Sony Xperia M2 Review: M Stands For Middling

Reviews Andrew Williams 17:31, 18 Jul 2014

Sony's mid-range Xperia M2 gets a stint on tour with Andrew Williams - how did it fare?

Rating: 
3.5
Typical Price: 
£160.00
Pros: 
Big display, Decent performance, Good battery life, Has 4G
Cons: 
Low-res screen, Shiny plastic back shows up scratches, Tricky camera
Verdict: 
With a higher-res screen the Xperia M2 would be a world-beater. But as-is it’s just one of the better budget 4G phones

The Sony Xperia M2: that “M” might as well stand for middle-ground, middle of the road, or middleweight. It’s sandwiched between the Sony Xperia Z2 and the cheap Xperia E1. And don’t people say middle children have the most issues?

As long as you don’t pay over the odds for it, the Sony Xperia M2 is actually a pretty easy-to-live-with low-cost 4G phone. Sometimes MOR isn’t a bad thing.

Sony Xperia M2 Design

The stand-out part of the Sony Xperia M2 is its design. It looks just like the Xperia Z2, but costs about a third of the price. Actually trying to fool people into thinking it’s a £500 phone is a bit tragic – like gluing an “S” sports tag to the back of your Vauxhall Nova - but this phone will probably get you a lot more attention than other mobiles at the price.

Some of you may find the Xperia M2 a bit more ergonomic than the Xperia Z2 as well. As its screen is a good deal smaller, I found the M2 much less of a handful - in the most literal sense.

The Sony omnibalance power button works its usual wonders too: Sony plugs the power button right into the middle of the phone’s side so that it sits just under your thumb.

The Sony Xperia M2’s super-flat, super-shiny front and back panels are eye-catching and have that Sony style. But get a bit closer, don your critics hat and it’s easy to see where Sony has saved some cash.

Where the rear of the £450-plus Xperia Z2 is toughened glass, the back of the Xperia M2 is good old plastic. It won’t shatter if you drop it, but it’s much easier to scratch than glass.

After a few weeks the back of my Xperia M2 isn’t looking too shabby, but you can be sure that by the end of your contract the phone will look more aged and lined than a septuagenarian smoker on 60-a-day. Unless you keep really good care of it. But who does after the first month or so, right?

In common with more expensive phones, the Xperia M2’s back is sealed to ensure it offers a fairly high-end feel. I have to hand it to Sony – it looks and feels pretty good for the £150-odd it costs.

You get access to the microSIM slot and microSD memory card using a little plastic flap on the side. There’s no waterproofing here at all, though – which is offered by the Xperia Z2.

There are a few bits and bobs left out, but the features list is pretty competitive if you judge the Xperia M2 by its low pre-pay price. There’s NFC and 4G on top of the usual array of Android phone connectivity specs. Even the standard-setting 4G Motorola Moto G doesn’t have NFC.

Sony Xperia M2 Screen

However, one of the core elements of the Sony Xperia M2 is just ok, nothing more: the screen.

At 4.8 inches, the display is pretty large for a budget phone. However, the size really strains against the reins of the 960 x 540 pixel resolution.

With just 229ppi, the Xperia M2 is far removed from the kind of genuinely impressive sharpness you’d get from a 720p phone of this size. If the display had that sort of resolution, this would be a truly exciting phone. But as-is, it’s limited to being just a solid one.

It is an IPS screen, though, and a big step up from the lame duck TFT panel used in the cheaper Xperia E1.

Take the phone outside and it suffers from pretty heavy reflections, as it doesn’t have the zero air gap style display used by more expensive phones. Still, I did find that top brightness is enough to just-about deal with bright sunlight without feeling like you’re looking at the phone through an ancient misty window.

Sony Xperia M2 Software & Performance

The somewhat low-res screen isn't the best way to show off the custom Sony interface used here. It’s similar to what you get in the Xperia Z2, but the few little visual streamlining bits Sony did for its flagship haven’t been applied here.

It’s minor stuff like there being a stuffy-looking box around the app icons in the apps menu and a somewhat unnecessary translucent box-out around the virtual soft keys. Now I’ve seen the simpler Xperia Z2, the M2 could look better, but it still has one of the best custom interfaces among budget phones.

Custom UIs often over-do things like the notification menu, transition animations and superfluous extra features. But the Sony Xperia M2 keeps things pretty classy.

There are a bunch of additional apps I could live without, but you can uninstall most of them. The only ones you can’t are the standard Google Android apps and the core Sony suite. This includes things like the Sony Walkman app, the movie player and Sony Select, a naff third-party app store.

As you get 8GB of internal memory rather than the even more restrictive 4GB of some budget phones, it’s not horribly annoying. And you can always bung them in a folder and forget about them if you have no intention of using them.

The Sony Xperia M2’s decent custom interface offers fairly good performance, with no major lag. In the cheaper Xperia E1 I did get quite annoyed by the lagginess, but as this phone has a full 1GB of RAM rather than 512MB, there’s enough memory to grease the wheels.

There are really very few limitations as to what you can do with the Xperia M2. It ‘only’ has a Snapdragon 400 quad-core 1.2GHz processor, and it’s ‘only’ the same grade of chip used in the EE Kestrel and Motorola Moto G. But it’s enough to do high-end games justice on a 960 x 540 pixel display.

I imagine it’d all fall apart if you tried to get a 1080p Snapdragon 400 phone to play something like Modern Combat 4. But then no phone maker has done that, yet.

When it comes to actually playing the games, I find myself torn. A 4.8-inch screen is a great space to play games on. Bigger is better when it comes to games and movies. But the resolution is – once again – a real issue. The graphics would look much better in 3D titles if the Xperia M2 had a 720p screen.

Sony Xperia M2 Battery

Using a pretty efficient chipset and a not-too-demanding resolution leads to pretty good battery stamina. The Sony Xperia M2’s 2,300mAh lasts for a whopping 11 and a half hours when playing a 720p MP4 video at the sort of middling screen brightness you might use indoors.

That’s a great result, and one that sees the M2 comfortably outperform just about all rivals at the price.

When not used, the phone doesn’t quite have the battery drain-stopping efficiency of a Snapdragon 800/801 top-end phone, but with very light use you can drag out the phone’s charge over a couple of days. If you’re using your phone properly, you’ll get a comfortable day and a half out of it.

Sony Xperia M2 Speaker

Good battery makes the Xperia M2 a decent little video player. But it’s not helped by the internal speaker, which is really quite rubbish.

There’s a single downward-facing driver on the bottom edge of the phone, and it’s tinny, harsh and doesn’t go particularly loud. If you’ve read up on the Xperia Z2’s clever stereo speakers and were hoping for the same here, think again

Sony Xperia M2 Camera

The Sony Xperia M2’s camera is a pretty mixed affair too. It has an 8-megapixel sensor, a front camera and a rear flash – everything you need really. However, performance is quite variable.

It’s a little slow to shoot, focusing is a bit all over the place and it often struggles with exposure and colours. Give the Xperia M2 something difficult to shoot and it’ll probably fall on its face.

However, with a bit of know-how and judicious use of the powerful HDR mode and you can produce some pretty good-looking photos. HDR is generally used to fix exposure issues, but in the Xperia M2 it also has a very positive effect on colour reproduction and stops your shots from looking desperately dull.

You need to know where to find HDR, though, because the phone uses Sony’s standard photo app. As by default it shoots in Superior Auto mode, which might as well be called Super Idiot mode as it doesn’t let you control anything bar the focus.

Manual mode is where it’s at for the best shots. And don’t be intimidated by the mode’s ‘manual’ tag because this mode is really just the standard mode that lets you pick scenes if you fancy. I quickly reverted to using it exclusively. In the end I shot almost exclusively in HDR too. Whatever mode you shoot in photos look processed here, so why not embrace the processing?

There are also burst, panorama, augmented reality and creative filter modes. Augmented reality puts things like dinosaurs into your pictures – it’s a bit of fun for the kids.

Sony Xperia M2 Conclusion

Do you want a big screen, or a good screen? This is the question the Sony Xperia M2’s chances boil down to. Having a 4.8-inch display is great, but you miss out on the pristine, sharp look you get from a 720p phone like the the 4G Motorola Moto G or Alcatel One Touch Idol S.

Aside from the screen issue, there’s little to seriously dislike about the Xperia M2. Performance is decent, the design is nice-looking and with a bit of effort you can even get fairly decent-looking photos out of the camera.

If Sony could just pull its finger out and bring us a 720p, £160-odd Xperia M3 within the next few months, I’d be very happy indeed.

Specifications

Length 139.7mm
Width 71.1mm
Thickness 8.6mm
Weight 148g
Screen Colours 16 million
Screen Size 4.8-inches
UK Launch May 2014
Phone Style Touchscreen
Typical Price £160
Designer Lens No
Camera Resolution 8MP
Video Resolution 1080p
Flash LED
Music Formats MP3/eAAC+/WAV
Music Player Yes
Song Storage Yes
Speaker Yes
Radio Yes

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