The $699.99 Xperia X Performance is the second of Sony's new X series to hit the US market. On paper, it's the best unlocked phone the company has to offer, with a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 820 processor, a 23-megapixel rear camera, and a waterproof build, which places it on a similar level as flagships from HTC, LG, and Samsung. But mediocre battery life, a 1080p display, and the lack of a fingerprint scanner aren't things you should encounter in this price range. And the phone overheated in our tests. For these reasons, you're better off buying the HTC 10, our Editors' Choice for unlocked phones.
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Design, Features, and Display
Nearly identical in design to the Xperia X, the Xperia X Performance has the same rounded polycarbonate edges, the same metal back, and the same button and port layout. It measures 5.66 by 2.77 by 0.34 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.78 ounces, which puts it in line with flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S7 (5.61 by 2.74 by 0.31 inches, 5.36 ounces) and the HTC 10 (5.74 by 2.83 by 0.35 inches, 5.68 ounces). One-handed use is easy, thanks in part to the comfortable rounded edges.
On the right side you'll find a power button (which lacks a fingerprint scanner in the US), a volume rocker, and a camera shutter button. The left side has a flap that covers the SIM and microSD card slots, the latter of which worked fine with a 200GB SanDisk card in testing. The bottom edge is home to a micro USB charging port, while a 3.5mm audio jack sits up top.
Unlike the Xperia X, the Performance is rated IP68 waterproof, which means it can survive being submerged in up to five feet of water for 30 minutes. I washed it in the sink and kept it in a bowl of water with no issues, but this isn't the sort of standout feature it once was. A number of newer phones (including the Galaxy S7) are waterproof.
The display is a bright 5-inch IPS LCD with good viewing angles and outdoor visibility. But at 1080p resolution (a pixel density of just 441 pixels per inch), it's not as crisp as the Quad HD panels on the Galaxy S7 (577ppi) and the HTC 10 (565ppi). The screen still looks sharp, it just doesn't stand out.
Network Performance and Connectivity
Like the rest of the X series, and most Sony phones in general, the Performance is available unlocked. With support for LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/19/20/26/28/38/39/40/41, it should work well on both AT&T and T-Mobile. I tested it on T-Mobile in Jersey City and received excellent network performance. Download speed reached a high of 30Mbps outdoors, and remained in the double digits indoors. The Performance also supports dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth 4.2.
Voice calls are nothing to write home about. Transmissions are fairly clear, but can occasionally sound robotic or garbled. Noise cancellation is OK, but some background noise can come through during calls, though not significantly enough to be disruptive.
Processor and Battery
With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor clocked at 2.15GHz, the phone is no slouch in the performance department, scoring 129,880 on the AnTuTu benchmark, which tests overall system performance. That's better than Galaxy S7 (123,993), thanks to the lower-resolution display. We also saw this with the OnePlus 3 (141,429), which also has a Snapdragon 820 processor and a 1080p display.
Launching apps, multitasking, and playing graphically advanced games like Asphalt 8 and GTA: San Andreas are all super smooth. The 3GB of RAM isn't as much as the 4GB you'll get with the HTC 10 or the Galaxy S7, let alone the 6GB of RAM on the OnePlus 3, but it's almost impossible to hit the RAM usage limit either way.
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Battery life is far less impressive. The phone clocked 4 hours and 5 minutes in our rundown test, which drains the phone by streaming full-screen video over LTE, with the screen's brightness turned all the way up. That's not nearly as good as the HTC 10 (6 hours, 4 minutes), and it's even lower than the Xperia X (4 hours, 48 minutes), which has a slightly smaller battery.
The adaptive charging technology Qnovo is designed to boost battery life by allowing for two days of use between charges, faster charging, and a longer battery lifespan. Those claims are not apparent in use. I managed to get a full day of battery life with average usage, and the phone lasted a full weekend in standby mode, but two days of normal to heavy usage isn't possible. That said, quick charging lets you top the 2,700mAh battery up to 60 percent in 30 minutes.
Camera performance is the biggest issue I encountered, but it has nothing to do with the pictures themselves. From a quality perspective, the 23-megapixel rear camera and 13-megapixel front camera are both capable of taking excellent daylight shots. Pictures are clear, with strong details and almost no noise or blur. A particularly impressive aspect is Sony's proprietary Predictive Hybrid Autofocus, which can keep a moving object in focus by predicting its motion. The low-light shooting experience isn't as good as it is one the Galaxy S7, but you still probably won't be disappointed.
In pictures taken in the PC Lab test studio, the white background behind our still life showed a distinct pink cast. It's a problem I've encountered on other Sony Xperia phones, including the Z5, the Z5 Compact, and the X. Fortunately, manual controls allow you to adjust white balance, shutter speed, and exposure; some tweaks to the white balance fix this issue.
The bigger problem has to do with video recording. While using the rear camera to capture 1080p footage, the phone began to overheat after only a few minutes of recording. I received a message (pictured to the right) that the temperature was getting high and the camera app would shut down. The back of the phone also became noticeably warm, especially in the area around the camera sensor. A second review unit had the same problem. Even if you don't intend to shoot much video, this is unacceptable for a $700 phone.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow is on board. It's not a stock version—Sony's UI layer makes alterations to the lock screen, the app icons, and the settings menu. You'll find a What's New widget on one of the home screens, which shows recommended apps and games. Inside the app drawer, swiping left takes you to a search bar with the most frequently used apps, as well as a list of recommended apps below.
Although it didn't help much, the phone also has Stamina and Ultra Stamina modes. These are supposed to help improve battery life by tamping down performance, reducing screen brightness, and turning off network connectivity. Additionally, a Smart Cleaner removes temporary files to free up storage.
There's very little bloatware on the phone. There are some PlayStation apps, as well as Facebook, Movie Creator, and Spotify. Most of them, including the stock apps, can be deleted. Of the 32GB of internal storage, 14.78GB is available out of the box. Capacity can be expanded by adding a microSD card.
For $700, the Sony Xperia X Performance doesn't bring anything new or particularly interesting to the table. It does have some of the hardware you'd expect from a top-tier phone, but the 1080p display, middling battery life, and overheating issues mean there is no reason to choose it over comparably priced alternatives. It doesn't have the semi-modular design of the LG G5 or the low-light camera performance of the Galaxy S7. The HTC 10 is the best unlocked phone you can buy right now, and our Editors' Choice thanks to its superior build quality and terrific audio performance. But even the $400 OnePlus is a better alternative, with the same fast processor and display resolution as the Performance, but with no worrisome heating issues.