How does the latest Sony Xperia M stack up to the competition?
Xperia E, J, L, S, SP, T, U, Z, Z Ultra and now the M. Sony have a wide range of mobile devices and you would be right to be slightly confused by where the M sits within the range.
In this review we show you what the M has to offer as well as showing you where it sits in the line up and how it compares.
The alphabetical nature of the Sony line up would lead you to believe that as you proceed through the alphabet the specifications get better on the devices. To a point this is true. The Z is better than the E as is the L. However the U isn’t as good as the L and the M is in fact inferior to the L. So in short the actual letters do not really help you work out which one of the range is best for you. You need to consider the specs.
A slight disclaimer here is that we are reviewing a final pre-production unit, so come final production run, some issues may have been improved or small things tweaked.
Xperia devices of late have featured Sony’s new design them of Omni Balance which transitions itself to some extent to the Xperia M, with an aluminium power button that sits proud on the right hand side of the device along with the volume keys and camera shutter button.
There is a lanyard connector on the base of the phone and a microUSB connector on the upper left hand side of the device. The top has a centrally placed 3.5mm headphone jack.
Around each of the 4 sides is a sliver banding (we are reviewing the white unit (it is black on the black coloured phone)) that gives some definition and character to the phone. The silver band is more matt than gloss so it does not look garish. The sliver band does too sit fractionally recessed inside the white frame of the phone.
The front is home to the 4” touchscreen display, the front facing camera, light and proximity sensor, microphone and illuminating area.
The back of the device sees the rear camera, flash, microphone and rear speaker towards the base of the phone.
The removable back cover has both the Sony logo and Xperia branding on it. The Sony Logo sits just above centre and is raised to the touch whereas the Xpeira logo just above the speaker is smooth to the touch.
The back cover can be removed by inserting a finger nail at the top of the device where the screen meets the rear cover. Once removed access is gained to the Micro SIM card slot, microSD memory card slot and a 1750mAh removable battery.
Whilst the Xperia M is not going to win any design awards, it does not look garish and is a rather all together non-offensive phone. Personally I think the black looks better than the white as it will not pick up marks quite the same.
Measuring 124 x 62 x 9.3mm and weighing just 115g it sits comfortably in the hand and whilst it probably could have been made thinner the thickness lends itself to feeling more robust in hands. The M does feel like it could take a couple of knocks (although I don’t advise testing it). This might be the case because it has the tougher squarer look than the softer more rounded edges.
My personal biggest frustration with the device from a hardware point of view is that the front of the device seems to have a lot of ‘space’ that could be removed. Whilst I am the first to admit that I like the notification light from the Xperia SP, on the M it just seems to be taking up space where some buttons could have been rather than in the software.
Built into the Xperia M is a 1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB RAM, 4GB memory, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS etc. so not a bad spec list. I will touch on some of this later.
If you want to see what the M looks like in the hand, just view our hands on video here.
If making phone calls, browsing the web and connecting to social networks is what you use your phone for then the 854 x 480 resolution of this 4” display will probably serve you well enough.
The display is however where I feel the biggest sacrifices have been made. It does not jump out at you like the screen of the S4 mini, but then again this is considerably cheaper than the S4 Mini.
In the outdoors holding the device at arms length makes for slightly tricky usage, bring it a bit closer and the screen visibility improves. In bright sunshine you will be shielding the display to be able to see the screen and this is where the more expensive alternatives come up trumps. Here in the UK you will probably get away with using the screen outside, just hold the device a little closer to you to get the best visibility, depending on the light.
Viewing angles are not great but I often question how often you view the display at an angle other than pretty much head on. For those that do view their device displays at more obscure angles then you may be disappointed by the washout and reduced brightness.
Your feeling on the screen will really come down to your usage. If you are a movie or picture buff then the display will likely disappoint but whilst I do not like to stereotype the majority of users looking for something at sub £200 will find this acceptable and I could happily use this, but work commitments have me use an S4. The M is much more pocket friendly.
Do consider though that the lower resolution displays use less power, so in turn potentially more usage time. I should mention here that the M does have automatic brightness thanks to a light sensor, adjusting the display based on the lighting conditions, so should you want full brightness all the time you can switch automatic brightness off.
Whilst the display measures 4” diagonally a vast amount of this is lost to the software buttons, which could possibly been placed under the screen as capacitive buttons. Therefore there is only about 3.8” of usable screen.
As an added bonus though the screen is scratch resistant, so it should survive a few trips in the bag or in a pocket with keys or coins.
Our review unit had 2GB of internal storage of which about 1GB was free. The final production unit will have 4GB of internal memory. Once the OS and apps are installed you will have in the region of 2.5-3GB available to you we believe. This therefore does not give a lot of space for music or video, but never fear there is a MicroSD memory card slot so you can expand it to 32GB if you purchase a memory card.
There are too streaming options as I know many people now use. The M has 3G and WiFi so this helps but the lack of internal memory will play a part in limiting the options.
As a Sony device they pre-install Sony Music Unlimited, which is a paid for monthly streaming service. I use this myself and find it quite good. It has both online and offline modes. So if you are in an area with good connectivity then all is fine, but offline mode will store files on the internal memory and not the microSD which is a shame. Seeing as this is a memory limitation on the M, maybe Sony should look at ways of putting media on the SD card?!
So to the speaker, it is rear facing and is positioned in such a way and is such a size that it does not seem to be too affected by hands or fingers blocking it. At full volume it is quite loud. It will not be knocking the HTC devices with Beats Audio off their perch but it is not as bad as one might expect.
Sony do include XLoud and Clear Phase (found in the sound settings) that can be used to get the best audio out of the device. Whilst I can not say for sure I would imagine having these on does affect battery life a little as they are not switched on by default.
Headphone audio is much the same as the rear speaker. No real lack of quality, but not the best either. For the most part this will be adequate, but if used to premium audio experiences, there are better options than the M.
It would be unusual not to get WiFi & Bluetooth on devices today and the M is no exception, these are built in out of the box. There is no let up in the specifications here either. Support for WiFi 2.4GHz and 5GHz is included and bands a/b/g and n, whilst the M has the latest 4.0 Bluetooth.
If planning to use the Xperia M in the UK & Europe then normal GSM/GPRS/EDGE/UMTS (3G) and HSPA+ are all available and allow you to remain connected most of the time. Usage outside of the UK and Europe for the higher speed data connectivity may need you to check with your local network providers to check the frequencies used.
There is no 4G on the M, but then at the time of writing 4G is still in relative infancy, but the bad news is that the M is not future-proofed in this respect.
As this is a Sony product, you can share the display with compatible Sony BRAVIA displays but unfortunately no MHL out via the microUSB port. The spec sheet didn’t specify it, we tested it and no, it is not there.
There is USB on the go support, so with the appropriate cable you can connect a USB memory stick and read and write files to and from it. You can see that in our demo below. Unfortunately there was not enough power to run a USB powered hard drive from the microUSB port.
The Xperia M is also PlayStation certified so the use of a PlayStation controller is too possible with the M.
There is too NFC is you use this. I don’t think many are using this as much as it should be as yet, but it is built in as standard to the device.
The Xperia M has both a front and rear facing camera.
The front is a VGA camera suitable for video calls but can capture stills and video but the quality is not that great.
The rear camera is a 5 megapixel camera with auto-focus and LED flash that is capable of recording video at 720p HD rather than full 1080p HD.
Our testing produced mixed results from the camera and I think this has to be down to a bug in the software that should be fixed on the final unit.
The general clarity of the images were good and appeared better under artificial lights indoors. What the camera did seem to struggle with was colour definition. It may be my personal opinion but colours looked over saturated.
During the testing I used just the normal mode as this is the most commonly used setting. Playing with the settings will no doubt have an impact on the final image result, but many of us want out the box point and shoot with results functionality.
Close up shots seemed to suffer less with this. A few sample shots are included below.
Same position as last show with 4x digital zoom:
Close up shot:
When it came to video this issue appeared to get worse still. In fact the video was quite disappointing.
What I must stress here is that I do believe software updates will resolve these issues. The camera hardware is ok, we have seen the results form other Sony’s so we know what they can produce.
With both cameras you can take advantage of 4x digital zoom using the volume keys and this applies to both videos and stills too. Just avoid using this unless absolutely necessary, images become pixelated and well not very pleasing at all.
The dedicated camera button is a good addition and makes it easier to hold the device and capture stable images. It would be nice to see voice controls found on Samsung devices make their way into the Sony range, but alas that is not the case as yet.
At 1750mAh it is not the biggest but then again this is not the biggest phone. Screen to battery capacity ratio is pretty good though on the Xperia M and at least a days usage is certainly possible and you may stretch to 2 for the lighter users.
STAMINA mode is an option that was introduced on the Sony Xperia Z and this is included on the M. There is the option to switch this on and off but it can have a serious impact on your battery life as it intelligently manages the processes on your device.
We have not put the M battery through extensive benchmarking tests for the battery and over the time we have been using it, it has not really been normal usage as we have been testing the various facilities. However we can confirm that for most a daily charge will be necessary as is commonplace irrespective of the device or battery nowadays.
This is perhaps where the Xperia M can jump out and grab me, but sadly not.
With Android 4.1 on the device it is already slightly behind in the latest software stakes, I may be a little harsh here and Sony will bring updates, but it is unlikely to be quick.
All the normal Google apps are installed as standard as well as many of Sony’s added value apps.
Some of the apps you can expect:
- Google Navigation
- Google Maps
- File Commander
- Sony Music Unlimited
- Sony Video Unlimited
- Sony Connect
- FM Radio
- News & Weather
- Google Play Store
- Xperia Link and more
Being Android with access to Google Play Store, you can soon personalise and make the device your own in terms of look and the apps available. Customise you backgrounds, app tray, widgets and even your notification lights.
Whilst Sony have added their own touches to the interface, if you have used any Android device before the feel is quite similar and you can fairly easily get used to the setup.
Thanks to the dual core processor and 1GB of RAM we found usage to be generally slick, however some lag can be expected if you push the device with multi-tasking and there was the odd noticeable but small lag on button presses.
The overall performance was on par with similar specification and priced handsets. If I had to say the M was better or worse than another in this sector of the market I wouldn’t really be able to give examples that put the M to shame or made the M look so much better.
Nice little additions are the small apps that are accessible when you press and hold the running apps button. The small apps like voice recorder and calculator, open in a small movable window over whatever you are doing. More can be downloaded form the Play Store if you choose.
At the time of writing there is little mention of accessories for the device. Of course there will be the general Sony and third party accessories that will suit the M from Bluetooth headsets, to pouch cases to car kits. However there has been little mention of device specific cases, screen protectors and docks.
It is likely a couple of these will be covered by Roxfit, who are well known for their Sony accessories, but I wouldn’t be too convinced at this stage that many high street stores will have specific accessories available.
At the time of keying this review the Xperia M is launching though Clove at £163+VAT (£195.60 including). At sub £200 there is quite a lot on offer here, but for about £30 more you can get the 8GB Xperia L with a 4.3” display; it is however a little heavier and has the same size battery.
Priced out over a 24 month period the M will set you back around £8.33 per month whilst the L will be be £9.50.
Put your monthly tariff on top of this and you should be looking at less than £20 per month combined.
I can find few faults with the M, it ticks all the boxes and is a well rounded performer with a good range of connectivity and software options, but few things that make me go wow or make me want to pick it up and use it. The M is not bad, it does what it says and will be good value at under £200, BUT…..
In all honesty, if you can afford it, opt for the Sony Xperia SP at about £12.50 per month (£300 inc VAT cost) it is much better.
It has a bigger display at 4.6” with a better resolution. It has 8GB rather than 4GB. 1.7GHz dual-core as opposed to 1GHz, MHL connectivity, 4G and an 8 megapixel as well as the bigger 2370mAh battery.
Phones should not be about prestige but the SP is just smarter, more appealing and will in the long term offer you better all round performance and value for money. If you are going to be spending money on something, best spend money on something that is special and let;’s face it, the difference in monthly cost between the M and the SP is the cost of a drink at your local bar, it is not much to sacrifice.
It is not a word for word copy of the written review above but you will get an idea of what the M is all about, what it has to offer and whether it is the device for you, without having to read the 3000 words above.
For more information on the Sony Xperia M, just CLICK HERE.