My Review of the Sony Xperia SP
I have now been using the Sony Xperia SP for a little over two months now. It has been a reliable companion so far however there have been a few niggles along the way. Firstly the obvious question is why did I choose to have this phone, over the others we offer at Clove Technology? The answer to that is it provides a good price to specification ratio. I could have gone for a more expensive phone, but I liked the size and the fact that it had a dedicated camera button. Also I’m a bit of a Sony fan as I like their products, still owning all three of the Playstation consoles and a nice Hi-Fi system.
As indicated I based my purchase on the specification of the Xperia SP which is great for a mid-range phone. It has a 1.7 GHz dual-core processor, 4.6 inch screen, 4G compatibility and 8GB of internal storage. You get a lot for your money with this phone, which additionally has a good design and features some great technology. My colleague Jon did an earlier review when the Sony Xperia SP was still yet to be released. If you want an alternative point of view why not take a look. CLICK HERE
Sony say on their website the Sony Xperia SP is a “design connoisseur’s Smartphone with an exquisite aluminium frame”. I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of design, but in truth I don’t think I am. What I can say is the Xperia SP does have a minimalistic design, which is comfortable to hold in your hand. It also feels more robust compared to other phones which are predominately constructed of plastic.
The buttons are easy to locate, in particular the power which is distinctive being metallic compared to the rest of the casing (by the way I have the black variant). One of the reasons I choose this phone was the dedicated camera button. Yes I know other phones can be instructed to take photos by voice commands and pressing on the screen, but I still like having a button. It means you can comfortably take a photo holding the phone in a horizontal position. You also gain the two touch capabilities of the camera button, press once for focus and hold to take your picture. There will be more about the camera later.
One thing I am surprised about is that Sony couldn’t have shaved a bit of the border around the display, like we have seen with other products recently. I’m sure there is a good reason for the added width and height this results in. It just would have been nice for the SP to be a little smaller. Maybe the size is due to the construction using the aluminium frame or I’m just expecting too much.
A 4.6 inch HD Reality display is included, which has a pixel density of 319 PPI (pixels per inch). Sony state it is a 720p display which benefits from the inclusion of their Mobile BRAVIA 2 engine. While this display can’t compete with the likes of the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4, which are rated as 469ppi and 441ppi respectively with both having resolutions of 1080p. It is however a good display for a phone which is significantly cheaper than the top of the range phones I have just mentioned.
Colours appear rich, crisp and vibrant while the contrast is also good, so the Mobile BRAVIA 2 engine is doing a good job of maximising the display. The brightness is also ok, as I been able to quite happy to use the Sony Xperia SP in direct sunlight with the setting set to maximum. You may need to decide if display brightness, or battery performance is critical to you, as turning this setting to max, will reduce usage time.
Movie playback is good and you certainly won’t have any trouble watching your favourite ones, but you will be limited by the 720p resolution. This really isn’t a problem while watching on a phone, but if you want full 1080p you will need to look at one of the other phones I mentioned earlier. Really I don’t have any complaints about the display as I think Sony has done a great incorporating a good screen with useful technology which enhances it.
The sound you receive from the speaker on the SP is similar to all other phones you will encounter, with the exception of the HTC One. It is ok for playing music or watching an occasional movie, but you don’t get high quality stereo sound. Sony has however included a couple of options to improve its capabilities, and that of the in call quality. These do genuinely improve the loudness of the main speaker and sound quality during calls.
With the “Clear Phase” option turned on I have found that sound quality is generally excellent during calls. There have however been occasions when the quality has fluctuated which can probably be blamed on poor network reception at that time. The network I am is normally pretty good, but there is always the possibility of glitches.
Also worth mentioning is if you connect a set of quality earphones/headphones you will find the sound is enjoyable. The socket is in a good position, located on the top edge, so the usage of any type of earphones/headphones should be possible. Personally I like to have some music with me when I go for a walk, and have found the SP is an ideal music player when a large SD Card is installed.
A whole host of connectivity options are available with Xperia SP. These include: WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, DLNA, MHL, Screen Mirroring and 4G (LTE). With this being a nice long list, it does mean you can connect the phone to a variety of other products and can easily access the Internet.
I haven’t performed any detailed analysis of these functions, but will provide my experience using them on a daily basis. For example I have found WiFi connectivity to be ok, without any drop outs or any other problems encountered. Moving between my home Access Point and the work one hasn’t caused any issues, with the SP promptly finding them and connecting with no intervention from me.
Bluetooth like WiFi is ok with no issues connecting to other phones, headsets etc. The same is the case for NFC, you can happily use compatible speakers and transfer files to other NFC compliant phones. Just take into account the little NFC sticker on the back of the phone is where you need to position it when making the initial contact. So try to avoid removing it, or just remember where it is.
DLNA connectivity is controlled by the “Media Server Settings” which are within the “Wireless and “Networks” submenu. This provides all of the usual options for connecting the phone to another compatible device by DLNA. So you can browse the content on your phone and listen to music or display photos and movies on a larger screen for example.
There is additionally the “Throw” option, which once enabled within the “Xperia” submenu gives you the ability to send photos and movies by simply pressing the throw icon, which appears in the notification section. This makes it easy to choose media which you wish to display on another compatible device, like a phone or TV. I have been able to show photos to friends using an LG TV (yes I know it is not a Sony one) which I have at home and have found this to be a convenient way to display them. You do need a WiFi network setup as this function is based on DLNA and your TV of course has to be able to receive it, but it is useful and kind of fun. Especially as the throw option interrupts whatever is on the TV when you send the media to it.
Now I must admit my home and workplace are not located within areas where 4G (LTE) has arrived yet. It means I haven’t been able to try out this technology and benefit from faster Internet access. I will no doubt try this feature in the future when it is available in this area, but it is good to know my phone is ready. For the moment I have been restricted to HSDPA+ at best, which is frustrating.
The LED notification band does appear a bit gimmicky at first and I certainly thought this when I saw previous versions of it on other Sony products. The implementation of this technology on the Xperia SP is however a little better. You have control over the colour associated with various notifications. So you can have one colour for incoming calls and another for missed calls. You can also completely turn the LED notification off if you wish. It does however mean that you know when to dash for your phone and when not to.
It does additionally have the ability to match the colour of the LED band to the edges of photos you view and to pulse while listening to music. These options are fun, but not necessary and you are likely to turn them off after a short period. Some people may however like to continue using them. The thing I found however is that due to the light band being larger and less bright it isn’t as irritating as some smaller ones on other phones. You may however want to keep an eye on battery usage as it does appear to drain the battery a bit when you don’t clear a message, or respond to a call.
Sony has provided an 8 MP (mega pixel) camera with the Xperia SP for capturing good quality photos. I have certainly found this to be the case and have added a few to this post showing my abilities, or lack of. My previous phone the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo featured a good camera with an Exmor sensor for low-light conditions. Sony has however included far superior technology within this phone, as I have found photos appear to be far better, with more vivid colours and there are no issues with focusing, which I encountered with my previous one.
The HDR technology provides good quality photos however I notice that when this capability is switch on the maximum resolution is lowered to 7 mega pixels. I’m sure there must be a reason for it as I understand multiple images are taken at different exposure levels and then spliced together. It is however disappointing photo resolution is lowered.
Beside my issue with the lower resolution when HDR is enabled I have found the camera to be easy to use. Normally it is just a case of pointing and clicking the dedicated button to capture great quality photos. As mentioned previously the camera button does have a two step process of focussing on one click and taking the photo if you hold it down again.
On the “Superior Auto” mode everything is done for you, but if you like to adjust settings you can change to “Normal” mode. Then exposure value, ISO, white balance, image stabilization and more are available. Other alternative modes for taking photos include “Picture Effect”, Sweep Panorama” and “Scene Selection”
Capturing videos is no more difficult then photos and these can be taken at full high definition resolution of 1080p. While you can’t view them in their full glory on the Xperia SP display, you can of course enjoy them later on a suitable TV. It is good to know you can capture your masterpiece in full high definition for when you want to show it of to friends and family.
I purchased a new tent over the weekend, so a test pitching was required!
Sony has provided a 2370 mAh battery with the Xperia SP. I have found this will always get you through a typical day of usage. If however you start playing lots of games, browsing the Internet, or use demanding apps the battery will be used up. As mentioned the LED notification does appear to have an affect of the battery life which you will notice, so this features usage may need to be restricted.
There however some useful power settings which can be adjusted. The Stamina mode disables mobile data when the screen is off. This does significantly increase battery life, but occasionally I found the Internet wasn’t available. Indicating the mobile data had turn back on again correctly after the screen was activated.
Low battery mode is I found more useful, as functions are disabled when the battery life drops below 20 percent. This means your phone lasts a little bit long, admittedly with restricted usage. You can however customise this setting by choosing which features to turn off. I stuck with the defaults and didn’t encounter any problems using it.
Android 4.1 is included and it feels like a good fit, as the phone has most of the time been responsive. There have been a few occasions when it has been slow to load in all of the contact photos and the occasional game, but I think this is just down to usual technology delays which occur from time to time. The features of the Android 4.1 operating are well documented, so I won’t detail them here, but instead I will look at the included Sony apps.
SonySelect is simply a dedicated link to apps which Sony thinks are cool or interesting. I don’t have any criticism of their selection, but you can obtain these apps from Play, so why not go their in the first place.
Car Mode provides a simplified interface for using the Xperia SP within a vehicle. It provides clear large buttons for navigating to various apps. While the phone and settings have been customised the media apps haven’t and they are just the same as normal. You also have the ability to add other apps you want to use whilst driving into the menu. There is however no perquisite they should be safe. This means that while the initial interface you are presented with is ok for usage while driving you are easily taken to ones which are not.
NeoReader is an application used for scanning barcodes. There is no problem with the scanning of the barcodes, but afterwards you are presented only with the ability to search for the item on Amazon. This is restrictive as not all items are available from Amazon and you may, or may not wish to purchase from them. I may be missing an option to add additional searches, but if one is available it is not obvious.
Backup & Restore as the name suggests is an easy to use app for creating backups of your system apps, media and downloaded apps. These can either be saved onto an installed SD Card, or onto a computer/laptop using a USB connection. It is possible to choose which apps to backup by the easy to use interface and it does it an ok job.
Smart Connect controls the how the Sony Xperia SP reacts when an accessory is connected to it. You are able to set Events and add conditions depending on which item is connected and whether it is a certain time. Then you are able to set the phone to perform an action, this can be anything from open a webpage to play audio tracks. There is however a pre-defined list so some restrictions do apply.
Music Unlimited is a Sony music streaming service which is comparable to Spotify and other similar services. It appears to have a wide selection of music and Sony quote that there are millions of tracks available. The interface is clean and easy to use, with you being able easily select new releases, popular songs and channels. There are also the typical options to share items and to create a library of your favourite tracks. This is a subscription only service with an Access Plan for £4.99 per month, or a Premium Plan for £9.99 per month. If you are intending to use this service on your phone, or another mobile device then you will need the Premium Plan. As the lower priced Access Plan only provides usage on a PS3, or PC.
Video Unlimited is another Sony streaming service, in this case for films. Again there is a wide selection of films available and the interface is well laid out. This service doesn’t have a subscription service. Instead you pay for the films individually, this is either a good, or bad way to provide this service depending on your usage. The film quality is ok and there certainly aren’t any issues with it. There is however a lot of competition out there with the likes of Netflix and even the Google store.
DJStudio 5 is a recent additional after the update. It provides you with your very own DJ decks for mixing some music. I have had a play with this and didn’t achieve anything remarkable. It may however be a fun thing to do if you have some time on your hands. What I did encounter is there are some restrictions on the music files you can import to the decks for mixing. Files created in .m4a won’t import, but .mp3 will, so you may need to stick to the latter for your mixing creations.
Playstation Mobile App was downloaded and installed for interest to see what was available in the way of games to play. My thinking there would be lots of original Playsation games available to play was soon dashed when I looked at the selection. There were lots of dedicated phone games and a few oldies like lemmings, but not much else. So my gaming appetite was not fulfilled however the Playstation controller did work well when plugged in using an adapter. This makes the Xperia SP a potential great gaming platform, as being able to use quality controller makes your game experience more enjoyable.
We all like a benchmark to see how good our device is compared to others available. I am not exception, so the Sony Xperia SP was tested using AnTuTu benchmark. I received varying results however the best achieved was a respectable score of 16993. As I was in the situation where I hadn’t got round to installing the recent update. I thought it would be a good idea to try the tests again after the update.
Below are the results of the testing. As you can see there does appear to have been a minor improvement with the update with the best score now being 17042. Generally following the update better results were achieved, so it appears the software has been optimised and possibly a few minor glitches in the software have been removed. (All results of this type are subjective and you may receive slightly different results on you Xperia SP)
I have found the Sony Xpeira SP to be a good companion. There are some great things about it like the design and the camera. The LED notification can also be helpful, but some of the added Sony services can be either only marginally useful, or in many cases are pointless. This is a shame as for example the ability to easy connect a gaming controller is a great idea and really Sony should capitalise on this providing an excellent platform, but this doesn’t appear to have materialised yet.
The thing you can’t get away from is Sony has produced a good phone, at a great price, which has a few quirks, but is reliable. This is due to the hardware being of a good quality, and the Android 4.2 being an ideal companion to it. The additional software can be ignored if like me don’t find all of it particularly, with a few exceptions. LED notifications can be customised or turned off completely, which you have to respect Sony for allowing you to do. Overall would I recommend this phone to someone, the answer would be yes.
The Sony Xperia SP is now available for £219 excluding VAT (£262.80 including). To find out more CLICK HERE