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Sony Xperia X Compact review: Small, but not quite as mighty

Our Rating :
£209.99 from
Price when reviewed : £360
inc VAT, 32GB; from £28/mth on contract

Better in some ways than the Z5 Compact, but worse in others, Sony's new compact smartphone fails to move forwards


  • Small and easy to use one-handed
  • Great camera quality


  • Design looks a little cheap
  • Slower than the Xperia Z5 Compact
  • No dust or water resistance

Until recently, Sony’s smartphone strategy was clear and easy to understand. It would typically release a new flagship every six months, and a compact version would appear once a year, identical in every way except size and screen resolution. With the Sony Xperia X Compact, Sony’s thinking is beginning to get muddled.

Instead of simply shrinking down the new, top-of-the-range Sony Xperia XZ, the Sony Xperia X Compact is a mini-frankenphone, combining some of the features of the XZ with some from the older Xperia X in its compact, 4.6in chassis. So, instead of the barnstormingly quick Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor from the XZ, the X Compact has the hexa-core Snapdragon 650 from the Xperia X. Yet it inherits the new camera, lock, stock and two smoking barrels from the XZ.

In some respects, that’s not too much of a problem. As you’ll see later in this review, the performance of the X Compact is responsive enough in daily use not to have a negative impact, while the low 720p resolution of the display means that games play more smoothly than you might expect.

And yet, the changes still leave me a little cold. Part of the appeal of the Compact range of phones when it first appeared has always been that it was just as powerful as its flagship brethren. That this is no longer the case and, for me, undermines its appeal.

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Sony Xperia X Compact review: Design

I’m also disappointed by the slightly cheaper design of the X Compact. Next to its predecessor, the Z5 Compact, it looks positively frumpy, with its plastic, wraparound frame and glossy plastic back comparing rather poorly with the sharp lines of its predecessor.

The fit-and-finish isn’t great either, with unsightly gaps at the top and bottom of the rear panel ready to gobble up unsightly pocket fluff. It might be less fragile than the Z5 Compact – I was never all that confident in the Z5’s frosted-glass rear panel – but surely Sony could have found a way to make the new phone look nicer than this.

Even the buttons feel mushy and insubstantial, although it’s good to see that Sony has kept the dedicated camera shutter button and fingerprint reader. In the US, inexplicably, it has removed the latter reader.

One feature that’s missing no matter which country you live in, however, is dust- and water-proofing. When every other manufacturer is rushing to add this feature – even Apple – Sony is busy running the other way, which is bizarre.

The phone does at least fulfil its principal raison-d’etre: it’s both more pocketable and easier to use one-handed than most of the 5.5in-plus behemoths favoured by manufacturers for their mid-range and up smartphones these days.

Sony Xperia X Compact review: Camera

So how about that camera, then? With so little to shout about elsewhere, aside from its small size, surely the Xperia X Compact’s camera is the thing to tip it over the edge. Well, it doesn’t look that way from the specifications. In fact, with the same-sized sensor, the same pixel count and same aperture, it looks identical.

Not that this would be a bad thing. The camera in the Z5 Compact was a corker. However, Sony has added some interesting features here. First up is “laser-assisted” infrared autofocus, which Sony says helps the camera to focus more accurately in low light. In good light, the hybrid phase and contrast-detect autofocus system from the Z5 Compact takes over.

This seems to work reasonably well, but then I didn’t particularly have a problem with the way the focus worked on the Z5 Compact, so I’m not convinced it represents a huge leap forward.

^ The Sony Xperia X Compact (left) captured more realistic colours than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge did in our low-light tests

Next (two years after LG first offered the technology in the LG G4) is a colour sensor, which is supposed to deliver more accurate colours under a wider variety of lighting conditions. Again, this does seem to work pretty well. Under fluorescent office strip lights, halogen, and LED lighting, the Sony X Compact’s camera always seemed to get the colour balance spot on where others, even the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, would veer a little off base.

Despite these improvements, Sony’s smartphones continue to be plagued by the same old problems. Even with the camera’s manual mode enabled, which is the only way of getting 23-megapixel images out of the camera by the way, fine details are lost in a storm of grain and JPEG compression.

^The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (left) has a lower resolution, 12-megapixel camera, but captures fine details much more clearly than the Sony X Compact (right)

I’m also not a huge fan of the X Compact’s wide-angle 24mm lens. On the positive side, it lets you cram much more into your photographs than most smartphones, whose lenses are typically closer to 28mm. But the downside is noticeable – not to mention distracting – optical distortion, where buildings and straight lines look warped at the edges of the frame.

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