Refinement rather than innovation
DISCLAIMER: The device shown and commented on is a pre-production model. The hardware, software and performance is subject to change prior to release.
As technology has advanced over recent years it has brought with it an array of considerable improvements to the way we communicate and what we do on the go; which many would agree is for the better.
Who 10 years ago would really have believed that today you would be navigating a route whilst streaming music from the ‘cloud’ and sharing your progress on social media whilst curating a pitch to win new business all from your phone.
In recent months, even those with a real passion for mobile tech would argue there is a lack of excitement and innovation in smartphones. Where once considerable difference between new models existed, today refinement rather than radical shifts in style and technical capability is the order.
Without doubt innovation still moves forward but all brands are restricted by new inclusions that really attract buyers.
The saying ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it comes to mind’, I and many others are ok with this.
Balanced as I wish my concluding opinions of the X Compact to be, I do have a soft spot for this small powerful smartphone. I owned the Z1 and Z3 Compact. The question is has Sony really done enough to stand out in the sea of rectangular slab Android devices to continue profitable success into 2017?
Despite the myriad of branded and imported equivalents that exist on the market, one space that is relatively untouched still is the compact sized phone with flagship specs, for those who simply don’t want a phone with a screen in excess of 5” let alone 5.5”; but want the raw power and possibility that comes from the best hardware.
This void has been filled by Sony with previous Compact devices and more recently by Apple with the SE. Sales confirm that there is a need for devices of this ilk, but there are few that tick the boxes often as a result of compromise to achieve the size.
It is these compromises that drive many to question whether going for larger phone is the best option to get the performance, even if it means giving up on the comfortable form factor.
So how do the specs of the X Compact look?
- Android 6.1 Marshmallow
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 processor
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB internal memory
- MicroSD card slot
- 4.6” HD IPS display
- 4G connectivity
- 23 megapixel camera
- 5 megapixel front facing camera
- 2700mAh battery
- Hi-Res Audio
- 129 x 65 x 9.5 mm
As I mentioned earlier the X Compact looks quite similar to the Z5 Compact so you will not be ‘wowed’ by the design but there are some subtle design cues that have been carried across from the Xperia X range with slight curvature to the display edges, helping narrow the bezel.
Above the display is the front facing camera, notification light, sensors and Sony logo with one speaker at the top and one at the bottom.
The top edge is home to a 3.5mm audio jack and microphone.
On the right is the power button come fingerprint scanner, volume keys and dedicated camera button, a welcome addition lacking on so many other devices attempting to achieve sleek design, but forgetting practicality.
The placement of the volume keys is contentious. I do not believe is the ideal location, they can be awkward to move your thumb to, the left edge would make more sense.
It is worth noting too just how good the fingerprint sensor is. Is this not the best place for a fingerprint reader? Screen face up or down by the time you have the X Compact in the ready to use position the screen is unlocked.
On the base of the phone is a USB Type-C connector.
Nothing but the combined SIM slot and MicroSD card tray are present.
Flip the phone over to the back and the familiar centrally located Xperia branding is present and the camera lens in the upper left corner flanked by an LED flash and laser-autofocus to the right.
In the hand the Compact is comfortable, like an old friend I feel right back at home. At 9.5mm thick and 135g it is reassuringly chunky, without being excessive.
Whilst it is solid and robust, sure to survive 2 years of constant use, the glossy plastic finish, inspired by ceramic texture, is softer to the palm but a fingerprint magnet. The Z5 matte finish and the iPhone SE metal body looks and feels more premium in the opinion of the Clove staff.
The X Compact is smaller than many competing devices but the graceful lines and curves of devices like the Galaxy S7 from Samsung are making bigger phones more attractive to those who previously had their flag firmly planted in the compact form factor camp, myself included.
It is also worth noting unlike previous Compact devices, the X Compact is not IP rated.
In many respects I hoped that the X Compact had a 1080p full HD display for the sake of progression, but alas it is only 720p.
That said the reality of everyday use is that 1080p on a screen just 4.6” is essentially wasted.
Few of us will be watching back blockbuster movies and expecting cinema quality; if you are you are probably going to want something with a bigger screen.
Larger screens and high resolution means more battery consumption and the 720p does the job perfectly well for all the normal things I consider you will use the phone for.
Look at the iPhone SE. Yes only 4” but that is just 1136 x 640 resolution and these are extremely popular phones.
I find myself watching quite a few videos on YouTube through my mobile and rarely did I feel I really needed more detail, especially when I was getting over 4 hours of screen on time.
For web browsing, replying to emails and checking social media the higher resolution would have little benefit.
The colours were bright and punchy thanks in part to the X-Reality for mobile picture enhancement, the TRILUMINOUS display and all the other technical wizardry that goes on in the background.
For those with a desire too, you can control the colour temperature of this screen too if you like.
My sample device was a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but these greasy marks were not visible when the screen was on.
Double tap to turn the screen both on and off is present as is the ability to orient home screens in landscape too.
The X Compact is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 processor which is supported by 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage.
With over a week’s testing my experience was on the whole good with no real lag or performance issues, but then I am not a gamer, so maybe this would have pushed the device a little more.
Out of the box, the Android install on this device is quite heavy at over 10GB given that it feels like Sony have actually reduced some of the add ons included with this device.
The whole experience feels a little lighter but with retention of some useful features.
The screenshots below will give you a clearer indication of everything you get included but some notable additions include Kobo eBooks, AVG Protection, SwiftKey Keyboard, Amazon Shopping, Spotify and PlayStation PS4 Remote Play.
Gamers can rejoice in having connectivity to PlayStation meaning you can play games normally reserved for your PS4 right on your mobile.
Gone is Simple Home, which is a small but useful feature of past for a certain niche audience. Essentially home screens were reduced in content with larger, clearer icons, ideal for those with limited sight or wanted something a bit easier to manage.
Easily organise home screens, add widgets, folders and change the themes with ease.
Double tap to turn on and off is also a noteworthy feature.
For new smartphone users Sony also provides a series of ongoing tips and tricks to help you get more from the device. This is on top of the Xperia Transfer for simple migration from one phone to another. Easy to overlook but a powerful and commendable option
Some more advanced functionality is hidden within the settings of the phone such as being able to set Do Not Disturb times and exceptions. Great if you do not want your mates calling you in the middle of the night but want you want to ensure close family can get hold of you.
Being an Android device you have all the benefits built in such as access to all of Google’s apps and services, the Play Store for all your apps and media and more.
Easily add email accounts and other profiles to the phone, even have multiple users if you choose.
All you need is present, maybe a few things you don’t and a few advanced value add features to find in the settings.
Where some brands are looking to do away with headphone jacks the trusty friend is present here but the Micro USB port of years part has been replaced with the considerably more user friendly USB Type-C connection. Whatever way up you now have the USB Type-C cable it will fit.
WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS, 4G it has it.
The device on sale through Clove is the single SIM unit (using a Nano SIM) with a MicroSD memory card slot and not a dual SIM variant.
It would have been nice to see the inclusion of wireless charging in the X Compact as another option, but sadly it is not present.
Like the camera on this phone Sony have brought across their superior audio expertise to ensure the X Compact delivers on sound.
This is not a new thing, in fact many of Sony’s previous devices have offered up superior sound, something that often gets forgotten.
The X Compact has Hi-Res Audio support (LPCM, FLAC, ALAC & DSD), Digital Noise Cancelling, Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE HX) and front facing stereo speakers.
What does all of this mean to you and I as users of the phone?!
In short it means you get a very good all round audio experience that excels if you have Hi-Res headphones and stream or store Hi-Res audio files on your device. Hi-Res means that you should experience sounds as the artists and producers intended, with more depth, clarity and the ability to pick out subtleties that often get lots in compressed media. Read more about Hi-Res Audio here.
Even if you are streaming audio or playing back MP3 files stored on your device, the X Compact will look to enhance these with the DSEE technology.
The stereo speakers on the front are not the loudest, but they are clear and well balanced and do not feel like they are straining. If you are taking a few minutes to watch a video or listen to a podcast the speakers here should do you proud providing the environment is not too loud.
Their positioning also makes it difficult to accidentally muffle the sound.
Mounted on the back of the X Compact is a 23 megapixel camera and a 5 megapixel on the front.
If you have ever seen, read or handled a Sony smartphone within the last few years you will likely be aware of all the tech they build into the camera. To help capture sharp photos in any conditions, the 23 megapixel resolution camera has Sony’s Exmor RS for mobile to achieve higher resolution and sensitivity, Bionz for mobile to reduce noise and produce true colour reproduction along with an F2.0 24mm G lens to capture more light.
Add to this SteadyShot with 5-axis stabalisation, laser autofocus, quick launch and capture, and you should be able to capture stunning images in almost every situation.
When launching the camera, you are presented with 3 key modes, the first of which is the default Superior Auto Mode, which is the simple point and shoot mode which many of us use. Intelligent algorithms detect the scene and pick the best settings for what it detects.
Where once you were limited to 8 megapixels in Superior Auto Mode, you now can shoot at up to 23 megapixels.
Manual mode is for those who want to take more control. Change the White Balance,Shutter Speed, Focus and Exposure. This allows you to take control of the image. Whilst you have what you need, I think the interface could be better when it comes to managing some of these settings.
You get 5x Clear Image Zoom with a maximum zoom of 8x within the camera too.
Video recording is a different mode on the camera, and the extra press to launch this mode before hitting the record button seems unnecessary, but I do see how there is benefit to keeping it separate.
In all modes there are additional settings available to control things like the save location, geotagging, gridlines, HDR and more.
On from this are additional camera apps such as Sound Photo, Creative Effects and more add on modes you can add. These allow you to use the camera in innovative ways, perhaps have a little more fun and get some nice effects.
Given that the X Compact is sort of a squished XZ, it is a shame that the front camera is not the same 13 megapixel, but 5 is generally plenty good enough for most use case scenarios for selfies, but for a brand so big on camera technology, what is the real reason for leaving this out?
Another shame is that the video recording on the X Compact tops out at 1080p and not 4K like the XZ.
Where many phones go for the minimal look doing away with buttons, the X Compact has a dedicated camera key which means taking images can be easier as you can press a physical button and not necessarily just on screen.
So with all this covered how does the camera really fare?
The images results are good, but not exceptional.
Through my testing I have found that the results can be a little mixed with very well lit shots coming out nicely but those with less light looking a little dull and washed out.
Whites and lighter colours can appear washed out. This was most apparent with images that included the sky. Things like cloud formations were basically lost.
Clarity and sharpness are not as good as the competition.
This is perhaps personal opinion, but I prefer the slightly more saturated colour.
I need to remind of course, that I am not using a finished production version so this may improve.
Focus speeds have improved from devices of past, but up against the likes of Samsung’s S7 and the Sony is left behind a little.
One person’s use case will always be different to another and for the week or so I have been testing the X Compact, it has not undergone what I would call typical usage, as I have been testing out all the features.
However I did complete a few screen on time tests and even this sample product with non-final software achieved around 4.5 hours of screen on time at full brightness, which I think is commendable from the 2700mAh battery built into the compact.
I would deem myself a medium to heavy user of my smartphone and would suggest a typical day was leaving me with around 25-30% come late evening. Enough to see me through until mid morning the following day.
This is based on no power saving technology being switched on and of course Sony offer STAMINA and Ultra STAMINA mode which can really extend the usage time by curtailing features and performance.
A neat feature Sony have implemented is Battery Care. Essentially this software add on is designed to increase the battery lifespan by reducing the time the device is charged over 90% for a long time. You know how many of us leave our phones on charge overnight? This features looks to learn your habits and alter the charge in the device so that it reaches 100% just before you need the phone rather than spending 4 hours a night being pushed more charge when it is already at 100%.
To work effectively the X Compact does need to see a bit of a routine.
Routine is not always possible, so the X Compact does boast quick charging when used with Quick Charger UCH12W.
The X Compact is for those who want a phone that can be held and used in one hand and does not breach the 5” size that many now do. If you like a big screen, stay away.
Existing Compact users are not going to be blown away by the X Compact (unless you still use the Z1 or Z3 Compact). There are not enough new ‘wow’ features or improvements that really make you want or need to upgrade unless you are due or want a new phone.
The iPhone SE has more initial design appeal and the X Compact seems to have lot a bit of that extra punch that made the Compact’s so popular.
This may sound a little critical, but this is typical of many phones today when it comes to upgrades.
What you will gain however is a solid, comfortable phone that just works, and does so well.
For me and I am sure many other, having a smartphone that I know I will get on with and just works goes far beyond any fancy features that I may not use.
Yes fancy new features can impress, but they quickly wear off for many of us.
If I may compare the X Compact to a friendship, if you like Compact models, it is an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile. Within minutes you just gel again and everything is rosy.