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Sony Xperia X Series hands-on impressions

Sony's Xperia X phones now available for purchase at several retailers

Sony delivered something of a surprise earlier this year at MWC in Barcelona when Hiroki Totoki, president and CEO at Sony Mobile Communications, unveiled a trio of new Xperia smartphones: the high-end Xperia X Performance, the Xperia X, and the midrange Xperia XA. And at Computex in Taiwan, it delivered another: Starting in July, all three models became available for purchase unlocked in the United States. Sony, in a departure from its historical strategy of partnering with individual carriers, is selling the handsets through a combination of online and brick-and-mortar retailers.

The Xperia X, Xperia XA, and Xperia X Performance are now available for purchase at Amazon, Best Buy, B&H Photo Video, and Reagan Wireless.

The new Xperia X phones all sport 5-inch displays and stylish aluminum finishes available in white, graphite black, lime gold, and rose gold. But the similarities are only skin deep. We went hands-on with all three.

Sony Xperia X ‘Performance’

The top-of-the-line Sony X Performance has an aluminum body with rounded edges, and it’s super-comfortable to hold, with a satisfying weight and solidity. There’s a brushed effect on the metallic back panel. It doesn’t mark a major departure from Sony’s Xperia Z line-up in terms of design, though Sony has ditched the glass back and decided that a 5-inch 1080p display is enough.

Related: Everything you need to know about Sony’s Xperia Z5 and Z5 Compact

Sony talked up the speed up of the 23-megapixel main camera, and the X Performance retains a dedicated physical camera key. A soft press on the key allows you to focus, and a harder press takes a shot. It is very fast, and you can pivot and take a photo with no sign of blur. The front-facing camera is rated at 13-megapixels.

This is a powerful phone with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor under the hood backed by 3GB of RAM. It’s running the latest Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Sony’s light user interface on top and a smattering of Sony apps. It will feel familiar to any Android user, but Sony has added a customizable app menu and search box that’s accessible by swiping down in the middle of the screen. Storage is 32GB, but there is a MicroSD card slot for expansion by up to 200GB.

Just like the Z5 range, there’s a fingerprint sensor on the lozenge-shaped power button on the right spine, but it seems to have been slimmed down. In fact, the phone feels very compact, and that’s largely due to the 5-inch screen. Sony has received a lot of positive feedback for the Z5 Compact, so that may explain the fact that all three X phones have 5-inch displays. It makes them easy to handle compared to a lot of the current flagships.

We picked up on two other differences with the X Performance compared to the X and XA. Firstly, it is IP65 and IP68 rated, so liquids shouldn’t be a problem. Secondly, it has a slightly bigger battery at 2,700mAh and it doesn’t have a bigger screen or higher resolution to power, so we would expect the battery life to be good. The charging port on the bottom is Micro USB, but it does support quick charging.

The X Performance also has dual front-facing speakers. We cranked up a couple of tunes on the show floor and could hear them above the general trade show noise around us, so the volume level is quite impressive. Sony has moved the volume rocker to right spine between the power button in the middle and the camera button at the bottom. It feels slightly odd when you’re using the phone in portrait, but flip to landscape and you get the sense of it.

The X Performance retails for $700.

Sony Xperia X

The middle child is the Xperia X. It’s a fraction smaller than the X Performance, but it’s very tough to tell them apart. The display, the cameras, the software, the fingerprint sensor, and the general design are almost identical. The X Performance has that slightly nicer brushed effect on the back, but you have to dip inside to find other differences.

Related: Sony Xperia Z5 review

The processor in the X is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 650, the battery is a touch smaller at 2,620mAh, and there’s no IP rating listed in the specs, so we assume it’s not waterproof. In terms of weight and feel, there’s very little to distinguish it from the Performance.

The Xperia X starts at $550.

Sony Xperia XA

The runt of the litter is the mid-range XA, which sports a new MediaTek Helio MT6755 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 720p display. It is noticeably smaller with a much thinner bezel at the edges of the display when held in portrait. There’s no fingerprint sensor on the power button, in fact the XA has Sony’s old signature round silver button.

Sony Xperia XA

Sony Xperia XA

Simon Hill/Digital Trends

It also has a much smaller battery inside at 2,300mAh and it only has a single speaker. The cameras are rated at 13-megapixels and 8-megapixels respectively, but the software is identical. Sony has included a detailed manual mode in the camera app for all three phones, which should please photography fans craving a little more control.

The fact that it’s slightly slimmer is a good thing, and the aluminum body still feels luxurious.

The Xperia XA costs $280.

Which is best?

While we can see the sense in having a budget option, it’s tough to see why Sony felt the need to turn out an X Performance and an X when the differences are so minimal. Without knowing which is which, you would never be able to tell them apart. We’re glad to see the gradual softening of Sony’s angular design and the end of that fragile glass back, but this is refinement rather than innovation.

They are easily the most comfortable phones to hold that Sony has ever produced.

The X family are a nice size and they’re easily the most comfortable phones to hold that Sony has ever produced, but why not just have a flagship and a budget version? Given the choice we would certainly opt for the top-end X Performance, for the faster processor and waterproofing.

Article originally published on 07-19-2016. Updated on 07-19-2016 by Kyle Wiggers: Added Xperia X Performance and Xperia XA availability and pricing information.