This year Sony has caused heads to turn with its superior, tough-bodied Xperia Z, and it has created positive waves with its mid-priced Xperia SP too. But the company has also released a more budget friendly handset, the Xperia L. The L comes in at around £210 Sim-free, putting it in a spot that’s probably the most congested price bracket of all right now. Handsets have to be fantastic to stand out at this price, and the phone that most often gets used as a comparator is the Nexus 4, with the 8GB version costing £239.
Sony has made some odd decisions with the Xperia L and overall I’m not convinced it is the way to go if you have a budget hovering around the £200 mark. You may be lured elsewhere by larger screens, faster processors and neater chassis designs, and in each case I’d say you have a point.
Looking at the design side of things, while others try hard to make their phones look smaller than they are, Sony has done something a bit weird in making the front of the chassis shorter than the back – and apparently doing all it can to draw your attention to the fact. The top and bottom sections both angle outwards and that gives an optical illusion of a smartphone that’s taller than it needs to be.
The angle is emphasised by a silver band that goes all the way round the edges of the phone and bleeds into the right side on/off button. The band kind of draws your eye to the fact that the back is taller than the front. This is doubly bizarre since the Xperia L is only 129mm tall – it has a relatively small screen so doesn’t need to be huge. The saving grace of that band is an alert light behind it on the bottom edge.
Sony has embedded its right side camera button and volume rocker into the backplate which curves round the edges of the phone. The microUSB slot on the left edge of the phone is also towards the back so its slot is embedded in the backplate. I think that someone who had this phone for review before me tried to remove the backplate without removing the USB cable, because the backplate was buckled and bent to the point where it wouldn’t actually lock into place.
Sony has used its familiar arc design so that the Xperia L is narrower at the centre than at the top and bottom. It is quite subtle but looks rather neat when it catches the eye. It didn’t present me with any particular problems in holding the phone.
Some people will say I am making far too much of these design factors, but in the end these are considerations which will help sell the phone (or not) as much as its technical specifications. Also, as I noted at the outset of this review, the Xperia L is in a very crowded part of the market.
The screen is a good place to start looking at the Xperia L’s specifications. At 4.3in it is small by today’s standards, and you can get handsets at around this price with 5in screens (for example the Archos 50 Platinum). The resolution here is 854 x 480 pixels, giving a ppi of 228, very close to the 220 ppi of the Archos, as it happens. The Xperia L’s resolution might be a touch sharper, but somehow the larger screen of the Archos feels more comfortable when viewing video.
Whatever your personal take, there’s no getting away from the fact that the colours here are sharp and vivid, and viewing angles are good. It’s a fine screen for reading web pages and just about big enough for video. Sony knows how to do touchscreens, too, and this one slides around under the fingers very smoothly indeed.
It is nice to see a dedicated camera key on the Xperia L – and Sony is pushing the 8-megapixel main camera as a key feature of this handset, even using the headline at its website: “The camera experts’ camera phone.” Features include HDR – High Dynamic Range – which is something found on increasing numbers of handsets that basically helps optimise light and shade so that you don’t get overly dark or overly bright patches in any one photo.
There’s also a feature called Exmor RS that helps you get good photos in low light conditions. This will depend on factors like how little light there is, how close your subjects are to the lens and what the general lighting situation is, but you might get better results from nights out with your chums than they do with their handsets if you use the feature intelligently.
Still, overall I have to say I didn’t notice any great advances here. I also found the shutter a bit laggy. Shots of cats leaping in the air to play with toys are not easy to capture. It is also a bit miffing, for a phone which is lauded by its maker for having a good camera, that the front facing camera tops out at 640 x 480 pixels.
Sony has built NFC into the Xperia L, and the 1GHz dual-core processor does a good job of keeping things moving along. Sony plops its customary skin on top of Android 4.1. To be frank, you either like this or loathe it depending on how much you like the whole Sony approach to the world. The headline 8GB of storage is reduced by about half in no small part thanks to the mountain of apps Sony adds on.
There’s Walkman, Movies, Sony Select, Album (a gallery app), a notes app, NeoReader for QR codes, Video Unlimited, PlayMemories Online, TrackID, PlayNow, SmartConnect, XperiaLink, OfficeSuite (only for reading docs, not for creating them) and a link to the PlayStation Mobile website. Some of these tie you in to the Sony ecosystem, others do not. Some double up on standard Android apps, some do not, but they all take up storage space – and there are some Sony-specific widgets too. It might all be quite confusing for a newcomer to Android.
In the end the Sony Xperia L is a rather disappointing handset. Even if you set the physical design to one side and concentrate on the innards, there are a lot of niggles, and some serious irritation around the fact that the main camera doesn’t live up to the hype, and that there’s far too much bloatware. As I said before the £200 mark is a crowded spot for smartphones, so I’d advise you to shop around.
Manufacturer and Model
Sony Xperia L
GSM 850/900/1800/1900; HSPA 850/900/1700/1900/2100
4.3in, 854 x 480
640 x 480 (VGA)
128.7 x 65 x 97mm