Sony Xperia SP Review

Sony is having a good time at the moment as far as its smartphones are concerned, and it must be pleased. Not so long ago its handsets were getting less praise and more criticism, but it has lifted its game with the latest entrants to the Xperia range, as the top-flight Xperia Z recently showed us. The Xperia SP sits at the upper-end of the mid-range and it looks like another handset that will earn plaudits. It does have some things about it that we don’t like though. You can’t get to the battery as it is sealed in place. That’s never something we’re happy about, but it is doubly irritating here because the Xperia SP’s chassis is not a sealed unit. The backplate is removable and your SIM and micro SD cards live underneath it.

We still aren’t blown away by the fact that the shortcut buttons under the screen are actually part of the display rather than part of its surround. This is a theme for Sony’s latest handsets, while the likes of Samsung and HTC have stuck firmly with dedicated keys. To be fair to Sony they’re implemented intelligently – they rotate when you turn the phone sideways so they are the right way up, and they disappear when you’re watching video so that the full screen is available to media. But much of the time they sit there occupying screen space that could be given over to whatever you are working on or with. There’s another factor that will either endear you or turn you away from this handset and that is the opaque plastic belt that sits around the bottom of the phone. It can be set to light up to tell you about missed calls or unread texts, to pulse as an alarm, and even to pulse when you are playing music. We disabled it pretty quickly.

However, all these things noted, there is a lot to like about the Xperia SP. Its general build is very good. It is solid and incorporates an aluminium frame that helps keep it rigid and unfl exing under the hands. There’s NFC built in and you can access HDMI via the micro USB cable if you buy a lead, as MHL is supported. The main camera is an eight-megapixel unit with a dedicated button on the side. There’s a neat Superior Auto settings mode that does really well at guessing scene modes and settings, though oddly its maximum capability is seven megapixels. Images are pretty good, and if anything the key disappointment with photography is that the front camera is just a VGA unit.

The 1.7GHz dual-core processor supported by 1GB of RAM is pretty good fare for a handset at this price, and the Xperia SP zips along nicely. It is a pity that the headline 8GB of memory translates into just a shade over 5GB that’s actually free, but micro SD card memory is not expensive so you can easily boost your storage capacity. The screen is a good size at 4.6 inches and it sports 1,280 x 720 pixels. Sony’s Bravia Engine 2 technology helps with clarity and brightness, and overall it is a pleasure to use.

The Xperia SP runs on Android 4.1 and Sony has done a skinning job and put lots of extra apps onto the phone. Not everyone will like the overabundance of Sony apps whose purpose is nothing more ambitious than to sell you stuff, but if you are into the Sony ecosystem then you’ll like what’s here. More interesting to the general user is likely to be SmartConnect – you can use this to tell the phone to launch a specifi c app when you attach an accessory. And we also really like Small Apps. Essentially these are little pop-up applets you can get to sit on top of whatever else you are doing. There’s a calculator, timer, note-taker and voice recorder and the potential for more from Google Play.