Sony Xperia J
16th May 2012 | 17:09
Can the Sony Ericsson inspired J jump in and make a splash?
The Sony Xperia J is the smaller and cheaper brother to James Bond's Xperia T, but don't expect to find this handset mingling with scantily clad women - the Xperia J is far more reserved, less flamboyant, happier to stay out of the limelight and just get on with life without frenzied car chases through the French Riviera.
There's a less flamboyant price as well, with the Sony Xperia J setting you back a manageable £170(around $275/AU$265) SIM-free, or you can have it for free on contracts starting at as little as £10.50 per month on a two year deal.
The iconic arched back of the Xperia J is the strongest nod to the past Sony Ericsson handsets, and provides a unique design which we found pleasing to the eye.
This also means that the Sony Xperia J sits nicely in the palm, and at 124g we reckon it's pretty spot on in terms of weight, with a perfect balance in the hand and its slender 124.3 x 61.2 x 9.2 mm chassis is certainly not overbearing.
It's a sturdy handset, with a good build quality, and while the rear plastic case is a little on the thin side, it's easy enough to remove, unlike the one found on the Nokia Lumia 820.
On the front you're greeted by a 4-inch display which is relatively bright, but at 480x854 isn't too sharp, especially when you consider the San Diego has a 600x1024 offering.
That's not to say it's a poor screen and it's now been updated to Android 4.1, which brings battery savings, a new quick settings bar and Sony Select, a (boring) recommender of apps and games - stay tuned for our updated review. With a single-core 1GHz processor and 512MB running the show it manages to really work well too - for the most part.
Below the display is a bezel housing back, home and menu keys, with Sony not opting for on-screen controls, nor replacing the menu button with the multi-tasking function Google recommends.
There's also a front facing, VGA camera above the display while on the left there's a microUSB port for charging and connecting the Xperia J to a computer.
It's not a location we're fond of, as a charging port at the base of a handset makes it much easier to use when plugged in.
On the right there's a power/lock key at the top, with a volume rocker switch below. We found the power/lock key too small and difficult to press, making it a chore to do the simple task of locking the Xperia J, or waking the screen.
Up top there's just a centralised 3.5mm jack, which according to Nokia and its Lumia 920 makes it easier to slip a phone into your pocket when headphones are plugged in.
Round the back of the Xperia J, the curved rear cover sports a slightly rubberised finish, and while it's not quite as grippy as the Desire C, we didn't feel like we were prone to dropping the handset.
You get a 5MP rear camera flanked by a single LED flash in the top left corner, while at the base there's a speaker grill.
Hit the power/lock key and a ambient light will radiate out from the silver strip of bezel on the base of the Xperia J – these lighting touches are popular with Sony (and previously Sony Ericsson), and we can trace them all the way back to the w850i with its pulsating orange menu button.
The Sony Xperia J is an attractive, solid and well appointed handset set at a reasonable price which is sure to tempt some.
The Sony Xperia J runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean now, which has improved the speed of the phone somewhat as well as bringing an all-new quick settings element to the notification panel.
As we mentioned in the introduction there's a 1GHz single-core processor and 512MB of RAM running the show, and if we're honest the Xperia J really struggles to deliver a smooth Ice Cream Sandwich experience.
Sony has sprinkled a light overlay onto Android for the Xperia J, but it keeps things pretty pure, giving you a solid, if sluggish, user interface.
Unlocking the phone, swiping through home screens and opening the app tray are trouble free (most of the time), lulling you into a full sense of security, but try and open an app and the Sony Xperia J's lack of internal grunt comes to the fore.
Click a simple application such as contacts or messaging and the Xperia J takes a couple of seconds to open, with more intensive apps taking even longer.
The camera is one of the big offenders here, as we were left wondering if we'd even clicked the icon as the Xperia J took a good three to four seconds to even give us a hint it was trying to open something.
The slow camera load up is also painfully apparently when you try to quick launch if from the lock screen.
Swipe the opposite way as you would to unlock and the Xperia J jumps to your homescreen for a few seconds before launching the camera app – this confused us at first as we thought we'd unlocked the handset instead of opening the camera.
We found if we tried to do anything too quickly the Xperia J couldn't keep up, leading it to freeze for a couple of seconds while it tried to process the fact we wanted to open the gallery straight from the camera app after just snapping a photo.
Screen responsiveness wasn't always great either, with us taking a couple of attempts at times to get our prods to register.
We'd advise you help the Xperia J out and keep the number of running apps down to a minimum – luckily this is easy enough to manage by holding the home key below the screen to get the Android multi- tasking menu up.
You can then swipe horizontally across the apps you wish to close, and hopefully saving that processor from being overburdened.
The 4-inch display is relatively clear for a handset in this price range and while it's not going to win any awards it is at least serviceable and gives you more space than the Sony Xperia Miro or HTC Desire C.
You're given five homescreens to play with, with no option to add or remove spares, and alongside the stock Android widgets Sony has also thrown in some of its own including three Timescape social options.
Hold down on an empty space and you'll bring up a menu offering widgets, applications, folder, shortcuts, wallpapers and themes – allowing you to quickly customise the Xperia J to your liking.
It's probably best to steer clear of too many data-intensive widgets on the Xperia J, as it may slow you down even more.
The good old Android notification panel is present and correct; pull down from the top of the screen to view your latest alerts, plus there's a shortcut key to the settings menu.
Some may be disappointed to find there are no quick settings available in this panel, allowing you toggle things such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but a homescreen widget goes some way to solving this.
Everything it pretty intuitive, especially if you've used Android in the past, with no over-the-top overlays, something Sony Ericsson was guilty of on a few of its handsets.
As much as we like the way Jelly Bean has been implemented on the Sony Xperia J the poor performance of the processor means it's a frustrating experience. It leaves us longing for the Orange San Diego and its Intel 1.6GHz chip which manages to run Android (albeit Gingerbread) without issue.
Contacts and calling
Contacts are dealt with adequately on the Sony Xperia J, with the option to sign into your Google, email and social media accounts and pull through your contacts into the main application.
The contacts app itself is pretty standard Android, with a list of all your friends and a picture next to each of their names.
We found the Xperia J to be pretty hit and miss when it came to automatically matching up our chums with their relevant Facebook profiles, and the ones it did mange to link up saw profile pictures not always pulled through.
This led to us having to go through manually to link the ones it missed and scratching our heads as to why it wasn't pulling through everyone's picture.
Click through onto a contact's details and you'll note that if you have linked them with their Facebook profile the Xperia J has also pulled through their birthday and relationship status onto the contact card – handy if you're rubbish with dates or lazily on the pull.
There are also a couple of additional tabs, photos and interests, which grabs more information from the social network, allowing you to find out even more about your new-found friend.
If you're a Twitter fan then you won't be happy to learn that the Sony Xperia J does not cater for the 140 -character social medium in its contacts app for linking accounts together - #fail.
Adding a new friend to your contacts list is the same simple Android routine – hit the icon next to the search bar and you're taken to a form, allowing you to fill out a huge range of data.
The phone app appears as a separate icon on the Sony Xperia J, but in reality it's part of the same app as contacts – hitting phone just opens up the application on a different tab.
You're greeted with a numerical keyboard which also has your latest calls displayed above it, allowing you to quickly perform a call back.
Start tapping out a number and you'll note the Xperia J comes equipped with smart dial – offering up contact suggestions matching the digits you're typing.
Obviously you can also call someone by opening up their contact card from your friend list and tap their number.
Once in a call we found the quality to be perfectly acceptable, with volume going loud enough to hear our friend even in noisy situations.
Audio wasn't crystal clear, but we didn't experience any major issues, and the Xperia J managed to hold signal well, meaning we didn't drop calls.
Even cheaper smartphones these days are expected to offer a whole range of messaging options and the Sony Xperia J is no exception.
Kicking us off are the dual email clients: the Google-built Gmail app which deals solely with the search giant's email offering, alongside the standard Email app which can host multiple accounts.
There's nothing different in the Gmail app, which offers the same experience you find on every Android handset these days – a simple and intuitive app which makes dealing with emails a breeze.
Over in the Email app you can have multiple email accounts feeding into one universal inbox, but if that all gets a bit too busy you can view each inbox individually as well.
Slightly annoyingly you can't zoom out fully on HTML emails to get an overview of them, leaving you panning around feverishly to consume all the wordy goodness.
Text messages are handled, unsurprisingly in the messaging app, which offers up the traditional Android experience, with a list of conversations with your various pals, and if there's a photo associated with a contact that's pulled through here too.
We found the text messaging app could be a bit slow to load at times, especially when a new message arrived - the Xperia J took a second or two to refresh the list to display the latest ramblings from our friend.
These functions are nothing without a means of tapping out replies, however the keyboard supplied on the Sony Xperia J isn't a particularly pleasing one.
The keyboard is cramped even on the 4-inch display, and the poorly placed "hide keyboard" and "settings" keys meant we were constantly hitting them instead of the symbols, comma and full stop buttons.
Turning the Xperia J 90 degrees offered little reprieve, as while the keys became better spaced, we still found it difficult to accurately tap out our missives.
We also found the board was slow to respond to our taps, which made tapping out messages a laborious and frustrating chore – needless to say we quickly sacked it off in favour of a third party option downloaded from Google Play – SwiftKey 3 if you're asking.
As far a social networking is concerned Sony has helpfully pre-installed the official Facebook and Twitter apps on the Xperia J – something we'd like every manufacturer to do, along with the Google+ app which appears alongside the range of other Google offerings.
There's no social media aggregator app on the Xperia J, with the Timescape app found on Sony Ericssons ditched in favour of three homescreen widgets, all bearing the Timescape brand.
You can choose from Feed, Friends and Share – all of which are pretty self explanatory, and all link into your Facebook and Twitter accounts to keep you up to date with all the latest going- ons.
There's also the option to download more links from Google Play, including Foursquare, LinkedIn, Google+ and Flickr, if you really want to get on board.
Without a dedicated app it's all quite limiting and we found ourselves opting for the official apps over the widgets – but some may find them useful and it's a nice option to have.
When it comes to surfing the web on the Sony Xperia J you're given the choice of two internet browsers out of the box.
There's the stock Android browser and the now more commonly used Chrome browser, both of which offer up a pretty similar web experience.
You can rock tabbed browsing, sync Google bookmarks, save pages for offline reading and request desktop sites on both, with the early difference between the two appearing to be the colour – the Android browser sports a dark skin, while Chrome offers a lighter style.
Mobile sites loaded in good time over both Wi-Fi and 3G, with the Xperia J rendering the pages in around three seconds.
The same can't be said for full websites, with the added complexities of the desktop version of TechRadar taking at least 30 seconds to finish loading – although we were able to pan around after about 20 seconds.
As you may expect panning and zooming pages is equally as painful, with the Xperia J juddering as you move through magnification levels, and a less than smooth scroll action.
At least the 4-inch display shows you a decent chunk of website at a time, and the auto text-reflow feature makes reading articles much easier.
The Xperia J's resolution may not be mind blowing, but words and images appear sharp and crisp on the 480x854 display, which actually makes for a manageable reading experience once you get past those load times.
One advantage Chrome offers is its incognito function, allowing all your online activities to go unrecorded, perfect if you want to, erm, shop for a present.
The Sony Xperia J comes equipped with a rear facing 5MP camera and single LED flash, plus a VGA snapper round the front.
While this is acceptable for the price bracket the Xperia J falls into, better can be had for your money in the form of the 8MP-toting Orange San Diego – something you'll need to consider if image quality is a big factor for you.
As we mentioned in the interface section, the camera app takes it sweet time opening, with us having to wait several seconds before the Xperia J was ready to start taking pictures – no instant shots available here.
The camera app itself is a well designed, simple affair, with large menu keys making it easy to hit the options you want – far better than the offering on the San Diego and BlackBerry Curve 9320.
There's a limited range of options, including a panorama setting and five scene modes, while the flash can be toggled and a digital zoom is on board to get you closer to the action.
The zoom is controlled by the volume rocker key on the side of the Xperia J, but image quality is dramatically decreased the further you go in, so use it sparingly.
Auto-focus is in play on the Sony Xperia J, but at times it can take a second or two to sort itself out, which can be frustrating if you're trying to capture something quickly.
Tap to focus is also available, but this is disabled if you opt turn on the "touch screen to capture" function, if you don't fancy using the on-screen shutter key.
If you want to fine tune the settings a little more you can mess around with the exposure, white balance and metering levels, while geo-tagging will also pin the location of your photo to the image file.
Thanks to the auto-focus, the Xperia J does take a second or two to snap the image and return back to the shooting mode once you've hit the shutter key, which makes capturing shots in quick session almost impossible.
Image quality is acceptable at best, with the Sony Xperia J struggling to cope with multiple light sources and areas of light and shadow in the same image.
A lot of our shots looked grainy, and while we weren't expecting sparkling quality from the Xperia J, it has to be said we were disappointed with the results.
The Sony Xperia J can record video, but sadly only at VGA quality, so you may want to think twice before hitting that red button.
While we realise the Xperia J is a budget handset, 720p video recording is becoming more common at the lower end of the market, and the Orange San Diego manages to produce full HD film.
The video recording function can be accessed through the camera app – there's no separate icon for it – which means you'll need to wait for the application to load up, then switch modes before you can start shooting.
Options are relatively limited, with four scene modes plus exposure, white balance and metering to play with.
You can toggle the LED on the back of the Xperia J, but you'll need to decide if you want it on or off before recording, as you can't change it when rolling.
The digital zoom is in play in video mode too, with the Sony Xperia J allowing you to zoom in and out while recording, although the quality deteriorates the more you magnify the shot.
Once again the app is simple to use, with intuitive buttons providing users with an easy way to navigate around the various features on offer.
Needless to say results are far from spectacular. Video is grainy and pixelated, while colours and movement are poorly represented – if video recording isn't a big issue for you, then you can overlook these flaws, but for anyone who wants to be able to capture half decent footage on their phone, you'll need to look elsewhere.
The Sony Xperia J makes a decent attempt at providing a multimedia experience at a reasonable price, with its 4-inch touchscreen and Google innards providing solid foundations.
Sadly we found the Xperia J lacking when it came to internal storage, with Sony only sticking in 4GB, with just over 2GB of that actually available to use – the rest is filled by the firmware.
Luckily there is a microSD card slot behind the Xperia J's plastic rear cover, allowing you to expand the storage by another 32GB – which should be plenty for the majority of you out there.
You'll have to remove the battery to access it which is a bit of a pain, as it means switching the handset on and off if you want to swap the card out.
Getting media on and off the Sony Xperia J is easy enough: plug into your computer, allow the drivers to automatically install and you'll be dragging and dropping your content in no time.
There's also Sony's PC Companion desktop software which you can download and install on your machine, allowing you to sync content between phone and computer, as well as back up and restore the Xperia J.
Music fans should feel at home with a Sony phone, as the company pioneered the portable solution back in 80s with the original Walkman – technology has come on a long way from them, but we still expect Sony to deliver on one of its iconic traits.
Fire up the Walkman app and it's all pretty straightforward; there's a 'my music' panel allowing you view your tunes by tracks, album or artist, and there's a playlist function allowing you to group certain songs together.
The now playing tab provides you will all the typical music controls, play/pause, skip, and scrub, while repeat and shuffle are hidden away slightly in the menu panel – accessed by hitting the menu soft key below the screen.
You can access the graphic equaliser from the same menu, allowing you to fine-tune your listening experience to best suit your style of music, and with a decent set of headphones plugged in, the Xperia J provides pleasing playback.
Sony's xLoud technology has also been stuffed into the Xperia J, which boosts the volume of the internal speaker, without the same insufferable level of distortion we've become accustomed to.
There's a link to Sony's Music Unlimited app from within the Walkman application, and the app has its own icon in the app list as well.
Music Unlimited is Sony's answer to streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify, charging you £9.99 a month for unlimited listening, with the option to save your tunes offline, so you're not without your favourite beats when away from the internet.
It's up to you whether you plump for Music Unlimited over the other services available, but it will sync nicely if you own a PlayStation 3 or Sony Smart TV.
If you fancy purchasing and downloading music so you actually own a physical copy then Google now was its own service, available through Google Play.
Play Music is similar to the likes of iTunes and 7Digital, offering up a wide catalogue of songs, with singles setting you back between 79p and £1.29, while albums can cost anything from £3.99 to £12.99.
Prices are in keeping with rival music stores, and the Play Music store works in very much the same way as the rest of Google Play, which means you'll easily be able to navigate around.
There's an FM radio app on board the Xperia J too, providing you with a simple way to listen to radio stations. You can favourite a station allowing you to jump straight to it.
A handy shortcut to the TrackID app also features, which will tell you the name of the song which is currently playing – rather useful if you ask us.
With that 4-inch display the Sony Xperia J is a portable media player contender and don't let the 480x854 resolution put you off.
Video playback is smooth, colours bright and lines pretty well defined. It's not as impressive as the HD displays we're treated to on the high-end phones these days, but you could happily watch a movie on the Xperia J.
The player itself is a very basic affair, offering you a play/pause button and scrub controls and that's about it – which at least makes it idiot proof.
While Sony claims the Xperia J will happily play MP4, WMV, H.263 and .264 formats, we were unable to get any of our clips to play from our microSD card.
The My Movies app gives you access to all the films stored on the handset which weren't recorded with the on board camera, which makes it a lot easier to find the video you want without having to trawl through the Album app.
If like us you can't get your files to play, you can always head over to Google Play where you can rent and purchase movies, with rental prices ranging from £1.49 to £3.49.
If you want to rent an HD version then you'll need to add a quid on top of the price, and you'll need to shell out at least £7.99 if you want to purchase a film to keep.
All your lovely photos are stored in the Album app, and Sony has implemented its own design within this application, doing away with the folders we're used to seeing in Android.
Instead the default view is a vertical list of image thumbnails in order of the date and time they were taken.
Using the pinch and zoom technique you can adjust the size of the thumbnails – and thus the number which appear on screen at any one time. There is a short delay while the Xperia J catches up with the new magnification level, but it's not a slow as some other areas of the handset.
There's a basic photo editor built into the album, which lets you crop, rotate, remove red eye and add various effects and corrections to your images.
It's not as fully featured as some third party offerings, but for the casual snapper it's an easy to use tool which can improve your pictures.
Battery life and connectivity
The Sony Xperia J comes with a 1,750mAh battery which is pretty big for a phone in its price range – and it shows.
We got an impressive amount of life out of the Xperia J during our time using the handset, with it easily lasting a whole day, even with moderately heavy usage.
If you were a lot more conservative you could probably stretch battery life out to around three days between chargers, and it meant we were never left panicking about where the nearest source of power was.
Sony has included a power saver app on the Xperia J, which lets you manage consumption even more, possibly allowing you to eke out a few more days usage.
From within the app you can set what functions you want it to throttle, such as screen brightness, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and mobile data. This has been upgraded with the Android 4.1 update to shut off data when the screen is turned off, thus extending it further.
The Sony Xperia J comes well equipped in the connectivity department with 3G and Wi-Fi b/g/n network options both on board, as well as the option to use the handset as a Wi-Fi hotspot and share its web connection with other devices.
The microUSB port on the left hand side allows you to easily link up the Xperia J to a computer, while Bluetooth 2.1 lets you pair the smartphone with your car, wireless headphones or laptop.
A-GPS also makes an appearance, allowing you to locate yourself and find the way home at 2am after a long session down the pub.
The addition of a microSD card slot round the back really helps, especially as there's a poor internal offering in the Xperia J, but there's no NFC technology present.
If you love to stream media you'll be pleased to learn the Sony Xperia J is DLNA enabled, meaning you can wireless link it up to other DLNA enabled devices such as TVs, game consoles and Hi-Fi systems.
Maps and apps
The Sony Xperia J comes equipped with the excellent Google Maps, the search giant's free mapping solution which not only lets you explore the world, but also provides you with directions, traffic updates and turn-by-turn navigation.
Viewing maps on the Xperia J is easy thanks to the 4-inch display, but the sluggish processor comes into play again, as it takes a few seconds to load the map – even longer if you have traffic updates turned on.
GPS lock wasn't particularly quick either, with the Xperia J taking at least five seconds to starting pin pointing our position, but once it got a lock, it managed to hold on it and track us relatively well.
We did experience a fair amount of juddering as we zoomed in and out of the maps and there was a couple of seconds delay as we panned around and waiting for new areas to load.
We it comes to app selection you're spoilt for choice thanks to the Android operating system and the presence of Google Play, giving you over 700,000 apps to choose from.
In terms of pre-installed applications Sony has furnished the Xperia J with a few, with the obvious inclusion of the Google range all present and correct including Maps, Gmail, Navigation and Google+.
As we mentioned Facebook and Twitter have been helpfully loaded on, making it quick and easy to jump onto your favourite social networks from the word go.
The Connected Devices app allows you to stream content to and from the Sony Xperia J and other devices on the same wireless network, such as TVs and computers.
The app automatically searches for compatible devices and you can then select the one you want and push your media to it.
Music and Videos is a peculiar app. It's not your destination to download or stream your favourite tunes or films; it's actually a social aggregator of what your friends are listening to/watching.
You can share you favourite tracks or YouTube clips via the application, as well as gorge on what your friends like, but overall it all seemed pretty pointless and we couldn't see ourselves using it… ever.
OfficeSuite allows you to view various documents including Word, PDF, Excel and Powerpoint. You can't create or edit documents on the fly though – you'll need to spend £9.29 on the Pro version for that.
That said it's handy to have a viewer pre-installed on a device, especially if you download documents from the internet.
TrackID is Sony's music recognition app which works in a similar way to the likes of Shazam and SoundHound – play it a short clip of music and it will work out what you're listening to.
Perfect when you're out and hear a song but don't know what it is, and the integration with the FM radio app on the Xperia J is a nice, and useful touch.
Smart Connect lets you program the Xperia J to turn certain settings on or off when you connect the handset to a peripheral.
For example you can have the Xperia J turn on your alarm and set your ringtone to silent when you plug in the charger, or open up the Walkman app when you plug in a set of headphones.
There are three preset options, but you can easily edit these and create your own ones, with the ability to automatically post to Facebook or send a text as well as open apps and toggle settings.
Hands on gallery
The Sony Xperia J is, as the firm itself declared during its launch at IFA 2012, a smartphone which "combines great style with affordability."
It may not be a wizard on the inside, but overall it offers a respectable smartphone experience at an attractive price point.
We are fans of the design of the Sony Xperia J, bringing back the look from the old Sony Ericssons and updating it with a smooth, stylish finish that sits nicely in the hand.
Battery life is also impressive, as more and more smartphones struggle to get through a day the Xperia J will happily chug through at least two, if not more with careful use.
The Xperia J is laggy, very laggy. We felt like we were constantly waiting for the phone to catch up with what we wanted it to do and this severely detracted from the user experience.
Typing out messages was also frustrating, with the poorly designed keyboard reducing us to mistake after mistake and leaving us sending texts or emails which only half made sense.
The camera isn't great either, and while we're aware the Xperia J is more of a budget-centric handset, there is better on offer for the same money.
If we're honest, we were a little disappointed with the Sony Xperia J. Sure, it looks great and will last a few days on one charge, but the sluggishness of the Android operating system makes us feel like we've gone back a few years.
We wanted to love the Xperia J, but instead we were left frustrated with flaws which we feel could have been easily addressed by Sony during development.
If you're in the market for a sub-£200 phone then we'd recommend you shop around, as there's a lot of choice out there and at the end of the day your decision will come down to personal preference.
You should certainly consider the Sony Xperia J, as it has all the makings of a decent handset and when the Jelly Bean upgrade lands, it might make all the difference. Here's hoping.