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Sony Xperia J review: Sony Xperia J

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Everyone knows James Bond is rocking an Xperia T on his top secret missions these days, but what if you can't afford Sony's top-tier smart phone? What if you still want that secret-agent vibe whenever your other half calls asking you to pick up some milk on your way home from work? Sony has clearly anticipated this quandary, hence the release of the Xperia J -- the T's little brother.

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4.5

Sony Xperia J

The Good

Appealing design; Decent screen; Impressive battery life.

The Bad

Sluggish performance; Terrible camera; Not much internal storage.

The Bottom Line

Despite its uncanny resemblance to the high-end Xperia T, the Xperia J offers an underwhelming user experience and is outclassed by similarly priced Android handsets.

The Xperia J has a 1GHz single-core Snapdragon processor and is running Google's Android operating system, version 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich.

It's possible to pick up the Xperia J on a monthly contract for around £16, while a pay as you go version will set you back around £150.

Should I buy the Sony Xperia J?

If you simply cannot resist the allure of the Xperia T but don't have the bank account of a serial casino winner, you might assume the copycat Xperia J is a safe bet. Aside from a few cosmetic differences and a smaller 4-inch screen, this mid-range offering bears a startling resemblance to the handset brandished by Daniel Craig in the James Bond movie Skyfall.

Sony Xperia J back
The back of the Xperia J curves inwards, just like the Xperia T.

You shouldn't expect the same user experience from this cheaper alternative, however. For starters, instead of a 1.5GHz dual-core CPU it has a 1GHz single-core variant, which is akin to putting a 1.3-litre engine inside an Aston Martin Virage. Although it's running the same version of Android as the Xperia T, it's missing several of the embellishments that made that phone's operating system so interesting. It's also lumbered with a dire camera and just 4GB of internal storage, of which only 2GB is available for use (although it's expandable with microSD).

You really are better off resisting the urge to play pretend spy and looking elsewhere for your smart phone fix. To be perfectly honest, you could say the same of the otherwise underwhelming Xperia T too.

Design and display

The Xperia J clearly owes a massive debt to Sony's much-advertised 'Bond phone' when it comes to design, but it's a bit like Pierce Brosnan to the Xperia T's Craig -- it looks and feels less impressive.

The construction is a veritable profusion of plastic, from the soft-touch back panel to the chrome-effect strip which makes an unbroken run around the edge of the handset. Unlike the Xperia T, the Xperia J's back is removable, granting access to the SIM card slot (standard size, none of that micro-SIM malarkey here), microSD card slot and 1,750mAh battery.

Sony Xperia J front
The excellent 4-inch LCD display is one of the phone's few positive features.

Sony has spurned Google's guidelines on interface design and has included three capacitive buttons below the display -- another change from the Xperia T, which incorporated them into the actual screen itself. As if to show additional disdain for Google's suggestions, the buttons don't match those on 'stock' Android devices, such as the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 7 and Nexus 4.

There's no multi-tasking command -- instead, there's the old-fashioned settings button, with multi-tasking resigned to a long press of the Home symbol. The placement of these capacitive buttons is a little misleading. They're positioned right at the bottom of the phone's face, yet the 'active area' of touch actually extends further upwards. This means you'll often prod lower than you really need to, something that can occasionally lead to the Xperia J flipping out of your grip, due to the low position of the button symbols.

Sony Xperia J side
Don't get too excited -- that chrome-effect ring is actually made of plastic.

Elsewhere on the phone, there are only two other physical inputs: the volume rocker and the power button, which also doubles as the screen lock and wake key. The latter is a little on the small side, making it hard to press when you're in a hurry. On the top edge of the device you'll discover the 3.5mm headphone jack, while turning the phone 90 degrees will reveal the microUSB data and charging socket. Aside from the twin cameras -- a VGA one on the front and a 5 megapixel snapper on the back -- and dual notification LEDs, that's your lot as far as cosmetic features are concerned.

The phone's 4-inch, 480x854-pixel LCD panel is something of a pleasant surprise, given the otherwise disappointing elements of the Xperia J's design. It offers a pixel density of 245ppi -- not to be sniffed at -- and the overall image quality is surprisingly punchy. Colours are bright and faithfully replicated, and the contrast is near-perfect. Viewing angles are also pleasingly rocksteady.

Processing power and software

When you consider that just 18 months ago, Sony (or Sony Ericsson, as it was then known) was pushing out single-core 1GHz handsets like the Xperia Arc and attempting to convince everyone it was the market leader, it shouldn't be all that surprising to learn that the Xperia J is rocking a Snapdragon S1 clocked at the same speed, and with just 512MB of RAM to support it.

Sony Xperia J notification
The Xperia J has not one but two pulsing notification lights.

Equally unsurprising is the fact that with this particular setup, the Xperia J is plagued by slowdown and jerkiness, even when performing very low-level activities such as moving between home screens or opening the application drawer. This general sluggishness and lack of grace impacts practically every aspect of the phone's functionality, sullying what could have been an enjoyable user interface experience.

Sony has already confirmed that it is updating its 2012 range to Android 4.1 (otherwise known as Jelly Bean) next year, and the Xperia J should be one of the devices that benefits. However, for the time being at least, it's stuck on Android 4.0.4.

This means you'll miss out on cool Jelly Bean features like Google Now, which allows you to talk to your phone -- Siri-style -- to extract information about the weather, what appointments you have in your diary or the age Elvis Presley would be if he were still with us today. All good fun, and all sadly out of reach for prospective Xperia J owners -- for now, at least.

Interface, applications and storage

Naturally, Sony has slapped its own user interface skin on top of Google's Android framework, with the usual assortment of superfluous applications and widgets pre-installed. Timescape allows you to pull together all of your social networking contacts in one continuous stream of content, but remains as lumbering and limited as ever.

Sadly, the Xperia J doesn't carry over one of the more interesting Sony-exclusive enhancements from the Xperia T: the unique Small Apps system, which allows you to float interactive elements on top of the phone's multi-tasking menu.

Elsewhere, there's the traditional Walkman music player -- which grants access to Sony's Music Unlimited service -- and the PlayNow market, which tries (and fails) to offer the same breadth and depths as Android's own Google Play storefront.

As was the case with the Xperia T, many of the Sony-exclusive apps that come with the phone are pale imitations of services already commonplace on Android. There's little reason to bother with Sony's Walkman player when you can use Google's own music service, which now has a live store in the UK and allows you to store 20,000 songs in the cloud, free of charge.

Sony Xperia J back removed
Removing the back cover reveals the 1,750mAh battery, SIM card bay and microSD card slots.

As a result, many of the apps that come with the Xperia J are unlikely to see any use, but thankfully Sony has at least given you the option to delete them in order to free up valuable internal storage -- storage which is better used for other downloads.

Speaking of which, the Xperia J comes with 4GB of flash memory, of which half is available to you. Of that 2GB, around 750MB is reserved for pure application data, although most apps will now let you move a portion of app and game data to the remaining 1.25GB of memory, and the phone's microSD card.

Disappointingly, the Xperia J doesn't come with a microSD card, so you're going to have to cough up the cash to buy one yourself. It's highly recommended, too -- that 2GB of space will fill up quicker than a cinema on the opening night of a new Bond movie.

Camera

Sony's recent handsets have carved out quite a reputation when it comes to photography, so it's curious to see this offering buck the trend. The Xperia J's 5 megapixel snapper doesn't have Sony's trademark Exmor R technology and produces some truly bland images as a result.

Sony Xperia J camera test outside
Unless you're shooting close-up photos, the Xperia J's camera struggles to focus properly (click image to enlarge).

Shots suffer from poor focus unless you're really close to the subject you're shooting, and without a decent source of illumination you'll be saddled with washed-out and uninspiring pictures.

Sony Xperia J camera test close up
Macro shots are better, but still lack clarity (click image to enlarge).

The Xperia J's video recording prowess does little to improve this sorry situation -- it's locked in a VGA resolution only, so there's no HD capture for budding directors to sample.

Performance and battery life

Given the last-generation nature of the Xperia J's internal tech, the fact that it posts so-so benchmark results shouldn't come as much of a revelation. AnTuTu benchmark -- which tests memory, CPU speed and graphics -- bestowed upon the phone a score of 3,370, putting it well below the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S2 and Kindle Fire, but just above fellow 1GHz devices like the Nexus S and Sony Ericsson X10.

Using Quadrant Standard -- which tests much the same elements as AnTuTu -- the Xperia J once again comes away looking rather weak. Its score of 1,949 is pretty decent for a single-core phone, but recent dual-core Android handsets do better.

Stamina is the one area where the Xperia J manages to get the edge over its more illustrious big brother, the Xperia T. Thanks to the inclusion of a 1,750mAh battery the J can quite happily last for a couple of days on a single charge, depending on what kind of activities you're engaged in.

As always, the screen is the biggest draw on power, so if you're playing a lot of games, watching hours of movies and surfing the Web constantly, you can expect that figure to drop sharply. Even so, the Xperia J usually has a enough juice in the tank to put the majority of its rivals to shame.

Conclusion

At first glance it's devilishly hard to tell the Xperia T and the Xperia J apart, but the difference in raw specifications and overall user experience is as vast as the quality gap between GoldenEye and Die Another Day -- while the former is a relative high point, the latter is something of an unfortunate nadir.

The Xperia J can't hide behind its budget price point, either. There are other more capable Android challengers on the market which cost less than this blower, such as the admittedly less glamorous Huawei Honor and ZTE Grand X.

If you're feeling a little flush then it's possible to get a much better phone for a little more cash -- HTC's Desire X retails for around £240 SIM-free and unlocked, and boasts a dual-core CPU. If you can find one, the Google Nexus 4 is also £240 and one of the fastest phones around.

The Xperia J may come to the party dressed up in a tuxedo and sipping a Martini, but when the bullets begin to fly and the familiar Monty Norman theme rises up, its 00 status is little more than a charade.