Sony’s Xperia U joins the line up of smartphones the company announced under their NXT series. Along with the U, Sony now has the Xperia S, P, Sola, Go, Acro S and Miro in the market, which gives customers quite a handful of options to choose from. What’s unique about the Xperia U is that it’s one of the few phones at this price range that comes with a dual core processor. But, the phone also has certain tradeoffs, the most notable one being the lack of an expansion slot. 

Worth a buy?

The Xperia U

The Neo V was one of the recommended phones to buy in the 17k price slot before it was dethroned by the recently launched and anagrammatic sounding One V. Does the Xperia U have enough substance to reclaim the throne? Let’s find out.  

Design and Build quality

The Xperia U follows a similar pattern in terms of design with the other phones in the NXT series. In fact it looked like the miniature version of the Xperia S we reviewed earlier. The phone comes in an all black casing with a matte finish at the back. Other notable design factors include a silver ring around the camera and the transparent chin with the Xperia branding underneath. The design in particular isn’t too conspicuous but that lit up chin is definitely an eye grabber. It has changeable covers too so if something more bright is your style then you won’t be disappointed. Let’s have a quick tour of the device.

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A 3.5-inch screen

The front sports a 3.5-inch scratch resistant TFT display with a resolution of 854 x 480 pixels along with three capacitive ‘dots’ underneath. Like in the Xperia S, the dots weren’t as responsive as we’d expected them to be, but that could just be a problem with our handset. The ambient light sensor and the VGA front camera are located above the screen and the 3.5 mm headphone jack is located up top. The micro USB charging slot is placed on the upper left, hence not coming in the way of you using your phone while charging. The right includes the power button, the volume rocker and a rather hard to press camera shutter button. The 5 megapixel camera, LED flash and speaker grill is located at the back. 

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Novelty factor wears off soon

At a depth of 12mm, the Xperia U is not the thinnest of phones and comes in a lot thicker than the One V which has a depth of 9.2mm. Also, the extra bezel at the bottom adds to the length of the phone, of which we’re not really big fans. Once the novelty factor of the lit up chin wears off, you’ll be wondering if that extra space could have been put to better use, or eliminated altogether. At 110 grams, the U’s got just about the right weight to give you a reassuring feeling that you’re holding a phone in your hand. 

Sony have managed to pull off a defining style with their NXT series but it comes with its own share of limitations. A phone needs to have the right blend of aesthetics and ergonomics and the U scores high on the former but not the latter, due to the extra chin and length at the bottom. If it were to function as a cool notification LED we’d have been happier. 

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Hard to press camera button

Chin or no chin, the Xperia U still is a major step up from the plasticy phones in the market at this price point. On a comparative basis though, it’s still second best to the HTC One V, which is slimmer, compact and packs in a larger 3.7-inch screen. 

Features and Performance

Interface

The Xperia U comes with a dual core NovaThor U8500 dual-core 1Ghz processor with a Mali 400MP GPU and 512MB of RAM. As far as the internal memory is concerned you have 2GB for your apps and 4GB of storage for data. The user interface on the Xperia U is similar to that on the Xperia S and while everybody is launching Android 4.0 handsets, the U still comes with 2.3.7 Gingerbread on board. On paper, this may be a little disappointing for some, but with the Timescape UI on top, there’s not too much of a difference. The interface is smooth and lag free but it does have that ocassional hiccup, which has now become synoymous with Android. The dual core processor gets the work done for daily tasks and multitasking. However, it’s worthy enough to mention that a few memory intensive apps tend to slow the phone down. This became quite apparent while trying to play 720p content and exciting apps; as the home screen would take a while to load up. Overall, the interface is neat and quick most of the times but if you are installing a ton of content with that limited memory, be sure to increase your levels of patience. 

The interface

The interface

We put the Xperia U through a range of synthetic benchmarks and it came out impressive on paper atleast. The benchmarks can be viewed below.

Media

The music interface sports a slick look due to the minimalistic design Sony has given it. They’ve added a lock screen widget as well, so you simply swipe right from the time widget to find the music widget. The interface gives you plenty of options including search, automatic music information downloader and SensMe channels that categorize the song based on different mood settings. There’s also a five band graphic equalizer with a bunch of preset and custom setting options. Sound quality is good and the bundled headset gives you an enjoyable music experience with good isolation. 

Media interface

Media interface

In a world where bigger is better, we were pretty content with the U’s 3.5-inch screen for personal viewing. The stock video player only supports MP4 and WMV but that’s where the third party apps will help you out. None of the 1080p content we threw at the phone was supported and since we’re talking about a dual core handset, it’s not particularly good news. In the real world scenario, there’s not much difference between 720p and 1080p on a phone, but if the phone’s got the hardware to run it, then it better run it. We tried third party players as well and video would either stutter too much to be playable or wouldn’t play at all, which was a disappointment

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Display not as good as the One V

The display is bright enough as colours appear vivid due to the BRAVIA engine on board. However, it still doesn’t stand a chance against the Super LCD 2 display of the One V which produced rich blacks and brilliant viewing angles. 

Connectivity

The Xperia U is a quad band GSM handset with 3G, Wi-Fi, DLNA and GPS support. The major addition out here though is USB on the go support. With the limited internal memory, you might just need that feature more often than not. The stock browser is quite slow for even slightly image heavy websites and we’d recommend you get a third party one if viewing web pages on the go is a priority. GPS locking was prompt and quick. With Timescape UI, Sony has handled social integration pretty well. A couple of widgets on the home screen allow you to create favourites and follow them and view their latest updates.

Connectivity

Connectivity

One of the most important grudges we have against the Xperia U is the hearing quality, the inbuilt earpiece wasn’t as loud as we’d wanted it to be causing us to press the phone against our ears. The speaker volume also was way too low for the recipient to be audible. Definitely a major drawback as the conversation has to inadvertently rely more on external factors like environment noise. 

Misc Apps

Sony has bundled all the essential apps required for you to get started. There’s OfficeSuite (only viewing, no editing), Play NOW, LiveWare Manager and the standard Wisepilot for your navigation needs.

Camera

The Xperia U comes with a 5 megapixel camera. Indoor shots capture quite a decent amount of detail but noise crept in as well. Outdoor shots are slightly better with more light capture and colour reproduction. Macro shots were pretty ho hum and they summed up what we felt overall about the camera – average.

Camera interface

Camera interface

The U supports 720p video recording at 30fps. It’s good enough for uploading to social media but you’d be better off taking another dedicated device to capture special moments. The phone has a VGA front camera and it’s important to note that the phone hanged quite a bit while initiating video chats. We had to restart the phone often while using video chat with GTalk.  

Outdoor shots are good

Outdoor shots are good

Ho hum macro shots

Ho hum macro shots

Too much noise

Too much noise

Battery Life

The U is strapped with a 1320 mAh battery and the dual core processor shows no mercy towards it. Under normal usage, the phone would run out of battery less than three quarters into the day with the processor being the clear culprit. In our video loop test we managed a shallow five hours twenty minutes of usage.

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Dual core processor shows no mercy on battery

In our loop test, the phone survived for six hours fifteen minutes. This included one and a half hours of calling, two hours of video, audio and forty five minutes of streaming via Wi-Fi. Be sure to carry a charger along if you have moderate to heavy usage of the phone.

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Worth a buy?

Verdict

The Sony Xperia U is priced at Rs. 16,400. If the dual core processor had got you excited during the launch, chances are high that you’ve already purchased this device. But, that’s not the whole story. For a grand more, you get the HTC One V, which may have a slower processor on paper, but you won’t be able to tell the difference – as both are equally fast (or slow, for that matter). The One V had the better (and bigger) display, a better camera and came with ICS on board. The cons list for this device includes a poor speaker and earpiece, no expandable memory, no 1080p support, software issues and a poor battery life. The Xperia U is a flawed genius and an accumulation of drawbacks prevent it from being a must buy. 

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