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Sony Xperia SP review

A mid-range marvel with a massively impressive spec list

Our Verdict

The excellent camera and range of connectivity that includes NFC and 4G go hand-in-hand with a great design and a screen size that will be just right for someone that doesn't want a high-end 5-inch monster.

Product features

  • Built-in Memory : 1 GB
  • Rear Camera Resolution : 12.1 Megapixel
  • Battery Talk Time : 7.50 Hour
  • Screen Resolution : 1280 x 720

View full specification

For

  • Attractive aluminium design
  • Full-featured camera
  • Media apps are a highlight
  • Impressive HD screen

Against

  • Average processor
  • Low storage space
  • Battery drains quickly
  • Redundant Sony online services
Buying Guide
Best camera phone: 6 handsets tested
Best camera phone

We mentioned in the introduction that Sony's camera prowess should be well regarded, and the bundled 8MP rear-facing camera on the Sony Xperia SP is one of the phone's highlights, shooting at 3,264 x 2,448 pixels. It uses Sony's new Exmor RS sensor, which has shifted some of the circuitry behind each photodiode in the sensor to create a slimmer design.

The usual bells and whistles have been added including a scene selection mode, sweep panorama and the ability to add on-the-fly picture effects. The effects are pretty trivial, and will be bested by dedicated camera apps on Google Play, but it's nice to have some choice built in. You can select the likes of Fish-Eye, Kaleidoscope and Nostalgia, among others, to change your usual photo routine.

Other options include geo-tagging and a self timer, as well as the excellent Quick Launch option. This enables you to configure the Sony Xperia SP so that the physical shutter button acts as a launcher for the camera app.

Sony Xperia SP review

So, if you want to quickly capture what's going on, you don't have to go through the business of unlocking the handset and navigating to the camera app. It was a feature Sony initially introduced back with the Sony Xperia S, and we're glad to see it remains in place here.

The front-facing VGA camera is sufficient, but little more than that. It'll allow for video calling but the image is a little on the grainy side and looked somewhat over-exposed to our eyes.

For the complete novice using the main camera, there's the illuminated Superior Auto setting, which selects optimal settings for 36 different types of scene to give you the best possible picture without the need to faff around with settings. Unfortunately, during our testing this was pretty hit and miss - the SP especially had trouble with motion blur.

Obviously the Sony Xperia SP can't compete with the top-tier of handsets, and a side-by-side comparison with the Ultrapixel-toting HTC One confirms this. But, taking into account its mid-level credentials and price tag, we feel the Sony Xperia SP is punching above its weight when it comes to the camera and can certainly stand in as a replacement for your regular compact.

Sony Xperia SP review
The camera on the Sony Xperia SP picks out detail nicely, especially with darker tones. The contrast between the green grass and the brown wood shows up really well here.

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Sony Xperia SP review
Colour reproduction is impressive when shooting close-up items. There's no fuzzing of the rich orange colour here and everything is clearly in focus.

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Sony Xperia SP review
Fish-Eye effect

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Sony Xperia SP review
Nostalgia effect

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Sony Xperia SP review
Sketch effect

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These settings are a bit gimmicky, and while we don't think the Fish-Eye or Nostalgic settings impress, we quite liked the outcome of the Sketch setting. There are numerous other modes to play with on the Sony Xperia SP, and all your pictures can be edited with apps from the Google Play store.

Sony Xperia SP review
This shot was taken in bright light with the auto settings on. As you can see, it appears slightly over-exposed and the moving cars and motorcycles are clearly blurred; we would expect the automatic mode to perform better here.

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Sony Xperia SP review

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The Panorama mode is included on most smartphones these days, and we were happy to see the stitching on the Sony Xperia SP was quite accurate - although there is still noticeable blurring of moving targets.

Sony Xperia SP review
Night-time shots without a flash, using automatic settings, come up grainy and practically unusable. Adding a flash helps slightly, but the best option is to change to Night mode.

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Sony Xperia SP review
This night-time image uses the Sony Xperia SP's Night shooting mode and is much clearer and more detailed. Although you can still see some grain in the wall on the left-hand side, the detail is substantially improved over the automatic settings.

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Tech Specs

Product TypeSmartphone
Network BandQuad Band
Input MethodTouchscreen
TouchscreenYes
BluetoothYes
Wireless LANYes
USBYes
Contract TypeSIM-free
Built-in Memory1 GB
Built-in FlashYes
Memory Card SlotNo
Cellular Data Connectivity TechnologyGPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA, HSUPA
GPS ReceiverYes
Multi-SIM SupportedNo
Near Field CommunicationYes
Integrated TV TunerNo
Product FamilyXperia S
Cellular Generation3G
Cellular Network SupportedGSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900, WCDMA 900, WCDMA 1900, WCDMA 2100
Multi-touch ScreenYes
Rear Camera Resolution12.1 Megapixel
Number of SIM Card Supported1
Front CameraYes
Phone StyleBar
ColourBlack
Operating SystemAndroid
Brand NameSony Mobile
Battery Talk Time7.50 Hour
Screen Size10.9 cm (4.3")
Screen Resolution1280 x 720
Touchscreen TypeCapacitive
Weight (Approximate)144 g
Maximum Video Resolution1920 x 1080
Processor ManufacturerQualcomm
Operating System VersionAndroid 2.3 Gingerbread
Messaging TypeSMS (Short Message Service), MMS (Multi-media Messaging Service), Email, Instant Messaging
RealtoneYes
Radio Tuner TypeFM
Call FeaturesCall Log
Pixel Density342 ppi
Height128 mm
Width64 mm
Depth10.6 mm
Radio TunerYes
ManufacturerSony Corporation
Product NameXPERIA S Smartphone
Processor Speed1.50 GHz
Processor TypeSnapdragon
Product LineXperia S
Screen TypeLCD
Sensor TypeGyro Sensor, Accelerometer, Digital Compass, Proximity Sensor
Manufacturer Part Number1257-2734
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.sony.co.uk
Marketing Information

Experience watch. Experience capture. Experience play. In full HD, all with the Xperia S smartphone.

Snap, share and view life's greatest hits on the crisp, clear 4.3 HD touchscreen. Escape into blockbuster movies, hit music and PlayStation games. It's all a few clicks away with the Sony Entertainment Network on your Xperia S smartphone. But don't keep all the fun to yourself - share it on your TV, straight from your HD mobile. Sony Entertainment Network with Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited are not available in every market.