updated 03:20 pm EST, Sun February 26, 2012
We try Sony's smallest 2012 Android phone
Perhaps the most interesting of Sony's new smartphone line unveiled tonight was the Xperia U, which we got to try at the event. It's aiming to be the ever-elusive youth phone and has a unique light-up transparent area as well as an unusually powerful dual-core, 1GHz NovaThor chip inside. Read our hands-on to see whether it will give other Android makers, and Apple, a reason for pause.
If you've seen our Xperia P hands-on, the phone and its software will look familiar. To some extent, that's because they are. Other than a tweak of the buttons, the smaller screen, and a lower-resolution five-megapixel camera, it's very close. In a sense, we like this, since companies like HTC and Motorola often whittle back so many features that the phones feel hobbled in comparison.
The 3.5-inch, 480x854 display doesn't have the WhiteMagic brightness of the Xperia P, but at least in event lighting conditions, it was still fairly color-accurate and bright enough. What surprised us was how effective the on-screen keyboard could be. Despite a very narrow-feeling design -- although it's the same diagonal as an iPhone, it's taller -- we could still type reasonably quickly with Sony's supplied on-screen keyboard.
We already mentioned liking the transparent control area. The colors are intriguing, if somewhat gimmicky. The color comes on in certain conditions, such as the dominant color of a song's artwork, a photo, or a website. It's a nice touch, but we can imagine it being slightly blinding in a nightclub and possibly distracting. Thankfully, it isn't constant, and the effect shuts off after a few seconds to save power.
Believe it or not, we actually prefer the performance of the Xperia U to its larger counterpart. Possibly out of having fewer pixels to draw, it was responsive, though not as quick as the iPhone 4 or some newer phones; we suspect the Galaxy S Advance might be quicker. The sleep-to-shot camera support is again nice, although it's only a bit faster than waking and unlocking directly to the camera in iOS 5 or Android 4.0. Its five-megapixel shots are reasonably good, though we'd reserve judgment without having direct samples and more testing conditions..
On the OS update subject, we're slightly disappointed that the phone will still ship with Android 2.3 and the 'old' 2012 Xperia feature set. Sony said at the event that Android 4.0 should be coming roughly near the phone launch, however, so we're not immediately worried.
If we had to pick a phone from the two unveiled tonight, we'd take the Xperia U. The larger screen and better camera on the Xperia U don't quite feel worth the apparent slowdown and awkward controls. And while we'd definitely put the iPhone 4 or Galaxy S Advance on the short list to consider, if you want a 'tiny' Android phone, this is a definite candidate.
The Xperia U ships in the spring in black or white base colors and with choices of multiple snap-on colors for the bottom.