Sony Xperia X, X Performance, and XA hands-on: a much needed reboot
For one reason or another, we had a pretty good idea of what most of the industry's big boys are going to bring to MWC '16, but we have to admit –Sony managed to remain a mystery until the last day. Being a bit too soon after the company unveiled the Z5, we didn't really expect anything big out of the company... which is why we were so shocked to find out that it's announcing not just one, but three new smartphones here, and each covering a different end of the spectrum at that.
Trying to escape from the disappointment that the last few Xperia Z phones were, Sony is now launching its new phones under a new line – Sony X. And it's kicking things off with the Xperia X, Xperia X Performance, and Xperia XA.
Sony Xperia X and X Performance
The mainstream Xperia X and high-end Xperia X Performance are almost identical in terms of design. The devices' design language is very similar to that of the recent Xperia Z smartphones – you'll basically have a hard time telling one from the other, if you're not looking at their backs. That's because the X and X Performance use metal instead of glass for their back plates. The X Performance differentiates here as it has a stylish brushed metal finish. Which one looks better — the brushed material of the Performance or the cleaner look of the X — depends on your personal preference.
The good news is Sony has finally, finally reworked the ergonomics of its products. As a result, the X and X Performance no longer feel like you're holding a knife. Their rounded edges with no sharp surfaces jutting out feel much nicer in the hand than before. As a matter of fact, both phones are also slightly smaller than the Z5, as they go with 5" 1080p displays, instead of 5.2". Thank you, Sony, our hands are grateful.
Besides the finishes, probably the biggest differentiating factor between the two is the chipset: the mainsteam Xperia X uses the upper mid-range Snapdragon 650 SoC, while the the X Performance has the cutting-edge Snapdragon 820. Both handsets feel nice and fast; system performance seems to be very good, comparable with phones from rival Android camps. The Xperia X, which operates very well within the system, will not be as impressive as the X Performance when it comes to gaming and other more-than-usual demanding tasks.
The camera department is another area where the X and X Performance will attempt to leave a mark. Both are equipped with 23 MP 'Predictive Hybrid AF' shooters and, drum roll please, 13 MP front-facing camera! The Predictive AF stuff means the camera will try to predict the direction in which the objects in front of the lens are moving, thus achieving better and more reliable focus. The new camera interface, though, as functional as it may be with its Manual mode, feels a tad clumsy at first glance. Guess we'll have to spend some more time with it to see if it won't start feeling more natural' to us.
Sony Xperia XA
The outlier in Sony's new line-up is the Xperia XA. It's mid-range product that's designed to be a bit more affordable, but not to the point of rendering the user experience compromised. It's easily the best looking phone of the trio, with a significantly narrower body with minimal side bezels, and overall cleaner stature. The XA also feels just right, with smooth edges and light weight. Perhaps most importantly, it's a breath of fresh air when it comes to Sony's phones, as both the X and X Performance remind of the Xperia Z style. The XA, in contrast, is fresh and new, and quite frankly, feels like the future for Sony's mobile efforts.
Sticking with a 5" 720p screen is a great way to deliver a nice viewing experience at low cost these days, so that's what the XA has to offer. It's not as fine as the 1080p panels of the X and X Performance, but detail is still good enough. There's plenty of pixels to make reading or viewing pleasurable.
The chip powering the Xperia XA is the MediaTek MT6755. You needn't feel disheartened by the fact it's not a Snapdragon, because this MediaTek manages to deliver a nice and fluid performance on the XA. |It's probably not as instantaneous as what we experience in the Xperia X or X Performance, but it still manages to move swiftly enough. Of course, further testing will grant us more insight into the XA's long-term handling. The camera experience in the XA is the same as in the X and X Performance, but the resolution is "just" 13 MP (and "just" 8 MP for
the front camera), and the phone doesn't benefit from the new Predictive autofocus techniques.
The new Xperia X series is a great surprise by Sony. Just as the company starting falling out of relevance, the three new X devices appeared to save the day. The Xperia X Performance and X will probably be on most tech enthusiasts' minds, but it's the Xperia XA which makes us hopeful that Sony is truly on the right track. We'd definitely like to see a higher-end smartphone using the XA's simply yet enigmatic design characteristics.
All three handsets are to be released in June, which, to be honest, feels a bit later than we'd like. By then, the new Galaxy S7 and G5 will already be on the market, while Samsung's popular A series is already on sale. On the other hand, Sony better not rush it, because its previous efforts really left us with a bitter taste. Here's to hoping this time will be different, and X will mark the sweet spot for consumers. Let us know how you like the new Xperia X smartphones in the comments!