The Sony Xperia SP is the mid-range sidekick of the more heavily specced Xperia Z and ZR handsets. It delivers solid specs and a relatively smooth Android experience, albeit without many of the newer features boasted by the current generation of flagship devices.
The Xperia SP is a phone that reeks of build quality once held, but doesn’t offer much in the way of eye-catching style.
The SP itself has a reassuring weight to it. An unbroken ring of aluminum circumnavigates the device, the smoothness of which is offset but the rubberized rear plate. The lack of buttons below the screen add to the slab-like impression given by the overall design. Of course, this means that the SP relies on virtual buttons; a contentious issue for some users.
The 720x1280 (720p) display is a mixed bag. On the one hand, images are fairly clear and gestures work smoothly. On the other, blacks are very washed out, colors are pale and there seems to be a kind of protective coating over the surface that causes light bleeding and impairs viewing angles. Ultimately it’s a good screen, but is far from a great one.
Definitely the most identifying of the Xperia SP’s features is Sony’s increasingly iconic system for notification lighting. The whole bottom of the SP is occupied by a clear bar through which different colored lights are emitted, depending on the kind of notification that requires attention. This is definitely one of this devices most useful and most annoying features.
Light Up Your Life
Notification lights are usually quite small and easy to miss, not so with the Xperia SP. The SP’s light is impossible to ignore if it’s anywhere within your field of vision. This can be a great benefit if you’ve left your phone on charge, or placed it beside you on a computer desk.
It can also be of huge annoyance. Not all notifications require immediate attention, but you may still want to be notified so that you can make a mental note to check them later. This constantly flashing light is such a distraction that most users will be forced to clear any notifications the instant they come up.
Moreover, it’s terrible if you’re trying to sleep. The light shines out both sides of the handset, so turning it over, so the screen faces down, doesn’t do a thing. The bright green charging light has to be either disabled or covered up if you’re planning on charging this phone anywhere near your bed. Even if you aren’t charging it, the flashing notification light is even more annoying.
Ultimately we’d have to say that the whole concept was a decent idea, but a fail in real world application. At the very least there needs to be the option to simply turn the phone over to hide the light, rather than disabling it entirely from the menu.
Despite the Xperia SP being a mid-tier phone, the 8MP shooter is actually quite good. It’s not the best we’ve ever used, but it’s definitely up there when compared to other mid-rangers. Shots during the day came out really clearly, albeit with some slight color bleeding when taken up close. Low-light shots were still grainy, but not nearly as bad as we’ve seen on other simlar cameras.
One thing we will say is that the camera shutter was really fast. That, combined with the dedicated Windows Phone-esque camera button made snapping off multiple shots really easy. We actually found ourselves doubling up sometimes because we didn’t notice the shot had already been taken.
Video quality suffered from the usual smartphone issues. It was grainy when not in full sunlight and had a bit of difficulty with movement. Low-light videos plus movement are a definite no-no, but this is also true for every other smartphone we’ve reviewed, so no surprises here.
Pictures taken with the Xperia SP camera
The dual-core 1.7GHz processor and 1GB of RAM handled everything we threw at them pretty smoothly. There were no heating issues that we experienced, although handsets becoming hot during use happens less frequently these days, thankfully.
Browsing was fast, apps loaded quickly and overall there was little lag and jerkiness. It wasn’t the best UI experience we’ve ever had, but that’s hardly to be expected from a non-flagship.
In benchmarking the SP functioned quite admirably, obtaining similar scores to the Galaxy S4 at times. Of course, benchmarks are hardly an accurate representation of real-world efficiency, but it can be interesting to compare results between devices.
Battery Life was neither really here nor there with the SP. It tended to make a full day, but occasionally we’d find ourselves looking for a power plug before sundown with no real idea as to what was draining the power.
Battery benchmarks were equally confusing. In our web-browsing test it lasted 5 hours of continuous automated browsing, which is a pretty standard. Once we tried testing it with a looped 720p video, however, it scored just 4.5 hours. This is a bit confusing; usually a phone runs out of power quite a bit faster from continuous browsing than from video playback.
The Sony Xperia SP is a solid mid-range device. Its screen could be improved, but the overall performance and the smooth camera definitely pleased us. Battery life was more than passable and the design quality is good, if not aesthetically distinct.
We can’t say how well it’ll compare with the likes of the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, but in the very least the Xperia SP is worth checking out if you’re in the market to compare cell phones and you’re not shopping in the top end of town.