Sony Xperia SP
Here comes the mid-range Sony Xperia SP, hot on the heels of its super-charged bigger brother, the Sony Xperia Z. This one isn’t waterproof, but it packs the same blocky design flair into its polished shell, along with a 4.6-inch HD display and a dual-core 1.7GHz processor which blazes through Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Is that enough to help it stand out, or if you’re after a bargain are you better off with one of last year’s smartphones? Let’s find out.
Sony’s struggled to keep up with the Samsung and Apples of the mobile world, but you can’t knock it for build quality. The Sony Xperia SP is a rock solid effort which feels like a mix between a Samsung Galaxy S2 and a metal HTC One - but you can still pop the back cover off to add a memory card (though you can’t switch the battery).
All the ports and buttons are where you’d want them to be, and camera fiends will appreciate the dedicated shutter button on the side - something of a rarity these days - but our favourite touch is the glass strip at the bottom, which glows to alert you to notifications, and even pulses along to your tunes. Don’t like it? No problem, you can turn it off.
The screen too is delicious: the roomy 4.6-inch TFT panel isn’t full HD like the Xperia Z’s, but at 1280x720 resolution, it’s still HD, and you’ll struggle to ever make out the pixels, which makes reading a joy - even long emails and articles. It’s just the right size though, we felt, not too big, not too small, Goldilocks style.
Sony’s learned its lessons when it comes to software too. It used to saddle its phones with bloatware and unwanted games and demos like a digital, cruelly overworked pack horse, but it’s finally learnt that people don’t really like that. Instead, you get a much cleaner, faster Android experience (4.1 rather than 4.2 “Jelly Bean”, sadly, though you might not spot the difference) that even comes with its own clever “Swype”-type keyboard, so you can drag and type one handed quickly and easily. Don’t like it? You can change it: that’s the beauty of Android.
Know this: the Sony Xperia SP isn’t a particularly skinny phone. At 155g and 10mm thick, it’s a bit beefy compared to some wafer thin blowers out there - so you’d at least expect a rock solid camera housed inside. Unfortunately, that’s not quite what we’ve got. The eight megapixel sensor doesn’t hold a candle to the amazing snapper on the Xperia Z, churning out ordinary shots and struggling indoors.
The big issue is the price though: at around £300 SIM-free, the Sony Xperia SP isn’t a spectacular bargain compared to last year’s top Android phones. It also runs into a problem just about every Android phone we’ve tested recently has hit: it’s not as powerful as LG’s Google Nexus 4 phone, and nor is it as cheap off-contract.If you want a good value Android phone, there’s just no beating that.