• Is it for you? Our review of the Sony Xperia U.

    Hereís our review of the Sony Xperia U written by HC - NO "i".

    While the high end of the market gets all the attention Sonyís been doing a pretty good job of going after the entry level to mid range. Last yearís Xperia Ray, Xperia Pro and Pro Mini where all affordable yet solid yet offerings.

    Now we have the Xperia U (ST-25a). An entry level phone with a new dual core processor.
    For the specifications, please download the whitepaper:

    Design and Specifications...

    At 112 x 54 x 12mm and 110g it's a rather small phone - similar to last yearís Xperia Ray.

    Like the Ray, the display measures 3.5Ē with a resolution of 854x480. While itís tempting to say that the U has the same sized display as the iPhone the Uís is physically smaller because of the difference in aspect ratios. The iPhoneís is wider but slightly shorter. The extra width makes a big difference.

    Turning the proverbial hamster wheel is a dual core 1Ghz ST-Ericsson NovaThor U8500 processor which is backed by 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage.

    While you get a meager 4GB of storage the situation is exacerbated by the fact that the U doesnít support MicroSD cards. So 4GB is all the on storage youíll ever get with the U. If you take lots of pictures and video, have a medium sized music collection or like to store lots of videos on your device look elsewhere.

    While the transparent area above the 3 softkeys lights up just like the Xperia Sí but the U has a trick up its sleeve: It can light up different colours to match the theme of the phone.

    The front-facing VGA camera is in the top right corner.

    Turning to the back, thereís a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash along with the speaker. The battery cover has a rubberized coating with a unique texture. Itís more interesting than the Xperia Sí cover.

    Along the top are the headphone jack along with a secondary microphone.

    The cover for the bottom part of the phone below the transparent area can be swapped. These days, removable covers arenít that common so itís a nice extra. Included are black and pink covers. The hole is for the microphone.

    Along the right are the Power button, Volume rocker and Camera shutter button.

    The USB connector is on the left side.

    Underneath the battery cover is a 1290mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery. The SIM card slot is on the side. Interestingly, Sony includes a micro-SIM to regular-sized adapter in the box.

    On the wireless side thereís support for: WiFi 802.11b/g/n, DLNA, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and A-GPS. The mobile broadband supports UMTS/HSPA on the Rogers/Fido network (downlink up to 14.4Mbps and uplink up to 5.76Mbps), with GSM/GPRS/EDGE fallback.

    Experiences and Impressions

    I like the ergonomics of the XPERIA U. Itís small, light and pocketable. It is not too thin and quite comfortable to hold. The 3 soft-keys seems to be more responsive than the XPERIA S. Due to its smaller size and my increased familiarity, I find myself no longer hitting the light bar for the soft-keys.

    Sony has spent a lot effort on the user-interface and customizing features on top of Android Gingerbread (2.3.7). Flipping through menus and scrolling the home screens are all fluid. Itís very stable. Most of the time I donít experience any lag. Timescape, for example, is my favourite. It integrates social networking (Facebook, Twitter), email, messaging as well as photos in one place and in order. You can use the infinite button to filter out particular categories of communication by a particular individual.

    The customized AccuWeather widget comes with some neat visual effects - the graphics will change according the weather conditions. The clock app has also integrated with the weather conditions as well. Other value-added items include the game, Plants vs Zombies (a nice extra since you canít get it from Google Play) along with a free month of access to Sony's Entertainment Network, Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited.

    Other handy tools include the setting widget that allows you to toggle various connections / functions plus LiveWare Manager which allows you to launch a certain program when you connect an accessory e.g. plugging in a headset will automatically launch the FM radio.

    Sony calls the display a "Reality Display". It has a ĎMobile BRAVIA engineí. Anyways itís sharp, with a slightly warm colour tone. Still, its blackes are not as deep as what youíll find on an AMOLED display. Some may also find that the small screen may is harder to read and difficult to type on. Still, viewing photos and videos is a joy. By the way, I am also glad to find out the Fido-specific firmware comes with Chinese input choices.

    While video playback performance is good for most contents, I found a few exceptions with higher compression profiles and unsupported codecs.

    Even alternative players struggle if there is no hardware decoding available. Synthetic benchmarks help reveal the GPUís limitations in demanding situation with more complex graphics. Fortunately, most will probably never notice it in the real-world.

    GLBenchmark 2.1 Egypt Standard: 34fps

    Vellamo Score: 897

    By todayís standards the camera may not be the best. It also has lag (not ideal for action / sports) plus it picks up quite a bit of luminance noise. Still it manages to capture relatively good photos and videos under ideal lighting conditions. Another intriguing feature is the 3D and panoramic photography. You can see more photos here.

    Audio is great with little interference and hissing observed during voice calls and media playback. The built-in speaker is not very loud but adequate in quiet places. The outgoing call audio quality through the built-in microphone is also clear. The DSP / equalizer do bring the whole experience to the next level with either wired or wireless (Bluetooth) headphones. TrackID is the Sony's solution of music identification. While it accurately identifies most tracks I play - even on FM radio, it does have problem with some less popular ones.

    The RF performance seems to be good in the greater Toronto area. I did not experience a lot of dropped signals in the course of two weeks. However, the mobile broadband experience is not going blow your mind. The latency on Rogers/Fido UMTS/HSPA network is acceptable - between 50 and 90ms on average. The downlink would range from 2 to 9Mbps and the uplink could range from less than 1 to 2Mbps on average in town.

    The battery life is another surprise. It can last about 9-11 hours in my typical daily routine which is a mix of WiFi and Rogers/Fido mobile broadband access,. I have put the handset through a charging cycle with the AnTuTu battery test, the result is in line with my real world observation.

    My Verdict

    Of course, its Achillesí heel is its small, non-expandable storage. Still, itís quite pocketable and is able to run most tasks relatively smoothly. Moreover, it inherits the same good-looking menu and apps UI from Sonyís other phones.

    As far as competition goes, the first phone that comes to mind is the HTC One V. When it comes to first impressions the V and its sexy one-piece aluminum body wins hands-down. If you compare the 2 on paper you basically have to choose between the Vís aluminum body + expandable storage and the Xperiaís dual-core processor + removable bottom covers. Intuitively, the dual core processor is probably more future-proof but it remains to be seen how long Sony will support the U. That said, so far Sony has done a good job of supporting their older phones.

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    This article was originally published in forum thread: Is it for you? Our review of the Sony Xperia U. started by howard View original post