Sony Mobile kindly invited us to get some hands-on time with its new Xperia devices recently. We had a play with the Xperia SP, Xperia L and Xperia Tablet Z. We’ll publish some follow-up posts on the latter two in due course, but we wanted to firstly share some impressions on the Xperia SP.
As a quick reminder of the specs, the Xperia SP is armed with a 1.7GHz dual-core processor and Adreno 320 graphics (MSM8960T), 1GB RAM, 8GB internal storage, 4.6-inch 720p display, 8MP Exmor RS camera sensor, 2300mAh battery and supports NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and MHL.
We went hands-on with a white version of the Xperia SP that looks very nice in the flesh. Unlike the white Xperia Z, which has a black front face, the SP has a white bezel preferred by some. The handset feels quite solid in the hand, no doubt helped by the aluminium frame that goes around the body.
We are glad to see the return of the transparent bar in the Xperia range. Yes, it’s inclusion does mean a larger body (the handset is almost similar in size to the Xperia ZL), but we think the benefits are worth it. After all, no other phone can come close when it comes to its utilisation for notifications.
The signature power button is here (as with all 2013 Sony Xperia devices) and the screw gives away the metal build. All buttons had a solid feel with a decent amount of travel when clicking down. It’s nice to see the inclusion of a dedicated camera button on the Xperia SP.
The micro USB port thankfully carries no flaps and juts out slightly compared to the rest of the aluminium frame.
The back cover is made from plastic and can be removed to access the micro SIM and microSD memory card.
Here you’ll notice the small LED flash and noise cancellation secondary mic.
At the bottom of the handset, there is a hard reset button which we imagine you can use if your phone locks up.
Display clarity is fine when looking head-on, however much like recent Xperia phones, contrast is reduced at other viewing angles.
We didn’t get a chance to check out the call quality, but the ear piece looked slightly bigger than the Xperia Z from what we could tell.
The Xperia SP prototype we played with was running firmware build number 12.0.A.1.237. The handset was running Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and 3.4 kernel.
The display settings has options for ‘Glove mode’ and ‘White balance’.
At the bottom, you will find settings to manage the notification light settings for the transparent bar under ‘Light effects’.
Under the ‘Light effects’ setting option you can choose to adopt the transparent bar LED effects for music and the gallery album.
You can also choose which notification colours you would like to use for various functions such as missed calls, unread SMS, alarm as well as incoming calls and incoming SMS.
You can make out the light effect in the picture below when viewing a picture. It appears that the transparent bar is running three LEDs and you’ll notice the light is not uniformly even throughout the bar. This should not really an issue for most people.
The 8MP Exmor RS camera sensor is the same that is used in the Xperia L (C210X). The picture below shows the Xperia SP camera settings (top) against the Xperia L (below). As you would expect, both have the same resolution options.
In the camera settings, the Xperia SP has ‘Superior auto’ mode, whilst the Xperia L does not. Both phones feature HDR for photos.
Strangely though, Sony decided to remove HDR for videos on the Xperia SP. This is despite the lower-priced Xperia L will have the feature intact.
Build quality was on the whole good. The back of the handset has a matte white plastic, although the lack of any texture did make it feel a little slippery in the hand. One thing we did notice in the test model was that the back cover did not sit flush with the aluminium frame. If you focus your eyes in the centre of this picture, you will be able to make out a tiny gap and the glint of a metal part of the phone from under the cover.
The same can be seen at the top of the phone, where you can see a small gap between the back cover and aluminium frame. In this case you can make out the white plastic latch used to connect to the back cover. We don’t know whether this was specific to just this handset only, but we made sure the back cover was attached as tightly as possible before taking these pictures. Until we get hands on with a retail sample, we’ll give Sony the benefit of the doubt here.
The Xperia SP didn’t feel that much bigger than the Xperia L with its 4.3-inch display. You can see a comparison against the Xperia Z (left) and Xperia L (right) below.
Overall, the Xperia SP felt like a very nice phone in the hand. Performance was zippy, although it did not feel as smooth as the Xperia Z. We imagine the SP is more effected by the 1GB RAM (versus 2GB RAM for the Xperia Z), rather than processor limitations – the MSM8960T chipset should be able to handle most current phone tasks. Display clarity was fine and sharp, although it’s clear that this is an area where Sony needs to improve to achieve best in class.
We didn’t get a chance to test the imaging capabilities, we would rather test a retail device when it launches in a few weeks. However, we don’t understand why Sony decided to limit its HDR features versus the lower-priced Xperia L. We don’t expect this to be a hardware limitation so Sony may introduce HDR for videos at some point later. From the short time we had with the handset, we can say that we look forward to spending more time with the Xperia SP in due course.