Sony hopes to carve out some space within the high-end smartphone market with the new Xperia X Performance, but a few issues hold it back from being the “must buy” smartphone of 2016.
It has become increasingly difficult to stand out in the high-end smartphone market. There are many amazing phones currently available, all with one thing or another they do better; but in the end, it comes down to personal taste. With so many of the specs being matched blow-for-blow, when a phone falters on any major features they forfeit the race and ultimately fail to gain traction with the public.
This is where the Xperia X Performance falls. With the X Performance, Sony has built a beautiful smartphone. One that feels premium, has a great camera, plenty of power, but with a battery that ultimately acts as its Achilles heel.
Visually, the Xperia X Performance looks like much of the other Xperia lineup. The phone boasts a 5-inch IPS LCD screen, a 23-megapixel camera, is IP68-rated, and is all packed inside a very sleek, simple body that may not turn heads, but is very functional and a pleasure to hold in the hands.
The fit and finish on the X Performance are at the level you would expect from Sony. The curved edges and metal back make the phone easy to hold and acts as a great showpiece for Sony's minimalistic style. On one side, you will find a Sim/microSD card tray that you can pull out with your fingernail for easy access. The tray will support a memory card as big as 200GB, and with the system software taking up 12GB of the 32GB internal storage, an SD card may be a necessity for anyone looking to use their phone for media or as a primary camera.
On the other side of the phone, you will find the two-stage camera button, volume rocker and the power/fingerprint scanner. This is where things get a bit weird. For people living in the US, the fingerprint scanner has been disabled at a firmware level; for everyone else, it works perfectly. Sony has not given a clear explanation as to why it is not active for the American version, but with fingerprint scanners being ubiquitous on all flagship phones, this is a major issue for people looking at the X Performance in the US.
The screen on the X Performance is stunning; albeit not cutting edge. The phone supports a 5-inch 1080p panel that is capable of bright, vivid colours and rich, deep blacks. With Sony's Triluminos display tech and its X-Reality engine at work here, it is no wonder the colours look as good as they do. Sony has also offered the option to change the settings and tweak the balance, saturation, etc. to ensure the screen suits your tastes.
The real issue with the X Performance is not the quality of the screen, but how it compares to the competition. While, yes the screen Sony has on offer is fantastic, with all other flagship handsets offering Quad HD and 1080p now relegated to the mid-range phones, the fact Sony chose this screen for its flagship seems like an odd move.
Although Sony may have skimped on the screen, they did not disappoint when it came to the processor. The Xperia X Performance packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 clocked at 2.15GHz. The phone scored a 129,880 in AnTuTu benchmarks making it stack very well against the OnePlus Three and the Galaxy S7. Running a slightly modified Android 6.0 Marshmellow OS, everything ran smooth as butter. There were never instances of slowdown or lag, and during testing it became clear that the X Performance was one of the fastest phones we have ever used at CGMagazine.
This power was evident when playing through the regular series of games. Running on the Adreno 530 GPU, Mortal Kombat X ran fantastically, and never was there any noticeable slowdown or real issue with a high-intensity fight. Playing Hearthstone for hours was also a pleasure. It connected to games quickly and the game ran as well as you would expect from a high-end handset. Games such as Fallout Shelter, Asphalt 8, and Marvel Champions all ran without a hitch. This is a phone that any mobile gamer would love for the pure power alone.
Sony has also managed to squeeze in the PlayStation Remote Play into the Xperia X Performance. This little app (currently available on the PC, PS Vita, and the Xperia lineup) allows you to connect to your PlayStation 4 and access it remotely, from either another room or the same room. Connect your DualShock 4 and you can play as if you were connected directly to the console. It may not be a feature Sony has been advertising as of late, but it works very well. The small 5-inch screen may not be ideal for console gaming, but the fact it is included was a nice touch. In testing, games ran very smoothly, and in a local LAN environment, there was no noticeable lag. To get the full experience, you will need to connect your DualShock, as the onscreen controls are tedious to play with, to say the least.
Unfortunately, all this power comes at a price. With the Sony Xperia X Performance coming equipped with a only 2700 mAh battery, you will be hard-pressed to make it through the day on a single charge. If you throw in gaming, web browsing and light social media use, you may even need to charge by lunchtime. It does come with Quick Charge, so you should be able to top up your phone quickly, but 4-5 hours of battery are unacceptable for a flagship phone in today's competitive landscape. With the Samsung Galaxy S7, the HTC 10 and the LG G5 all outlasting it in battery tests, The Xperia X Performance falls far short of expectations.
Sony is known for their cameras, and the X Performance does not disappoint in that department. The phone comes with a 13-megapixel camera on the front and a 23-megapixel camera on the back. During testing the device captured vibrant, detailed photos. Even the front camera managed to work exceptionally well in testing.
The fact Sony managed to add a dedicated shutter button ensured the phone always felt like the world's thinnest camera, with a swift autofocus and a simple click of the button. However, while the daylight shots from the camera were fantastic, low-light and night photography with the Xperia X Performance where far less ideal. Photos began to show a fair amount of grain and the colour representation and detail was lost. It is not horrible by any stretch of the imagination, but it is evident the daylight shots looked far better than the low-light images.
There is a lot to love about the X Performance; it is a stylish yet minimally designed phone that packs some real power in its small size. Were it not for the battery issue it would be a solid recommend, but in today's world people demand more from their smartphone, and the battery needs to be able to live up to all the tasks. If Sony upgrades next year by adding a stronger battery it would be a must buy, but as it is right now, I would say proceed only if you can deal with that issue. The X Performance is a great phone held up by major oversights, and for the $700 price tag that is not acceptable.