Most phones are for most people. Identifying yourself with a new handset is rather hard to do, which is also the reason why bedazzled Hello Kitty iPhone cases sell so well.
The Xperia Go is a different beast. Sony has a very specific user in mind; someone wet, someone dirty, someone with sweat dripping off their calloused fingers. The Go is a phone for rugged sports lovers, and matches their interests with a ruggedised exterior. The handset is rated IP67, a nature-proof rating which indicates that it can be submerged in up to one-metre of water for up to 30-minutes, and will keep almost all dust and dirt out of the phone's sensitive bits.
It feels like it, too. The plastic wrapper around the Xperia Go has a strangely rough feel to it, sort of like the finest grade of sandpaper you can imagine. It feels good, and more importantly, it has grip, so it is less likely to fly free of your bear-like hands, with the hairy knuckles and dirt under the nails.
The touchscreen plays its role in this sports-loving feature set, with a touch panel that works better with wet fingers than normal smartphone screens. We've tested this feature several times, and it works quite well. That said, it still does the same thing all touchscreens do under water, which is go a bit a haywire. Capacitive touch panels react to water like a dozen fingers on them all at once, and the result is a mostly unusable phone. But then, it's not like you're taking this scuba diving, anyway.
The problem that you may have with this screen is in its size. At 3.5-inches diagonally, the many icons on the screen do tend to get a bit cramped up, and some of the smaller buttons on widgets can be difficult to press accurately.
The headphone socket and USB port are both covered with stiff, plastic flaps to keep out the elements. The phone's SIM card and micro-SD card slot are located in a safer position still, under the battery cover on the back.
User experience and performance
While it's rugged exterior is different from many in the Xperia family, it's software is much the same as the rest. Sony has installed its NXT user interface on top of Android, complete with all of the excellent Facebook integration we've covered in earlier reviews.
There is an important difference between the Go and 2012's Xperia, though. For reasons unknown, Sony has opted for the older Gingerbread build of Android (2.3), rather than one of the more recent versions. This is usually a major no-no for a brand new Android release; however, for some reason, we're just not feeling that way this time. Gingerbread here is a good fit. The experience is fast and fluid, and though we like the look and feel of Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean better, there seems to be no real reason to want the upgrade. Sony is promising an upgrade to ICS "in the coming months", but we're not really fussed.
The Xperia Go runs on the relatively new dual-core Ericsson NovaThor processor, with 1GHz clock speed on each core. It also has 512 RAM. This has been sufficient for our usage during tests, even though it is a long way from the best and fastest this year. Games play at a pleasing frame-rate, and apps load quickly. The home screen animations all feel responsive to input, which is more than what we can say for many phones in this price range.
Battery life is decent, but not surprising in any way. It's 1305mAh battery is puny next to the heftier batteries in bigger phones, but then, a phone with a 3.5-inch display doesn't need an enormous battery to keep it running. The Xperia Go lasted for just over five-hours in both of our endurance tests, placing it at the lower end of the battery life charts for the year, but in day-to-day use, the Go fairs better. We easily managed to get through a work day with the Go, though not much further.
Matching its smaller frame, the Go has a lower-resolution camera than most of its Xperia stable-mates. It makes the most of its 5-megapixels though, taking some nice, colourful shots that are more often in focus than not. We also like that you get a quick photo option on the lock-screen, which lets you slide and shoot in about two-seconds.
It's worth pointing out that the Go doesn't have a front-facing camera, so there will be no Skype skydiving with this phone, unfortunately.
I love that this poster is as close as PSY will get to this Gangnam Style themed night.
The camera in the Go deals well with the high dynamic range in this shot and finds some good colour.
Gonna make you sweat
Not only is the Xperia Go designed physically with sporty-types in mind, but Sony has also packed a bunch of sports-related apps into the phone, too. Our review unit came pre-loaded with four exercise tools on the home screen: Compass, Walkmate, Figure Running and miCoach.
On a related note, the Xperia Go also has Sony's LiveWare Manager app installed. We've seen this handy tool on other Xperia's recently and we love it. Basically, it manages how the phone responds when different accessories are inserted into its various ports. You can, for example, launch a specific music playing app when you plug headphones in, or set a certain power mode when you connect the phone to the charger.
We often refer to the challenge of cheaper phones revolving around sacrifices, and we feel that Sony has made some excellent decisions here. The Xperia Go is a rare example of a phone that has been designed for a specific type of smartphone users, and we think it ticks the appropriate boxes. When the alternative is to envelope an iPhone in a huge rubber case, the Xperia Go seems excellent for those of us who usually damage our phones on the weekends.