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Shootout: 4G LTE Smartphones Below S$600

By Sidney Wong & Vijay Anand - 15 Jul 2013

Sony Xperia SP - Design & Features

Sony Xperia SP

The Sony Xperia SP is priced at $598 (inclusive of GST) without line contract.

Being the only device in this roundup to come with a 4.6-inch display, it is only natural that the Xperia SP is not in the running for the most compact of the lot. While Sony does have a suitable 4.3-inch contender in the form of the Xperia V (yes, the same phone featured in the last James Bond movie Skyfall), it is unfortunately more expensive and is actually similar in size to the Xperia SP while actually being thicker! The Xperia V was targeted as a premium 4.3-inch device with a durable water resistant body, has a high resolution screen (1280 x 720 pixels) and a higher-end 13MP imaging sensor. These are key reasons why the Xperia V has a suggested retail price that's S$100 more than the much more recently introduced Xperia SP. Furthermore, the Xperia V was introduced nearly a year ago at last year's IFA show even though it was only in stores in December 2012.

Considering our requirements, the newer Xperia SP that sports a larger screen at about the same physical size of the Xperia V with an updated Android OS is a better option and a more practical fit for our shootout. Although the Xperia SP is a tad less portable than the rest, it makes up for that in the design department. Using a matte plastic back cover similar to that of the HTC One SV, the Xperia SP provides a secure grip of the device. While the body is mainly made of plastic, there is an aluminum frame running all around the phone, giving the device a solid feel.

What’s unique about the Xperia SP is the transparent strip at the bottom of the phone. The strip can be personalized to change color when notifying you of incoming messages and calls. It also changes color according to the color theme used on the phone, or the dominant color of the image you are viewing and even lights up along with the beat of your music.

The Xperia SP comes with 8GB internal storage and a microSD card slot that supports memory cards up to 32GB in capacity. This means a total storage capacity of up to 40GB.

On the software front, the Xperia SP is powered by Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. While Sony does not include a customized UI, it preloads the company’s signature media apps and features such as Walkman and Battery Stamina Mode.

Sony's almost stock Android user interface on the Xperia SP. 

If there is one thing we would like to highlight about Sony's mobile devices (besides aesthetics), it is the user experience that mimics an almost stock Android interface. Unlike HTC, LG and Samsung, Sony refines the Android interface slightly on its mobile devices.

To push its ecosystem of apps and services that are already in place, Sony preloads some of its own apps (WALKMAN, SONY Select, PLAY NOW and Xperia LINK) on the Xperia SP.

Sony's novel approach to multitasking - Small Apps

Pressing the Recent Apps button will reveal the multitasking menu on the right, and a shortcut bar dedicated for "small apps". What are "small apps"?

They allow for deeper multi-tasking, quite in the same vein as Samsung's multi-window feature or LG Optimus's QSlide function. There's more to play with however, considering the potential of an open-source app environment that this feature supports. Four small apps come pre-installed but you can add on to the collection by simply clicking on the "+" sign. This will redirect you to Google Play.

Clicking on a small app, say Calculator for example, brings out a mini calculator pop-up that can be used and is visible/functional even as you are utilizing other apps. The downside is that you can only open one small app at a time. However, we think the functionality is sufficient.

Small Apps first debuted in the Xperia Tablet S and then their more famous Xperia Z smartphone. In that manner, it's good to see key features from more prominent devices are being filtered down to even the mid-tier devices like the Xperia SP.

Similar to HTC's Power Saver mode and Samsung's Power Saving mode, Sony also has an energy saving mode called Stamina Mode. Enabling Battery Stamina Mode will disable Wi-Fi, mobile data and most applications temporarily. You will still be able to receive phone calls, text messages, Sony Calendar notifications and alarm signals. The Music Player and FM radio will continue to work, while downloads and uploads are allowed to finish.

Sony's Stamina Mode.