Sony Xperia L
3rd Dec 2013 | 16:00
Is Sony's baby Xperia one L of a good phone, or one L of a letdown?
The days of Sony Ericsson are long gone, with Sony pushing its own smartphone brand to the fore, aided by the excellent Xperia Z. In a smartphone market that is becoming ever more populated, the Sony Xperia L sits towards the bottom, looking up at the aforementioned Xperia Z, Xperia Z1, and the Xperia SP.
Sitting on contract prices seen on Vodafone at around £20pm, and with a £229 (around $250, AU$270) SIM free price tag, the Xperia L is left to fight it out price wise against the ageing Samsung Galaxy S3, the newer Nokia Lumia 620 and even the powerful Huawei Ascend P6.
It will also have to prove it has the means to overcome the ZTE Blade V, Huawei Ascend Y300 and Nokia Lumia 520, handsets that have already established themselves at the base end. Oh, and lets not forget about the excellent Moto G.
Sony want to sell the Xperia L based on its camera technology, the 8MP Exmor RS sensor on the back, with Sony claiming that if camera engineers made a smartphone, it would be the Xperia L. We will be looking at that later on.
However, Sony does realise that there is more to a phone, even a camera phone, than just the camera. Sat within a curved chassis, a design wholly pinched from the Sony Xperia J and Xperia T, is a dual-core 1GHz Qualcomm chip, running a skinned version of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
These specifications sound a little 2012 if we're honest, which is disappointing given that the Xperia L looks and acts like it's from 2013. The 4.3-inch screen on the front is bright and crisp, but lacks the Bravia engine that was seen on the Xperia SP and Xperia Z1, we assume as a cost-cutting measure.
Measuring in at 128.7 x 65 x 9.7mm, the Xperia L is by no means a large phone. At 137g, it isn't exactly a light phone though, although we found that the added weight gave the Xperia L a more premium feel.
There are three colour options available, with our review model coming in black. The standard white option is also available, with the third being black with a fancy looking red rear cover. A thin metallic band wraps around the Xperia L, breaking up the block colour nicely, and doubling up as a means of notifications, as a coloured light emanates from the centre of the base.
Looking at the front of the Xperia L, Sony has again chosen to omit what may be considered the three standard Android keys, especially if you are familiar with any of Samsung's devices.
It opts instead to rely upon the on-screen buttons we saw on the Nexus 4. This leaves the front of the Xperia L with little else other than that 4.3-inch, 854x480 screen.
Sony must be trying to sell the Xperia L on the capabilities of the rear camera, as the front-facing sensor is only at VGA resolution, sat in the top of the bezel. We appreciate that Sony might have been going for symmetry, but with the lack of any front-facing buttons, and the curved chassis, the bezel feels a little chunky.
For external buttons, the Xperia L has a round lock/power key sat about half way up the left side, sat below the volume rocker. Due to the Xperia's size, both are exceptionally easy to hit accidentally.
Also situated on the left side is a dedicated shutter key, used to take photos and quick boot into camera mode from sleep mode. Because the button has two levels when you press it, one to focus and harder to shoot whilst the camera is open, we found that we never pressed the button hard enough to load the camera app quickly.
Ports wise, the Xperia has both the standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a microUSB port. Our colleague Kate will be pleased to find that the headphone port is at the top of the Xperia L, sat neatly in the centre. The micro USB port sits about a fifth of the way down the right.
The curved design does help the back plate sit tight against the rest of the Xperia L. Housed behind is a 1700mAh battery, that hides away a microSD slot, so there is no hot-swapping there. The Xperia L also takes a standard SIM card.
Overall the Xperia L is a nice looking handset, although immediately feels outdated as it is nigh on identical to its predecessors, the Xperia J and Xperia T. It also has a hell of a fight on its hands against a burning budget smartphone market, one that is hotter than ever with ageing flagships providing a lot of competition to newer tech.
We all know that nigh on every Android phone released without the word Nexus in the title has some level of software customisation. The Xperia L is no different, with Sony's UI sitting prettily over the top of Jelly Bean, although that's Android 4.1, not 4.2 or 4.3.
Starting at the lock screen, swiping up and down produces an interesting shutter like effect, with Sony adding the ability to swipe the Camera or Music icon left or right to instantly load into the respective apps.
We do struggle a little to see why the Camera Icon is there, given that the dedicated shutter button launches direct into the camera from sleep mode.
The 1GHz dual-core CPU seemed to cope well with what we threw at it. Movement between home screens was snappy, although we noticed that the gallery widget needed a second or two to load images nearly every time we made it to that screen.
We did also find that it took a noticeable amount of time to load apps. We're not talking extreme lengths of time here, but long enough for it to be a bugbear the longer we used it.
As for the interface itself, Sony's UI is very well put together. We can't say that it is the best that we have used, we'd have to look more towards the Samsung Galaxy range or towards HTC's Sense to find that, but it does everything that we could ask for.
Having access to a couple of quick settings in the notifications bar, for instance, is a feature that we have long been fans of on multiple UIs. There is not as many features available to toggle, but we found that the blue icons were more than enough to get us by. Access to the settings menu is also done through that bar.
Thanks to having Jelly Bean underneath, notifications are also expandable and dismissable, helping you to sort through the mishmash of notifications from Facebook, email and Smurfs Village.
Home screen wise, Sony offer the Xperia L with up to seven, added by swiping as far to the left or right as you can, and then clicking the Plus button. There is no way of snapping out to view all the home screens together, and no way of rearranging their order, without moving every widget one by one.
Within the app drawer, Sony has chosen to divide it into blocks. The upper section of the screen provides access to how the icons can be arranged, by usage, date installed or alphabetically, as well as having a search button and settings key. The lower section contains the apps, which are navigated by a horizontal swipe. Interestingly, there is no way to add widgets from the drawer.
Moving apps to the home screen is done in the same way that it always has on Android, by long pressing and dragging. It can also done by long pressing the home screen, which brings up a bar along the bottom for adding widgets and apps, as well as changing the Xperia L's theme and wallpaper.
Icons throughout the Xperia L are another area that Sony has had a look at, providing their take in much the same way that other OEMs have. The rounded designs of the icons, and the slim white text underneath makes a change from the blockier TouchWiz.
Overall, the Xperia L feels very much like an Android device, and this isn't something that we can knock as the Android platform is very well built, and very easy to navigate. Sony has thrown some interesting features in, things like the ability to change the theme made the L feel a little different which will help in two-year contracts.
The biggest problem with the Xperia L interface isn't the software, rather the internal processor. For the price tag, it's hard to knock it. Things are generally smooth, but the dual-core 1GHz processor struggles on the odd occasion, especially if you quickly throw a couple of tasks its way.
We also couldn't decide whether it was an over sensitive screen, or the processor lag misreading some of our gestures, but we found that the Xperia L would often load an app or a menu that we had moved our finger over, yet hadn't actually pressed.
Contacts and Calling
If like us, you still use your phone to make phone calls, you will be glad to find that the Xperia L comes with that ability. If you have lots of contacts, unlike us, you'll also be pleased to find that with Google's Android Jelly Bean behind it, the Xperia L will draw in your contacts.
The contacts app itself is a nice design, with Sony adding a few tweaks to customise the Android underneath. The white background is pleasing and makes the text easier to read in the sunlight. Each contact also comes with a little profile picture, which defaults to the Google+ image.
Images will also be drawn in Facebook, or other social accounts, should you not have a Google image for that person.
Overall as an app, it is a pretty standard affair by smartphone, or Android standards. The list is quick to navigate, and as you scroll through, a little letter pops up at the top of the screen to allow you to stop when you get to right one. You can also navigate by tapping the letters down the side.
Android also allows you to filter contacts, only showing data from certain accounts. The Xperia for Facebook app also pulls in your data, and allows you to view contact's status' . After installing the Twitter app from Google Play, you can also use the Xperia for Twitter function.
Within the Xperia's contact and phone app, the top houses four main tabs, allowing you to flick between Contacts, the Dialler, Favourites and Groups. Each app is fairly self explanatory, and you'll be pleased to know that the Dialler does support smart dialling.
Besides the settings button (denoted throughout Android as a series of three dots), sits a magnifying glass, for contact searching, and the contacts add button.
Within the settings are the account settings, as well as allowing you to filter out on/offline contacts, and show only contacts with phone numbers.
Contact cards on the Xperia L are, again, a fairly standard affair. Mini cards can be accessed by tapping the profile pic, or the main one is loaded by tapping the contact. The theme continues through, and you are able to make calls and send messages directly by tapping the contact information.
Disappointingly, within the contact card, the larger pictures that fill the top of the screen can feel a little low res, as they have often been stretched to accommodate the large horizontal bar. Within the editing screen, it is possible to set customised ringtones, or even send calls from that contact straight to voicemail.
The call quality on the Xperia L is actually rather decent. The microphone and speaker are both placed well enough and are both loud enough for you to hear. We also found that the volume rocker was well placed so that we could adjust it while in a call with little no hassle.
When receiving a call, a large contact image comes up, or a large silhouette. This is a massive improvement over the Samsung cartoon face, that always seemed a bit creepy to us. Large red and green buttons also appear allowing you to swipe to accept or reject calls.
Thankfully, we didn't experience any dropped calls. Signal holding is about what you can expect, nothing spectacular, but it managed to match what we expected from other handsets.
When it comes to messaging on the Xperia L, like every smartphone out there, there are a multitude of options with which you can play with until your heart's content.
We'll start this off by mentioning the keyboard though. We've played with many a keyboard in the past, and we have to say that we felt the Xperia L struggled. The keys felt far too narrow for our liking, maybe this is down to the fact that we have gotten used to using larger screens.
The keys also felt annoying unresponsive. We've learnt to type quickly using two hands, and the Xperia L always appeared to be playing catch up.
The auto correct feature is also by no means the best that we have encountered. There are also no double functions reserved for long presses, with numbers and symbols reserved for a second page.
HTC are still way ahead, although third party apps such as SwiftKey do a superb job and are available on the Google Play Store.
Thanks to the curved chassis of the Xperia L, we did find that typing in landscape felt a lot more natural than it has on flat backed devices, with the added bulk at each end making it easier to grip. The 4.3-inch screen is also just about small enough that we didn't have to over stretch in order to hit every key.
The major downside to this is that the keyboard stretched to encompass the entire screen, making it impossible for you to type and see the message thread. Swype style messaging is also included, should you find that easier.
You'll be surprised to find that the Xperia L messaging app displays conversations in a fairly standard way. Or maybe you won't.
The white theme is continuous, with the messages coming through in bubbles, with a little contact icon to the side. This icon can be tapped to bring up the mini contact card we mentioned earlier.
Starting a new message is done via that little pencil icon, bringing you to a familiar feeling conversation window, with boxes to type in the contact you want to type, and a smaller one at the bottom to take the message text.
The little contact button allows you to pick out multiple contacts from your address book, making group messaging a lot easier. As you might have guessed, the paper clip icon is there to send attachments, converting the SMS into and MMS.
If you root through the settings, you will also find SMS templates that you can use in order to send quick preset messages to tell people that you are otherwise occupied.
Important conversations can be starred, and are then stored in a special folder, great if you are finding that you are sending lots of messages, and want to highlight the ones from your boss or loved one. Sony doesn't want you to miss your meetings, or more importantly your dinner plans.
Email and Gmail applications are both included on the Xperia L. Both are well formed apps, with Gmail offering everything that the desktop version has to offer.
The Email client provides a lot of options too, allowing you to connect up to multiple POP3, IMAP or Exchange Active Sync server accounts in one place, providing an aggregated inbox.
IM is also catered for to some extent, with the Xperia L obviously missing out on iMessage, BBM and ChatOn. As for the latter two, they are actually available via the Play Store, but as we mention in other reviews, we don't see them being used very often.
Google Hangouts is the IM client that is bundled on board, being Google's replacement to Talk. Fitting in with Google+, it allows you to send instant messages to all your Google contacts. Apps like WhatsApp are available on the Play Store.
Being a budget device, we were very unsurprised to find that the Sony Xperia L doesn't come with 4G. To gain access to that, you need to be looking towards the middle of the market at the very least, with handsets such as the Xperia SP, HTC One Mini and Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini all being treated to the super-speedy goodies.
The one thing that we were shocked with, when it came to browsing the world wide interweb was the lack of the native browser. Finally it seems that someone has made the choice between Chrome and the stock, and chosen to go with Chrome.
Given that we always push Chrome, it's hard to bemoan the fact that it does leave users without that choice, but for those that do decide that Chrome isn't to their taste, there are other competent browsers on the Play Store from the likes of FireFox and Opera.
Chrome's mobile browser will be instantly familiar to most users, especially if you have previously used the desktop version. It brings over tabbed browsing, and will sync across all your bookmarks and browsing history making it very easy to hop between devices.
Tabbed browsing is great for multi-tasking, and unneeded tabs can be swiped away in true Android fashion. However, the dual-core chip inside the Xperia L did stutter a little whilst browsing, so for serious multi-tab users, this may not be the device for you.
Of the three main splash screens, users are greeted with a grid of most visited pages on the go, a screen to access all your bookmarks (mobile or desktop), and a page that shows you what pages are being viewed on other devices linked to the same account.
The last feature works in reverse, so you can switch from your PC to your phone, and then back to your PC to work on the go.
Google also has the Chrome to Phone app, which ties in nicely. Downloading the repsective apps from the Chrome store on the desktop, and the Play Store on the mobile, allows you to send links over and choose to have them open automatically, should you find that you've too many tabs to sync across.
Other benefits of Google Chrome include the ability to browse full desktop sites, as well as having an incognito mode so you can browse for *ahem* gifts for the other half.
Word of warning though, this doesn't affect malware or other servers logging your movements, rather just wipes cookies and prevents it appearing in your browsing history.
If however, you wish for all and sundry to know what you are viewing, there is a share button that allows you to send the link to friends, or publish to Facebook or Twitter.
Whilst we've mentioned the ease of accessing bookmarks, both your mobile and desktop ones, we have yet to mention how to create them.
Thankfully this is also easier than the alphabet, with a tap on the settings button in the top left, and clicking the tab. This then allows you to name the bookmark, change its address and location with bookmark folders.
Within the settings menu are located the forward and back buttons.
There is no text reflow available, aside from a double tap that fits the text to the edges of the page. This is a feature we would have liked to have seen on the Xperia L, indeed it is something that we would love Google to address so we can see it over all Jelly Bean devices.
Flash is also unsupported, given that Adobe withdrew its support from developing it for mobile. This isn't something that we are all that worried about, yes it might affect browsing older sites, but with the advent of HTML 5, we predict that mobile Flash will soon become a distant memory.
So we've covered the browser's features, but what is browsing actually like? In short, it is pretty poor.
The screen size is great to hold, and to look at, but it gets a little tiresome when you want to read many articles. For serious web browsing, we would have to suggest a larger screen.
The dual-core processor also struggles when it comes to loading image heavy pages. Once loaded, it also proves a slightly choppy experience whilst navigating them, even whilst browsing over a relatively strong Wi-Fi connection.
"If camera engineers made a smartphone, what smartphone would they make? The answer is Xperia L, the Android mobile designed with Sony's leading camera expertise." Admittedly just a mix of marketing and sales pitch, Sony are clearly very proud of the camera tech that is on offer on the Sony Xperia L.
Indeed, the Xperia L splash page on the Sony site mentions the word camera a lot, and spends its time talking about both capturing the image and what you can do with it after. The 8MP Exmor RS sensor on the back is the one they're talking about, because the VGA front sensor is really nothing to whisper, let alone shout about.
Loading the camera can be done in one of three ways, from the lock screen, the dedicated shutter button, or via the Camera app itself.
Sonly claim that the camera goes from sleep to snap in under a second, but that is only true when you've gotten to grips with the shutter button. Like many compact cameras, there are two stages to the button, one for autofocus and a second to actually capture the image. It is the second stage you have to reach before you can load the app.
This is a minor gripe, as we did eventually find ourselves getting used to the button, but we still found ourselves getting annoyed when it wouldn't load up.
We also would have liked to have seen Sony change things up a little, and put the camera more central, making it more akin to the compact camera market that has suffered since the advent of the camera phone.
The dual-core processor seemed to slow the camera a little, with there being a little delay between taking shots. This was really noticeable in lower light conditions. Generally though, we found that the Xperia L moved through taking photos well enough.
We were really glad to see that there were some pretty awesome effects within the camera's settings. A total of nine are on offer; Nostalgic, Miniature, Vivid, Filter, Fisheye, Sketch, Partial Colour, Harris Shutter and Kaleidoscope.
Loading up these effects did make the camera use a little choppier, making it take longer for your own eyes to focus in on what you were photographing.
Of the effects on offer, our favourite has to be the Sketch and Partial Colour. The premier gives the photos something of a "drawn" effect, with the latter allowing you to choose which colour you want to take a photo of, whilst the rest of the image stays black and white.
In all they don't offer any features over and above any post photography image editing software, but they are fun to have and make uploading funky images to social sites that bit easier and quicker.
Digging deeper into the settings, the camera software on the Xperia L does bring varying scene modes, as well as the ability to change the image resolution, self timer, smile shutter to take photos when people smile, the ability to change the quick launch, exposure, white balance etc.
The ability to change the quick launch is possibly the most important, and most interesting, as it allows you to launch, launch and capture, launch and record video, or launch only into video mode, or switch it off all together. This is great for capturing images quickly, but we found that we ended up taking a lot of pointless photos that we didn't mean to.
We also found that the camera defaulted to 5MP images, at a 16:9 aspect ratio. Knowing that 4:3 images are more the preserve of more serious photographers, the 8MP images are saved for that and can be turned on via settings.
All the talk about how good the software is becomes ultimately pointless without the hardware to match, so check out our photos below to see what you make of them.
The trend of modern smartphones appears to be to amalgamate the Camera and Video recording app into one lovechild, and this is something that we are fans of. Rather than having a switch to change to the video, there are two distinct buttons to hit.
It is, however, possible to switch to a dedicated Video camera via the camera settings. This grants access to settings such as scene modes, video resolution, self timer, photo light/flash, white balance etc. In all, a pretty standard set of video settings.
The video recorder can also have the focus mode changed.This doesn't seem like a lot, but allows the camera to focus on one area, or auto focus to detected faces, making capturing intimate family moments better. HDR recording is also supported.
Video resolution is set as standard to HD, 720p at 30fps. It can however be set as low as 176 x 144 for MMS optimised video recording. We see this being a little obsolete, as most videos are shared on social sites.
Two other features that we are fans of, are the ability to edit zoom levels whilst recording, meaning that you can zoom in and out to capture more/less of the action, and the ability to take photos mid video so you don't miss out on stills of the action because you were filming.
Video captured, although HD, appears grainy and while the Xperia L moves between light and dark areas quickly with high contrast, sound quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Does anybody remember the Walkman? We'd bet that you do. The reason we mention this is because it highlights Sony's media credentials, something that it has brought across to the Xperia L. In a media obsessed world dominated by the iPhone, it is a nice reminder of the Japanese firm's media heritage.
Built into the Xperia L is a Walkman app, alongside an FM Radio and the Movies app. Sony has also popped in its own "Unlimited" services, that are set to rival Google Play for Music and Video downloads. These do, however, tie in with the same services that are offered through smart enabled Bravia televisions.
We would also recommend that if you are planning to pack your Xperia L with media, that you invest in a decent microSD card as the 8GB internal storage (less when you add in the OS) is a little small.
The Walkman app borrows the name from the old music player that we mentioned earlier. As a music player, it is up there with the best we have used. The app is very well designed, and very pleasant to look at, with the notifications light illuminating different colours as you scroll through your media.
Sound reproduction is also very good, with ClearAudio+ on board to make the sound clearer should you wish. The external speaker is also loud enough for you to blast your music out to all your friends, coworkers and fellow commutees. Sound is also faithfully reproduced through the 3.5mm headphone jack sat at the top of the phone, although we must point out that a certain level relies on your headphones.
In terms of an equalizer, the Xperia L has one found through the setting, just like the ClearAudio+. However, ClearAudio+ must be disabled to make use of it. Some of the other features that Sony has packed in are also found when you look deeper.
On the face of it, there are your standard play/pause button, and track skippers, but like we said, if you don't look deeper, you will miss out some nifty add ons.
Tap the album artwork and it slides itself to the left slightly to reveal a "like" button, so you can create a Facebook post to share with your friends.
The favourite button, track repeat and shuffle buttons are also hidden in this manner.
The really fun settings are hidden behind a curly X shape in the top right. Tapping that brings up features such as searching for the video or even karaoke video on YouTube, lyrics on Google, artist information on Wikipedia, or a push in the direction of Sony's PlayNow and Music Unlimited service.
The Walkman is also controllable from the lock screen (by swiping the icon to the right to bring up a mini player), and through a widget in the notifications bar. These are both minor touches that we are fans of and if that's not enough there is also a widget.
The player is only as good as the music it plays, though. Thankfully, the Sony Xperia L can play MP3, 3GPP, MP4, SMF, WAV, OTA and Ogg vorbis formats.
Other music based apps that you might want to look at on the Xperia L are the paid-for Music Unlimited service, which is intended to give the likes of Spotify a run for its money and is accessible on a variety of devices, including Bravia TVs and Playstation 3.
Sony's TrackID music recognition system is also available. This is something that we have seen on other Sony products, such as our TV, and works as a Shazam or SoundHound replacement.
Before we start talking about the actual app, we will mention the screen. The 4.3-inch display is a sufficient size for movie viewing, and is certainly bright enough. Don't expect HD playback though, so for those looking for a high end media experience, you won't be surprised to find that you will need to pay a little more and invest in the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Load up the Movies app and you are greeted with a snazzy picture of old film. This really doesn't do anything, but makes the Movies app feel more pleasant. However this does fade to a clip of the video that you were most recently watching.
What you're really after is underneath, access to your videos, Video Unlimited service (see above but replace the word music with the word movie), and access to DLNA streaming.
Selecting your Movies list brings up a list of large thumbnails, showing a still from the film. The Title and film length are also stated.
Opening the video brings a tlarger still, with the title, film length and remaining run time (if you're partway through a film), as well metadata taken from the Gracenote movie archive.
Tapping the screen whilst watching the movie brings up the play/pause button and skip buttons, as per the Walkman app. You can also manually move to wherever you like using the slider bar, giving that extra level of control.
Settings for brightness and audio can be reached via the little settings button in the top right, although it appears that the Display settings is just the standard system settings. From the settings button you can also share the video to social media sites, or "throw" it via Wi-Fi to be played on other devices.
Google Play is also available, should you decide that you want to buy or rent more videos, and these are accessed via the Play Movies app, in the same way you'd find Play Books, Music and Magazines.
Sony's theme of calling standard apps by different names (Walkman, Movies and Album rather than Music, Video and Gallery), continues to your photographs.
Images you have taken are organised by date, with month groupings on board. Initially, we found the thumbnails too small to accurately pick out the images we wanted, but a simple pinch to zoom rearranged them and made them larger.
There is a second tab at the top of the screen to take you to your albums. Within this tab you can access your Picasa Web albums, Facebook photos, Camera Album and other folders that you have photos in.
Opening a photo in the app, somewhat shockingly shows the photo. Tapping the photo brings up a few icons, with data about when the photo was taken, a map icon so you can manually geotag the photograph, sharing options and the three dots for settings.
Opening the settings allows you to "throw" the image in the same way as with videos, as well as basic image rotating, image details, adding the image to PlayMemories, starting a slideshow or SensMe slideshow.
The SensMe slideshow adds some music and funky effects whilst sliding between your images, although can take a while depending on the amount of images. PlayMemories is an online photo storage system.
Battery Life and Connectivity
With battery life being possibly the hottest topic when it comes to the mobile market and it is nice to see that Sony has taken note.
Given that the Xperia L has a 1700mAh battery pack, we would expect it to last a decent period of time. Thankfully we can say that the Xperia L managed to cope with everything we threw at it, including some HD video, internet browsing, and photo taking throughout the day. We didn't even enable STAMINA mode.
As well as having access to the quick settings in the notifications bar, the Sony Xperia L, like other Xperia devices, has what Sony terms as STAMINA Mode.
We have tried to work out why it's written in all capitals, our thoughts are that it's to make it stand out, or it's an acronym for Sony's Terrificly Amazing Mega Industrial Nectar Aid.
Either way, it works. We know that we shall take the quoted numbers with a pinch of salt, but if believed the STAMINA mode added over a day's worth of standby juice, which is not to be scoffed at.
Given the slower processor, we did find that we were tending away from performing strenuous activities, no heaving gaming or movie watching, and only light web browsing whilst we were out, which certainly helped things along. We'd suggest that you may end up charging the Xperia L every night, but then again that is expected of 99.9% of modern smartphones.
Modern smartphones tend to have a lot of connectivity, and the Sony Xperia L fits nicely into that bracket, although for the price tag you can easily rule out 4G.
3G/HSPA+ is on board though for mobile browsing, with Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, alongside NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and aGPS. The Xperia L can also double as a portable Wi-Fi Hotspot, and is DLNA certified.
The NFC can be used to stream music, and share files in a similar way to Android Beam, as well as doubling up as a means of connection to an NFC enable Bravia TV to allow screen mirroring.
Connection to a PC is done via the supplied microUSB cable, that doubles up as the phone charger. Plugging the cable into both the Xperia and the PC means that you can connect into USB Mass Storage mode, enabling dragging and dropping.
The Xperia L does also push you to download optional software onto the PC, although we don't see the need given that Windows has you more than covered.
Apps and Maps
In order to populate the 5.8GB of remaining internal storage with your app desires, the Sony Xperia L comes with two separate app stores. Like every Android OEM, Sony has popped in its Sony Select App store.
We've had our play around with different app stores from different manufacturers, and on the whole we can say that we have been impressed by what's on offer, and that theme continues with the Xperia L.
Sony has clearly given the app some love, yet again it falls flat because of the superb Google Play.
Sony has also thrown in the Playstation app store, that needs to be downloaded. We really don't see the point in this though, given that we thought the dual-core processor wasn't strong enough for it to cope with serious gaming. It also clashes heavily with Sony Select.
There is also the PlayNow app, which again is another store. Sony sure love to peddle their wares, but seems that they cannot decide how best to do that. At least the PlayNow app can be searched
It seems not all that long ago that the Android market was with us, providing a moderate excuse to ditch the iOS ecosystem, and the all conquering App Store that graces iDevices. The Google Play store, accessible via the web, now comes populated with numerous apps, all categorised and filtered by price.
Sony do also bundle in Xperia Link, which is designed to connect your tablet/pc to the internet, via the mobile network. That said, we don't see why the app is there given that you can manually set up a hotspot through the settings menu.
When it comes to mapping, the Xperia L obviously come fitted with Google's proprietary mapping application that we are sure you are all familiar with, given that it is available on every Android device, on iOS, as well as being on the web and mobile web for as long as we can remember.
The most recent update of Google Maps includes Navigation, which provides turn by turn navigation, and is something that we have found that works extremely well.
GPS lock on isn't lightning quick, but you aren't left hanging around for too long whilst the Xperia L works out where you are.
One feature we are fond of, is that, it taps into traffic data, and can tell you how long your route is set to take. This means if you pull to the side of the road - we're safe drivers - you can easily reroute. We'd have liked active rerouting, but for free we're not arguing.
Sony have left the Xperia L to compete at the bottom end of the market and the 8MP camera on the back is clearly the phone's biggest asset, so it's easy to see why Sony have made a bit of a song and dance about it.
Aiming at the bottom of the market does mean that the Sony Xperia L does have to fight it out against some of the ageing handsets that might have once been called flagships, check out the Samsung Galaxy S3 to see just how low these prices really can be.
We're going to give Sony its due here, it really does seem to know what it is doing when it comes to making a decent camera.
It certainly doesn't come with the prowess that the upcoming Sony Xperia Z1 does, but the 8MP sensor on the back produces some really clear results, and yes, it is clearly the stand out feature of the Xperia L.
The battery life is also rather decent. We can't say that it totally blew us away, but with the STAMINA mode disabled, we were able to get a day's use out of the Xperia L. Having STAMINA enabled did also push the battery life further by disabling the most power consuming features, although we remain slightly sceptical over some of the figures quoted.
We were also fans of the screen. It was never going to pack in the same pixel levels that we see on the highest end phones, it was never going to have HD capabilities, but what it does produce is a screen with impressive viewing angles, that was always bright enough to use, even outside.
When it comes to typing messages on the Xperia L, we have to say that the keyboard will probably suffice. If all you're doing is updating Twitter, with its 140 character limit for instance, the keyboard will do just fine. For those that do a lot of typing, sending lots of emails, texts or instant messages, the keyboard starts to feel very fiddly. We didn't end up downloading a third party app, but we sure came close.
Looking at the design, we gave it 3.5 stars which might seem a little harsh. The Xperia L is a good looking enough phone, but the back plate can be hard to remove and does feel a little flimsy at times. However, what really gets us is that we've seen it before. Put it in a line up of the Xperia J and Xperia T and you'll soon see what we mean.
We also thought that the front facing camera was nothing short of atrocious. Normally we might gloss over this, but given that the Xperia L was touted for its camera capabilities, we thought that Sony might have thrown a little love in its direction.
We are left a little confused at the end of this review, mainly because we really wanted to like the Xperia L. We're always fans of a phone that you can show off to your friends and have them say "yeah, that's a nice phone", only for you to be able to say "but wait, did you see this?" and hear them gasp as you show off the neat party trick.
That neat party trick is clearly the camera, and as we have said, we feel that the camera is really something special. For those that want a decent camera phone, but don't want to pay loads, you might want to look at the Xperia L.
The rest of the Xperia L can feel a little disappointing, however. It certainly moves along okay, but throw anything too heavy at it and the whole phone seems to stutter. Having access to Sony's Playstation store made us hopeful of some gaming prowess, but those dreams were soon put to bed.
In all, we can see the Sony shifting a few Xperia Ls based on that camera, but for those that just want a cheap nippy handset, especially for those that have just started back at school, the likes of the Nokia Lumia 520 and Moto G provide better value for money.
First reviewed: October 2013