A couple of months ago, Sony announced its brand new lineup of smartphones belonging to the NXT series. Smart, sleek and seductive the showstopper of the series was the Sony Xperia S which we had reviewed sometime ago. While the company had announced alongside the Xperia S, the Sony Xperia U and Xperia P, both smartphones were released in the market only last week. The smallest avatar in the NXT series, Sony Xperia U, landed on our test benches. Does the small one pack in a punch?

Design details

Design-wise the Xperia U looks, not so surprisingly, like a mini-replica of the Xperia S, Sony’s current flagship product. However, the smaller screen and more petite build doesn’t really take away from the aesthetics of the handset. The 3.5-inch display is nice and bright, powered by Sony’s proprietary Mobile BRAVIA Engine and the handset finds a nice fit in my palm.

Sony has always upheld a high ‘fashion quotient’ across its range of handsets, with the most pronounced highlights being in the models in the NXT series. The transparent bar at the bottom of the handset - a purely aesthetic addition with little functionality – will manage to charm you even if you’re all for utility. Apart from lighting up when you lock/unlock or power the smartphone on, the LED lights in the transparent bar also indicate certain notifications or alerts you may have on the phone. To score brownie points, it changes colours to match the predominant colours in a photograph you might be browsing through in your smartphone’s album.

Despite the seemingly small-ish screen, typing on the virtual keyboard was quite a breeze. The software is accurate with text prediction and avoids typos intuitively. Unlike the hardware controls such as the volume rocker and power button in the Xperia S, the ones on this handset don’t feel uncomfortably sharp to touch.

Those who are not familiar to Xperia S (and we’re guessing if you are, you wouldn’t be switching to the U anytime soon!) might take some time getting used to the fact that the touch buttons on the phone lie on top of the transparent bar and not on it. Add to it the fact that you can barely see what the three touchpoints stands for (Return, Home and Settings, in that order), the first few days will probably involve a lot of double-checking.

Multimedia

The default camera app comes pre-loaded with a lot of shooting options. When you are framing your shot you can quickly access some of the most important settings right on the screen – Flash, Exposure and Scenes. The fourth icon lets you either swap from the rear camera to the one at the front or capture an image in the Sweep Panorama mode. Images clicked with the front camera were a little grainy - that’s not so unexpected. However, pics taken in the Panorama mode too weren’t really impressive. Apart from being slightly grainy, you could also tell, without having to look too hard, where the camera had ‘stitched’ up the images in case you weren’t super steady while shooting the Panorama.

Regular shots with the 5-megger, however, were pretty impressive. The colour reproduction as well as the sharpness of images didn’t disappoint.

The camera also has an option to capture panorama images in 3D but you can only view it in a device that supports 3D images. We took a couple of shots but couldn’t test it on a 3D device.

The native music player features the xLoud technology along with Sony 3D surround sound. On speakerphone, the music sounds loud and the vocals crystal clear. It’s not one of the phones where you’d be wary of distortion or audio turning tinny when you increase the volume.

Software and apps

The irony is that despite being an ‘NXT’ generation product, the handset still features Android Gingerbread (ver 2.3) and is awaiting an upgrade to the Android Ice Cream Sandwich. Not that the current interface and Sony’s overlay mar the user experience.

There are a couple of apps pre-loaded on to the smartphone, such as MusicUnlimited and PlayNow, which hold a whole lot of promise but sadly aren’t a functional service in India yet.

Timescape remains the familiar ol’ interface for you to integrate multiple social service accounts. It streamlines and displays your news or social feed across platforms in chronological order. You can now include a couple of extensions for this app, available on Google Play. These include Foursquare Timescape, Music Timescape, Picasa Timescape and a bunch of similar services.

The ‘Connected Devices’ app lets you stream music, videos and photos on other devices that are in the same Wi-Fi network as the smarpthone and vice versa. Keep in mind the devices need to be DLNA-enabled to be connected to the Xperia U through this app.

The usual suspects like Google Maps, Google Messenger, OfficeSuite (productivity app), TrackID (music recognition app) and GPS-guide Wisepilot are pre-loaded on to the unit.

Hardware and battery

The Xperia S runs on a 1 GHz dual-core processor. It never felt like the phone was slowing down when we had the browser and music player on in the background while we kept on downloading and trying out a couple of games from Google Play. There are times when the phone takes just that extra second to, say for example, process a Panorama shot taken or apply an editing effect. The speeds aren’t what you’d call blazingly fast but it doesn’t give too much reason to complain either.

Under the hood, the Xperia U is powered by a 1,320 mAh battery. In our case, this fuelled the device for close to two days with intermittent internet usage (connected to Wi-Fi), playing games every once in a while as well as streaming music.

We say

One thing that might hold smartphone junkies back from going for this phone is the fact that it has only 4GB of user-accessible memory. So, you either have to load on only your absolute favourite music, videos or pics on the phone or keep transferring the media you capture on the phone to a laptop or PC. Also, in our Quadrant Standard benchmarking test, the handset scored about 1,893 points ranking below the likes of LG Optimus 2X, but a little above HTC Desire HD.

It’s not a ground-breaking smartphone, it doesn’t have the most impressive tech specs nor is it the most high-end phone you can own. But if all you need is a decently built smartphone that doesn’t let you down on performance, interface or battery life, the Xperia U is worth a shot.

Rs 16,499

Love – No-fuss smartphone, decent battery life

Hate – Bad shots in low-light, not enough internal storage

Tech Specs

Weight: 110 grams

Dimensions: 112x54x12 mm

Display: 3.5-inches

Screen resolution: 854x480 pixels

OS: Android 2.3

CPU: Dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9

Primary camera: 5 MP

Secondary camera: VGA

Flash type: LED flash

Video recording: 720p@30fps

Browser: HTML5, Adobe Flash

Networks: GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900

UMTS/HSPA 850/1900/2100

WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot, DLNA

Bluetooth: Yes, v2.1 with A2DP, EDR

USB: Yes, microUSB v2.0, USB On-the-go support

RAM: 512MB

Internal storage: 8 GB (up to 4 GB user-accessible memory)

Battery: 1,320 mAh

mahananda@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on June 19, 2012)
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