Sony Xperia P £339.99

31st May 2012 | 14:20

Sony Xperia P

A feature-packed mid-range Android smartphone

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Sleek, unique design; 1GHz dual-core CPU; 4-inch display; Impressive rear camera; NFC capabilities;

Dislike:

Sloppy front camera; Scratch-prone body; Poor multi-tabbed browsing; Stiff camera button; Fiddly micro SIM holder;

Introduction

Smaller sibling to the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S3-challenging Sony Xperia S, big brother of the entry-level Sony Xperia U, the mid-range Sony Xperia P is no awkward middle child, but a boundary-pushing smartphone that is knocking on the door of a number of its more expensive rivals.

Advancing expectations of the mid-range handset scene, the Sony Xperia P, priced at around £340 in the UK and $490 in the US, isn't the cheapest handset on the market.

But it boasts a fanciful array of specs that would have made a high-end mobile phone of the past 12 months proud, further highlighting the rapid rate of development that the smartphone sector is going through.

Sony Xperia P review

While the Sony Xperia P might not give the iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy S3 a run for their respective monies, the handset lines up, on paper, as a strong and similarly priced rival to the Windows Phone-defining Nokia Lumia 800, with the Android 2.3 Gingerbread-packing smartphone boasting a zippy 1GHz Cortex-A9 dual-core processor that powers the 4-inch handset's show.

With the dual-core CPU combining with 1GB of RAM to help ensure a smooth, speedy and fluid user interaction with the device, the Sony Xperia P keeps the entertainment coming with a pair of cameras - 8-megapixel on the rear, VGA on the front - joining the now high-end handset standard 1080p video recording capabilities.

Sony Xperia P review

Usually reserved for top-of-the-line devices, these custom creation features push the Sony Xperia P into a new realm of mid-range price point abilities, and don't disappoint.

Capable of producing strong results both in stills and video modes, the handset's camera capabilities will leave you with a clear conscience when venturing out without your dedicated compact snapper.

Running Google's Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system with the company's Timescape user interface, Sony's latest pocket powerhouse - though impressive in specs and fluidness - is still some way off the cutting edge of smartphone capabilities.

Sony Xperia P review

Looking to rectify this to some extent, Sony has confirmed that an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update is already in the works for the handset, although a confirmed date of arrival has yet to be outlined.

Sony Xperia P review

Further setting the Sony Xperia P apart from its similarly priced and competitively specified rivals, the Sony-branded handset plays host to inbuilt NFC capabilities with the compact 10.5mm-thick handset featuring the technology required to make tap-to-pay purchases as well as close contact, wireless data transfers.

Sony Xperia P review

Picking up the handset from the box, its 120g weight, despite being a full 10 grams lighter than its BlackBerry Bold 9900 rival, feels surprisingly heavy in the hand.

Sony Xperia P review

But this sensation doesn't persist, and after just a few minutes of use this initial surprise is replaced by a feeling of a comfortable, reassuring presence in the hand.

The smartphone feels extremely well balanced, with weight distributed evenly across its entire form.

Sony Xperia P review

vBy no means the slimmest phone on the market, the 10.5mm thick Sony Xperia P is a sturdy handset that is well constructed, with no flex, distortion or unnerving creaks and groans when put under considerable amounts of pressure.

Despite this solid build, thanks to its plastic frame, the handset quickly shows the rigours of daily use, with scuffs, scratches and chips on the body unavoidable.

And although the scratch-resistant display fared well against one rather large accidental drop onto concrete, the smartphone's corners suffered a more aesthetic-blemishing fate, with considerable nicks and chinks removed and the odd dent more than slightly apparent.

Sony Xperia P review

One noticeable flaw with the Sony Xperia P's construction sees a very slight space left between the long edges of the screen and the handset's body turn into a magnet for pocket fluff, dust and dirt, giving the device an unwanted and highly unappealing frame of grime.

Sony Xperia P review

Arguably one of the best looking handsets on the market, the Sony Xperia P shuffles away from the stoic gloss black candybar design with a standout transparent bar that plays host to the usual array of Android-essential, back, home and menu touchscreen buttons.

Sony Xperia P review

While the trio of touch-sensitive Android controls manage much of the user activity, a selection of physical buttons also feature to handle the remaining requirements, such as power/sleep modes, volume controls and a camera shutter.

Sony Xperia P review

Positioned in a potentially dangerous location in terms of accidental presses, the selection of physical buttons is stiff enough to not pose an issue when gripping the Sony Xperia P in either hand.

Sony Xperia P review

Removing handset-depleting blemishes by using a seamless form that features no removable back panel is not without its flaws, with the enclosed casing meaning the side mountable micro SIM slot is fiddly and awkward to use, thanks to a confined space and lack of a SIM-encasing frame.

Sony Xperia P review

Finishing the well styled handset, the 4-inch, 16 million colour LCD display adds a vibrancy that contrasts well against the stark black body and transparent touch panel at the base of the Sony Xperia P.

Interface


A smooth, zippy handset that performs well under pressure, the Sony Xperia P uses its Android 2.3 OS and Timescape UI to good effect, with a pleasant user experience backed up by fast results and a minimal amount of delay.

Sony Xperia P review

From the box the handset is well laid out, with five home screens playing host to a well laid out selection of interactive widgets, application shortcuts and storage folders.

Although these are fully customisable, they require little manipulation to create a smartphone brimming with the most frequently used services.

If you have any familiarity with the Android mobile operating system, you'll be wiping your way through the handset's easily navigated selection of menus and settings in a matter of seconds.

If you're new to the software you'll face few problems, with an intuitive and visually appealing user interface providing a pleasant learning platform that is further enhanced by a handy digital walkthrough guide.

Sony Xperia P review

Pushing the Sony Xperia P's impressive array of entertainment-providing hardware and software features, quick hot key access to a variety of entertainment applications is available from first use on the primary home screen menu, with a Media folder offering instant access to image galleries, the inbuilt music player, FM radio and camera.

Although such features can be accessed readily enough via the main menu, their upfront availability is a pleasant, experience-enhancing inclusion.

Although largely enjoyable and simple to use, the handset's interface is not without a few minor faults.

One small yet irritating issue comes in the device's gallery software, with users scrolling through banks of images offered no image-warping, picture-stretching visual alerts that the final shot in the collection has been reached.

Sony Xperia P review

A customary inclusion of most Android handsets, this feature's omission brings a slightly stilted, briefly awkward and confusing experience that could be easily avoided.

As with most Android handsets, and the majority of smartphones in general, no matter how expensive or feature packed, the Sony Xperia P's digitally crafted touchscreen QWERTY keyboard features slightly small, fiddly keys when held in a standard portrait manner.

Although considerable spacing between keys helps reduce the number of accidental presses, this is still an all-too frequent occurrence.

Contacts and calling

Contacts

Sony Xperia P review

Although skinned with Sony's latest user interface, Android clearly runs this show, with the Sony Xperia P's contact options a classic representation of the Google software's simplicity, ease of use and no-nonsense core values.

Accessed via a simple tap of the appropriate app icon, the Sony Xperia P's contact options are largely the same as those found on most Android smartphones, with an alphabetical run of those you know.

Offering more comprehensive communications than some, the handset enables you to sync your contacts list with social network accounts such as Facebook to gain auto populated images and additional means of communication.

Sony Xperia P review

While creating new contacts is a simple affair via a couple of quick clicks, with a selection of well laid out fields making the process as painless as possible, accessing those you most want to talk to is even easier.

With a home screen-mountable widget, you can pin your most frequently used contacts front and centre for instant access as and when desired.

Calling

Once contacts are created, calling those you know is a simple process, with all stored phone numbers available without the need to go around the houses in some tiresome, time-consuming drive through multiple menus.

Sony Xperia P review

Sadly, once connected, the handset's calling abilities don't meet the same high standards.

A less than standout performer, the Sony Xperia P drops points to its competitors with slightly muffled connections resulting in calls that at times appear distant, far from sharp and some way off the HD audio expectations of a market-defining phone.

With so many bells and whistles incorporated on modern smartphones, strong call quality appears to have fallen slightly by the wayside, and although we didn't experience any dropped calls, even in areas of strong, full signal, calls felt weak.

It's an area where Sony could introduce massive improvements for future models.

Messaging

Again offering impeccable levels of ease of use, the Sony Xperia P makes messaging a doddle, with a host of features, settings and options available to make bashing out emails, texts and MMS messages as efficient as possible.

Enabling you to select the degree of predictive text and auto correction you wish to use when cranking up the messaging services for the first time, the Sony Xperia P goes on to offer a comfortable - albeit slightly cramped - QWERTY keyboard typing experience, with stray button presses mostly amended by an impressive spell and sense check system.

Sony Xperia P review

Sony Xperia P review

With texts and emails crafted from one centralised hub, where you're able to choose target destinations via the contacts-mimicking recipient menu, there is a fast-paced ease to constructing messages with the smartphone that further enhances the pleasant user experience and fluid OS.

Communications through social networks require a more direct approach, with Facebook interactions unable to be sent direct from the messaging hub.

But MMS options are a breeze to use, since you're able to attach a host of multimedia options including images, sound files and videos to messages with a single click.

Capable of holding its own against most of its similarly priced - and even some more expensive - rivals, the Sony Xperia P's messaging abilities are largely without fault, with the device appeasing and even impressing with its continued user support and assistance.

Internet

An increasingly integral part of the modern smartphone, the Sony Xperia P's internet capabilities are up there with the best of them, with a wide variety of features to enhance the browsing experience and bring a near PC-like online environment to the handset's impressive 960 x 540p resolution, 4-inch display.

Sony Xperia P review

The Sony Xperia P and its pre-installed generic Android-based browser are by no means the speediest web offering on a mid-range smartphone, either over a 3G or Wi-Fi internet connection.

But once pages are available, images and text are sharp, with integrated Flash video capabilities further enhancing the user experience and aiding information absorption.

Keeping track with the big boys, the Sony Xperia P touts text reflow functionality, enabling you to receive a comfortably viewed, well-scaled array of text when zoomed in, removing the need for continuous side scrolling back and forth to access the full page of content.

Sony Xperia P review

While this feature is a welcome addition if you double-tap the display to zoom in on content, in an odd omission, if you stick to a pinch-to-zoom method you'll miss out on the reflow offers.

Slowing the browsing experience slightly, the lack of in-browser back, forward and refresh keys can result in an overly fiddly experience, with the Android essential back and menu buttons providing an unnecessary multi-press method of achieving relatively simple navigational manoeuvres.

Another feature accessed by the touchscreen menu key, the browser's multi-tabbed capabilities are far from the most efficient, with no visual preview offered in the simple, stoic and lifeless list of page names.

Despite being capable of supporting eight simultaneously opened web pages, this multi-tabbed offering does not encourage you to use its full capabilities - issues further compounded by the round-about method of access.

Camera

Playing host to an 8-megapixel camera with autofocus capabilities and an integrated LED flash, on paper the Sony Xperia P's rear-mounted camera is of comparable quality to the leaders of the smartphone scene, including the new quad-core powerhouse that is the Samsung Galaxy S3.

Indoor images shot under artificial lighting are a little disappointing, with poor colour management producing muted snaps that are far from sharp and have an unusually high level of grain, or suffer overcompensation by the flash.

Sony Xperia P review

But in natural lighting environments, the Sony Xperia P's camera is a standout performer.

Sony Xperia P review

Removing the fuss out of lining up and taking high-quality snaps, the Sony Xperia P boasts automated scene selection technologies to quickly assess situations and better attune its camera's optics and settings to the required needs.

A prime example of this software's worth is when attempting to take macro shots.

Holding the camera just centimetres from the subject, the handset produces stunning results with pin-sharp accuracy, impressive depth of field and strong colour management.

This marks the Sony Xperia P out as one of the most impressive smartphone snappers on the market.

Sony Xperia P review

An edge-mounted physical camera button - an alternative to the screen-obscuring touchscreen capture option - is a welcome addition, especially since it's a feature that's missed from many of the Sony Xperia P's competitors.

However, the button's stiffness, which helps prevent against accidental and unwanted presses, makes it difficult to capture quick snaps one-handed.

While the automated scene selector handles most situations thrown at it with ease and grace, photo-savvy users are able to manually alter and select a number of alternate options, with Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep modes on offer.

Away from the rear-mounted Full HD snapper and around the front, the VGA camera hosts the ability to capture low grade stills.

Sony Xperia P review

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Video

Following on from the success of the stills half of the camera, the Sony Xperia P's rear-mounted camera also plays host to impressive 1080p Full HD video recording capabilities, with recordings of up to 30 frames per second handled with ease.

While this high frame rate and strong HD picture quality combine for strong video recordings that feature little motion blur, even when shooting challenging, fast-paced content, the camera's light management and continued focus abilities most impress on the Sony Xperia P.

Sony Xperia P

Transfer between areas of bright, natural light, through dark, streaking shadows and back into the light, and the smartphone's video camera handles the challenging transitions with ease, blending through the stark contrasts gracefully and with highly impressive results.

Although there is a smaller range of customisable features for the video abilities over the stills camera, users are still offered the chance to manually alter the white balance, chose from a selection of specific scene shooting modes as well as being able to lock the flash on to act as a light for desired content.

The VGA camera, meanwhile, captures low grade stills as well as unattractive, grainy, weak video content that is not a pretty sight, with ugly amounts of blur pairing up with undefined edges for an all-round sloppy performance.

Media

With the inbuilt cameras enabling you to generate your own premium content, the Sony Xperia P also features a number of impressive multimedia playback options, including integrated MP3 abilities, a video player and the Android standard YouTube shortcut.

Sony Xperia P review

Putting a slight spin on the stoic base Android handset MP3 players, the Sony Xperia P has brought a bit of flair to its music player, with almost Windows Phone-esque tile icons offering direct access to tracks, albums, artists and playlists.

Further bolstering the handset's musical abilities, Sony has thrown in a trial to its Music Unlimited service, giving users expansive track listings on demand.

Accessible direct from a homepage widget, the Sony Xperia P's musical abilities are deeply ingrained within the 4-inch device, with the Android smartphone's 16GB of internal storage offering ample space to hold a broad range of music, video, app and picture-based content.

Further enhancing the handset's music and all-round media abilities, the Android 2.3 smartphone features a surprisingly strong inbuilt speaker, with the Sony Xperia P more than capable of pumping out tunes and video-accompanying audio to high volumes with little of the distortion, rattle or tinny notes that are associated with most phones.

What's more, thanks to the speaker's positioning on the top right-hand side of the device, you don't need to fear hands slipping across the audio output when holding the handset in a conventional manner.

The 960 x 540p resolution hosting 4-inch LED backlit LCD display isn't the sharpest on the market, with a 275 pixels-per-inch image density.

Sony Xperia P review

But the Sony Xperia P is more than capable of eye-catchingly attractive and superbly high-end results with little motion blur and bright, vibrant colours, thanks to the 16 million colour contrast ratio.

Making for further comfortable viewing, the Sony Xperia P's inbuilt ambient light sensor, while anything but a unique feature, performs well under challenging tests, offering well balanced brightness settings for more pleasurable media absorption in a variety of environments.

A selection of minor image editing abilities is available, alongside an inbuilt FM radio, used in conjunction with the signal-receiving pair of basic in-ear headphones found boxed with the device.

The Sony Xperia P is a well-rounded media phone that remains comfortable in the hand throughout use, thanks to its well balanced 120g weight and compact 10.5mm thick form.

Battery life and connectivity

As with most modern smartphones, the Sony Xperia P's battery life is far from the handset's key selling point, with a vast array of battery-supping hardware and software features combining to form a device that, like many of the handset's competitors, plays fast and loose with the full day charge when undertaking a string of strenuous and continuous tasks.

Although the handset has been claimed to possess a battery life capable of highly impressive figures including up to 470 hours of standby time, up to six hours of continued talk time and 80 hours of music playback, in reality the 1305mAh Lithium-Ion battery proves slightly overzealous, despite impressive results.

Sony Xperia P review

While a day's worth of reasonable activity, including calling, media playback and web browsing, is more than possible, pushing the handset past this will see you scrambling to find a free power outlet and the handset's packaged adaptor.

This charger is unnecessarily over-engineered, and due to its elongated design it forces a number of irksome space issues around the plug socket.

On the connectivity front, and complementing the standard Wi-Fi and 3G options, Sony's latest generation handset features a range of high-end, market-defining additions that have been omitted from a number of its similarly priced rivals.

Sony Xperia P review

While an integrated HMDI connector lines up alongside the micro USB charging and dock connector, enabling you to transfer your 1080p Full HD videos with minimal fuss, the handset's connectivity party piece comes in the form of its integrated NFC abilities.

On the cusp of becoming a smartphone essential, the Sony Xperia P's NFC abilities see the handset future-proofed for the imminent rise of contactless payments and data transfers.

Sony Xperia P review

Although uses for these NFC abilities are currently limited, paired with a selection of the Sony Smart Tags, you can pre-program your handset to perform a set selection of tasks based on location with no effort or fuss.

Slightly glitchy and slow off the mark, these NFC capabilities mean you can make seamless setting changes for certain situations with an office desk-based Smart Tag enabling your devices to automatically perform set tasks upon arrival that will differ to those assigned to a Smart Tag based in the home.

Maps and apps

Sony Xperia P review

Although impressive, there is little in terms of pre-installed apps and mapping software that helps set the Sony Xperia P apart from a number of its Android rivals, with the Google-branded operating system coming with the traditional collection of Google innards and pre-assigned services.

As expected from an Android smartphone, the Sony Xperia P runs Google Maps direct from the box, with the familiar mapping and navigation app-based software doing what is expected of it, providing largely accurate and reasonably speedy location-based data on demand.

Eager to lock on to GPS signals, the phone's maps offering sees you also benefiting from a rift of directions and navigational services.

Sony Xperia P review

Despite being uninspiring in terms of from the box app-based content, Sony's handset is more than capable of benefiting largely from the expansive offering of Google Play apps available to download.

With 16GB worth of internal storage and a 1GHz dual-core processor combining with 1GB of RAM to run the show, the Sony Xperia P is powerful enough to comfortably run any manner of applications thrown at it.

A selection of performance-demanding games ran with ease and no sign of unwanted lag, stuttering or infuriatingly sluggish transitions back to the home screens.

Hands on gallery

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Verdict

Although not the most high-end handset in the current Sony Xperia range of smartphones, the Sony Xperia P is a phone that punches above its weight and continues to impress with every new turn taken and new feature used.

Closer in terms of abilities and performance to the Xperia S as opposed to the Xperia U, the Xperia P is a well-priced Android smartphone that offers considerably more bang for your buck than you can rightly expect from a device with a pay-as-you-go price tag in the region of £340 in the UK or $490 in the US.

We liked

Giving a selection of high-end handsets a serious run for their money, the Nokia Lumia 800-rivalling device plays host to a fanciful array of impressive specs that have been pulled from the flagship phones of less than a year ago.

A joy to use with a smooth, fluid user interface and familiarly welcome operating system, the Sony Xperia P is speedy, sharp and easy to navigate with the handset's 8 megapixel rear-mounted camera and 4-inch 960 x 540p display combining for brilliant entertainment abilities that is further enhanced by 16GB worth of inbuilt storage.

We disliked

While the Android operating system provides a smooth user experience, on the software front there is relatively little that separates the Sony Xperia P from many of the other iPhone and Galaxy S3-targeting devices.

Again picking weaknesses in a strong all-round performance, thanks to its plastic construction, the smartphone's aesthetically pleasing, eye-catching good looks will not remain in pristine condition for long.

Final verdict

A handset that will have owners planning for the future, the Sony Xperia P is packed with enough high-end specs to ensure it remains one of the most impressive devices within its price bracket for a long time to come, and will keep users appeased and free from handset envy for the foreseeable future.

Add to this the inbuilt NFC capabilities - a feature that is to become increasingly prominent in the near future - and the Sony Xperia P quickly marks itself out as a standout performer that is bridging the expectations and blurring the boundaries of mid and high-end handsets.

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