Sony’s new Android smartphone looks set to become a design classic. It may not offer the feature set of the flagship Xperia Z, but it’s not far behind, and when it comes to looks it’s well ahead of the pack.
What sets the SP apart from the other Xperia range is the use of aluminium for the body of the phone. A special co-molding manufacturing technique enables the body to be seamless, resulting in a superbly sleek minimalist style. It’s not a super-slim phone, measuring 10mm thick, and at 155g it’s one of the heaviest phones on the market, but if anything this adds to the premium feel.
There are other details that make the phone special. The aluminium power button is one, but more interesting is the transparent antenna. This runs along the bottom of the phone, creating a transparent illuminated belt that lights up to notify you of incoming calls, messages and social media updates. It also pulses to the beat when you play music, and can change colour too. The lighting effects are customisable and are very, very cool.
The screen measures 4.6 inches, making it slightly smaller than the Xperia Z, but still a lot bigger than the iPhone 5’s measly 4 inch display. It has a HD resolution too, with 1280 x 72 pixels, which again is more than the iPhone. The display is bright and uses the Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2 from Sony for smooth video and image processing.
The size of the screen is in indicator that this is not in the realm of the superphones like the Sony Xperia Z, HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4. Instead, it has the same kind of specs you’d find on the top phones of 2012.
It’s appropriate then that the phone is powered by a dual-core processor rather than quad-core. It’s still fast, being a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor running at a very high 1.7GHz. An Adreno graphics processor enables hardware acceleration of 3D graphics.
The phone has 1GB of RAM, which is typical for this kind of phone, and comes with 8GB of memory plus a microSD card slot. The limited onboard memory is certainly one area where users might feel restricted, and an additional memory card is essential.
Operating system – Android Jelly Bean
Like the other Xperia phones, the SP runs Google’s Android operating system. The version here is Jelly Bean 4.1. This is not quite the latest, so users will be hoping for an upgrade to version 4.2 in the future.
There are a few customisations from Sony, including the Walkman music player software and Socialife, which brings content from social media and news feeds to your home screen, rather like BlinkFeed on the HTC One.
These are welcome improvements to Android without taking away any of the power and functionality of the operating system. In addition, Google Play gives access to hundreds of thousands of apps and additional content such as books, music and videos.
The SP is equipped with two cameras – a main rear-facing 8 megapixel camera and a front-facing VGA camera intended for making video calls. The main camera is excellent, being equipped with all the features that you’d expect on a quality camera – autofocus, digital zoom, flash, face recognition, etc. What sets this camera apart from many of its competitors is the high dynamic range (HDR) capability of the sensor. This enables it to perform well in low light and also to capture detail in areas of shadow and avoid burn-out in brighter areas of the image.
The camera can also record video at 1080p (full HD) resolution.
The phone is compatible with LTE as well as HSPA and GSM. This means that it can operate on 2G, 3G and 4G networks, giving you the fastest data connection available. It is compatible with many different bands, enabling it to be used practically anywhere in the world.
Heavy data users will appreciate the fast Wi-Fi connectivity, and the phone can operate as a Wi-Fi hotspot, enabling a tablet or other wireless device to use the phone’s 4G data capacity, for example.
Other connectivity options include Bluetooth 4.0, micro USB 2.0, NFC and DLNA. A standard headphone can also be plugged into the phone.
Larger than average battery
Perhaps one of the reasons why the phone is unusually thick and heavy is that it uses a battery that’s significantly more powerful than usual. It’s perhaps a little strange to find such a large battery in what is essentially a design-led phone, but few users are going to be disappointed by this. The battery is in fact larger than any battery Sony has previously used, and it can keep you talking for an incredible 18 hours, or listening to music for up to 44 hours. This is one of the best phones you can get for endurance.
The Xperia SP is a peculiar phone in some ways. It looks a million dollars, yet it retails for about half the price of an iPhone 5. It’s clearly a design-led device and yet it comes with an outsized battery giving exceptionally long life. In other respects it does everything you’d expect from a phone priced midway between basic smartphones and the most expensive. It has an excellent camera, fast processor, and excellent connectivity. If there’s one area of weakness, it’s probably the limited onboard memory, and this may well limit the number of apps and data you can install on the phone.