Sony Xperia U review: Sony Xperia U

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent

Average User Rating

4 stars 21 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Dual-core power in a pocket-friendly package; Snazzy coloured mood lights.

The Bad Not everyone will dig the mood lighting; No microSD card slot.

The Bottom Line The Android-powered Sony Xperia U is cheap, cheerful, cute as a button and -- provided you're not too demanding of it -- fleet of foot. Large-handed folk may find it fiddly though.

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The Sony Xperia U is a petite, budget Android blower that packs a dual-core chip into a dainty, pocket-sized format. It boasts a strip of coloured lights that pulse and change as you swipe around. It's an eye-catching feature although jazzy mood lighting won't be to everyone's taste.

Another colourful flourish is the U's swappable end caps. These let you personalise the look of the phone, turning a monotone blower into a snazzy two-toner, should you so desire.

With a SIM-free price in the region of £200 -- or on monthly contracts from as low as £10 a month -- this mid-range 'droid could be as light on your wallet as it is in your palm.

Sony Xperia U
The Xperia U is a pocket-sized blower powered by Google's Android operating system that hopes to light up your life.

Should I buy the Sony Xperia U?

You'll either love or hate the Xperia U's coloured mood lights. If you're a hater of this sort of peacocking, you might prefer the more conventional looks of the Samsung Galaxy Ace Plus instead. But if you're a magpie type attracted to bright shiny stuff, you'll dig the U's chameleon tendencies.

It's a small phone so large-handed folk should steer clear. The screen size is 3.5 inches on the diagonal, which is the same as the Apple iPhone 4S . However, the U's display is lots narrower so it's considerably more cramped. Typing can be very fiddly and desktop versions of websites feel very hemmed in.

If you're happy with a petite phone, the U has enough power to handle most everyday mobile tasks. It's not an Android powerhouse like its more premium sibling, the Xperia S . But its 1GHz dual-core chip is no slouch either. Indeed, it's the same as the engine inside its other more expensive stablemate, the Xperia P, but as it's paired with a smaller screen, there are fewer pixels to throw around.

Other mid-range Androids to consider at this price include the stylish but slightly sluggish HTC One V and the powerful but bloatware-stuffed Orange San Diego. Or there's Samsung's unflashy Galaxy Ace Plus.

Design and build quality

The stand-out design feature of the Xperia U is the transparent strip near the base, which pulses with different coloured lights depending on what you're looking at on screen. Shades are selected to match the hues of photos from the gallery or the album art of the music you're listening to. So if you're viewing a snap of one of London's iconic red buses, expect the lights to blush a deep co-ordinated rouge.

Sony Xperia U coloured strip
The glowing strip changes colour depending on what you're looking at or listening to.

Some people will find the U's festive mood lights tacky. Others will be mesmerised by their joyous, jewel-like colours. You decide where you fit on this colour spectrum. Just don't expect to be able to turn the mood lights off -- there's no settings for them. So bad luck cinemagoers trying to surreptitiously use your phone during a film.

The Xperia U's swappable plastic pants can add another splash of colour to the bottom of your black (or white) handset -- if mood lighting isn't quirky enough for you. The bottom cap isn't always easy to pop off but at least that means the phone's trunks shouldn't fall down of their own accord.

Like its big brother, the Xperia S , the U is entirely sheathed in plastic. I found its matte plastic back quite slippery to the touch. The phone's dinky dimensions do mean you can easily wrap your mitts around it though, so only real butterfingers should have to worry about dropping it.

Sony Xperia U cap
Slip your Xperia U into this fetching little yellow number or choose from a range of colours.

Being small, the U is relatively lightweight although it does have more heft (110g) than you might expect for a phone of this diddy size. And while it's not the thinnest phone in smart phone town, it doesn't look or feel too chunky.

Build quality is not super-premium -- it's more plasticky than classy. Squeeze the U around the middle and it will creak. But since you can remove the backplate to get at the battery, that's not a huge surprise.

If you're keen on the white model, be aware the plastic easily picks up dirt so it quickly starts looking grubby.

Also on board are Sony's xLoud and 3D surround sound technologies. The phone's rear speaker can pump out noise fairly loudly but audio quality isn't as rich as the Xperia P or S. To my ear it had a distinctly flat and tinny quality.

Internal memory is 8GB but only 4GB of that is up for grabs to house your photos and apps. There's no microSD card slot for expanding the U's digital shelves so if you want to load on lots of video and music, you'd be better off with a phone with more roomy storage.

Ports wise, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge and a micro-USB port on the left side for charging and getting your snaps off the phone. Crack off the back of the phone and you'll find a SIM slot in the side and, above that, a removable battery.

The Xperia U has three physical keys housed along its right-hand edge -- the power key, a volume rocker and a dedicated camera button. The latter is a nice addition on a phone of this price.

I found all these keys a little low lying and spongy, especially the camera key. You have to squeeze pretty hard to fire off a shot.

Sony Xperia U back
The Xperia U is neither skeletally thin nor too chubby -- it's a 'perfect 10'.

Screen

The Xperia U's TFT screen is definitely one of the areas where Sony has shaved a few yen off build costs. Push down hard and the glass will flex to touch the surface of the display, producing an oily sheen and discoloured patches of pixels. This sort of flex is unsightly but it's also typical of cheaper phone screens.

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