Sony Xperia P - Angular and Affordable
Overview and Design
Of the two phones announced at MWC 2012 that belong to the Xperia NXT trio of devices, the Xperia P is part of Sony Mobile's (previously Sony Ericsson) effort to wind the clock back and start afresh.The key design aspect of the NXT smartphones is undoubtedly the presence of its unique transparent bands, which not only highlights the touchscreen but also gives the phones an iconic profile. Form is not without function in the NXT devices of course; the band serves both aesthetic and functional purposes as it is part of the antennae.
That's not to say that the three devices (the Xperia S, P and U) are identical - all three are clearly targeted at different audience groups. Take the Xperia S for example - the 4.3-inch 32GB device is the flagship model for the NXT line. Let's make the comparisons a little clearer with a table first, and then delve into what the Xperia P has to uniquely offer:
Sony Xperia S
Sony Xperia P
Sony Xperia U
(Upgradable to Android 4.0 ICS during Q3 2012)
(Upgradable to Android 4.0 ICS during Q3 2012)
(Upgradable to Android 4.0 ICS during Q3 2012)
It is hard to tell the physical differences between the Xperia S and P off the bat unless you pay a little more attention. Take for one, the Xperia P is significantly smaller, shorter and lighter than the Xperia S. While its angular edges make for a pretty - albeit slightly impractical - design, we felt more at ease with the smaller and easier to grip Xperia S. Throw in a sturdy metal-brushed body that seems relatively damage/smudge-free and what we have on our hands is an eye-catching device that offers a fair enough handling experience.
As it is with many new phones these days, all physical control buttons are relegated to one side of the phone. In the Xperia P's case, it's the right side where the action is: from top to bottom (excluding the strange appearance of the speaker grille), we have the power, volume rocker and the shutter buttons. They look stylishly thin and unobtrusive - that much we have to admit. But they are implemented at the expense of usability as the controls are too flushed with the surface and stiff for comfortable usage. On its left profile, we have the micro-USB, micro-HDMI ports and a stealthily-covered micro SIM card slot. The reason for the latter's existence is because of the phone's non-removable battery.
The prominent design element, as reiterated earlier, is its transparent band. Unlike the Xperia S however, the band does not just act as an indicator for the actual capacitive buttons; these are actually on the band itself. This actually improves the user experience on the whole as it makes more sense and is less confusing to the user. Previously, you have tap above the band to navigate; on the Xperia S, you simply tap on the icons on the band to do so. While we're more content of the usability change in the Xperia S, we're not so sure why Sony has such design inconsistency within its new NXT range of smartphones that were launched at the same time frame.
If you’re hoping to find the latest Android 4.0 on the Xperia P, we’ll have to disappoint you. Preloaded with Google 2.3 Gingerbread - yes, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense -, the phone is set to receive the Android 4.0 update in Q3 2012. Will that be too late? Perhaps. The Android 4.0 (vanilla) OS comes packed with a handful of upgrades (face unlock, lock screen, resizeable widgets, multi-tasking page, et al) and while Sony will overlay it with its own UI, we expect these features to stay more or less intact as they were on the HTC Sense 4.0 UI.
Like the Xperia S, the Xperia P has been fitted with DLNA and NFC capabilities. For the latter, this means that owners can make use of Sony's nifty Xperia SmartTags to easily manage user profiles. For more information, check out our NFC and SmartTag session with the Xperia S. UI-wise, it is identical to the Xperia S. Xperia users also get free 50GB storage for life before the end of December 2012. To get this, simply download the Box app from the Google Play store.
One of the unique traits of the Xperia P is its WhiteMagic display. The technology makes the screen less impervious to bright sunlight, as seen from the demonstration. The screen will automatically turn dimmer to conserve battery life when it's in dimmer surroundings while maintaining a suitable level of brightness for optimal viewing. We found this working as promised, thankfully.
The other exclusive feature is its SmartDock compatibility. Once docked and linked up to a Sony TV, the Xperia P will switch to a more favorable TV-friendly user interface for simpler navigation via the remote control (any will do as long as the TV is HDMI-CEC compatible). As the SmartDock comes with USB support, you can easily hook up an additional device, say a mouse, alongside a wireless keyboard to surf the net right on your TV. The SmartDock will be sold separately at S$80 at all Xperia stores. The bad news is, the accessory will not be available in Singapore till Q3 of this year, prompting us to speculate about the possibility of its compatibility with future Sony smartphones.
The Sony Xperia P comes with a dual-core processor clocked at 1GHz, alongside 1GB of RAM. It might not be fitted with a quad-core processor like the recent smartphones that are coming out, but as far as general performance is concerned, it seems to be doing pretty well. But to be honest, it feels a little odd to compare the device with phones that have been out in the market for quite some time.
As usual, we subject the review unit to the Quadrant benchmark, which can be found on Google Play. To gauge how it performs against the competition, we matched its scores against similar devices using dual-core processors such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, HTC Sensation XE and LG Optimus 2X.
With a score of over 2000 on all four dual-core devices, the Quadrant benchmark results for the Xperia P did not deviate much from our expectations. The Xperia S did get a higher score (to be exact, 3075) and so did the HTC Sensation XE (both are using the same Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8260 chipset), it is safe to deduce that the STE U8500 might not be as optimized as the Qualcomm processor. Still, we have to take into consideration that it has been clocked at 1GHz as opposed to Xperia S's 1.5GHz processor.
Otherwise, we had no problems with its performance. In essence, you will get a responsive phone with smooth transitions and enough horsepower for fluid multi-tasking.
The Sony Xperia S arms itself with a 8-megapixel camera. Thankfully, images turned out decent, with high levels of details and clarity. Colors were slightly too whitewashed for our liking; noise levels were a tad high even in well-lit shots. We would have expected faster shutter and auto-focus speeds too. Otherwise, the camera fared reasonably.
Using the same 480 x 800-pixel resolution video that we use across all our mobile device battery tests, we set the same test parameters which includes having the video looped under the following conditions:
- Brightness and volume at 100%
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
- Constant data streaming through email and Twitter
This is where the Xperia P truly under-performs, even losing out to the HTC Sensation XE in our intensive battery test. Of course, you must consider that it comes with a mere 1305mAh battery compared to the rest. However, we would have thought that Sony would have fitted a 4.0-inch qHD touchscreen smartphone with a higher battery capacity. While rationing the phone for normal day-to-day operations, the phone could last for at least a full working day.
At S$688, the Sony Xperia P comes across as a better bargain than its Sony Xperia S brother on review here. Incremental hardware upgrades aside, the Xperia P is actually a solid mid-range smartphone with a killer frame and screen to boot. We wouldn't say that we were bowled over by its dismal battery life but otherwise, camera and benchmark performance came out decent. Overall, the Xperia P feels like a multimedia-centric variant of its cousin, especially with its WhiteMagic screen technology and SmartDock compatibility. Nonetheless, it would have made the Xperia P a better deal if Sony were to bundle it with the SmartDock while keeping the price tag at S$688. We don't foresee users willing to fork out an extra S$80 for an accessory that they can live without.
On the telco-side of things, the Sony Xperia P will be available in Singapore exclusively from SingTel from 18th May onwards. For those who are bowled over by the phone's design and can't wait to get their hands on it, you might want to consider pre-ordering the phone at www.singtel.com/xperiap. With a decent 3G Flexi Value plan, you can get the device at a mere S$48. Do note that Singtel will also be offering three months of AMPed Premium music service (unlimited song downloads and streaming) for free when you sign up for a plan for the Xperia P. Unfortunately, the phone will not be sold without a contract at Singtel; you can only get it at its RRP at the Xperia stores. Those eying the red version of the device would have to wait a little while longer - only the black and silver units will be available at launch. The red model will be available exclusively at SingTel from 1st July onwards.