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Sony Xperia SP review

  • Sony Xperia SP
  • Sony Xperia SP
  • Sony Xperia SP
  • Sony Xperia SP
  • Sony Xperia SP

Verdict:

This fast, powerful phone is the perfect mid-range handset

Review Date: 7 Apr 2014

Price when reviewed: £239

Buy it now for: £190
(see more store prices)

Supplier: http://shop.sonymobile.com

Reviewed By: Katharine Byrne

Our Rating 5 stars out of 5

User Rating 4 stars out of 5

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REVIEW UPDATE

We loved the Sony Xperia SP when it was first released last year. It was a fantastic looking handset that punched above its weight when it came to application performance, and we thought it provided better value than Sony's then-flagship model, the Xperia Z.

The SP has proven so popular, in fact, that it's still on sale. It's now shipped with Android 4.3 instead of 4.1, with an upgrade for existing SP users due in the next few months, and it's now cheaper than ever. But is it still a good buy today?

Prices will vary, but Sony Mobile is now selling the SP SIM free for £239, down from £314 when we reviewed it last year. It's also available on pre-pay for £170 from O2 or £180 from EE, which is down from last year's price of £250. This is great value for what was already a fantastic mid-range smartphone, and at this price, it's still our current mid-range champion.

We also think it's worth the extra cash compared to the ultra-cheap Motorola Moto G if you're after a slightly more powerful phone. When we re-ran our benchmarks with the latest firmware update, the SP's 1.7GHz dual-core processor finished the SunSpider Javascript benchmarks in a lightning fast 836ms when using the Dolphin browser, which still beats several quad-core phones. It's not far off the HTC One (m8)'s score of 761ms in Chrome either, which is almost twice as quick as the Moto G's score of 1410 in the same test.

The SP's Adreno 320 GPU also gives it double the amount of graphics performance of the Moto G, making it much more suitable to playing demanding 3D games. The SP comes with an 8-megapixel camera as well, which is an improvement on the Moto G's 5-megapixel sensor.

The SP's battery life is also better, lasting just over ten hours in our continuous video playback test compared to the Moto G's nine hours under the same conditions. If you're after a super fast phone that doesn't cost the earth, the Xperia SP is still the phone to buy.

ORIGINAL REVIEW

Although it's technically a mid-range phone, the Sony Xperia SP gives the high-end Android handsets a run for the money. For starters, it looks absolutely stunning.

Some might see its plastic back as a step down from rear glass panel used on the high-end Sony Xperia Z, but its smooth contours make it much more comfortable to hold, its aluminium frame looks and feels great. It gives the phone a much more pleasing sense of weight and durability - we're big fans.

Sony Xperia SP

The clear, illuminated antenna at the bottom of the phone also helps give it a bit of character to distinguish it from other mid-range handsets. This can flash different colours to indicate when you’ve got a missed call or incoming text, and each option is fully customisable. It can also add a little more flavour to your media by flashing to the beat of your music or matching the dominant colour of your photos. You can turn all this off if you’d prefer, but we didn’t find it particularly distracting.

The Xperia SP's hardware performance is right up there with the very best smartphones currently available. It only has a dual-core Snapdragon processor and 1GB of RAM, but its high clock speed of 1.7GHz made a huge difference in our SunSpider JavaScript benchmarks. Using Chrome, it completed the test in 1,063ms, and it was even quicker using the Dolphin browser, scoring a super fast 954ms. This is very impressive for a dual-core chip, beating many quad-core phones in this browser test.

Sony Xperia SP

Its 3D performance was similarly outstanding. It produced a silky smooth average of 54fps in 3DMark’s Ice Storm test, scoring 10,074 overall. This is just behind the much vaunted Samsung Galaxy S4, but in practical terms you shouldn’t notice any difference. It just about coped with the even more demanding Ice Storm Extreme test as well, scoring 5,689 (or 22fps) overall.

Most tasks won’t need to utilise this extra power, but it made everyday tasks feel that much snappier. It rendered the BBC News home page in just two seconds and we didn’t encounter any stuttering or jerky movements while scrolling through web pages. Its 1,280x720 resolution meant we still had to zoom in to make text a bit more legible in desktop sites, but its responsive touchscreen was a joy to use.

Sony Xperia SP

The display itself is very bright, but there were some noticeable imperfections when it came to overall image quality. Sony claims it uses similar technology to its Bravia TVs, but while colours were very sharp and vibrant, blacks were still quite grey. This was particularly noticeable when we placed it side by side with an AMOLED display, but even other LCD screens produced deeper blacks. This is a shame, but it’s certainly no worse than the Xperia Z.

Thankfully, its screen didn’t take its toll on the Xperia SP’s battery life. This is largely thanks to the large 2,370mAh battery, which meant the phone lasted 10 hours and 13 minutes in our continuous video playback test with the screen set to half brightness. This is great for a modern smartphone and is on par with Sony's Xperia Z1.

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