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Sony Xperia Active review

We review the Sony Xperia Active, an Android phone for those who enjoy the outdoor life

Before Sony Ericsson became plain old Sony it released the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active, now renamed on the web (but not rebranded on the handset) as the Sony Xperia Active.

It’s a neat little device aimed at those who like the outdoor life, and it has some features appropriate to that market.

The Active is a squat little phone, with a 3 inch screen nestled in a rugged body that has a bright orange trim running all around the edge. The chassis is designed to be water and dust resistant, and to that end the bottom mounted headset and USB connectors are under rubber covers.

There is a double backplate to help with water resistance. You are provided with two versions of the outer backplate, one black and the other white. Remove this and you reveal an inner, second backplate that protects SIM, battery, microSD card and the phone’s internal circuitry.

For all that, the Active isn’t heavy, but the overall look is rather too chunky for our liking – it’s a generous 16mm thick. There’s a serious lanyard hole on the bottom top of the chassis that we don’t like either because it interferes with the otherwise clean lines.

The screen has been made responsive even when tapped by sweaty fingers or under water. We tested this and it does seem to work better than other touchscreens, though it is by no means perfect. And the Active comes with an armband so it’s all ready to be used on the run.

One thing we really like about the Active is its support for ANT+. This is a wireless data standard used by a lot of heart rate monitors, cycling sensors and other sports equipment. Having it built in here means the Active can absorb heart rate data from lots of third party equipment.

Add in the on board software which includes a pedometer Sony has long favoured called WalkMate and an app called iMapMyFITNESS which you can get from the Android Market for other handsets, and you can see that in terms of attracting outdoor fans a lot of effort has been put in here.

Sony has even gone to the trouble of providing a pause/play and track skip function on the headset, so you can use this while on a workout instead of fiddling around for the phone itself.

This is all good stuff, but if you are attracted by these features you’ll have to make some compromises.

Overall the Active is small, and its screen is a bit cramped. Android does suffer a bit as a consequence. 3 inches and 320 x 480 pixels are very much middle of the road specifications these days, and data rich activities like web browsing don’t stand up well.

Still, the screen is sharp and bright, has good viewing angles, and Sony does try to make up for its cramped size for using the on-screen keyboard by including Swype.

The camera is average rather than great, with a mediocre flash. But it does, at least, shoot 720p video alongside its 5 megapixel stills. More annoying, perhaps, is that there’s just 320MB of built in storage.

This is redeemed slightly by the provision of a 2GB microSD card, but if you are serious about using the Active to help with fitness you might want to swap this for a higher capacity card that can carry more music to help you stay motivated.

Battery life is probably the biggest annoyance. The 1200mAh battery will probably provide a day’s worth of life under normal circumstances. But using GPS is a notoriously good way of draining smartphone batteries, and if you take the Active out on a workout you might find the battery suffers and needs charging during the day.

Sony’s neat skin for Android gives you access to up to 16 app shortcuts via four corner icons on the home screen.

This makes great use of the limited screen space available, and means you can create small app shortcut groups so that similar apps are kept together for quick access. There’s also a range of nice widgets you can spread across the five home screens.

Written by Sandra Vogel