Sony Xperia L
The Xperia L has style despite its budget price. CNET UK

Occupying the bottom rung of Sony's current Xperia line of smartphones, the $299 Xperia L has attractive styling for an entry-level handset. The device also packs a colorful 4.3-inch screen, dual-core processing, and a decent camera. If you're expecting much more from this affordable unlocked phone, though, you'll be headed for a rude awakening.

Editors' note: For a deeper dive be sure to read CNET UK's full review of the Sony Xperia L.

Core components
A Sony flagship the Xperia L isn't. Unlike its bigger and badder siblings, the Xperia ZL and Xperia Z, the Xperia L relies on a selection of watered-down components to get through the day. Under the hood you'll find a slow 1.2GHz dual-core processor paired with a constrained 1GB of RAM.

The phone's internal storage is also cramped, topping out at 4GB. Thankfully you can add extra in a pinch via the Xperia L's microSD card slot. You'll just have to be mindful when you install apps or transfer digital media.

Sony Xperia L
The Xperia L has a quality matte-black backing. CNET UK

Keeping everything charged up is a 1,750mAh battery, which frankly is a bit on the skimpy side. Many newer smartphones, even compact ones such as the Motorola Moto X, come with power sources in capacities of 2,000mAh and upward.

Thankfully Sony didn't skimp on effort and materials when designing the Xperia L. By the looks of it you'd probably never guess this was a budget handset. Its curved back makes it comfortable to hold and the Xperia's matte-black finish paired with silver highlights conveys a distinct sense of elegance.

Measuring 128mm tall by 65mm wide by 9.7mm thick (5 inches by 2.6 inches by 0.38 inch), the Xperia Z may not be the sveltest phone money can buy. That said, the device's dimensions are compact enough to slide into tight pockets without much consternation. Ports on the Xperia are the typical Micro-USB slot and 3.5mm headphone jack, plus it has a large silver power button and a dedicated camera key.

The Xperia L's LCD screen spans a sizable 4.3 inches across but has a relatively low resolution (854x480 pixels). Still, while it can't match the sharpness of other handsets with HD displays, it should be colorful enough for viewing basic mobile content.

Sony Xperia L
Silver highlights help give a premium look. CNET UK

Software and interface
The Xperia L doesn't have the freshest software either, running the now-outdated version 4.1.2 of Android Jelly Bean. The current iteration, Android 4.3, boasts quite a number of enhancements but has made it to only a select number of devices.

As with its other phones, Sony layers its own software skin over the Xperia L's Android OS. Along with useful tweaks like the customizable app tray, the photo and video galleries are Sony's own creations. You also find apps for diving into the company's Music and Video Unlimited entertainment storefronts.

Sony loves to make a lot of noise about its smartphone cameras, and the Xperia L is no exception. Equipped with an 8MP sensor, though, the handset is less sensitive than its more expensive siblings the Xperia Z and ZL, which boast a sharper 13MP imaging system.

Sony Xperia L
Despite Sony's boasting, the camera was mediocre (click image to enlarge). Andrew Hoyle/CNET UK

CNET UK editor Andrew Hoyle wasn't impressed either when he took the Xperia L's camera for a spin. Essentially the L won't let you down under strong lighting but is plagued by image noise in darker indoor settings.

Sony Xperia L
The colors weren't too bad, just make sure you have plenty of light when taking snaps (click image to enlarge). Andrew Hoyle/CNET UK

If you're committed to the Sony brand and perhaps the company's online roster of digital entertainment, the $299 Xperia L might be worth a look. That's especially true if you're also on the hunt for an affordable unlocked Android phone. Its unimpressive specs and dated software, however, make it hard to recommend to everyone else. A better buy is the tried and true $299 (unlocked) LG Nexus 4, which for the same price trumps the Xperia in practically every other important area: components, Android software, and display.