28/05/2013 15:45 | By Matt Farrington Smith, editor, MSN Tech

Sony Xperia SP review

Do we find Sony's latest entry in their Xperia smartphone range illuminating or does it leave us in the dark?

Sony Xperia SP review

What is it?
The SP is the latest in Sony's Xperia line of smartphones and tablets.

What's great?
For a mid-range phone the Xperia SP offers an impressive spec-sheet and is backed-up by a rigid and enduring build.

What's not?
The Xperia SP offers disappointing viewing angles and display. Gimmicky.

The bottom line:
We really wanted to love the Xperia SP. Decent specs, good brand, a lowish price and 720p display should (in theory) ensure this is a 5 star-toting device. But there's no two-ways about it, the SP suffers from a number of head-scratching design choices. The worst of which is accountable for the overall look and feel of the handset: the ambience light. You'll either love it or hate it to high heaven - you can guess which side we're on...

Sony Xperia SP review

Sony Xperia SP: Build and design

We're big fans of Sony's Xperia range - the design aesthetic has been carried beautifully throughout tablet and phone alike. The Z looked gorgeous and genuinely turned heads with its strong lines and quasi-industrial styling. In our review we named it Sony's best yet. Whereas the little ergonomic flourishes found in the Tablet S (the back resembled a book with its cover folded over, not to mention the tactile non-slip coating), ensured the S differentiated itself from its faceless Android peers.

Sony followed this up expertly with the Xperia Tablet Z - another strong, bold piece of design work. It is therefore beguiling as to why certain design choices were made in the SP's production. How the heck did (what Sony are calling) the ambience light make the final cut?

If you haven't seen videos of the SP in action, this 'feature' lights the phone up like some fragrant, mood-enhancing home ornament. It looks pretty (and no doubt it's all very clever), but we can't quite fathom the reasoning behind it. Because when we're flicking through our photos the one thing we want is a colourful, light-cycling accompaniment. Furnish us with a blinking notification light by all means, but this is akin to having a disco in your hand... To us it succeeds in conjuring up images of nineties rave culture - you'd have more fun buying some glowsticks from the Pound Shop, running into a field and proceeding to wave madly at airplanes.

Thankfully you can turn the lights off via the Settings menu, but the reason for the SP's increased size and bulk seems to point to this pointless gimmick. Gone are the fine lines that made the Xperia Z such a sleek, desirable little beauty. The Z's enviable catwalk looks have instead been replaced with something a little more rugged and hard-wearing (although the smooth white backing of our review model allows removal using a careful fingernail). In also comes the bulky translucent plastic that houses the ambience light, which succeeds in extending the chassis another precious few mm too. 

Rest assured the Xperia SP is a tough little tank, thanks to the thick aluminium frame that surrounds its edges - with this much armour, dropping it will be the least of your worries. At 9.98mm thick and 155g, the SP is a chunk.

Sony Xperia SP review (© Matt Farrington Smith)

Sony Xperia SP: Screen and display

The screen boasts an impressive 1,280 x 720 resolution (720p), stretched across 4.6 healthy inches (we're talking 319dpi) - no problems here - at least on paper... However there is a noticeable washed-out tinge to the display, in so much as the colours don't pop and altogether it's a bit of a muted affair. Increasing the brightness doesn't help matters much (the blacks need bringing out), it's just crying out for a decent boost in contrast. It seems that Sony’s Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2 has had no discernible effect on the SP's graphical prowess. 

Viewing angles are also compromised - aside from viewing the screen head-on you're going to fall foul of unwanted glare and sheen. On the plus side, the Corning Gorilla Glass adds robustness to proceedings. Maybe we're in the minority here, but as fans of the gorgeous displays found on the likes of the HTC One, Nokia Lumia 920 and Sony's own Xperia brand of tablets, we can't help but feel let down by the display on offer here. We'd recommend taking a quick look before you buy and see whether the SP's screen is for you.

Sony Xperia SP: Power and performance

Inside the chunky shell you'll find a dual-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm CPU powering proceedings (compared to the Z's quad-core 1.5GHz grunt), along with 8GB storage out of the box (again the Z came with double), but there is room for more via the microSD slot, so the SP doesn't suffer from walled-garden syndrome. It does however come with just 1GB RAM onboard, whereas we'd have favoured a more generous 2GB.

The Xperia SP boasts a decent 2,370mAh battery (which should happily last you a day of average use on full charge) - but cranking up the brightness to try and offset the muted display will make light work of the increased capacity. A clever Stamina Mode is included that automatically blocks data traffic and background activities once the screen has been turned off. Even better, those pesky background activities that are prone to giving your phone a rude awakening are automatically prevented too.

So how does the camera fare? The front-facing camera is a 8MP affair that delivers fine but unspectacular results. We couldn't get to grips with the bundled fast capture and superior auto modes, opting instead to point and shoot on our own steam. There's also a 0.3MP snapper on the front for those all important Skype/video calls.

Xperia SP review

Sony Xperia SP: Pricing and extras

The Xperia SP can be picked up for around the £299 mark outright or on contracts starting at £25 per month.

For specs it beats something like the Lumia 720 into submission, but for ease of use (and general enjoyment), the 720 would be our mid-range phone of choice. £299 (lets call it £300) is veering dangerously close to somewhat pricier territory.  

The inclusion of extras like LTE radio and NFC ensure the SP won't fade with time and thus not transform the initial expense into a dodgy investment.

Sony Xperia SP: Verdict

By now you'll have already made your mind up about the SP's 'quirky' design - it won't be to everyone's tastes. Bizarrely the chunky design purely serves the needs of the illuminating, colour-changing belt,

The Xperia SP has been designed for those who don't want to take the plunge into the somewhat pricier top of the range territory, but Sony need to be careful as the SP could be accused of eking into the dangerous upper echelons of the mid-pricers.

Three stars

Sony Xperia SP:Available now - check the latest prices with Bing or buy one from O2.

Also on MSN Tech:
Nokia Lumia 925 hands-on review
Take better pictures with your smartphone guide

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