Sony Xperia L review
Android 4.1.2 (JellyBean), 4.3in 854x480 display
The Xperia L was Sony's mid-range handset last year, slotting in under the powerful Xperia SP and flagship Xperia Z. It's currently fairly expensive on contract but, at around £180 SIM-free, you get quite a lot of phone for your money.
The handset doesn't have a spectacular specification, but it all works well as a package. You get a 1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB RAM and Android 4.1 - not much on paper, compared to the near-2GHz monsters we're now seeing on premium smartphones, but we've no complaints about the handset's performance. Apps open and shut with a snap and animations are silky-smooth.
Subjectively, this average benchmark score didn’t make much difference to the phone's web browsing performance. The Maps app glides smoothly under your finger, and there's barely a hesitation while panning smoothly around web pages - only a barely perceptible slowdown when scrolling past a large image. When compared side by side with a Samsung Galaxy S3, the more powerful S3 had slightly smoother browsing, but there's not much in it.
You shouldn’t have a problem with gaming, as the Xperia L's processor produced a competent performance in the 3DMark benchmark. 4074 is a much better score than we expect to see from a phone at this price, and is up with much more expensive phones such as the HTC One X+. It's also quicker in 3D games than the Samsung Galaxy S3, showing you're getting better 3D performance than last year's premium handsets.
We were also impressed with the Xperia L's screen. Again, its 854x480 resolution is pretty standard for a phone at this price, and you have to zoom in to read text on web pages, but we saw bright whites and punchy colours. The Xperia L's LCD display doesn’t have the true blacks of an AMOLED screen, but blacks are still very deep. It's a high-quality display for a relatively inexpensive handset.
The phone's design certainly divided opinion in the office. In an era of slimmer smartphones, it's unashamedly chunky, with a large chin and a concave back with a pleasing rubberised finish. The phone's protruding edges make it feel like it would survive most tumbles, as the screen would be protected unless you dropped the phone straight on its face.
However, some weren't sure about the hard edges at the bottom of the handset, which can dig into your hand - we think it's something you'll quickly get used to, and is only really a problem if you're used to a phone with rounded edges such as the Galaxy S3.
As with the Xperia SP and Xperia Z, Sony has made extensive customisations to the Xperia L's version of Android. This may offend Android purists, but we find the changes to be tasteful and useful. We particularly like the drop-down box that lets you sort your apps by Most Used or Recently Installed.
Some of Sony's customisations are welcome, such as being able to rearrange the app tray easily
Sony bills the Xperia L as the "camera experts’ camera phone", and we were impressed by the performance of its backside-illuminated camera sensor. A backside-illuminated sensor has the sensor's circuitry on the rear rather than at the front, so there's no wiring in the way of light reaching the sensor.
Plenty of detail and not much noise under very challenging lighting
This should lead to better image quality under low light, and the Xperia L takes some of the best low-light photos we've seen, with far more detail and less than noise than the Samsung Galaxy S4's shots. Daylight photos were acceptable if not spectacular. Contrast was impressive, with no sign of overexposure in lighter areas even on a sunlit day, but details became muddy when we zoomed in, showing the limits of the Xperia L's eight megapixels.
Well-exposed daylight shots, but some muddy detail
Video quality was acceptable under reasonable lighting, but under low light the frame rate dropped right down, making footage seriously jerky - this isn’t a phone to film gigs or nights out.
Now the Moto G is available, the Sony Xperia L is no longer good value. Motorola's ludicrously good value Android phone has blown all other handsets out the water and if you're looking for a budget buy phone few others come close.
At the time of writing the 8GB Moto G is just £128. It is better than the Xperia L in just about every way. It has a higher resolution screen, a faster processor and better battery life. The camera on the Xperia L is excellent and certainly betters the mediocre snapper on the Moto G, but that's not enough to make it worth the money. Unless you have an unfounded hatred of all things Motorola, then you'd be foolish not to buy the Moto G over the Xperia L.
That's not to say there's anything wrong with the Xperia L, but it no longer warrants a five-star rating. In June 2013 we gave this phone our Budget Buy award; in April 2014, despite being available SIM-free for around £160, it pales in comparison to the Moto G.
The final nail in the coffin is the operating system. The Xperia L has recently been updated to Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, but the Moto G is one-step ahead, with the Moto G now coming with Android 4.4.2 KitKat. The latest version of Android is hugely impressive and brings the operating system bang up to date with an easier to use interface and features such as Google Now.
In short: buy the Moto G.