By Duncan Geere, Wired UK
“It’s just like the name: all about you,” says one of Sony’s demonstrators at Mobile World Congress, handing us the Xperia U. But is Sony’s attempt to regain lost smartphone ground worth your time? We got hands on in Barcelona to find out.The first thing you’ll notice about Sony’s Xperia S, P or U is that they look different. While most Android handsets are just slabs of glass with buttons around the sides, there’s a distinctive flair to Sony’s design that sets it apart from other manufacturers.
It’s most noticeable at the bottom of the handset, where a transparent strip connects a plastic chamber housing the aerial with the main body of the device. The strip contains LEDs that glow in certain circumstances. Those circumstances include browsing photos, when the strip will change colour to match the background of the photo that you’re viewing.
If it’s a sunset, for example, it’ll glow red. If it’s a leafy scene, you’ll get green, and so on. It’s by no means an essential feature, but it’s a nice touch, and can be configured to glow when you get alerts, too.
The handsets themselves are solidly constructed out of plastic and aluminium. They have curved backs that sit comfortably in the hand, and feel reassuringly weighty. The brushed aluminium unibody on the Xperia P is particularly good-looking, but the white plastic of the Xperia U could get smudged and dirty over time.
The custom skin that Sony has put on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) is considerably more attractive than most rivals (we’re looking at you, Samsung) but it still gets in the way a little of what you’re trying to do — and there are various egregiously-uninstallable bits of shovelware that you have to just put up with. What’s so wrong with stock Android, damn it?
The “WhiteMagic” LCD display on the Xperia P is interesting. As well as the red, green and blue segments that comprise each pixel on the screen, there’s an additional white one that can be used to boost the brightness in certain circumstances. We didn’t get to test it in different light conditions, but the screen did look rather brighter than the Xperia U (which lacks the same technology).
The P and U come with a 1Ghz dual-core processor, and we didn’t notice much in the way of lag or juddering when moving around menus. The S has an even faster dual-core chip — topping out at 1.5GHz.
What’s most impressive about Sony’s new Xperia range is its originality. There has clearly been some rethinking of exactly how the company is going to differentiate itself in what has become an immensely crowded market. The only question is whether that’s going to be enough to turn around the company’s suffering smartphone business.
This story originally appeared on Wired UK.