Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sony Xperia U Review - Stand Alone Complex

Xperia U Header

Gagdet websites and magazines tend to focus their attention to the high-end devices produced by the different brands, products oriented to fulfill the needs of the most demanding users. However, it is in the medium (and budget) segment where many manufacturers earn their money. Thus, the high-end devices serve the manufacturers as technology bearers to advertise the brand, then sell you a more modest terminal with a reasonable resemblance but at a much more competitive price.

Today I'll take a look at the Sony Xperia U, a midrange smartphone with a 3.5" display (nowadays, the screen size means almost everything) that inherits many of the DNA of his older brother, the Xperia S.

What it does, it does well

Despite the dimensions of the Xperia U (much more compact than the Xperia S), it has little to envy the Sony flagship, as the features offered in the U (in return for its price) amply comply with the multimedia and connectivity expectations of an average user. The operation of the smartphone is quite smooth thanks to the more than capable dual core processor, and the Sony customizations are pleasant to the eyes if only a little bit too flourished (I'm accostumed to stock -or near stock- Android experience).

Xperia U Expo

The battery capacity might seem a little short at 1320 mAh, but the not-so-big display and the Sony optimitzations makes up for it and allows to use the handset for a whole day in normal use (if you play a lot of games you might be out of juice at noon though). Fortunately, Sony has decided to equip this handset with a replaceable battery, breaking the tradition started in the other models of the series. Let's hope this would not be an exception (I know, I have a problem with sealed batteries).

Sony Industrial Design

In terms of design, the Xperia U follows the trend Sony has stablished on their current smartphones, where sobriety and elegance are highlighted with a boxy shape and a matte black (or arctic white) finish. As soon as we see it, there's no doubt that we have a Xperia NXT design in our hands. I should note though that this angled finish might not suite everyone, as some users prefer a more rounded corners for easy grip. In my case I don't see a problem here, as the sharp edges of the handset is offset by an adequate thickness (not too thin, neither too thick) that allows for a comfortable one-hand operation (the size of the device and the back side, with a nice rubbery finish, also facilitates the grip).

When looking around the smartphone, you'll find most of the controls in the right side (left-handed persons have your say). There are the on/off switch, the volume rocker and a dedicated camera button which is always quite convenient (having a dedicated camera button usually tells something about the quality you should expect from the built-in camera).

Xperia U Right

On top of the phone there is a 3,5 mm. audio jack for the headset, and on the left there's nothing but a microUSB port for charging and syncing. I suspect that Sony puts this port on one side because the bottom part of the Xperia U is removable.

Xperia U Top Left

And talking about the bottom side, it is precisely there where the Xperia U stands out from the S model. As in the latter, the Xperia U has a transparent bar that lights up every time you interact with the phone, but unlike the S, in the Xperia U the light color changes depending on what you're looking at (the desktop, a photo, a video, etc..), similar to the "ambient light" featured in some flat TV screens. Moreover, the Xperia U has replaceable base caps so you can dress the bottom part of the phone to the colour you prefer (the sales package includes two different caps).

Xperia U Caps

If one thing we should praise Sony is the design. The Xperia look is so distinctive that every time I see one, it transports me to a near future, as in the Ghost in the Shell movie. Should Motoko Kusanagi carry an smartphone, it would be an Xperia, no doubts about it.

Good things come in small packages

Don't judge it from its size. The Xperia U sports some interesting features that makes it more attractive. It features a 3.5" Sony Reality Display with Mobile Bravia Engine; the screen is covered by a mineral crystal with a scratch resistant coating and antiglare filter. This configuration allows watching videos and photos with high contrast and accurate colors.

The camera has a 5 megapixel sensor with LED assist flash and autofocus. In this regard, the dual-core processor STE U8500 at 1 GHz allows for quick shots, almost as quick as a regular compact camera. You can also take panorama stills (in 2D and 3D) and video capture is quite good with HD quality.

DLNA connectivity is also included and while it's nothing new, it is appreciated nonetheless in a smartphone of this segment. If you have a TV set with this technology, simply turn on the Media Share in your Xperia and enjoy your videos, music and photos in the big screen (wirelessly, no cables required).

Xperia U Media

Last but not least, when reviewing a Sony device one should say something about the audio quality. To put it short: owners of the Xperia U will enjoy a great audio experience thanks to the Sony Surround xLOUD Audio technology. I'm not an audiophile -- just saying music sounds crisp and loud on this device (well above average). Moreover, the Xperia U comes with an stylish new Sony Smart Headset which is miles ahead the headphones you will normally find in the sales package of any smartphone (except for the Beats series from HTC). The "Smart" tag in the product is because you can tweak the buttons on the headset to suit your needs (e.g. starting your favourite application).

Wrap up and conclusion

It's always difficult to recommend a device (always easier to criticize it, specially if you find some flaws). This time though, I didn't find any major flaws and I'd say the Sony Xperia U is a pretty good midrange smartphone that stands out of the crowd for its quality. If paying a little bit more for a premium brand is not a big issue, and you're after a compact sized smartphone, then you should put the Xperia U on top (or near the top) of your wishlist.

Technical Specifications

  • Processor: 1 GHz STE U8500 Dual Core
  • Operating system: Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), can be updated to 4.0 ICS
  • Size: 112 x 54 x 12 mm
  • Weight: 110 grams
  • Available colours: Black, White (extra caps)

  • Colours: 16,000,000 colour TFT
  • Resolution: 854x480 pixels
  • Size (diagonal): 3.5 inches
  • Scratch-resistant: Yes – anti-reflection coating on mineral glass

Input mechanisms
  • Text input: On-screen QWERTY keyboard
  • Touch screen: Capacitive (multi-touch)
  • Touch gesture: Yes – multi-touch, up to 4 fingers supported

  • RAM: 512 MB
  • System memory: 2 GB
  • Phone memory: 2 GB
  • Internal storage: 4 GB

  • Camera resolution: 5 megapixel
  • Digital zoom: 16x
  • Photo flash: Yes – LED
  • Video recording: Yes – HD 720p
  • Video chat camera: Yes

  • Accelerometer: Yes
  • Proximity sensor: Yes
  • Ambient light sensor: Yes
  • Magnetometer: Yes – Compass

  • ST25a: UMTS HSPA 850 (Band V), 1900 (Band II), 2100 (Band I)
  • GSM GPRS/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900
  • ST25i: UMTS HSPA 900 (Band VIII), 2100 (Band I)
  • GSM GPRS/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900

Data transfer speeds
  • GSM GPRS: Up to 107 kbps (download). Up to 85.6 kbps (upload)
  • GSM EDGE: Up to 296 kbps (download). Up to 236.8 kbps (upload)
  • UMTS HSPA: cat 6 (upload) Up to 5.76 Mbps
  • UMTS HSPA: cat 10(download) Up to 14.4 Mbps

  • Talk time (GSM): Up to 6 hours and 36 minutes*
  • Standby time (GSM): Up to 260 hours*
  • Talk time (UMTS): Up to 5 hours and 36 minutes*
  • Standby time (UMTS): Up to 472 hours*
  • Music listening time: Up to 45 hours
  • Video playback time: Up to 6 hours
  • Battery: 1320 mAh, typical (1290 mAh, minimum)