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Sony Xperia P review: A happy middle ground

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Sony is striving to cover all bases with its Xperia range in a bid to target every corner of the mobile phone market. The powerful Xperia S resides at the high end of the spectrum, while the Xperia U has the budget sector covered, leaving the task of pulling the gap between them to the Xperia P. The Android handset has its work cut out in this congested space, but with a price point of £14 a month on a two-year contract or around £330 sim-free, there's plenty of bang-for-buck value here.

Specs and design

Sony Xperia P

© Sony

Less than a year ago, you'd be forgiven for mistaking the Xperia P as a high-end powerhouse, rather than the mid-range offering it is. A 1GHz Cortex-A9 dual-core processor combined with 1GB of RAM ensures speedy and fluid navigation, while the 8-megapixel camera and 1080p video recording capabilities would have been the pinnacle of smartphone technology in 2011.

The handset sports the same stylish design as its bigger brother, the Xperia S. Its robust rectangular form factor is given a dash of flare by a transparent antenna strip at bottom. One of the most significant drawbacks of the Xperia S was its bulky feel, but we had no such issues with the Xperia P. It's a good deal lighter than the advanced model, and thus more comfortable to grip.

Its physical controls - the power switch, volume control and camera button, lie low along the right-hand edge of the phone, giving it a cluttered feel. They also feel flimsy beneath your fingertips, and require more pressure to activate than they should.

Along the opposite edge, we have micro-SIM slot, a mini-USB port from transferring content to and from other devices, and HDMI port from linking up with external displays. So users are well catered for when it comes to sharing and connectivity, though the lack of microSD support is disappointing.

Camera capabilities and hardware features

Sony's Xperia range never fails to impress when it comes to imaging capabilities, and its mid-range handset is no exception. Although the phone's 8-megapixel rear camera is a shadow of the Xperia S's 12-megapixel behemoth, it does put its photographic capabilities on par with the market leaders, including the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Apple's iPhone 4S.

Packing an integrated LED flash, the rear-mounted snapper isn't ideal for shooting indoors under natural light. Pictures are blighted by muted colours and look grainy around the edges, but it's a whole other story when taking photographs outdoors.

The Xperia P's camera is loaded with useful features, such as automated scene selection technology and a macro mode that is second to none, so you won't need Instagram to get the most out of your pictures.

Sony Xperia P
The rear cam also captures 1080p Full HD video, handling up to 30 frames a second with ease. Once again, the lens configuration makes it perfect for using in the great outdoors, with footage maintaining a high frame rate and minimal motion blur under any conditions. Issues with the continuous auto-focus spoil the party somewhat. This feature rarely pulls its weight when an object is suddenly introduced close up, though this a common drawback of camera phones.

There's also a front-facing VGA camera capable of shooting both stills and video, but as is the case with most mid-range handsets, the quality is average at best.

> Digital Spy's top five Android camera apps

The device's 4-inch screen is optimised for playing host to captured media. With a 275ppi pixel density, the handset is capable of displaying 16 million colours ensuring that imagery is razor sharp. There are some minor colour issues. Whites have a yellowish tint on certain brightness settings, while greens and yellows run into one another on others, but this is nothing some fine-tuning won't stamp out.

The Xperia P is the first mobile to feature Sony's WhiteMagic technology, which maximises outdoor visibility. It's extremely effective at combating the sun's rays, so on the rare occasion that we do get clement weather in Britain, it needn't impede your smartphone usage. We just wish our laptop was similarly equipped so we can finish this review in the park.

Our biggest gripe with the Xperia S was its meagre battery life, so we're pleased to report that its sibling isn't quite as power-hungry. The Xperia P's 1305mAh battery offers around 5 hours of 3G talk time, which is slightly below average for a mid-range handset, yet certainly adequate. It fares significantly better as a media player, providing 80 hours of continuous music playback, so it's a swings-and-roundabouts situation.

Interface, operating system and software

Finding Google's previous generation Android 2.3 Gingerbread pre-loaded on the Xperia P is a disappointment, given that the current 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich has been around for more than six months now. However, an update is apparently on the way.

Through a combination of Gingerbread and the Timescape user interface, menu navigation is near flawless and will pose few problems to users unfamiliar with the Android OS. The app drawer comes fully loaded with all of the usual software, such as first-party media players, Google Maps and an FM Radio.

There's little to say about the phone's pre-installed apps that doesn't apply to virtually every handset on the market, but we put it through its paces by testing out some of Google Play's most technologically-demanding software. It handles the likes of Grand Theft Auto 3 flawlessly, which is more than we can say for our pricier HTC Sensation XL.

Where core functionality is concerned, making calls, sending text messages, and browsing the internet and hassle-free experiences. The handset offers clarity on either end of the line, and signal dropout is rare enough to not pose an issue. Other functions such as the built-in microphone and loud speaker perform well above average.

Sony Xperia P

© Sony



The verdict

If you're looking for a mid-range smartphone but don't want to make too many technological compromises, the Xperia P just might be the handset for you. Sony has built the device with functionality in mind, offering a sleek performance combined with some of the best camera hardware available in this particular industry sector.

The lack of MicroSD card support and some minor colour displaying issues are easy to overlook when its competitive price point and specs are taken into consideration. This is a shrew addition to the Xperia range that does enough to justify its place in a well populated market space.



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