Sony Xperia U review
Android 2.3, 3.5in 854x480 display
UPDATE - This review has been updated to reflect the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update for the Xperia U
When it was launched last year, the Xperia U was a favourite among the Expert Reviews staff; its slim, compact design and high-density screen made it a pleasure to use. It was also a bit of a bargain SIM-free.
Since then, the handset has both dropped in price and been updated to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, so we have updated our review.
Sony had customised the Xperia U's original Android 2.3 operating system significantly, and it has done the same with the Android 4.0 build. This means that, cosmetically, there's not a huge amount of difference after the update. This is no bad thing, as the Xperia U's custom icons and screen backgrounds look classy.
Sony has also significantly reduced some of the bloat from the Xperia U's original build. While before we felt the Xperia U had too many apps installed as standard, with four screens of app icons and needless duplication such as having several shortcut icons pointing to different functions within the same app, the Ice Cream Sandwich update is much cleaner.
We also noticed some significant performance improvements. Although the original Android 2.3 build generally ran smoothly, there was some occasional jerkiness when flicking between screens of icons or zooming in and out of web pages. This has been banished with the Ice Cream Sandwich update. The phone's operating system feels much smoother, and the added speed is particularly noticeable when panning around Google Maps.
There's one downside, though. When running our battery life benchmark, which simulates continuous video playback, the updated Xperia U lasted just 5h 42m - an hour and 20 minutes less than the same phone running Android 2.3.
We're still fans of the Xperia U's design, with its chunky squared-off shape, plastic chin and translucent strip under the screen. This strip has icons for the usual Android back, home and menu functions but, confusingly at first, pressing on these doesn't activate the functions. Instead, the icons refer to the touch-sensitive buttons above the strip. The strip glows depending on what's on screen, so yellow for a photo of a sunny day and blue for a sea view. You can even change the colour of the chin beneath the strip; there's a replacement yellow one in the box.
It's a small phone, so is easy to hold and use with one hand, as well as fitting easily in a pocket. Its relatively chunky thickness seems to work well with the phone's small size, and the phone feels well made, with little flex in the body.
After using larger phones, such as the 4.8-inch Samsung Galaxy S3, the Xperia U's 3.5-inch screen feels tiny. We soon got used to it, though, and began to appreciate the reasonably high 854x480-pixel resolution. This gives a 280 pixels-per-inch pixel density, which puts it up in the top tier of smartphones for display clarity. The screen is bright and text is sharp and clear; you'll just find yourself zooming in to web pages more than on a larger smartphone. Colours are vibrant and there's enough contrast for movies and games, but blacks aren't as deep as on AMOLED displays.