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Sony Xperia P mobile phone review

MobileReviews
8/10
by Rob Kerr
, 11 Jul 2012Reviews
Sony Xperia P mobile phone review

Launched in February this year, the Sony Xperia P sits above the recently reviewed Xperia U, in terms of hardware specifications. It also sits just below the flagship Xperia S, in the new NGT series of mobiles. That top-tier phone was unveiled in January, where ITProPortal published exclusive hands on photos of the phone, days before it was actually launched.

Setting up the Xperia P for the very first time involves eight steps. This is in the most complete set-up procedure that I have seen in a recent handset, including phones from HTC, Samsung, Nokia and LG mobiles.

The first step that sets the handset apart from others is the way it offers to download the phone’s Internet and multimedia messaging settings. This is followed by configuring access to Wi-Fi for syncing data, without using up your valuable mobile data allowance. The latter is a feature of the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich setup, but the Xperia P doesn’t even run that OS.

Next up you can configure your personal email accounts, with the usual range on offer: from Google to Microsoft Exchange. There is also the not-always-expected Facebook login, which is used for Sony’s own social networking client called TimeScape (but more on that later). The setup procedure ends with either logging on to, or creating an account for the Sony Entertainment Network. This gives you access to the company's collection of media, from major record labels to Hollywood studios, as well as what Sony has to offer.

Design

The three devices in the Sony next generation range all share a similar look and build. The new handsets look different from the previous flagship Sony Ericsson phone: the Arc and revamped Arc S. However, the height and width of the Arc S and Xperia P are not too dissimilar, at 125 x 63mm and 122 x 59.5mm respectively. Only the back of the older phone curves in the middle (giving it its name) and measures 8.7mm, at its thinnest point. This is compared to the constant 10.5mm thickness of the P.

This handset has design elements taken from the mid-2011 Sony Ericsson Ray. This was a bar style of phone, with a sleek form factor and an almost minimalist quality. It is made up from only four parts, with an aluminium unibody chassis that conveys a premium look and feel, even more so than the higher-end Xperia S.

At the base of the phone is a significant gap across its entire width, which has been filled with a transparent strip. This houses the touch sensitive back, home and option buttons. The phone’s radio antennae also reside here. The other two new Xperia devices all have their touch buttons located above the see-through area, and not embedded within it. This alludes to the P being more of the finished product, since many users of the Xperia S expected the buttons to be within the clear strip.

I would have liked to have seen the strip to add some functionality to the phone. Perhaps this bar could have displayed notifications when the screen is off or maybe alert you to incoming calls when the handset is in silent or meeting modes. Definitely something for Sony to think about, perhaps even via a firmware update.

On the right-hand side is the speaker, volume rocker and dedicated camera button - from top to bottom. The left side is home to the microUSB, mini HDMI and micro SIM card slot. I had a hard time using the SIM card slot; as a word of warning, get an official micro SIM card and not one cut down to fit. The charging port and HDMI are too close together for comfort. I often mistook one for the other and tried to jam a microUSB lead intro the HDMI port. The Xperia S, by comparison, avoids this issue with the ports on either side of the device.

Next Page : Hardware >

Hardware

The Xperia P has a 4in TFT scratch resistant screen with a resolution of 960 x 540. Do not be put off by the lack of Super AMOLED screen, as the display is backed by some proprietary Sony technology that ups the game of the Xperia P. Built in is the Bravia mobile engine that delivers good, strong colours, and this is coupled with the Sony WhiteMagic technology. WhiteMagic adds a fourth white sub-pixel to the red, green and blue, increasing the overall brightness of the screen. I expect WhiteMagic will soon be found on other Sony handsets as it improves screen brightness noticeably. There is also an intelligent power saving element to this tech, as the display will automatically dim when indoor.

Driving the Xperia P is a dual-core 1Ghz processor; the same one found in the lower-end Xperia U: a handset costing £140 less. This is not a cutting edge CPU by any means and I feel it is more suited to a mid-range phone from last year, and not a 2012 model. I would have expected to have seen a dual-core 1.2GHz, but perhaps Sony was wary of pushing performance too close to the top-tier Xperia S, which has a dual-core 1.5GHz chip. Many flagship phones now sport quad-core processors, but Sony has yet to enter the four-core race.

Numbers aren’t everything, however, and the Xperia P ran the operating system, UI, and a plethora of applications in a fast and efficient way with no hint of lag. But it will be interesting to see how the phone handles a new OS, as is often the case, some pace is lost when the newest platform is rolled out to an older phone.

Backing the chipset is 1GB of RAM, along with 16GB of internal storage. Only 11.2GB is accessible by the user and this limit is hampered even more, by the lack of a microSD card slot. You can always get around this issue with Dropbox or Box.net apps. I found this amount of storage reasonable for a mid-range handset, while the Xperia S sports a more healthy 32GB.

The front facing camera has a standard 640 x 480 resolution, but the one at the rear sports an 8-megapixel sensor, complete with LED flash. Image quality from the main camera is good, as seen below, while 1080p video recording is also on the menu. You would expect this too, from a company that has a good history of producing great cameras, both still and video. Sony has even included the Exmor CMOS sensor from its compact cameras. On-board is a good range of options, with several selectable scene modes, ISO settings and manual metering. On top of these are some features not always seen in a mobile phone: panoramic mode, in both 2D and 3D, with multiple angles.

Not all is well with the snapper though. The dedicated camera button doesn't always launch the camera app, but a hard, long, press eventually gets it working. Many commonly used options, such as image size aren’t accessible from the onscreen menu. I only found these by pressing the options button on the transparent strip.

The signal and call quality was fine at both ends. The same goes for NFC, as reading Near Field Communication tags worked well, but this version of Android doesn’t deliver any compelling use for NFC. Ice Cream Sandwich provides Android Beam for transferring simple links and contact information. Meanwhile, Jelly Bean allows for pictures and videos to be exchanged between devices, utilising Wi-Fi direct for the increased transfer speeds.

Next Page : OS >

 

OS

The Xperia P ships with the Gingerbread flavour of Android, version 2.3.7 to be precise. Sony has implemented its own user interface that doesn't really hide the OS, but enhances it. This is clear in the way the home screens are set-up: with easily accessible widgets for the likes of Wi-Fi, GPS, data, down to the integration of TimeScape. The latter brings in social networking updates, displayed in a deck of cards. This functionality can be expanded to incorporate others feeds, ranging from LinkedIn to Foursquare, to Reuters.

I am disappointed to see Gingerbread on a mid-tier mobile phone, when the likes of HTC, Samsung and LG have all managed to produce brand new handsets with ICS. Sony had promised an update to Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 in Q2, but this has now been pushed back to sometime in Q3. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a Jelly Bean update though.

The main home screens are nicely set up with quick access widgets: media, Google Play Store, apps, messaging and the phone features. This pattern follows through to the left home screen, with a TimeScape feed brought into a window and an expandable quick access settings widget. On the right of the main home screen are music, videos and a picture gallery. This is the best default setup that I have seen in the 2012 range of phones, with no customisation needed, just to get access to the most commonly used apps.

There is a good deal of pre-installed applications on the device, outside the default offering from Google's own portfolio of software. These range from Sony's own music and video unlimited apps, to the turn-by-turn Wisepilot sat-nav software and the McAfee mobile phone security application.

There is also a built-in FM Radio, a TV remote control app and the LiveWare manager. The latter allows you to assign tasks to the phone, when various peripherals are connected to the Xperia P. These run along the lines of starting the music app when headphones are plugged in or launching the phone app, when a headset has been detected.

The virtual keyboard offers one of the best typing experiences I've had in a long time, matching my trusty auld HTC Sensation for accuracy. The only bugbear is that the pound sign is not on the keyboard by default and is hidden away in a separate menu, two deep. I thought I was going to have to mark down the phone for not being set-up for localised languages, but the dollar and Euro sign are located there too.

Next Page : Battery & Verdict >

Battery

Sony’s Xperia P has a non-removable battery like many other recent smartphones. The company quotes that the 1305mAh power source offers up six hours of talk-time or 470 hours of standby. We put the phone through its paces emulating real world heavy usage, while draining the battery down, over a working day.

I set-up the handset with all the default preferences, along with two Gmail accounts: one personal and a Google apps version. These pulled in more than 100 emails, while the installed Facebook and Twitter clients pulled in updates from over 650 friends and 1650 people. With the social networking apps and Gmail accounts running in the background, we called another mobile phone, for two hours at a time.

In the first test, the Xperia P managed to make four hours, 33 minutes and six seconds worth of calls, before the battery died. In the second test: five hours, 30 minutes and 18 seconds was achieved. The first test had a low HSPA signal, at only two signal bars, while the second test reported a near-full HSPA signal for the duration.

In my experience, the mobile would not last a full working day on heavy use, without needing to recharge. The Xperia would last a full day, on mild use and perhaps a day and a half, on infrequent use.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia P is a good mid-range, slim mobile phone with a decent set of features, albeit with an older OS. However, as is often the case, the fact that a high-end model is launched before the mid and low end devices, causes confusion in the market due to price erosion. As such, Sony's flagship NXT Xperia S, which comes with a 4.3in 1280 x 720 screen, a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, a 12-megapixel camera and runs Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 OS only costs £349, compared to the £329 that Sony wants for the Xperia P!

I can happily recommend the Xperia S, which is basically the same mobile but with a better set of features than the P, with a marginally higher cost. While we were reviewing the phone, Sony was retailing the Xperia P for £30 less than the S. These prices now seem to have been readjusted to better show the cost to specification ratio. I was told by a Sony representative that the company had ‘competitively’ priced the Xperia S, hence the lower cost, compared to the P.

Next Page : Features Table >

    Feature Table

Manufacturer and Model

Sony Xperia P (LT22i)

Network

GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSPA 850/900/1900/2100

Processor

Dual-Core 1GHz NovaThor ST ERICSSON

Memory

1GB RAM, 16GB ROM

Memory expansion

No

Display

4in, 960 x 540 pixels

Main camera

8-megapixel

Front camera

VGA

Wi-Fi

Yes

GPS

Yes

NFC

Yes

Battery

1,305 mAh

Size

122 x 59.5 x 10.5 mm

Weight

120g

OS

Android 2.3.7

 

 

 

 

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