The Xperia P teams Android with some neat design touches and exclusive Sony services and apps. But is that enough to mark it out in an even busier, ever more crowded smartphone market? We find out.
The Xperia P is Sony's second phone since it split from former mobile partner Ericsson. But at first glance – the transparent strip for the buttons aside - you’d be hard-pushed to say it’s particularly distinct from its predecessors.
Fire it up and you’re struck by the fact that it’s running the fast-ageing 2.3 version of Android – an iteration of the operating system that debuted way, way back in November 2010. That’s disappointing to say the least. But we’re promised an update to Ice Cream Sandwich soon enough, so it’s not all bad.
Xperia phones have cut something of a dash in the past. The tapering design of the Arc is a case in point. But they’ve often lost points for sub-par build quality.
The Xperia P’s boxy look won’t win awards for originality in the form factor department, but the transparent button strip is novel. And thanks to its aluminium unibody construction definitely feels pleasingly solid and robust in the hand.
The interchangeable bottom section takes us back to the days of colourful fascias. And although it’s a bit corny and is just the kind of façade that puts the more serious members of the phone designer community in a spin about 'honest design', we at least appreciate that Sony is trying something to distinguish its touchscreen phones in a sea of identikit smarties.
At four inches, the Xperia P’s TFT display isn’t anything like as expansive as the current crop of Android superphones. But that’s not to say that in the era of the ever more capacious it’s not without its merits.
Not least among these is the way that Sony has augmented the RGB layout with extra white subpixel – a design it snappily dubs WhiteMagic. The result is a screen that’s readable even in bright conditions.
Colours were also vibrant, too. Despite the fact that the Mobile Bravia Engine claims to deliver more realistic hues than the likes of the Super AMOLED display-touting Samsung Galaxy S3.
For a mid-range phone, the Xperia P’s eight megapixel camera, which features an LED flash and 1080 HD video recording that we can report delivers the goods in low-light conditions, is something of a surprise. A pleasant one, obviously.
Near Field Communication technology, which is apparently useful for lots of things but seems largely restricted to making contactless payments, is also on board.
Teamed with the 'Smart Tags' supplied that let you switch between, say, work or home settings by swiping your phone over a programmable tag, Sony appears to have found a genuinely practical use for the technology that doesn’t require massive infrastructure to work.
At the time of writing Sony still hadn’t made ICS available for Xperia P. And depending on which network you get the phone, it’s hard to pinpoint when that will change.
That it will change in time isn’t in doubt, though. With a 1GHz dual-core chip whirring away under the hood, it’s got ample brawn to handle future OS updates. And the CPU also means that the Xperia U zips through menus and loads up apps quicksmart.
Sony’s customisations to Android aren’t all successful. But the extra apps and services, such as Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited and the Media Remote app that works with Sony TVs, are pretty handy. And if you don’t like them or prefer the stock Google version, it’s fairly easy to get rid of the bloatware and free up some of the five homescreens you’ve got for storing stuff.
Ease of use
If you’ve used Android before, the Xperia P is a breeze to get to grips with. If you're new to smartphones, it’s still pretty straightforward. And this handset’s distinct lack of lag and absence of fiddly UI tweaks from Sony makes it a pleasure to use for novice or wizened tech fan alike.
Available free on contracts from £15.50 per month, the Xperia P is a welcome addition to the mid-range market. It’s adept and solid and we’ve awarded extra points for some spec-sheet features that would be at home on a much more expensive smartphone.