(Pocket-lint) - Sony's journey away from the Xperia Z and into the Xperia X series is probably now complete with the launch of the flagship Xperia XZ and the Xperia X Compact.
For those who missed the memo, Sony's story is that the X series runs from A to Z, with the Xperia XA at the bottom of the ladder and the Xperia XZ at the top. That leaves the X Compact sitting in the middle, a Compact spin-off of the Xperia X.
That's a change in positioning from the Compact models of Xperia past. Once this was a compact powerhouse, now it's a compact mid-ranger, which makes it rather more ordinary.
- Which is the best mid-range phone under £400?
- Best smartphones 2018: The best phones available to buy today
Sony Xperia X Compact: Design
In the X series, Sony has a pocketful of different designs. No longer is there the conformity that the Z series offered. As such, the XA is different to the X, both are different from the XZ, and the X Compact is again unique. While variety is the spice of life, the lack of conformity makes the Xperia X family feel a little like a mixed bag of spanners.
The Xperia X Compact does have some similarity to the XZ, however, both exhibiting what Sony is calling "loop design". The embodiment of this is a seamless transition from screen to body according to Sony, but this still sits within Sony's OmniBalance design, with a squared look.
The Xperia Compact handsets have always been a little on the fat side; with phones like the Z3 Compact and Z5 Compact, we accepted that this was because there was a lot crammed inside. With the X Compact's position in the mid-range, you still have the fatness at 9.5mm thick, but without the brains, which is a compromise some might not go for.
Our least favourite factor, however, is the choice of materials. The X Compact feels very plasticky, it's glossy and it attracts a lot of fingerprints. It's perhaps an odd move coming from a place where the entry-level device – the XA – feels like a premium device. The X Compact, by comparison, feels wrong. Sony says that it is inspired by ceramic, but this is a far cry from the ceramic of the OnePlus X.
This phone also isn't waterproof, so again, it's a lesser device than others that have carried the Compact name.
Sony Xperia X Compact: Display and hardware
Setting the design to one side, as a large part of that comes down to personal preference, the Xperia X Compact is all about the screen size. This is the reason the Compact exists and here you'll find a 4.6-inch display, with 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, for 319ppi.
That might not sound so impressive in this world of 5.1-inch Quad HD displays, but when it comes to using a phone of this size, the 720p resolution is fine. What's important is that this display is bright, vibrant and looks good from all angles. We didn't have the chance to test it fully, but we suspect it will be a pretty good performer.
That's quite a different story to the design and it's in the display that we have much higher hopes for the Xperia X Compact.
We opened this discussion talking about a step-down for the Compact and in the rest of the hardware that's where you'll feel it. The X Compact is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 with 3GB of RAM. Ok, so these mid-range chipsets are actually very competent, but it does align the X Compact as a very different device to what you might expect.
There's 32GB of storage, with microSD expansion, and there's a fingerprint scanner on the side power button as you'll find on the Xperia Z5 family – in Europe at least, as the US didn't get this version of the handset.
Sony's fingerprint scanner is reportedly one of the most sensitive around, but previous experience of it has lead us to the conclusion that it's not as well executed as the front or rear options you'll find from HTC, Samsung, LG, Huawei, Apple and just about everyone else who makes phones.
We'll reserve judgement, however, until we've fully reviewed this handset and lived with it for a longer period of time. It might be that this Compact is a plucky mid-ranger packed with advantages.
Sony Xperia X Compact: Battery
One of those advantages might be the battery life. Powering this compact handset is a 2700mAh battery, which we have high hopes for. This is perhaps the area where the X Compact could dominate, because of Sony's experience of battery management and a relatively large capacity for a small display with less demanding hardware.
Of course we haven't had the chance to test that, but we're happy to see that USB Type-C has appeared on the bottom of the handset.
Sony has also changed the way it charges the handset, so that it can ensure the battery lasts a long time. Rather than running the battery up to 100 per cent, it charges to 90 per cent and will then learn your charging patterns, adding the final 10 per cent just as you're waking up, for example. The aim is to preserve battery health, rather than running it up to max and keeping it there for 5 hours.
Sony Xperia X Compact: Cameras
The other area where the X Compact could excel is in camera performance. The rear camera offers Sony's 23-megapixel sensor, boosted with Sony's new triple sensing technology that makes its debut on the Xperia XZ and the X Compact.
- Samsung Galaxy Note 20, What3Words CEO, and Withings Sleep Analyzer reviewed - Pocket-lint podcast ep. 65
This triple sensing technology combines a number of different elements aiming to make a super snapper in all conditions. There's phase detection auto focusing, there's contrast detection as well as the addition of laser autofocusing. This latter element is designed to speed up focusing in low light – and it explains the layout of elements on the rear of the handset.
On the X Compact, that smart-shooting rear camera also offers full manual controls, and these are more enhanced, offering control of things like shutter speed and focusing. We'd expect this to lead to some great results, but naturally we haven't had the chance to fully test it yet. One of the sacrifices is no 4K video on the Compact.
On the front is a 5-megapixel camera for all your selfies.
The Sony Xperia X Compact is over-shadowed by the devices that have come before it carrying the same name. The Compact was once the de facto choice for those wanting a smaller device that doesn't compromise on the power it offers, for flagship performance.
The Z Compact was a rare breed of device in that sense and for fans of those phones, the X Compact perhaps shouldn't carry the name. Call it the X Micro or the X Mini or the X Whatever, because reusing the name will lead to some confusion.
Battery life and camera are likely to shine and these are two areas that really matter to smartphone owners and that could stand the X Compact in good stead. For us, however, the glossy plastic finish just doesn't feel right.