As Motorola and Samsung have both proved, with the Defy range and Xcover Extreme handsets respectively, you don’t have to wrap a handset in a bulky chassis for it to be classed as 'rugged'. Sony is also involved in this caper, with the slim Xperia Go laying claim to water and dust resistance to the IP67 standard (this is the standard all 'rugged' handsets generally acquire), while the chassis itself is slim and relatively unobtrusive.
It’s not an expensive handset, either. SIM-free you’ll find it online for around £170 including VAT. The trouble Sony has with the Xperia Go, though, is that this is a very crowded sector of the market, and, to be brutally frank, the Xperia Go just isn’t up to much.
Looking on the bright side, there’s not too much wrong with the general design. The chassis has that tactile, semi rubbery finish that means it’ll be easy to grip if you are in the great outdoors in colder conditions and wearing gloves. The phone is only 9.8mm thick, and overall is suitable for smaller hands and pockets.
The backplate comes off to reveal otherwise hidden sockets for SIM and microSD cards. The former slots into a caddy, the latter has a covered port. In both cases these arrangements afford a second layer of protection underneath the backplate whose curves wrap around the four edges of the phone.
The only holes on the outer edge of the phone when the backplate is in place are the headset slot (irritatingly mounted on the left side) and the mains power slot. Both are protected by hinged covers that you’ll probably only be able to move if you have fingernails. The software gives you a little reminder to close any opened ports when they’re not in use. These two holes reveal a stylish splash of turquoise hiding beneath the backplate – and when the plate is removed the whole of the interior is similarly coloured. It’s a nice if not unique effect. The battery is underneath this blue swathe and can’t be got at, protecting it from dust and water but also meaning you can’t fit a replacement.
The waterproofing credentials aren’t great – Sony says the Xperia Go is waterproof to 1m. So it’ll survive being dropped in the bath, but I wouldn’t suggest you drop it into the deep end of a swimming pool.
The Xperia Go has a dual-core Cortex A9 1GHz processor and it didn’t throw up any performance issues. Things moved along swiftly, though the 512MB of RAM is minimal and more demanding users could find the handset laggy.
So far, this might sound fine, but issues kick in quickly – and there’s even a problem with the ruggedness of the phone in that the chassis doesn’t feel all that robust. I could bow the whole phone under a bit of hand pressure, and the backplate will pick up scratches fairly readily from things like money or keys in your pocket.
The screen is a real disappointment. At 3.5in, it is on the small side these days, but that’s not its main problem. The low resolution of 480 x 320 pixels means it can struggle to deliver detail. Most websites are unreadable without zooming or taking recourse to mobile versions – and I like my phone-based web viewing to be full fat.
Even when you do get text to a readable size, it looks jagged rather than smooth. Needless to say, video-viewing and gameplay also suffer thanks to the low resolution screen.
The screen brightness doesn’t go very high, either, and outdoors you may struggle to read it at times. This seems rather odd for a handset the rugged features of which are aimed at more outdoor-focused people.
If you look at Sony’s website it says Android 4 is on board, but my review handset (a SIM-free one) came with Android 2.3.7.
Sony’s website also says a software update may be required to get the latest Android version, but when I tried this I was told the phone already had the latest available system updates.
Sony’s own skin sits on top of Android, and if you like it then you’ll be happy. At least those hankering for modern Android’s support of folders will find that catered for on the launcher bar. Sony’s Timescape app is on hand to bring together your Facebook and Twitter feeds natively. I find Timescape somewhat over-designed for my tastes, but if you like it then its extensions for other services such as Gmail and Foursquare will doubtless also appeal.
Sony adds a couple of fitness related apps to the Android staples: the pedometer WalkMate, FigureRunning (that odd app which maps your route in order to draw shapes), and Adidas miCoach. There’s also Compass app, WhatsApp, a torch app, Sony’s Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited stores and a few other extras. These are nice to have, but they do take a huge chunk out of the 4GB of user storage – just 1.7GB was available on my review handset.
The 5-megapixel camera is only so-so in performance terms. There are various shooting modes including a sweeping panorama function that automatically shoots as you pan the camera – you have to move quite slowly for this to work. The camera tops out at 720p video recording.
Battery life is reasonable and you should get a day from it, but this is definitely not a handset you’ll want to trouble for lots of streaming, mobile web or other action that’s demanding on the screen.
In the end, it’s hard to say the Xperia Go is more than mediocre. Step out with £200 in your pocket and you’ll find handsets that fare a lot better. I’m still a big fan of the Huawei Ascend G300, for example, which is a lot less expensive and has a larger, higher resolution screen to boot.
Manufacturer and model
Sony Xperia Go
1GHz dual-core NovaThor U8500 Cortex A9
3.5in, 480 x 320 pixels
111 x 60.3 x 9.8 mm