Sony Xperia SP Review
Is the Sony Xperia SP the best mid-range smartphone?
The Sony Xperia SP is Sony’s latest offer to the mid-range smartphone market, and at first glance, looks pretty impressive in terms of specs and appearance.
But will the Sony Xperia fulfil our high aims after the success of the flagship Sony Xperia Z? Or will it prove to be a flop, unworthy of its £300 price tag? Let’s find out…Review written by Charlotte Kertrestel
The first thing I noticed when unboxing the red Sony Xperia SP was its striking appearance; with a rich red polycarbonate casing and a soft touch finish, the device really has a premium look and feel about it.
I also like the clear plastic strip that appears at the bottom of the phone’s fascia, somewhat reminiscent of the Sony Xperia U and Xperia P handsets. Although many critics have complained that the plastic strip- which lights up in various hues according to the main colour it picks up from your gallery- cheapens the device, but I found that this wasn’t the case with the Xperia SP, as the lighting was very subtle and only lasted for a matter of seconds at a time.
Another great thing about the Xperia SP is that, for a mid-range phone, it didn’t feel in any way flimsy; the back casing, whilst being removable, doesn’t feel like it might snap at the first opportunity, like with many Samsung devices.
Now for the specs; with a 4.6 inch screen, the Sony Xperia SP doesn’t feel like a mid-range device, as most similarly-priced phones stand out for their remarkably smaller screens. And with the likes of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S3 only having 4.7 and 4.8 inch displays respectively, the Sony Xperia SP isn’t left too far behind. It also means that the phone benefits from being able to display the range of multimedia features, such as impressive display quality and gaming apps that Sony is best known for. Moreover, I feel that the size of screen that the Xperia SP offers is far more manageable to users who find the Xperia Z’s 5 inch display too big.
In terms of measurements, whilst the Sony Xperia Z might be large in size, it certainly isn’t in weight, and this is where the Xperia SP falls down ever so slightly. However, at 155g, the device isn’t an elephant of a phone, and it certainly wasn’t the first things I picked up on.
Under the hood, there’s 8GB of internal memory which is quite average for a mid-range phone, as well as an SD card slot for users to manually extend the phone’s storage. While the back casing of the phone is removable, the battery is not, which again could prove to be something of a downside for users wanting to give themselves a mid-day power boost.
My only real criticism of the Sony Xperia SP’s build is that, like the Xperia Z, you are left with smudges and fingerprints all over the screen which I was constantly battling to keep clean. For non-obsessive compulsive cleaners, however, the Xperia SP is an impressive piece of kit!
Phone Set Up
The Sony Xperia SP is powered by a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, which isn’t bad for a phone priced at just over the £300 mark. It means that in practice, scrolling through screens and opening up various applications at once is smooth, and doesn’t jar or leave me waiting. The phone also runs the latest Jelly Bean version of Android, which you’d expect on a phone released in March this year.
As I commented in the Sony Xperia Z review, I like that you can order your apps according to your own personal preferences, choosing from custom, alphabetical most used and recently used, which is something not all Androids offer. However, I wasn’t a huge fan of the restrictive-looking boxes around the app screens, though that is really a personal complaint.
One thing that I did really like when testing out the Xperia SP’s set-up was its keyboard. When put to the test, Sony phones always seem to out-perform other handsets when it comes to typing speed, and I found the Xperia SP was no exception. From first use, the SP’s predictive text function was suggesting appropriate words, making compiling text messages and emails really fast. Also, the keyboard itself it quite tall compared with other Android keyboards, which meant that far more punctuation marks could be displayed on the one screen, making it quicker still to write a sentence.
The Social Life app is in many ways Sony’s own version of the HTC One’s BlinkFeed, and displays news stories, social media updates and feature articles that reflect your interests, all of which update in real time.
Although in theory, this is a really fun app that I feel I would use on a daily basis, though I found that, unlike HTC’s BlinkFeed which serves as the One’s main home screen, Social Life is an app that many users would pass by without realising how good it can be.
In practice, I didn’t like the fact that the app displayed snippets of articles which you then had to read in full via the web browser, which isn’t always feasible if you’re not hooked up to the internet. That said, as a concept, I think Social Life, though perhaps poorly named, is an interesting addition to the Sony Xperia SP.
Sony Select is another Sony-built app which you’ll find pre-installed on the Xperia SP. A bit like the Google Play Store, Sony Select gives you recommendations for the best apps, games, movies and music, according to other Sony users.
The feature also lets you browse through the biggest tunes right now, allowing users to buy tracks by adding the purchase price onto your monthly phone bill rather than using a debit or credit card, which is good for security-conscious people.
Play Memories Online
Last but not least is the Play Memories Online feature, which essentially allows you to create postcards and photo books using photos taken with- or simply saved on- your phone.
I particularly liked the postcard feature, as you can apply various fun and artistic themes to your photos and send them via email to anyone you want, providing they have a Sony Memories Online account (a Sony phone isn’t required for this).
Camera & Video
After reviewing the Sony Xperia Z’s massive 13MP camera, I was expecting big things from the Xperia SP, despite it only having 8 megapixels. And to be honest, I was really quite impressed with the camera quality, and thought that it was just as good as the Samsung Galaxy S3, and even came close to the Galaxy S4, which has a 13MP lens. Take a look at the photos and decide for yourself!
Taking photos using the Xperia SP was also very easy; you can choose from a physical capture button or use the one on the screen depending on your angle, which is nice- I always like to have a choice.
Like most smartphones nowadays, the Xperia SP also offers a variety of modes in which to take your photographs, including superior auto, sweep panorama, scene selection (landscape, soft snap, night, party, sports, beach and snow and document), as well as front lens video, which is useful for recording blog posts. There are also a variety of filters you can lay over your images, in addition to picture effects such as fish eye, kaleidoscope, partial colour, nostalgic and sketch modes.
Using Sony’s SenseMe, you can even watch a slideshow of all your images played back to music of your choice.
Most smartphone batteries tend to be the same when it comes to one thing: draining at the speed of light! However, I didn’t find that the Sony Xperia SP was too bad on that front, and I didn’t actually have to charge it up for the whole 4 days I was reviewing it.
When I switched on the phone it had 51% remaining, and after using it considerably for an entire afternoon, it only drained to 40%. After then taking numerous photographs in order to test out its camera, and leaving it idle overnight, the phone’s battery had still only reached 28%, which is something to be said for a smartphone of this price.
What’s great about the Sony Xperia SP is that not only is the percentage of juice you’ve got left constantly displayed on the phone’s screen, but that you also have the option of enacting Stamina Mode, which essentially turns off all background applications and turns down your screen brightness to save you precious battery power.