Sony Xperia L review:

A good-looking Android phone at an affordable price, but it's a bit of a let down

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2.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars 13 user reviews

The Good Attractive design; Decent screen colours; Inexpensive.

The Bad Unimpressive performance; Some software bugs; Lacklustre camera; Older version of Android; Screen resolution could be higher.

The Bottom Line With its black, arched design and silver details, the Sony Xperia L is definitely among the better-looking budget phones. Its older version of Android and software bugs really let it down though. The Google Nexus 4 is a much better phone all round and only costs £10 more.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

5.5 Overall

Sony's flagship Xperia Z smart phone seriously impressed us with its sleek, waterproof, all-glass design, Full HD display and powerful quad-core processor. It's far from cheap though, so what do you do if you want to pop a Sony in your pocket but don't have the cash to splash on the top model?

You take a gander at the Xperia L. It's a 4.3-inch smart phone, boasting Sony's attractive stylings, a dual-core processor and an 8-megapixel camera. It's not 4G enabled, so don't expect to take advantage of super-fast data speeds. Those specs are much lower than the Xperia Z, but then so is the price -- the Xperia L is available now for £230, SIM-free from Sony, or for free on contracts starting at £25 per month.

Should I buy the Sony Xperia L?

In a word, no. The Xperia L's matte black body, arched back and silver detailing do make it among the more attractive phones at the affordable end of the price range, but otherwise it doesn't impress.

It's running what's now quite an old version of Android Jelly Bean that I found to be somewhat buggy. The screen, while displaying decent colours, is quite low resolution and the dual-core processor didn't particularly impress. Nor did the low amount of storage.

Sony Xperia L back
It's really rather smart.

If you really want to stick with Sony then by all means take a look. The Google Nexus 4, however, boasts a much better 720p display, a powerful quad-core processor, more storage and, best of all, only costs £10 more than the Xperia L. In almost all respects, the Nexus 4 is a much better value option.

Design and build quality

If you think opting for a cheaper phone means sacrificing style, think again -- the Xperia L is really rather good looking. It has an arched body that's reminiscent of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S phone, with a matte black back. The arch makes it comfortable to hold. It's 128mm long, 65mm wide and 9.7mm thick -- not super-skinny, but you won't struggle to get it into your pocket.

That expanse of black is offset by a silver Xperia logo, a silver speaker grille tucked into the bottom, the big camera lens at the top and the power button on the side. It doesn't have the all-glass elegance of the Xperia Z, but it's still quite a mature design. Its dimensions are roughly identical to James Bond's own Xperia T, but the black and silver touches give it a more stylish edge.

Sony Xperia L top closeup
No doubting who built this gadget.

The front of the phone is much more plain, with a simple Sony logo at the top and a slender silver strip running around the edge. At the bottom however is an LED that pulses to alert you to notifications. It's a subtle effect, but it's just about bright enough to catch your eye when it's sat on your desk.

The plastic back feels firm and sturdy. It doesn't have any flex to it when it's attached to the phone and it seems to avoid scratches quite well. The matte coating is a total grease magnet though, so you'll want to give it a clean before taking it anywhere fancy. Around the edges is a micro-USB port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a volume rocker, a big, silver power button and a dedicated camera shutter button.

Sony Xperia L
There's not much storage so you'll have to be careful which apps you choose to install.

There's a microSD slot, meaning you can expand the phone's storage, but only for photos and videos -- you can't install apps to it. That's a big let down, given that the L has only 4GB of onboard storage. You'll really have to be careful about how many big games you download -- N.O.V.A 3 alone takes up almost 2GB of space.


The Xperia L's 4.3-inch screen has an 854x480-pixel resolution, giving a pixel density of 227 pixels per inch. That's really the minimum I'd expect to see on a lower mid-range phone. By comparison, the Acer Liquid E2's 4.5-inch screen has 245ppi, while the Google Nexus 4 -- only £10 more than the Xperia L -- packs 320ppi into its 4.7-inch display.

It might not have the same amount of pixels as its rivals, but it's not exactly a blurry screen. Icons and text don't have the same crystal clarity as its Full HD big brother the Xperia Z, but they're perfectly legible. High-definition pictures don't have the same pop and small text is more noticeably fuzzy -- if you want to read ebooks, you should probably go for the 720p screen of the Nexus 4.

The colours are pretty good though, making it at least good enough for checking out some kittens on YouTube. It has decent viewing angles too, so you won't need to be square on to the screen the whole time to get the best view.

Software and processor

The Xperia L comes running Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, which is now quite an old version of Google's mobile software. Android 4.3 has now been released and even lower-end phones like the Acer E2 are launching with version 4.2 on board. It's a shame the L doesn't have more recent software out of the box, particularly as Sony doesn't tend to be too forthcoming with updates.

Sony has significantly changed the interface though, so you won't immediately recognise that it's running on older software. You'll still have the same multiple homescreens to plaster with apps, but Sony has customised the app menu, letting you easily arrange icons by most used, alphabetical, or a custom order.

Sony Xperia L
Sony's interface looks quite different, but it's not difficult to get used to.

It's replaced the image and video galleries with its own software too, which I'm not really keen on. The gallery is more cluttered and awkward to navigate -- it certainly doesn't add anything useful over the stock Android gallery. Sony has installed its Music and Video Unlimited streaming services too, but you will need to pay extra for subscriptions.

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