Sony’s mobile strategy is a total mess right now. In the U.S., the company’s Xperia-branded smartphones don’t even register as a blip on most people’s radars when it comes to buying time.
The company’s slowness to release its smartphones in the U.S. has forced the company to use its new Xperia X-series smartphones as a stopgap to tide it over until next year’s phones can better compete with the best flagships out there.
The good news is that the Xperia X Performance’s battery can power through nearly two days of use and the camera is pretty darn good.
The bad news is that the phone lacks a fingerprint reader and often comes to a screeching halt when doing simple tasks, like deleting an app.
It’s also going to cost $699 unlocked (works on AT&T and T-Mobile) when it goes on sale July 17 — a hefty flagship price for a phone that doesn’t even come close to a flagship experience.
Different, but the same
For some time now, all smartphones have more or less looked the same. A rectangular slab of plastic or metal, rounded corners, with minor tweaks and differences to set each phone apart from the competition.
And to an extent, that’s the same formula Sony used with its X-series of smartphones. Only, with a boxy-flair to the overall design. It reminds me of a slightly more rounded down Nextbit Robin, and not nearly as bright.
The X Performance will be available in white, black, lime gold and rose gold. A brushed metal back usually translates into a slippery device, and to some extent that’s the case here, but perhaps because of the 5-inch screen size, I found it fit comfortably in my hand and had little fear of dropping it.
You’ll find the SIM and microSD memory card tray on the left side of the device. On the right side, dead in the middle of the phone is the power button, with the volume rocker and a dedicated camera button just below it.
I have yet to get used to the volume buttons placed on the lower-half of the phone. Nearly every time I wanted to adjust the volume, my fingers would search the top of either side of the phone and come up empty.
Looking at the X Performance on paper, you would expect the phone to live up to its namesake and $699 price tag.
The spec sheet rattles off in the similar cadence to Samsung’s Galaxy S7 or the OnePlus 3: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, microSD support up to 200GB, 23-megapixel rear camera, 13-megapixel front camera, QuickCharge 2.0, IP65 and IP68 waterproof rating, Android Marshmallow 6.0… and the list goes on.
I consistently experienced random stuttering when launching apps or opening menus.
Yet, I consistently experienced random stuttering when launching apps or opening menus. At one point during my time with the device, I waited nearly 15 seconds for it to uninstall an app. This was an app, mind you, I had never even set up — it was installed when I restored the device from my account.
Battery life, on the other hand, was exceptional. Sony packed a 2,700 milliamp-hour battery into the X Performance, with the added bonus of Quick Charge 2.0. I was able to get through a full day of normal use, and almost through the following day without having to plug in.
Waterproofing a phone is something every manufacturer should do. Sony boasts the Xperia X Performance as IP65 and IP68 certified, two qualifications that translate into dust and water protection.
After a few soak tests of my own, I can confirm the X Performance is indeed waterproof.
One upside to the Xperia X Performance is its camera. The 23-megapixel rear camera is equipped with a “predictive hybrid autofocus” system, which is a fancy term for the ability to track objects in the frame, constantly adjusting the focal point. Meaning, you can take photos of your pets or kids and the end result isn’t a blurry mess.
Stays sharp even when subjects don’t stay still
I wish the iPhone 6S or Galaxy S7 Edge had a similar feature. Playing fetch with my dog, I was able to consistently get clear shots even though he never stays still. Trying to do the same thing on either competing device would have resulted in numerous blurry photos.
Picture quality overall was on par with what you’d expect from flagship caliber devices. Low-light performance sometimes left a little to be desired, but that’s par for the course with smartphone cameras.
Cutting corners to launch in the U.S.
If you’ve purchased a new smartphone in the last couple of years, odds are it has a fingerprint reader. Originally marketed by phone manufacturers as a convenience, the importance of this capability has expanded beyond being able to quickly unlock a phone.
Mobile payment services, password keeping apps and mobile banking apps are increasingly implementing fingerprint capabilities as an added means of security.
And yes, of course, unlocking a phone 50-odd times a day without having to enter a PIN code issuper convenient.
Which is exactly why it’s annoying Sony cut the fingerprint sensor from the U.S. version of the X Performance. When I asked Sony why the sensor was nowhere to be found, a spokesperson stated the decision was made to cut it to ensure the phone launched at the same time across multiple markets.
I’ve never claimed to understand the nuances of releasing a product across multiple markets, but with the X Performance shipping overseas equipped with a fingerprint reader, I don’t understand why it was cut for the U.S. model.
Launching a flagship-priced phone in 2016 without a fingerprint reader shouldn’t be an option, and yet, here I am, repeatedly entering my PIN on a $700 phone.
Not worth committing to
It’s hard to recommend the X Performance. Sony didn’t fully commit to bringing the best experience it can offer to customers here in the U.S., so why should customer’s commit $700 of their hard earned money?
I just can’t come up with a good reason.
Yes, the camera takes quality photos, and the waterproof feature is one you come to appreciate in the offhand chance you actually have to use it. But outside of that, there are far better phones available for a lot less than the Xperia X Performance.
Sony Xperia X Performance
Snaps quality pics • Waterproof • Unlocked for AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S.
Lacks fingerprint reader • Sluggish performance • High price doesn’t match overall experience
The Bottom Line
The Sony Xperia X Performance’s sluggish performance and missing flagship features isn’t worth its flagship $700 price tag.