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Sony Xperia U review

We review the Sony Xperia U, a budget Android phone with dual-core processor and high-res display

Sony’s Xperia range of smartphones is now an established brand, and the new Xperia U follows the form quite well. It is a small handset, in size as well as in price, and it might well have its greatest appeal among those who like a bit of bling with their gadgetry.

In fact, the Xperia U is the smallest of the current Xperia crop which also includes the Xperia P and Xperia S. Weighing just 110g and with a 3.5 inch screen it feels relatively tiny compared to the massive-screened devices we’ve been seeing at the top end of the market this year.

But 3.5 inches it still what you’d get from an iPhone, and considering its price of around £200, the Xperia U has a lot going for it.

The blocky physical design of the Xperia U isn’t going to be to every taste, though there’s no denying it is different or that it delivers a very solid feel with no creaking or flex in the bodywork.

With its squared off corners and 12mm thick chassis it feels a bit chunky in the hand even though overall it is relatively tiny.

We aren’t sure we particularly like the white strip along the bottom of our white backed review sample. It looks a bit out of place to us, and the fact that the handset comes with a yellow pop-on replacement doesn’t endear us to it any further.

The black version of the phone comes with a pink replacement cap.

That’s not the end of the bling, though. Between the replaceable bottom section and the business end of the phone, its shortcut buttons and screen, there’s a transparent strip that Xperia fans will be familiar with. This glows when you tap the buttons beneath the screen and its colour changes to mimic the theme.

Blue, green, white, red, mauve, gold, the choice is yours. This all adds up to a handset that is aimed at a young audience.

The touch buttons beneath the screen are reminiscent of other Xperia handsets. Three tiny dots indicate where you need to tap to get a reaction, while wee icons embedded in the white strip indicate that the middle buttons is for Home, the left one for Back and the right one for Menu. It’s not the clearest system we’ve ever seen, and at first you’ll probably find yourself trying to click that strip rather than the spaces above it.

There’s another design quirk in that the SIM card slot is on the right edge under the backplate. It’s a full sized slot, and Sony kindly provides a converter caddy in case you are already an owner of a microSIM.

The headset slot is on the top edge where it should be, though the microUSB connector’s top left side position isn’t our favourite – we prefer it on the bottom edge. The right edge houses camera shortcut, on/off button and volume rocker. The Xperia range is certainly distinct in its styling, which is great for giving it its own identity, but quite a few decisions that we’re not happy with.

Get past the physical design though and the Sony Xperia U impresses greatly with its internal specifications. We’d really not expected to see a dual core processor in a £200 handset, but we’ve got one here and the dual core 1GHz offering here delivered well. It’s backed up by 512MB of RAM, which is sufficient for every day use but doesn’t stand up so well to heavy multitasking.

The screen is sharp and responsive. While its 3.5 inches makes for a cramped keyboard, the resolution of 480 x 854 pixels is good and quality impresses, particularly given the price of this handset. The pixel density of 280 ppi makes text crisp on the display as well.

Sony headlines 8GB of internal storage at its web site but this actually breaks down into 2GB for apps and app data and 4GB for your own content, with 2GB not accessible to the user at all. It’s here where we encountered the biggest snag with this device: there’s no microSD card slot. It will limit how far you can use the phone for music, especially if you make full use of the camera.

It is nice to see a front camera as well as the 5 megapixel main camera, with the latter capable of 720p video recording. We continue to like the fact that Sony puts a dedicated shutter button on its devices, and is something we’d like other manufacturers to adopt.

The performance of the camera is not quite up with Sony Mobile’s best but the quality is more than acceptable in the stills department, and above average in our view when shooting 720p video.

The Xperia U runs Android 2.3. It’s difficult to see the justification in that given that Sony began updating its handsets from last year back in March. Surely the company has had enough time to launch the U with Ice Cream Sandwich.

Still, an update will be available in the fullness of time, and this should not detract too much from what is a generally very impressive device. It’s a solidly mid-range handset, and while we’re not enamoured with every aspect of it, the very appealing price point does make us more inclined to overlook some of its quirks.

Review written by Sandra Vogel