Featured Android Phone Review: Sony Xperia SP

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Sony has gone from a name that makes the odd Android device to a sizable player in the Android market. There’s certainly room for improvement however, as they need to work their way into the United States. The Xperia Z was a great device for Sony to kick off 2013 with and as we found in our review it was great, but not perfect.

With the Xperia SP, Sony hope to deliver a more affordable experience without compromising on things that matter. It’s difficult for any manufacturer to make a “budget” device but Sony isn’t exactly selling the Xperia SP on the cheap. Read on as we find out whether or not Sony have managed to deliver a quality device, without the price tag we normally associate with smartphones these days.

Design

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If you’ve taken a look at a Sony device in the last 12 – 18 months then you’ll instantly recognize this as a Sony device. While there’s only so much that a company can do with a slab of glass, Sony have managed to create a somewhat unique device. Coming in at 4.6-inches, the SP is a device that bucks the trend of 5-inch handsets and keeps things simple.

What makes the Xperia SP a little different to other device is the transparent bar at the bottom. It’s not just for looks however, as this is the notification light for the device. It’s a pretty light show when you get an SMS for one thing but, it has other uses that deliver a nice touch, which we’ll take a look at later on in the review.

There’s no mistaking this for anything other than an Xperia device. The aluminum power-button that Sony debuted with the Xperia Z is still here and works just as well, as does the inclusion of a dedicated camera button – we need more of these on smartphones! Overall though, the Xperia SP is not much to look at from the front – no smartphone is but, around the back things are a little more interesting. As is the case with Sony, it’s all in the details, of which you can take a look at in the gallery below.

This is the red version of the Xperia SP and not only does it look nice but, it feels great in the end. It could be considered a little too heavy but, the build quality is here is really quite good. It’s nothing spectacular but, at this price point it’ll be difficult to do any better.

Display

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The Display here on the Xperia SP isn’t going to blow anyone away, however it’s a very solid offering from Sony. Viewing angles are reasonably good, not perfect but, good. As for color reproduction, the SP starts to fall down a little bit. The Bravia Engine included here does help but, it’s nothing more than a slight tweak of the colors of the display. After all, software can’t fix bad hardware. Colors are somewhat accurate however, they’re all a little bit washed out, which doesn’t help when watching a video or reviewing photos but, it’s good enough for the day-to-day. Text is nice and crisp, making things easy to read but, at 1280 x 720 you’d expect it to be.

Outdoor visibility isn’t great but, if you crank the brightness up all the way it’s fine. However, what is more annoying than that is how very reflective the display on the Xperia SP is. Sure, there’s not much you can do to reduce this on glass but, glare seems to be worse here than it does on other devices. It wasn’t terrible but, it was certainly off-putting on more than occasion.

Overall, the display on the Xperia SP is nothing spectacular but, it’s more than good enough, especially at this price point.

The Camera

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There’s not too much you can expect from the 8MP rear-facing shooter on the SP but, it’s a capable outing from Sony here. The dedicated camera key does help to take photos and if you just hold down the key when using the phone, the camera interface appears. The camera software itself is much the same as the Xperia Z, with the Intelligent Auto software here again. For the most part, this works fairly well however, what the phone feels is low light is quite worrying and of course, noise creeps in just as it did with the Xperia Z. Color reproduction is quite good however.

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White Balance is not great but, it’s adequate enough.

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There’s something to be said for the speed of the camera however, especially on a device at this price point. Overall, this is a mediocre camera and you shouldn’t expect too much from it but, overall it’s good enough.

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If you’re looking for a device that takes great pictures first and foremost, the Xperia SP is not that device but, as a camera on a smartphone, there’s worse out there.

The Xperia SP’s Light Show

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The Xperia SP’s party trick is perhaps its most unique feature. The light bar at the bottom of the device is something that Sony is pretty proud of and it’s another way to personal the device to your liking. It’s pretty bright too, so you should never miss an e-mail or an SMS again. When you’re on a call, it glows a pleasant red.

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Sony give you a whole host of options to change the color and for what purpose it flashes as well, which is pretty nice, too.

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Overall, it is a little gimmicky but, it’s also somewhat nice to have on the device, too. It does add a little charm to the device and it’s something of a talking point as well.

Sony’s Software

The software shipped here is very similar to that shipped with the Xperia Z and it’s what we’ve come to expect from Sony by now. This is more of Sony’s “take” on Android than it is a skin and overall, this feels like stock Android in a different guise. The app drawer is pretty familiar with a few tweaks, you can simply organize apps how you like but, it acts like AOSP does for the most part.

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Pretty much every Google app you could want is installed onboard and there’s very little bloatware included. However, the inclusion of McAffee Security is something we’d very much not like to see on a smartphone today.

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As you can see, the menus look and feel very much the same as they do in stock Android. Of course, Sony’s touch is not unnoticeable. Where Sony does excel however, is in the amount of options they give you to make the device feel a little more like your own.

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This is much like the Xperia Z, again but, it is nice to see that Sony give folks the option to choose an identity for their device out of the box. Sony’s keyboard is unfortunately quite poor, especially on this size of the display. However, it’s nothing too difficult to deal with and with a little getting used to, it’s fine.

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The multi-tasking menu on the Xperia SP is as Google designed but, with some added extras.

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The icons of the bottom of the display are Sony’s small apps and these are little utilities that you can bring up on top of any other app, which is pretty nice to have at any given time.

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Sony have done a good job with their software set here. They’ve left Android alone for the most part and they’ve added their own spin on things, which is exactly what OEMs should be doing these days. Sony’s take on Android is a great build of Android that you’ll soon feel familiar with. Not just that but, it’s not too far removed from stock Android, which is always nice to see.

Battery Life

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The Xperia SP has pretty decent battery life. It’s not quite as good as the Xperia Z’s longevity but, for a device like this it’s quite respectable. If you were looking for a device that lasts all day and a little more, then the SP wouldn’t disappoint.

While the battery lasts a long time, it also drains quite quickly when in use. It’s hard to explain in writing but, essentially the battery life of the SP is good but, don’t expect a bottomless pit when using the device for hours on end. When in use, the Xperia SP might not last as long as you like but, it’s better than other devices in this range.

There’s also Sony’s STAMINA mode to squeeze a little more out of the battery when you need it. While it certainly sounds a little gimmicky it does what it sets out to and can help when you’re in a pinch. The Xperia SP will last you as long as any other smartphone and then some but, you shouldn’t expect the world from the 2,370 mAh battery under the hood.

Battery life is a little subjective. If you’re going to be playing games all the time, then you might not enjoy the Xperia SP’s battery life. However, if you’re looking for a solid device to last you through a day of web browsing, light gaming, texting and phone calls – then the Xperia SP is better than most in this price point.

Storage

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Here, the amount of storage given to the user isn’t great. With 8GB onboard, you’re really reminded that the Xperia SP is not meant for “powerusers”. However, the inclusion of a microSD card slot does give you much more flexibility than you get with high-end devices like the HTC One. Overall though, this is not a device for someone looking to take thousands and thousands of songs with them, nor is it a device to take many photos with you, either. However, thanks to the microSD card slot, you can easily make it such.

Benchmarks & Performance

Here at Android Headlines, we don’t take benchmarks as seriously as we perhaps ought to but, some of them can be a decent yard stick with which to judge devices. The Xperia SP isn’t going to be the speed demon that the Xperia Z and the of course the Z Ultra are but, with a dual-core Snapdragon at 1.7 Ghz, it’s no slouch either. In AnTuTu it didn’t score too well.

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As for the Vellamo test, things were a little better than we were expecting.

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Overall though, the Xperia SP is a decent performer. Sony’s build of Android is responsive and slick, with no “lag” noticeable. Of course, more CPU intensive tasks aren’t going to be as fast as you might like but, overall it’s a great performer. Day-to-day tasks are more than adequately fast and overall, you won’t find yourself waiting for the device to catch up. For something that costs as much as the Xperia SP does, the performance here is very good and this Editor wasn’t displeased with the speed of the device at all.

Call Quality

Many people still use their smartphone as phones, that’s a fact jack. As far as voice calls over cellular are concerned, the Xperia SP does a good job. Everything sounds clear enough and voices have a little bass injected into them, giving them a full tone. The placement of the microphone is an interesting one but, it works fine. There’s always divided opinion on this, not everybody’s ears are the same however, for the most part I got good feedback from the usual people I test new phones with.

The Final Word

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In the time I’ve spent with the Xperia SP, I’ve come to really enjoy the form-factor and the overall quality of the device. The Xperia SP is not a device that will play the best games at high frame rates, nor will it blow you away with the quality of its display. However, what the Xperia SP does do is perform extremely well in day-to-day tasks and does pretty much everything reasonably well. The lightbar at the bottom of the device helps to add some character to the device and the ability to customize it is a nice touch from Sony as well. Overall, the Xperia SP might not be the smartphone that I, personally, would lust after and just “have to have”. However, as the image above indicates, it’s the smartphone I’d love to take with me everyday. It feels great in the hand, the notification light is a lot of fun and it has a camera key which, for someone who likes taking photos is a nice touch. Whether or not the Xperia SP is for you depends on what sort of smartphone you’re looking for however, those searching for something solid, with a touch of the high-end on a budget, the Xperia SP will do just fine.

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