Sony Xperia SP Review

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Introduction and Design
Introduction:

The selection of mid-range Android smartphones is vast, which makes picking the best model a delicate task. Well, Sony wants to spare you the effort of browsing through all available options by introducing a compromise-free handset that seems to have it all. Ladies and gents, we give you the Sony Xperia SP – a smartphone powered by a fast, dual-core processor, graced by a large, HD screen, and equipped with a fancy 8-megapixel camera. Seems awesome, doesn't it?

Well, that's just specs listed on a piece of paper, which isn't always enough to make any device successful on the competitive smartphone market. Not that the Xperia SP is a bad phone – as a matter of fact, we find it quite promising, but it does come with its imperfections. Read all about the strengths and weaknesses of the Sony Xperia SP in our in depth review below!


Sony Xperia SP Unboxing

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Design:

Glass, metal and plastic are fused together to create the outer body of the Sony Xperia SP, and the result is... well, not bad, but nothing mindblowing at the same time, to be perfectly honest. We truly appreciate the inclusion of a metal frame used in the handset's construction, and so do our fingers, but the soft-touch plastic back cover, which actually flexes inwards when pressed for some reason, doesn't quite snap on seamlessly, as it becomes evident when you take a closer look. But details like these would annoy only perfectionists. Those who find black to be too conservative of a color and want to pick a flashier variant may have the Sony Xperia SP in either red or white. 

Sony Xperia SP
Dimensions

5.14 x 2.64 x 0.39 inches

130.6 x 67.1 x 9.98 mm

Weight

5.47 oz (155 g)

Sony Xperia Z
Dimensions

5.47 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches

139 x 71 x 7.9 mm

Weight

5.15 oz (146 g)

Samsung Galaxy S III
Dimensions

5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches

136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm

Weight

4.69 oz (133 g)

LG Optimus L7 II
Dimensions

4.78 x 2.62 x 0.38 inches

121.5 x 66.6 x 9.7 mm

Weight

4.07 oz (116 g)

Sony Xperia SP
Dimensions

5.14 x 2.64 x 0.39 inches

130.6 x 67.1 x 9.98 mm

Weight

5.47 oz (155 g)

Sony Xperia Z
Dimensions

5.47 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches

139 x 71 x 7.9 mm

Weight

5.15 oz (146 g)

Samsung Galaxy S III
Dimensions

5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches

136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm

Weight

4.69 oz (133 g)

LG Optimus L7 II
Dimensions

4.78 x 2.62 x 0.38 inches

121.5 x 66.6 x 9.7 mm

Weight

4.07 oz (116 g)

Compare these and other phones using our Size Comparison tool.

Being well trained in using large-screened smartphones, our hands quickly adapted to the shape and size of the Sony Xperia SP. In fact, we find it very comfortable to handle regardless of which hand we're holding it in. Single-handed use might be a challenge in some rare cases, but overall, the device is easy to operate. 

Another detail we can't complain about are the physical buttons, all of which are positioned on the right side of the device. The volume rocker, power button, and camera shutter key are exposed well and respond with sufficient feedback when pressed.



Sony's trademark transparent strip on the Xperia SP's bottom is a welcome unique feature not only because it gives character to the handset, but also because it serves as a notification light. A bright, easy to see notification light, if we have to be exact. It lights up in a different color depending on what kind of a notification is pending. Those who don't find the feature useful are free to turn it off.

Display:

The displays on Sony's smartphones have always been good, but rarely outstanding. The 4.6-inch screen on the Sony Xperia SP is not among the exceptions, but we think it is very good for a mid-range smartphone. It has a resolution of 720 by 1280 pixels, which gives us a pixel density of 319ppi – undoubtedly the best thing about the screen as the level of detail it provides is excellent. Colors, on the other hand, lean towards the warmer side while whites appear slightly yellowish. Boosting the screen's brightness, however, makes colors much prettier. Speaking of brightness, the display's output is sufficient to ensure that the smartphone is usable even in outdoor conditions, as long as the screen's glassy surface isn't reflecting light straight at the user.



Interface:

Flipping the power switch on the Sony Xperia SP introduces us to the latest variant of Sony's custom UI is layered on top of Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. Actually, that's the very same interface you'll find even on the maker's current flagship – the Xperia Z, with all its unique traits and benefits.

Overall, there's a lot to like about the new skin. For starters, it is pleasing to the eye with colorful themes, high-resolution wallpapers, and transparent UI elements. But at the same time, functionality has not been overlooked. The notification bar hosts a handful of toggle buttons that turn things like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on or off. In addition to the stock widgets found on Android, there are a few that Sony has thrown in – widgets for social networking users, a notes widget, and a whole bunch of clocks. Last but not least, the so-called “small apps”, which are accessible by pressing the recent apps button, are a handy little addition. They act like easy-to-access productivity tools hovering above the UI and include a calculator, voice recorder, timer, and a notes app. 



The on-screen keyboard works like a charm. It is not only very comfortable to type on, be it with one or two thumbs, but also highly customizable. For example, you're free to add or remove non-mandatory buttons, such as the Google voice typing key, the comma, the period, or the button that brings forth a list of smileys. Users who need a non-English keyboard will be happy to know that there is a long list of typing languages to choose from.



Processor and memory:

Quad-core processors may be all the rage nowadays, yet the Sony Xperia SP “only” has a dual-core chip crunching all the heavy computations. The SoC in use is the Snapdragon S4 Pro MSM8960T by Qualcomm, clocked at 1.7GHz and backed up by Adreno 320 graphics. But you know what, that little piece of silicon actually packs quite a punch. The smartphone is always responsive and performs nearly flawlessly when handling even heavy tasks, while even the most intensive 3D games run at excellent framerates. On the other hand, the 1GB of RAM on board may be insufficient in some rare occasions. In particular, we did notice occasional lags when switching between or exiting applications.


Quadrant StandardAnTuTuGLBenchmark 2.5 (Egypt HD)Vellamo
(HTML5 / Metal)
Sony Xperia SP78661641349702013 / 755
Sony Xperia Z82212083533822198 / 626
Google Nexus 447571674949173175 / 600
Samsung Galaxy S II Plus3833822821421558 / 425

We have to thank Sony for outfitting the Xperia SP with a slot for microSD cards as the 8GB of on-board storage are likely to be insufficient for many users. The 5.3GB of user-available storage is enough for installing dozens of apps and for storing photos, but users who wish to carry around music and video will probably need at least another 8 gigs or so.

Internet browser and connectivity:

The Chrome web browser is what we find pre-loaded on the Sony Xperia SP. That's a great solution for those who use Chrome on their computers as well since the mobile version can sync with their bookmarks and history lists. On top of all that, the browser is really snappy, handling even heavy web pages with ease. We must also note that having a large screen with high resolution also makes sufring the web quite enjoyable. Of course, those who aren't happy with Chrome are free to install an alternative of their own – Firefox, Dolphin, Maxthon, or Opera, to name a few.



Although it is just a mid-range smartphone, the Sony Xperia SP comes with LTE connectivity. In other words, you'll be enjoying blazing-fast data speeds, assuming your carrier has an LTE network operating on a frequency supported by the device. No LTE? No problem! There's also 42Mbps HSPA+ connectivity on board. The GPS radio is backed up by GLONASS compatibility for improved reception and accuracy. Last but not least, there's an FM radio present for those who still demand having the feature.


Camera:

One of the Xperia SP features that Sony brags with the most is the 8-megapixel Exmor RS camera with auto-focus and LED flash. The benefits it brings include super-fast launch even from the lock screen and rapid burst shot capturing. Sure enough, our tests show that the smartphone indeed delivers what its maker promises in that respect.

As the case is with other recent Android smartphones by Sony, the camera launches in Superior Auto mode by default. That's a supposedly intelligent feature capable of detecting the scene type and adjusting the camera settings accordingly. Well, we can confirm that the mode works fine in most cases, but we didn't like its unpredictability. For example, HDR mode gets turned on without any warning, while sometimes, two consecutive photos of the exact same scene would have a totally different color temperature. Still, we find it suitable for casual photographers, while those who wish to have more control over the frame are free to switch to Normal mode, or use one of the numerous shooting scenes.



Photos taken with the Sony Xperia SP look nice in general, especially the close-ups. We'd classify them as ideal for sharing online and maybe even making small prints. However, don't expect any miracles out of the smartphone's 8-megapixel camera as we've dealt with much better 8-megapixel snappers in the past. The Xperia SP has a tendency of boosting the color intensity of the photos it captures, which might actually be pretty cool for some scenes, but may ruin others. Capturing fine details is also an issue as they are usually blurred by the software's noise suppression algorithms. Indoor photos are much noisier and don't look particularly pleasant. 1080p video captured using the main camera is of average quality at best, but at least it runs smoothly at 30 frames per second.



Sony Xperia SP Sample Video:

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Multimedia:

We've said it before and we'll say it again: The Walkman music player found on Sony's Android smartphones is pretty awesome. Not only does it look great, but it has a broad arsenal of useful features, such as its lock screen controls and home screen widget. In case your audio collection isn't too organized, the app will automatically download any missing album art. On top of all that, you get an equalizer, bass booster, and other sound-enhancing tweaks. The built-in speaker is loud and doesn't crackle even at maximum volume.



If you're among the people who watch a lot of video on their smartphone, then chances are you'll be pleased with the Sony Xperia SP and its video player. The best thing about it is that it handles any popular video file format, including DivX and MKV. The built-in Mobile BRAVIA 2 engine provides a contrast boost, so watching videos on the handset's large screen is even more enjoyable.



Call quality:

We have nothing to complain about, folks! The Sony Xperia SP has an earpiece producing loud and clear voice tones, while the microphone transmits free of distortion sound on the other side of the line. And that, mind you, are results we got on a carrier that doesn't offer HD Voice calls – a feature that the Sony Xperia SP supports.

Battery life:

Battery life won't be an issue in case you use the Sony Xperia SP with moderation. Light users will most likely get 2 full days of usage without the need to recharge. The smartphone has a massive (for a mid-ranger) battery with a capacity of 2370mAh battery – enough to provide over 13 hours of 3G talk time or 7 hours and 30 minutes of continuous video playback on a single charge. The phone's battery life can be extended further by enabling Stamina mode, which disables data connectivity and other energy-draining features whenever they aren't needed. But keep in mind that the battery cell is not removable so it cannot be swapped on the go.

Conclusion:

There is no such thing as a perfect smartphone, and the Sony Xperia SP won't be the one to break that rule. However, looking at its pros and cons after testing it extensively, we can confidently conclude that its a mid-range smartphone worthy of attention. It is a capable multimedia device suitable for those who want the benefits associated with high-end devices – the large, high-resolution screen and fast processor, to name a few, but in a mid-range package that doesn't cost as much as a flagship handset. Plus, you get LTE connectivity as an added bonus.

But keep in mind that the Sony Xperia SP doesn't really have that great of a camera, as much as Sony's marketing department want to convince you otherwise. An alternative that may cost about the same, depending on where in the world you live, yet takes much better photos, is the Samsung Galaxy S III. Or in case the large screen is your top priority, but your budget is rather tight, check out the LG Optimus 4X HD and its 4.7-inch IPS LCD display.


Sony Xperia SP Video Review:

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Pros

  • Handles 3D games flawlessly
  • Great call quality
  • Rich in multimedia features
  • Decent battery life

Cons

  • Not the best 8MP camera we've ever seen

PhoneArena Rating:

8.0

User Rating:

9.5
28 Reviews

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