounces Sony’s Xperia X Performance in a few important ways. The screen pops with its 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, LG made some space on the back for a fingerprint sensor and 4GB RAM keeps things speedy and future-proof.
LG and Sony’s camera software is more or less on par, and we didn’t particularly like the fact that the G5 ships without an app drawer, but that might not be a factor that bothers you.
The third iteration of OnePlus’ flagship killer is a mighty capable smartphone for the US$399 price and, aside from the waterproof build and microSD slot found in the X Performance, it outshines Sony’s phone in several areas.
Each phone rocks a FHD screen, though it’s a more excusable move in the more affordable OP3. And like the X Performance, the third OnePlus is a stunning blend of metal and glass.
But inside the hood, Sony’s smartphone gets left in the dust. The OnePlus 3 comes standard with 6GB RAM, a fingerprint sensor and a 3,000mAh, which is the same battery capacity of the Samsung Galaxy S7.
ZTE Axon 7
Seemingly out of nowhere, the ZTE Axon 7 appeared as an affordable flagship Android smartphone that challenges the very best (read: more expensive) that the ecosystem has to offer, the Sony Xperia X Performance included.
US$399 will nab you smartphone that, like the X Performance, is an intricate mix of metal and glass that offers SIM and microSD support, and contains the Snapdragon 820. However, it edges above Sony’s by packing in a 3,250mAh battery, a beautiful 2,560 x 1,440 QHD screen and a fingerprint sensor.
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