Sony Xperia SP review and latest prices

Reviews Paul Briden 17:25, 7 May 2013

We take an in-depth look at Sony's Xperia SP smartphone

Typical Price: 
Great build and design, Excellent screen, 4G, Long battery life, expandable storage, decent performance and camera
Low onboard storage, Camera noise, Smudgy screen
A very well executed mid-range package. Gives the Google Nexus 4 a run for its money.

The Sony Xperia SP is a mid-range model following on from the premium Xperia Z flagship. It features a similar design style and a dual-core Qualcomm processor, together with an 8-megapixel camera and Android Jelly Bean loaded with Sony's own interface.

Sony Xperia SP review: Design

We’re quite fond of Sony’s new design direction, which started with the Xperia Z flagship and has been continued with this lower-cost model Xperia SP. The design language shares some close ties with Sony’s broader range of electronics including an angular shape, silver trim and matte finish plastics.

The build quality is solid, which is what we’ve come to expect from Sony’s recent portfolio. Things are helped in this regard by the aluminium bezel, which surrounds the outside of the device.

Despite the fact that the back cover is thin plastic and removable, it sits nicely flush to the handset and we found no flex in the chassis whatsoever. The physical keys are nicely positioned on the right-hand side but work well for use with either hand and have a satisfying amount of feedback. There’s also a dedicated camera key, which is always a nice touch.

The front fascia may be angular but the rear panel has a slight curvature to it, which sits well in the hand and contrasts well with the sharper frontage. The plastic on the back panel is probably the least premium aspect of the device in terms of feel but it’s reasonable enough.

At the bottom of the phone is a clear LED strip similar to what we’ve seen on earlier Sony Xperia models. It’s a little bit odd though because it sits between the bodywork and the aluminium surround and is transparent all the way through.

The result is that it looks like a weird little carry handle and it also upsets the balance of the phone’s lower quarter. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means but we would’ve been happier without it.

Sony Xperia SP review: Screen

The display is a 4.6-inch LCD with a 1280x720 pixel resolution at 319 pixels-per-inch. It’s reinforced with Corning Gorilla Glass and uses Sony’s Mobile Bravia Engine 2 for enhanced colour, contrast and clarity.

Blacks have a reasonable amount of depth, colours are suitably rich and the sharpness is really excellent for a mid-range device. Brightness isn’t bad at all but the display does suffer in outdoor lighting and it’s both reflective and smudgy.

Generally speaking though, this screen is pretty fantastic. Sony’s TV expertise hasn’t been wasted and for bright, vibrant and sharp multimedia consumption this is a great setup.

Sony Xperia SP review: Operating System and UI

As this is an Xperia model we’re dealing with Android, 4.1 Jelly Bean to be precise. It’s overlaid with the Sony UI, which is far cleaner and more streamlined than it used to be but is still a fairly dense layer, which will likely be somewhat off-putting for Android purists.

What does this mean? Well lots of grey menu screens and quirky but colourful icons. In terms of added functionality you’ve got a re-designed multitasking carousel, complete with a small selection of mini-app widgets for things like the calculator and sticky notes. There’s also the usual array of quick toggles in the drop-down notifications menu.

The app drawer and homescreen customisation menus have also been customised and you can add or remove homescreens as you see fit. Everything is reasonably well optimised in terms of screen transitions and the like, though as is often the case with Sony’s UI an abundance of widgets on screen does tend to slow things down a bit.

Sony Xperia SP review: Camera

Expectations of Sony’s camera tech are always fairly high, being a company, which creates excellent digital cameras and provides sensor tech for other manufacturers. The Xperia SP uses one of Sony’s latest Exmor RS back-illuminated (BSI) sensors rated at 8-megapixels. It features an LED flash, 1080p HD video capture, panoramic mode, HDR, face and smile detection and burst mode.

Colour and saturation are both fantastic here, you get some incredibly vivid photos in good lighting conditions. Dynamic range is decent and there’s plenty of detail crammed into the shots. In low light conditions the Xperia SP performs reasonably well and copes with high-contrast admirably. The HDR and Superior Auto modes are both great too.

However, there’s also a boatload of noise, which does result in overall poorer picture quality than we’d like. It doesn’t have any of the dodgy post-processing we saw on the Xperia Z’s setup, but ultimately the picture isn’t as nice because of the noise.

Despite this setback it is a distinctly better-than-average camera for this price point, it’s probably not better than the Nokia Lumia 720’s camera but it is ranking around that mark and is a particularly good choice if you want really rich colours.

Video records at Full HD 1080p and is of decent quality overall. There’s also a front-facing VGA camera for video calls.

Ultimately, the Sony Xperia SP’s camera is probably going to be received differently by different groups of smartphone users. Those who don’t care about cameras will of course continue not to care, but those who want decent imaging capabilities for holiday snaps and the like will probably be very happy.

The vibrant colours will likely delight the Instagram crowd but some may grumble about the noise. Hard-core photography aficionados are not going to like the noise and oversaturated colours one bit.


Length 130.6mm
Width 67.1mm
Thickness 10mm
Weight 155g
Screen Colours 16 million
Screen Size 4.6-inches
UK Launch April 2013
Phone Style Touchscreen
Typical Price £250
Designer Lens No
Camera Resolution 8-megapixel 3264x2448 pixels
Video Resolution 1080p
Flash LED
Zoom Yes
Music Formats MP3/eAAC+/WMA/WAV
Music Player Yes
Song Storage Yes
Speaker Yes
Radio Yes

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