(Pocket-lint) - Sony Mobile seems to be in something of a spin. Having launched the Xperia Z5 family - in regular, Compact and Premium guises - the next throw of the dice was the Xperia X family, amidst rumours that the top-end Z was no more.
However, the Xperia X family seems a little less cohesive than the the Z, presenting a collection of devices - the X, X Performance, XA and XA Ultra - with varying specs, losing some of the Z's attractive features. That leaves the question open as to where Sony's next flagship will come from, and in what form?
So how does the new Sony Xperia X perform, where does it sit in the context of its rivals, and can Sony acquire dominance?
Sony Xperia X review: Design
Of all the major manufacturers, Sony has been perhaps the most regular in design terms since, well, the 2013 launch of the original Xperia Z. The Xperia X clings on to Sony's OmniBalance design, so it's instantly familiar. That also means you're still looking at a flat phone design with large areas both above and below the 5-inch display.
At 142.7 x 69.4mm and 152g the X is a good size handset and easy to manage one-handed, with its slim 7.7mm profile making it easy to grip despite that flat design.
One of the X's major losses compared to the Z is waterproofing, which some might find a little odd considering the Xperia X is only £10 cheaper than the Xperia Z5 (at current prices). It might look the same, but on this evidence the days of dropping your Sony phone in the bath might be at an end.
There's also no fronted glass rear on the X, instead giving way to plastic which is a little hollow to the touch, but it looks nice enough. Flip it over and there's 2.5D glass, taking the front Gorilla Glass panel into a curve to meet the sides, which looks quality.
Despite the glass, front-on the X is not as attractive as the Xperia XA's edge-to-edge display, and the variance in design does leave us scratching our heads, wondering why the lower spec XA gets a design that's much more refreshing?
All in all, there's little to complain about in terms of design. But why the X lacks the XA's looks and the Z's waterproofing, ultimately, remains a mystery. This is Sony side-stepping rather than moving forward.
Sony Xperia X review: Display
Sony has made a lot of noise about displays, leveraging Bravia nomenclature, talking about X-Reality, Triluminos and all the rest of it - those features that bring popping colour and ultimate blacks.
In the Xperia X Sony has opted for a 5-inch LCD display with Full HD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels). That results in a pixel density of 440ppi. At this size, you're looking at a lovely sharp display and there's very little to complain about. It doesn't have a top-spec Quad HD resolution, but this is a sub-flagship device, so that's fitting (although £300 devices such as the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 do offer such resolution).
The enhancements that Sony has added in X-Reality will be familiar to anyone who has used a Sony handset over the past four years, giving a saturation and contrast boost to photos so everything looks a little richer. We like it, but we can't say it stands Sony apart: where Samsung's AMOLED display offers saturation across the board on its flagship devices, X-Reality allows Sony to be a little more selective about what it enhances, but these days the likes of HTC or LG also offer very compelling displays.
One thing we did find a little annoying about the Xperia X was activating the display through pockets. In a pair of shorts and sometimes in jeans, we've found that the Xperia X would be set off if the screen was facing a leg, as it could dial emergency numbers. You'll have to ensure it has the display facing out when you put it in your pocket.
So Sony won't win any awards for the display on the Xperia X. It's good, it's fine - but so many are these days.
Sony Xperia X review: Hardware and performance
Sitting at the heart of the Xperia X is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 chipset, backed by 3GB of RAM. This isn't the top-tier Snapdragon that's sitting in most flagship handset, instead sitting a tier lower. That means this phone isn't quite as well equipped to handle applications that need lots of power.
However, for day-to-day use, that might not be a problem. You still have a hexa-core chipset that runs along very nicely, so tasks like browsing and managing your emails don't present a problem, but this isn't quite the VR-happy or power gaming handset that some of the flagships are. Or, as we've been finding recently, non-flagships such as the OnePlus 3, which is £150 less than this Sony, delivers Snapdragon 820 and 6GB RAM. And with Sony already on the back foot, that makes the X an even harder sell.
The flattened sides of the X see a fingerprint scanner in place in the UK, but for some reason not all markets get this option, leaving Sony's phones a step behind most others in important regions like the USA. Sony maintains this side location is the best for it, but we're not sure we agree. With the front scanners, like the HTC 10 or Samsung Galaxy S7 working well, and the rear scanners, like the Huawei P9 or Nexus 6P also working very well, it only takes a few failed unlocks on the Xperia X to leave you wishing it was elsewhere. Overall, although we'd rather have the fingerprint scanner than not, it's not as consistently reliable as its rivals.
Sony Xperia X review: Battery performance
One of the advantages in choosing a Full HD display and slightly lower-power hardware is the efficiency that comes with that. It means less drain on the battery in daily tasks, meaning you can often get away with a slightly lower-capacity battery.
The Sony Xperia X has a 2,620mAh capacity battery, which is relatively small by current standards. However, it's a battery that will see you sail through most days and often into the next, if you choose to use Sony's Stamina mode.
In the era of Marshmallow, Stamina mode is a little different than before. By default in the Xperia X it will both throttle the hardware and cut background data access, as well as disabling other tasks, like GPS access and vibration, which means there's not a lot going on when you press the standby button and put it to sleep. It might not raise its brightness as far, or be quite as snappy, but it will last in this state.
The downside is that the granular controls Sony once offered to allow some apps remain active – like WhatsApp, for example – are no longer part of the Stamina setup. Now it's either on or off, or set to engage at a particular battery percentage. Thankfully there's a shortcut in the quick settings for Stamina, so you can toggle through the modes you might want.
There's a Micro-USB on the bottom of the handset for charging, and we found charging to be nice and quick thanks to Quick Charge 2.0. That's a generation behind Qualcomm's latest 3.0 version, and not as snappy as Dash Charge used by OnePlus or VOOC fast-charging used by Oppo.
Sony Xperia X review: Cameras
The camera is one of the areas where Sony has really pushed things. The Sony Xperia X, firstly, is equipped with a dedicated camera button, which quick launches the camera software with a long press. Sony is about the only company to still use this feature and we rather like it.
The rear camera offers 23-megapixels from its 1/2.3in-size Exmor RS sensor, paired with an f/2.0 lens. This is Sony's flagship camera and it sits at the heart of the Xperia X experience.
The camera offers hybrid autofocus, designed to be really fast so you're always on target. That's pretty much true and focusing isn't a problem. It's backed-up by touch focusing if you'd rather take manual control. About the only issue we have with focusing comes from video, where it has a tendency to constantly seek and tweak the focus during capture. That said, we're fans of Sony's SteadyShot technology in video, which keeps things smooth and floaty.
The headline 23-megapixels can be a little misleading, as by default the camera is set to 8-megapixels and we suspect many will never change that. However, you can select 20 or 23-megapixel options in the Superior Auto mode now, which on some previous models you couldn't – they were reserved for manual mode only.
The manual mode provides a range of controls, but the main crux of on-screen options is white balance and exposure. There's control of the ISO sensitivity in the settings menu, but also HDR (high dynamic range) falls into the manual camera – if you want HDR, you'll have to dig it out. There's no control over the shutter speed, which is standard for smartphones.
The Sony Xperia X has a very capable camera, then. It will give you great shots in good conditions, and fuss-free low-light photos. However, processing low-light image noise can see things end up a little mottled. It's also worth remembering that Sony's X-Reality display enhancements will make photos on the phone look more vivid than they actually are - and when you share them, you might find they're a little less exciting.
The front camera goes all out in resolution terms, too, with a 13-megapixel sensor and f/2.0 lens. This will also offer some great results, along with the "soft skin" function to make your face buttery smooth. However, it's not the most sophisticated front camera these days: there's no optical image stabilisation (OIS) or autofocus (AF), no selfie flash and so on. It does offer scene recognition, though, but we've also found it can lead to some ghosting if you're not holding it still while it captures and combines images for a better result.
Sadly there's no 4K video capture. That might be due to the demands that it would put on the hardware, as we found that in sunny conditions the Xperia X can still over-heat, rendering the camera unusable. It's a common problem that we've found on Sony phones before – but it was well over 35C outside during our majority testing, which would explain it.
Sony Xperia X review: Software
Sony's software is layered over the top of Android Marshmallow, cutting a middle ground between the full reworking that Samsung delivers with TouchWiz and a lighter experience from a maker like HTC. The Sony Xperia X is distinctly Sony, but there's been some sprucing up here and there.
There's still duplication aplenty: Sony pushes its Album, Music and Video apps, along with its What's New service, also bundling in a selection of apps, like Kobo, AVG and more - although you can remove some of the stuff you don't want. With Android being really nicely refined in its native form, some of this is perhaps unnecessary, but we can't say we found it as intrusive as some skins, like that of Huawei.
There's plenty of customisation and some nice touches in the Sony, like being able to change the translucency of the weather widget, for example.
Importantly, however, we found it to be slick and fast. In the past we've said that Sony can be a little slow to change on the software front, but we're happy with the overall experience using the Xperia X.
The Sony Xperia X is something of an oddity. It offers a pair of decent cameras in a package that's nicely designed. The specs are fitting for a mid-range device, delivering the performance you'll need for day-to-day tasks.
However, priced as it is at £459, the Xperia X falls into the same trap as the HTC One A9 did last year: it's too close to flagship prices, sitting in a strange middle ground. That makes it look rather expensive compared to a phone like the OnePlus 3, while lacking the premium sheen of the true flagships.
Additionally the X is underminded by the more exciting edge-to-edge display of Sony's own Xperia XA, lacks the waterproofing of the Xperia Z5, while many of its features are average compared to the advancing and competitive world of mid-range handsets.
So while the Xperia X doesn't really do much wrong and is a potentially solid choice, it's the surrounding competition and lack of cohesion in the range that stop it being top pick.