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Sony Xperia X Compact Review: In Depth

4.5

The Good

  • Great size
  • Long-lasting battery
  • Dependable camera
  • Sharp, colourful screen

The Bad

  • Not an evolution
  • Scratchy plastic

Sony Xperia X Compact Review: We’ve spent the week with Sony’s latest mini mobile, the dinky 4.6-inch Xperia X Compact. Here’s our full review of this one-handed wonder, including how it stacks up against rival mini phones like the iPhone SE and last year's Xperia Z5 Compact.

Packing the same great features of the Xperia X - plus the brilliant 23-megapixel camera of the Xperia XZ flagship phone - into a tiny 4.6-inch mobile is quite a feat. But Sony’s managed it with the Xperia X Compact, a beautifully miniature handset that acts as a wonderous antidote to the plethora of massive mobiles out there.

Here's our full Xperia X Compact review, and if you already have last year's Xperia Z5 Compact, check out our in-depth comparison review to see if you should consider upgrading. We've also re-reviewed the Xperia Z5 Compact after a full year of use, to see how well last year's mini Sony phone holds up.

Sony Xperia X Compact Review: Design

Recently I've lost count of how many 5.5-inch phones have landed on my desk for review. I even did a round-up of the buggers recently, which included only a portion of these mammoth handsets from the past year.

And while rocking a big phone is perfectly fine if you're constantly watching movies and shows on the go, or a bit of a mobile gaming fiend, I always long for something that's easy to use one-handed. Sadly, mini mobiles are a strangely rare item these days. The likes of the iPhone SE occasionally wander along, but they're a rare and possibly dying breed, lost amongst an army of beefy blowers.

Sony can always be depended on to release a dinky handset each year however, and this year it's the Xperia X Compact. Like last year's Z5 Compact,  this is a squished version of an existing Sony mobile; in this case, the Xperia X.

Like the Z5 Compact, this is a chunky little beast sporting a 4.6-inch display. The Xperia X Compact may have lost some height and width in the shrinking process, but it's fattened up to make a bit of room for the battery and other internals. All the same, the phone feels great in the hand and slips easily into any pocket or bag. One-handed use is a comfortable and fumble-free experience.

At 135g the X Compact is lighter than most, but still enjoys a decent heft. It certainly doesn't feel toy-like despite that plastic frame. However, while the phone is rugged enough to shrug off some bumps and knocks, the surface is susceptible to light scratching. These marks aren’t visible most of the time, but when the Compact catches the light just right, you’ll notice a network of tiny lines marring the rear.

Sadly there’s no water resistance either, unlike the Xperia Z5 Compact. Sony slashed this feature to cut costs as it wasn’t a priority for fans, which makes perfect sense of course. And the Xperia X Compact will at least survive a serious splashing in a sudden downpour. But if you’re after a phone to fiddle with in the bath or for taking photos of your kids in the pool, you’ll have to look to last year’s model.

Our review handset sports the light blue finish and it's one of my favourite Sony palettes so far, standing out nicely from the usual boring silvers and greys. Combined with the new wrap-around design, this is definitely one good-looking mobile. Check out our Xperia X Compact unboxing for a closer look.

Sony Xperia X Compact Review: Screen and media

Although the full-sized Xperia X sported a Full HD 1080p display, this has been reduced to a 720p HD panel for the Xperia X Compact. However, the reduction in size from 5-inches to 4.6-inches means that you still get around 316 pixels squeezed into every inch of screen space. That’s about the same as the iPhone SE’s display and even the iPhone 7's, which means you’ll still enjoy pleasingly crisp visuals.

Combined with Sony’s X-Reality software engine, high-definition video looks really splendid. There’s no motion blur or other ill effects, just sharp, attractive images. And if you prefer vibrant, punchy colours then you can turn on the Super Vivid mode to really bring your photos and movies to life.

Of course, there’s not really any difference between the X Compact’s screen and last year’s Z5 Compact. Definitely no reason for an upgrade here.

Audio is another highlight, as usual. Like the Xperia X, this Compact model supports Hi-Res audio and can even upscale compressed tracks to boost their quality. Plug in a decent pair of headphones and you’ll be in for a treat.

The 32GB of built-in storage space can be boosted by slipping a microSD memory card into the X Compact’s SIM slot. That’ll give you plenty of space for carrying around a massive media collection.

Sony Xperia X Compact Review: Features and OS

There’s no difference at all between the user experience on the Xperia X Compact and the standard Xperia X, as well as the flagship Xperia XZ. Android Marshmallow is once again the OS of choice and Sony’s unified design theme sits neatly on top, adding vibrant splashes of colour - and a fair few bonus features.

For instance, you get a full interactive guide on how to use the phone, built into the settings menu. You also get some nifty shortcuts for opening the camera app, checking for notifications and plenty more besides.

Check out our Xperia XZ tips and tricks guide for more info.

Security has also been given a welcome boost thanks to the side-mounted fingerprint sensor. This is easy to fondle as it sits neatly under your thumb when you pick up the phone, and it’s responsive enough to unlock your phone almost immediately. Accuracy isn’t an issue either, as long as your digits aren’t wet or greasy.

Sony Xperia X Compact Review: Performance and battery life

When it comes to internals, the Xperia X Compact rocks the same Snapdragon 650 processor as the full-sized Xperia X.

That’s a shame, as personally I would have preferred an Xperia XZ Compact instead, boasting Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor like Sony’s new flagship phone. Thankfully the more basic 650 chipset still delivers smooth everyday performance, and the compromise is a lower asking price. But owners of the Z5 Compact hoping to upgrade for a performance boost will be disappointed - this handset is no faster than last year’s model. And it also lags behind Apple's mini handset, the iPhone SE.

Disappointment aside, you’ll still be able to zip around Android without seeing a stutter, while apps load up as soon as you poke their icons. Gamers can play action-packed titles with a pleasingly smooth frame rate too - and here’s hoping performance won’t have degraded in a year or so.

Sony’s Compact phones usually boast some truly impressive battery life and the Xperia X Compact is no exception. I happily blazed through a full day and a half every time before a recharge was needed, occasionally making it to 48 hours if I was restrained with my movie watching and gaming.

And with the new smart charge tech, the Xperia X Compact should learn your charging habits and prevent the battery from overcharging. That theoretically means limited degradation over time, which is a big bonus. We’ll report back on that in our long-term review.

It’s good to see Sony finally embracing Type-C USB too. This reversible charging tech makes it easier to stab your cable in when it’s late at night and you’re knackered. It’s also faster for data transfer, handy if you’re always backing up your photos and home movies to your computer.

Sony Xperia X Compact Review: Cameras

When it comes to the camera tech, the Xperia X Compact is actually a step up from its bigger brother, the Xperia X.

Sony has stuffed the same new low-light capabilities from the Xperia XZ’s camera into this dinky snapper, which means you get that funky laser-guided autofocus and improved image stabilisation. In darkened conditions it’s still not quite as impressive as the boundary-breaking Galaxy S7 optics. But those pub and club shots rarely come out blurry now, and there isn’t too much grain to spoil the show.

Sony’s full auto mode is as always dependable, pretty much all of the time. After a week of shooting dozens and dozens of photos, I had only a couple that ended up in the bin. Irksome lighting conditions are handled without a struggle, fast focus isn’t a problem and your shots take almost the instant you hit the shutter button.

Sadly you can’t shoot 4K video, like you could on the Xperia Z5 Compact, which seems like a strange step backwards. But you can record gorgeous-looking Full HD footage in either 30 or 60 frames-per-second, complete with some seriously good SteadyShot image stabilisation. Check out our sample video below.

 
As for the selfie camera, the Xperia X Compact can shoot some sharp, attractive selfies with its 5-megapixel front-facing lens. In very low light you'll struggle as there's no 'flash' feature, but it copes quite well with ambient light.
 

Sony Xperia X Compact Review: Verdict

Sony’s Xperia X Compact isn’t much of an evolution over last year’s Xperia Z5 Compact, offering up pretty much the same performance and battery life while also stripping away water resistance and 4K video recording. Considering it’s about the same price, that means existing owners have no need to upgrade.

Still, anyone new to the world of Sony Xperia Compacts should really enjoy this handset. You get a smooth everyday experience and impressive battery life, as well as one of the best smartphone cameras of 2016, packed into a dinky hand-friendly frame. And what’s not to love about that.

Key Specs

  • 4.6-inches
  • 1280x720
  • 135g
  • Android 6.0
  • 23-megapixel
  • 5-megapixel
  • Snapdragon 650
  • 3GB
  • 32GB + microSD
  • Yes
  • Fingerprint sensor

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