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Sony Xperia SP expert review

Reviews Mobiles Sony Xperia

The Sony Xperia SP is a mid-range smartphone, sharing many similar features to its big brother, the Xperia Z. Agent Collins gives his verdict.

Sony Xperia SP - 4_3 - Setup
The Sony Xperia SP is a superb-looking mid-range handset.

Sony's mobile phones have gone from strength to strength recently, reinforcing its long-standing reputation as a manufacturer of stylish, quality devices. However, while most of the clamour has been around its flagship Xperia Z series, Sony hasn't just been concentrating on premium phones. The Xperia SP may lack standout features like water resistance and a 5" HD screen but it's still an attractive device with an impressive list of specs.

The mid-range market for mobile phones is quite cluttered at the moment and it can be difficult to really see the differences between models. This being the case, Sony will no doubt be hoping that the Xperia SP has enough to stand out from the crowd.

Sony Xperia SP Summary

RRP - £329.95

The Xperia SP is a great addition to the Xperia family. Although it lacks a little refinement when compared to its big brothers, it's still a great phone and is excellent value for money.

Pros

  • 4G
  • expandable memory
  • beautiful screen

Cons

  • rear casing feels a little cheap
  • non-removable battery

See also: Huawei Ascend P6, Google Nexus 5, Nokia Lumia 920

Design AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Sony Xperia SP - 4_3 - Tips
The Xperia SP feels strong and well-built - and looks slick to boot!

The Xperia SP feels strong and well-built. This is primarily down to the fact that it's quite heavy, weighing in at 155g compared to the larger Xperia Z's 146g. In keeping with Sony's recent devices, the build quality is excellent, combining Gorilla Glass 2 on the front with a strong plastic casing covering the sides and back. That removable casing means the SP doesn't quite have the premium finish of the flagship Xperia models, but it's still a good-looking phone. Also, despite the removable back cover the SP does not have a removable battery, which could be annoying for some. On the other hand, it does mean that the SIM and Micro SD slots are easily accessible, and the Xperia SP is expandable by up to 32GB.

The SP comes in at 10mm thick, a considerable increase over the Z's 7.9mm, yet smaller than its predecessor the Xperia S (10.6mm). The device feels good in the hand and fits nicely in pockets. Sony has also decided to re-introduce one of my favourite features of the Xperia range: the dedicated camera button located on the right-hand side of the device.

Overall, the SP is a little different to the rest of the Xperia range, with a few added quirks and new features. The addition of the camera button makes this phone ideal for taking quick snaps on the go and the LED strip along the bottom is a definite talking point.

Hardware

Spec Sheet

  • CPU : 1.7 GHz Dual-core Snapdragon
  • RAM: 1 GB
  • Internal Storage: 8 GB
  • microSD: yes
  • Battery: 2370 mAh

Connectivity

  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • GPS
  • 4G
  • NFC

The Xperia SP is powered by a dual-core 1.7GHz processor, which results in relatively smooth operation. Sony's user interface does feel a little less cluttered than some so there's probably a little less work for the processor to do in basic navigation. There's also a decent amount of RAM to ensure your apps run smoothly and 8 GB of onboard storage that should certainly be enough to get on with. However, you'll likely want to invest in a memory card to take full advantage of the Xperia SP's features.

The SP comes with many of the features you would expect to see in a top-end smartphone, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC technology. It also supports 4G, which still isn't a standard feature on phones in this price range.

Screen

  • Resolution: 720 x 1280
  • Size:4.6 inches
  • Display type: Mobile Bravia Engine 2
  • PPI: 319
Sony Xperia SP - 4_3 - Google Account
The Xperia SP's 4.6-inch screen scores highly for watching TV and movies on the go.

Sony has a great reputation for screens and the Xperia SP doesn't disappoint in that respect. They've opted for a 4.6 inch screen here and whilst it's not as big as some, it remains a sizeable viewing area. Sony's expertise in television is felt here in the shape of the Mobile Bravia Engine 2: advanced image rendering technology that gives smooth video images and improved colours. For me, the screen is possibly the most important aspect of a phone as it's my all-in-one media centre while I travel, and the Xperia SP scores highly in this regard.

Camera

Rear: 8MP, 1080p @30fps

Front: 0.3MP VGA

Sony Xperia SP - 4_3 - Contacts
The Xperia SP comes loaded with an 8 MP rear camera and a standard VGA front-facing camera.

The Xperia SP comes loaded with an 8 mega-pixel rear camera that uses the same Exmor RS sensor featured in CyberShot cameras. It's capable of recording 1080p video and comes with a standard VGA (0.3 mega-pixel) front-facing camera. The rear camera has a Superior Auto setting which allows you to take photos quickly and simply without the need to manually adjust settings. Each image I took was sharp, crisp, detailed and had very natural colours, making me feel more confident about leaving my main digital camera at home. HDR is one of my favourite additions to cameras on mobile devices now, allowing for photos with the perfect amount of light and the highest possible image quality. The SP manages to take these photos in a similar time to taking a normal photo, which is even more impressive.

Recording video on the SP is aided by image stabilisation, which offsets camera wobble and is particularly helpful when recording 1080p or zooming in. Video playback is impressive, and whilst it's technically only a 720p screen, things still look great, no doubt due to the aforementioned Mobile Bravia 2 Engine. Sony has also taken a leaf out of HTC’s book and has added the capability of taking a photo whilst simultaneously recording video. This is one of my favourite features as I often realise I've got the perfect photo whilst in the middle of a video.

Battery

The 2370mAh battery on the SP is larger than average, and even under heavy use you’re probably looking around between 7 and 9 hours of life. With moderate use I see it being charged daily and with lighter use you could possibly squeeze two days out of it. The SP also comes with Sony’s Battery Stamina mode. Stamina Mode monitors and shuts off applications once the screen is powered down, which can extend the battery life considerably. Even so, the device provides an estimate of up to three weeks' standby time. You can also add apps to the Whitelist in case you still wish to receive notifications from them. I personally add apps like Whatsapp and email so I can still receive updates even when my phone is sat in standby mode.

Software

Sony Xperia SP - 4_3 - Google Play apps
Running on the Xperia SP is Sony's Timescape UI.

The Xperia SP comes with Sony’s Timescape UI, a variant of Android version 4.1 (Jelly Bean); soon to be updated to 4.2. In addition to the standard Android features, there are a couple of extras that really caught my eye.

Sony Car is an all-in-one navigation and entertainment app designed for use whilst driving. It enables you to launch Google Maps, play music and even make phone calls via a Bluetooth headset/audio system. This eliminates the need of having multiple devices in your car and gives you quick, easy access to the features you'd need when driving. Granted, a lot of newer cars now have this built-in, but if yours is an older model then you can bring your in-car-entertainment system bang up to date.

Also included on the SP are two services from the Sony Entertainment Network: Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited. You are entitled to a 30-day free trial (after which it becomes a paid subscription service) of Music Unlimited, which enables you to stream music directly to your phone, browse through popular music and even filter by genre. This is a service very similar to Spotify and is ideal for music lovers. Video Unlimited is a service that allows you to purchase or rent movies and stream them directly to your device. It offers a whole variety of the latest and greatest movies as soon as they are available to purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray. Furthermore, Video Unlimited really benefits from the Xperia SP's 4G capability as you can stream content at high speed and not have to worry about buffering.

SONY XPERIA SP VERDICT

Sony Xperia SP - 4_3 - Contacts Transfer
Compared to other mid-range smartphones, the Xperia SP packs a lot into such a small device and is ideal for media enthusiasts.

I think the Xperia SP will really appeal the media enthusiast who loves to snap photos, listen to music, watch videos and keep up to date with their social networking. The amount of features Sony has packed into such a small device is rare in the mid-range market.

The Xperia SP is a sturdy, powerful phone that will happily take care of your entertainment needs, from photos and videos to music and games. The addition of 4G makes this an excellent choice if you are not looking to pay premium prices. The screen is beautiful and crisp providing a great viewing experience, while the larger than average battery is a great bonus for travellers.

Alternatives to the Xperia SP

Huawei Ascend P6 - slim and stylish, but although the processor is faster you'll miss out on 4G.

Google Nexus 5 - powered by the latest Android 4.4 KitKat; perfect for taking high-quality snaps.

Nokia Lumia 920 - if you're not an Android fan then Windows Phone may suit your needs better.

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