Sony Xperia SP review: The Xperia SP has a fast dual-core processor and a reasonable price tag

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent

Average User Rating

4 stars 13 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good 720p screen; impressive power from a dual-core processor; Good battery life; Attractive design; Relatively affordable price.

The Bad Quite hefty; Unimpressive camera; Additional Sony app stores are pointless; You'll have to buy an extra cable if you want to use a PS3 controller.

The Bottom Line The Sony Xperia SP has a good 720p screen, an attractive chassis with a daft but useful flashing bar and it squeezes a lot of juice out of its dual-core processor too. The camera doesn't impress, but if you're after a good all-round mobile with a little flair and don't want to spend big bucks for a flagship phone, the SP is a decent option.

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The flagship Sony Xperia Z may be busy stealing the limelight with its whopping Full HD screen and waterproof body, but Sony also has some good kit for those with a slightly narrower budget.

The Xperia SP is an upper mid-range mobile packing specs that would have had dedicated tech nerds hot under the collar just a year ago. Its 4.6-inch screen has a 720p resolution, it has a speedy dual-core processor, it runs Android Jelly Bean and, best of all, has a colourful glowing light on the outside to annoy your work-mates.

It's available now for £350 on pay as you go contracts or for free on pay monthly plans starting at £20.50. Make sure to check out our mobile deals to find the plan that works best for your wallet.

Should I buy the Sony Xperia SP?

The SP's 720p screen, 4G connectivity and speedy dual-core processor would have been high-end specs last year, but up against the recent quad-core Full HD brutes, it falls into the mid-range. It's entirely happy being there though, and as such, comes with a price tag to match.

Its screen is pin-sharp and bright, while its dual-core processor gave an excellent serving of power -- beating the quad-core Google Nexus 4 in benchmark tests. Using the Android Jelly Bean software was swift and easy, although some of Sony's bundled software is less than impressive.

Physically, it's a good-looking bit of kit. It's a little on the chunky side, but its metal edging looks smart and it feels well put together. The pulsating notification light on the bottom won't suit everyone, but I found it to be a more soothing way of being alerted to a message or call than it vibrating rudely along my desk.

If you're after the best the smart phone world can offer, head on over to our reviews of the Sony Xperia Z or the Samsung Galaxy S4 . If however you want a more modest phone with a good screen, enough power for all but the most demanding of tasks, a decent battery and an attractive body, the SP is certainly worth a look.

Design and build quality

With its silver edging, clear plastic strip on the bottom and curved, white plastic back panel, the SP is a different beast from the minimalist flagship Xperia Z. That's not to say it's bad looking though -- far from it.

Beneath the all-glass front is a white bezel, with the subtle Sony branding looking pretty smart. Sony says that silver edging is made from aluminium, but it's difficult to tell it apart from stiff plastic by feel alone. The back panel is a plastic affair that feels cheap when removed, but looks good when attached. There's a little flex in the casing that detracts slightly from the luxurious aesthetic, but that's offset slightly by the attractive metal ring around the camera lens.

Sony Xperia SP
The pulsating light emitted from this perspex bar flashes different colours for different types of alerts.

At the bottom of the phone is a clear perspex bar. It flashes a variety of colours to let you know of incoming calls, messages and other notifications. The colours for each notification are customisable in the menu, so you can select a variety of hues and get your friends to call and text you to set off a miniature light show.

The flashing effect is subtle, and sometimes difficult to see properly, but it's quite handy to see when something's going on if your phone's turned upside down on silent. It's arguably a bit gimmicky, and not likely to appeal to everyone, but I was quite fond of it in my time with the phone. If you really don't want it, you can always turn it off altogether.

The phone itself measures 130mm long, 67mm wide and is 10mm thick. It weighs 155g too, making it feel quite hefty. If you're looking for the slimmest, lightest phone around, the SP isn't a good choice. The Xperia Z is physically bigger, but it knocks around 10g off the SP's weight.

Ports, storage and NFC

Stuck into that metal edging you'll find a micro-USB port for data transfer and charging and a 3.5mm headphone port. That's pretty standard, but it would have been nice to see a micro-HDMI output to hook up to a big TV. You'll also see a volume rocker, power button and a dedicated camera shutter button.

The SP comes with 8GB of storage, of which only 5.5GB is actually useable -- the rest is taken up by the operating system and other Sony firmware. That's not a whole lot of space for all your data, so you'll need to make use of the micro SD card slot underneath the back panel. I wasn't able to find a way to install apps to the SD card though, so you'll have to be very careful which big name games you download -- Real Racing 3 alone takes up almost 2GB of space.

The SP also features near-field communication -- or NFC to me and you. It lets the phone communicate with compatible devices simply by tapping them together -- similar to what you may have done with an Oyster card in London.

While Sony sells some smart tags that let you program your phone to activate certain functions when tapped -- as well as NFC-enabled speakers and TVs -- there's very little at the moment to really make NFC an exciting addition. Still, it's still a new technology and when NFC payments on phones become a bigger deal, you might be glad you have it on board already.

Display

The SP packs a 4.6-inch display rocking a 1,280x720-pixel resolution. That's not pushing the Full HD resolution of its bigger brother, but it's still an impressive effort. It boasts 319 pixels per inch (ppi), which is a big step below the 441ppi of the Z, but you'd be hard pressed to tell much difference, side by side.

Only when you really get close enough to touch your nose to the screen will you be able to notice much improvement in clarity on the Z. The SP is very sharp, with clearly defined edges on icons and small text being rendered well.

It's powered by Sony's mobile Bravia Engine 2, which it claims uses similar colour reproduction wizardry as its massive tellies. Fancy tech aside, I was definitely pleased with the display's colours. It was bold, without being overly saturated. Samsung's Galaxy S4 has an extremely vibrant screen that borders on the unnatural at times -- by comparison, the SP is much more toned down.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

The SP is running on Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean which isn't quite the most recent version of Google's operating system, but it's modern enough for it to be acceptable. It's the same version you'll find on nearly every other recent phone -- with the exception of the S4, running version 4.2. The next major update -- Android Key Lime Pie -- is just around the corner though, so this iteration is about to take a step down.

The Android interface isn't much different to any other Android device.

Sony has thrown a few splashes of paint around the overall interface, but in terms of general interaction, you won't find anything too different from the standard Android experience you'll have seen on other 'droids. You get a total of five homescreens for you to drop down any of your apps or live widgets.

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Where to Buy

Sony Xperia SP

Part Number: CNETSony Xperia SP

Typical Price: £350.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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