Every family has the golden child. The one who gets the good looks and the secret favour of their parents as a result. The Xperia P is that child in the 2012 Xperia family, and although it's positioned as being a more affordable option than the flagship Xperia S, it has the looks to be an eye catcher in its own right.
These good looks come in the form of a unibody aluminium body. Unlike the Xperia S and Xperia U, the P is one solid piece, and is not designed to be opened by the user. This means that its battery is locked away from all but the most adventurous smartphone owners, and that its memory is non-expandable, like the iPhone and HTC One X.
Sony opts for a 4-inch screen for the P, with a qHD (960x540-pixel) resolution, and, while this adds up to far fewer pixels per inch than you find on the HD screen of the Xperia S, it isn't a big issue for this phone. The screen here is sharp and colourful, though the colour-banding issue we've seen on recent Sony releases is still evident, unfortunately.
This phone also benefits from a technology that Sony is calling WhiteMagic. This basically equates to a very bright screen matched with ambient light-sensing smarts to determine when you need it most — like outdoors — and when it can return to a battery-saving level of brightness. We've seen many smartphone makers claim similar outdoor clarity before, but none do it so well as WhiteMagic and the Xperia P. Even under fluoros in our office, you can clearly see the difference when the P is beside another phone without WhiteMagic. The screen isn't just brighter, but somehow clearer, too.
Below the touchscreen, Sony includes the same transparent panel that we saw earlier in the year when we reviewed the Xperia S. This bar serves the dual purpose of being the most recognisable feature of the Xperia family, and of housing the phone's antenna. Interestingly, our reviews team at CNET Asia noticed a "death grip"-like signal attenuation problem when testing the Xperia P, though happily we haven't been able to replicate this problem with our review unit in Sydney.
|Sony Xperia P||Sony Xperia S||Samsung Galaxy S II||Galaxy Nexus|
|Android 2.3 (upgradeable)||Android 4.0||Android 4.0||Android 4.0|
|TI OMAP 4460
*Prices are accurate at the time of writing, though are likely to change.
User experience and performance
If you're familiar with the user interface on the Xperia S, or even the Xperia Arc and Arc S from last year, you'll have a solid idea of what to expect with the Xperia P. Sony calls this common interface platform the Sony NXT experience, and while it lacks some of the glamour of HTC's Sense UI, it is among our favourite smartphone UI layers. NXT is slick and fluid, with a few great, intuitive tweaks to the basic Android platform UI. It also feels a lot like the UI on the PlayStation 3 and the Vita handheld console, which is great for fans of Sony products.
The phone's battery life isn't so great, unfortunately, with its 1300mAh battery managing to get through only a single day of moderate use. This battery is considerably smaller than the 1800mAh or larger batteries we've tended to see in phones this year, and this shows how it compares with other handsets in our in-house tests. When playing a 720p video file, the P lasted only three and a half hours, and for web browsing only four hours. This isn't a phone we'd recommend for business users who rely heavily on calls and regular email delivery.
It's dual-core 1GHz processor places the Xperia P in the mid-range of phones this year, and this is reflected in the benchmark tests we've run. One such test is an OpenGL 3D-rendering test created by Rightware, where the Xperia P scores 13 frames per second. This is a result on par with other mid-tier phones, like the LG Prada, but is predictably about half the result we saw with the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One XL. This doesn't impact on the everyday use of the phone, however. The Xperia P handled itself well when launching apps and multitasking, with only minor pauses between executions.
It's also worth noting that the Xperia P will launch in Australia running on the Android Gingerbread platform (2.3), but is upgradable to Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0). Sony believes that this update should occur within a month of the handset launching.
Sony has made quite a bit of noise recently about its smartphone camera technology, which now features the same Exmor-R image processing seen in the company's stand-alone camera products. This model sports an 8-megapixel camera with an LED flash, and a raft of options in the settings. It also has a Quick Launch function, which lets you take a photo quickly by holding down the dedicated camera button on the side of the handset, even when the phone is locked and in standby. Taking a photo using Quick Launch takes about two seconds all up.
The image quality of the photos we've taken is good for a phone, but far from the best results we've seen of late — including the Xperia S, which manages to take more colourful images with better exposure. Our test images here lack vibrancy, even those shot outdoors under optimal conditions. This is hard to judge on the phone itself, though, as the Xperia S has image-processor software called Bravia Engine, which kicks in when the phone accesses videos and photos, and works to make them look better. It's only when the photos are transferred to a PC that the true quality of these photos is seen.
A lovely day on the water in Sydney.
Photos taken under fluorescent lights are always tricky, but these seems darker and less colourful than we'd expect.
Even though the Xperia P is pitched as being more affordable than the S, this doesn't mean that Sony has scrimped on the smart parts of this smartphone. It has the same near-field communication (NFC) functionality, complete with NFC SmartTags in the box, so you can set up specific phone profiles, like a Car Mode, and switch to it by passing your phone against the tag.
The handset also has an HDMI-out port, so you can connect it to a compatible screen and play media or browse the web. Once connected, the Xperia S launches a TV-mode interface, similar to the cross-media bar on the PlayStation 3, which can be controlled with any CEC-compatible TV controller. This is a fantastic feature, and the fact that you don't need a Sony-branded TV or monitor to use it makes it so much better.
Fans of Facebook will also appreciate the level of integration of the popular social network in several parts of this phone. In the music player, for example, you are one click away from posting the track you are listening to on your Facebook wall. The Address Book in the NXT UI is closely tied to Facebook, too, so that your friend's birthday shows us in your calendar, and their photos can be viewed through the contact reference on your phone.
The Xperia S is another solid Sony smartphone, with great extras like NFC and HDMI. It's place in the market is complicated by a recent price drop for the Xperia S, though, which is now around AU$50 more expensive than the P at the time of publishing this review. For that extra money, you get a larger, higher-resolution screen, a faster processor and a higher-resolution 12-megapixel camera. The only thing that the Xperia P has going for it is its aluminium chassis.
This difference in price may not always be so insignificant, and, if the Xperia P sees a price drop of its own, it will make for a compelling competitor for other phones in the AU$350-$400 price range.