Sony’s flagship Xperia Z line gathered a few loyal followers back in its day and had several esteemed members in its ranks. However, in February 2016 the series abruptly came to an end with the arrival of the Xperia X series.
Sony didn’t quite move away from flagships, but the new models definitely had a different feel to them compared to the Z5 series (which included highlights like the first phone with a 4K screen). Let’s look at the original trio.
Sony Xperia X Performance
The Sony Xperia X Performance was the leader of the pack with a Snapdragon 820 chipset, a much-needed upgrade over the disastrous Snapdragon 810 that the Z5 and Z5 Premium used. However, Sony kept the RAM capacity at 3GB, while the competition from Samsung, LG, HTC and others was moving on to 4GB.
The Sony Xperia X Performance in a variety of colors
Also, the 1080p display measured only 5.0”, on the small side for the period and 0.2” smaller than the Z5 display. Plus, the Galaxy S7, LG G5 and HTC 10 all had 1440p panels. That wasn’t all, the main camera kept using a 23MP sensor but it inexplicably lost the ability to record 4K video (even though the chipset was quite capable of it, as was the Z5 camera).
The phone’s body was still IP68 dust and water resistant, however, the milled aluminum frame was replaced with a cheaper plastic frame. The aluminum back helped keep some of the premium feeling, but something definitely felt off.
The Xperia X Performance may have had a metal back, but its frame was polycarbonate
When we reviewed the phone, we commented that we feel like Sony is deliberately leaving some headroom for, say, an Xperia X Premium model. Either Sony was holding back its true flagship for a later release or the company settled for a halfhearted attempt. Seeing how no actual Premium model arrived that year, it was probably the latter.
The Sony Xperia X was the mass market option and it was decidedly a mid-ranger. However, it had the same 5.0” 1080p IPS LCD as the X Performance, same 23MP camera and basically the same battery as well (give or take 80 mAh). Did this make the X look good or the X Performance look bad?
The Sony Xperia X was very similar to the X Performance in all but performance
The main difference between the two was that the X used a less capable chipset, the Snapdragon 650. Its CPU wasn’t bad, but the GPU had only a third of the power of the 820. For what it’s worth, the phone had the same RAM and storage capacity as the Performance, 3/32GB (though it was slower eMMC 4.5 storage, instead of eMMC 5.1).
Sony Xperia X
The feeling that something was missing from the X series grew stronger. Several somethings, in fact. There was no Premium model and no successor the Xperia Z5 Compact either.
Instead we got another 5” phone, the Sony Xperia XA. This one was clearly an entry-level offering with a 720p IPS LCD and a lowly Helio P10, paired with just 2GB of RAM and 16GB storage. The camera was demoted to a 13MP sensor, but at least the 1080p cap on video recording resolution looked fine compared to the other two X-phones.
The Sony Xperia XA had super thin side bezels and rather bold top and bottom bezels
Despite having similar dimensions, the XA had a smaller battery with only 2,300 mAh capacity (compared to 2,620 mAh for the X). The company boasted about the slender side bezels, but the chunky top and bottom bezels ensured that there would be no size variation in the X series. Surprisingly, the phone kept the metal frame, which (again) the pricey Xperia X Performance lacked.
Sony Xperia XA
Okay, let’s rip off that band aid and talk about the prices. In Europe the Xperia X arrived fashionably late in June with a price of £460/€600. For context, the flagship Galaxy S7 cost €700, the fancy S7 edge was €800.
The Xperia X Performance was €700, just €100 more than the regular X and perhaps an instance of anchor pricing – the Performance was more than €100 better than the regular X. That said, the Performance didn’t have the smoothest launch. Originally, Sony wasn’t going to offer it in Germany or the UK. Then it changed its mind about Germany. Then it changed its mind again and launched the phone in the UK for £600.
As for the Xperia XA, that one commanded a price of $280/€300 – a bit high for Europe, but at the time it was a good price for the US (it helped that US models were shipped with a free 64GB microSD). Of course, Europe usually has better access to value-for-money phones than the US. Not as good as Asia, but still good.
Things were looking grim for the Sony Xperia family in early 2016, however, things became progressively better as the year unfolded. The Xperia XA Ultra arrived next, a properly interesting, selfie-obsessed phone. And we did get an X Compact model, plus something of a return for the Z-series – except the phones adopted the “Xperia XZ” name. Those we can cover in a future installment if you want to hear their stories.