Sony Xperia U Review

May 25, 2012
40

Sony released a scattershot of Xperia phones last year, and has decided to take a more measured approach this year, unveiling the NXT series at MWC 2012. That included the Xperia S and Xperia P, but today we’ll be reviewing the Xperia U, the smallest and cheapest of the three. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking in specs, though: a dual-core 1Ghz processor lies at the beating heart of the phone, and it’s staggering to think we’ve reached a point where a budget handset can include such a chip. How does it all stack up, though?

Hardware

The Sony Xperia U is pretty much identical to the Xperia S, sharing the same design but in a smaller chassis. That hard plastic makes a return, although the back feels soft to the touch and is resistant to fingerprints and smudges. The 3.5-inch screen has a 854x480 resolution, and spec wise you’re looking at a NovaThor U8500 dual-core 1Ghz processor with Mali-400MP GPU, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, and five megapixel camera with 720p.

Before you get too excited at the mention of a Mali GPU, remember that this is a slower version of what’s found in the Galaxy S II and other phones, so don’t expect anywhere near the performance. The other piece of bad news is that the phone only comes with 4GB of storage, and there’s no microSD card slot. That’s pretty bad, and you’ll run into problems extremely quickly even if you just add music to the phone. The upside is that USB OTG does function properly, so you’re not completely stuck, but having a USB cable dangle off your phone for extra storage is hardly an ideal solution.

The display on the Xperia U is a mixed bag. It’s plenty bright, and the viewing angles are generally decent, but tip the phone past a certain point and you can invert the image being displayed. There are three problems with the screen, though. First, there’s no oleophobic coating. That means you’re going to be looking at a very messy screen very quickly, and it’s hard to clean properly without a dedicated cloth. Second, if you’re particularly sensitive to screen quality then you’ll be able to notice the strange texture and odd colorization of the display on light colored backgrounds. Finally, you can see the digitizer grid just below the screen when shifting the phone against certain colors like yellow and white.

microUSB is found on the left side of the phone, and power, volume rocker, and a dedicated camera key are on the right. The 3.5mm headphone jack and microphone are on top, and another mic is located on the bottom. Speaking of the bottom, the cap can be removed and replaced with different color covers. All we have to say to this is: why? Otherwise you’re looking at the same clear antenna strip that you’ll find on the Xperia P and the Xperia S, which also lights up on certain notifications and alerts. You can change the color the strip using the different Themes that Sony provides in the Android settings.

Software

Just like the P and the S, the Xperia U ships with Gingerbread instead of Android’s latest and great, Ice Cream Sandwich. Sony has promised an update for the handset in the future, but it’s still disheartening to see ICS missing. If you’re familiar with the software modifications that Sony has made to previous Android handsets, then you pretty much know the score with the U as well.

There is a little bit of bloatware bundled with the device - McAfee, OfficeSuite, WisePilot - and a few other included apps like WhatsApp and Astro File Manager. All of them can be uninstalled without any issues, allowing you to claw back some of that precious 4GB. Otherwise, expect to see Sony’s own apps, including Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, Track ID, Media Remote, and Play Now, which is Sony’s app store. There isn’t anything too exciting on there, with a lot of apps carried across from the Play Store.

The software keyboard looks daunting at first given the small size of the display, but we didn’t have too much trouble with it. Mistakes were few and far between, although the keyboard did lag on occasion with haptic feedback left on. We personally didn’t have any issues despite the horizontal resolution, although those with larger digits may struggle.

Performance and Benchmarks

Sony has managed to achieve quite a feat with the Xperia U, slotting a NovaThor U8500 dual-core 1Ghz processor and a slower Mali-400MP GPU into the device. General performance is good too: flicking around homescreens and through apps is smooth, with very few instances of stutter or lag. Web browsing is good too, with pinch-to-zoom and double tapping resulting in smooth transitions. The phone did have to catch its breath occasionally on heavier webpages, or those with Flash, but overall we’d say it performed admirably.

Benchmarks seem to back that up too. It doesn’t blow the doors off by any means, but it does seem to be beating everything in this price category. Quadrant gave us a result of 2204, SunSpider 0.9.1 achieved 2526ms, AnTuTu returned 5359, and NeNaMark 2 scored 29.2fps.

Camera

The five megapixel on the Xperia U is decidedly middle of the road. It can take some nice photos in the right circumstances, with good colors and detail, but noise reduction seems to be ever present in photos. In good lighting conditions, it’s not too much of an issue, with only occasional splotches as minor noise is dealt with. In poorer conditions, however, the noise reduction ramp up, smearing images and taking detail out along with the noise. Otherwise, we didn’t have any major complaints. It’s a competent shooter, just don’t expect miracles.

Taking photos is a bit tricker. The two-stage dedicated camera key on the side of the phone seems awkward to use, with the first press being a little too light, and too much effort needed to press the button all the way down to take the photo. Tap-to-focus is missing in the camera app too, so if you want to focus and meter the shot before you take one you'll have to hold down either the on-screen camera key or task a risk with the physical button.

The 720p video recording, however, is horrendous. The H.264 Baseline L3.1 clips have an average bitrate of around 6Mbit/s, but you wouldn’t know it. Clips are filled with compressions artifacts, with textures obliterated and scenery swimming in macroblocks. Sharpening creates awful halos around the edges of objects, and the jelly effect is in full force, so any quick panning or fast moving vehicles will result in distortion.

Battery

The 1,290mAh battery sounds small, but its definitely a champ when it comes ot performance. A video battery rundown test took a 720p H.264 High Profile L3.1 with AAC video and played it on loop with screen brightness set to 100%, and headphone volume set to 50%. After 4 hours and 37 minutes, the phone automatically shut down.

In typical usage, the Xperia U can easily get through a full day, and if you’re a light user, you’d be able to push two without any issues. Our usage is admittedly light, with only one push email account, some WhatsApp/texting, and occasional browsing, but even heavier users won’t have any problems getting through a full working day.

Wrap-Up

The Xperia U sounds like a very average device: it doesn’t do anything particularly well, but it’s not a bad phone at the same time. What makes the phone interesting is the price point that Sony is hitting. Three UK offer the phone for £180, which brings it in cheaper than the HTC One V while offering a slightly higher screen resolution and faster processor. There really aren’t any phones around that price point that have a dual-core processor either.

Having said all that, there are some niggling issues that will irritate some users. The display is the big one, and while I imagine most people will be perfectly content with the screen, others will be frustrated once they notice the panel funk and digitizer grid. Kudos to Sony for blessing the phone with a sensible 854x480 resolution when so many other phones in this bracket don’t even match that, but otherwise the HTC One V’s display is much, much better.

If you’re on a tight budget but want the best performance your money can buy, the Sony Xperia U is a safe choice. Users need to be wary about the lack of storage space, however, as 4GB will disappear very quickly, and if you can stretch your budget just a little bit more, the HTC One V has more going for it despite the single-core processor.


Recent Stories

  • Saurabh2206

    While listening a music on Xperia U if incoming call receives then the sound of both call and music gets disappear and phone needs to be restarted. What may be the issue

    • Lohith

      I am having Xperia U .. had the same problem for that here is a work around

      Install Ram Booster app and Advance task killer app.. have a shortcut of them in Homescreen.. whenever that happens use those shortcut to kill apps.. it solved my problem… sometimes it might not work.. so give a try..

  • Kiran Kumar KV

    Problem: I brought Sony Xperia U yesterday and to my horror it is showing white pixels in a black background. I brought it from Pai International. The pixels are actually damaged. And the shop owner told me to send it to service station. In service station they told me to wait for 8 hours. I am waiting for Damaged on Arrival Certificate to get a new one. Sony has put me into lot of problem .

  • Vice

    Kiran, I had exactly the same problem: 9 stuck green pixels in black screens.
    Fortunatly, the dealer (Tmn Portugal) exchaged it for a new one the next day, with no questions maded.
    The second device came perfect.

    • fernando

      Como é o som do speaker nos ringtones e na música? Obrigado.

  • http://twitter.com/didinf didin fachruddin

    i can not use camera key…

  • Ninja

    There are no issues with xperia u.. you people should first learn how to use it and then complain..

    • Ravi Shankar

      i experienced a display problem on camera..
      so shut ur mouth..

    • http://twitter.com/sonneyd Sundeep Dawale

      Yeah please shut your stinking a** of a mouth. This phone has a big list of problems display, speed, memory…. I have owned this horrible thing for more than 8 months. This phone is slow as a turtle on land, so go back to the sewers Ninja Turtle don’t act smart in front of those who have been through it.

  • gogobert

    Well, if You’re gonna mention the 4Gb limit all the time, why not do it correctly?

    The Phone has 8Gb of storage, where 2Gb is for the phone, 2Gb for apps and 4Gb for your personal stuff like music, clips and photos, still it’s a little low, but what is right should be right.

    Then I really miss some kind of “Audio Quality” test – one thing that’s normally really awful in almost all smartphones is the calling audio quality, You don’t hear what the other part says, and he/she cannot hear You. That would have been good to have had, I really hope that it might be on the better side for this phone cause it’s a Sony and using the ST/Ericsson chipset instead of a Qualcomm.

    • viki

      hey….have own this phone…is it really nice phone…tell me about his phone….shall i borrow this or not?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Weaver-Jannie/100003930352907 Weaver Jannie

    as Frances said I am dazzled that anyone able to get paid doller5846 in four weeks on the internet. have you read this page lazycash42.c()m

  • Lohith

    Major Issues is Network connectivity problem … I am having Xperia U and my network carrier is Vodafone IN .. when i move from one location to other, network signal goes off and it won’t return ( Connection Handover Problem i guess ) .. I am not sure whether the problem is with the Vodafone IN or Xperia U .. but it is a real pathetic coz the basic function of a mobile is not met here..

    • tester

      hey I got the same issue in bangalore, lodged complaint with both vodafone and sony. Once they upgraded the os to 2.3.7. But the problem returned. Now both vodafone and sony are looking into the issue. You can also lodge a complaint and let’s hope it resolves soon.

    • PrashanthCA

      I too have brought Xperia U.. i am also facing same problem as U lohith. I spoke to both Vodafone and sony people, i changed sim also and xperia set also, still the same network problem exists with new set and sim

  • azizul

    just use this phone for two weeks. great overall phone. absolutely worth the money. just that the battery is a little bit low for me and the loudspeaker quality is descent (does not match the xLoud feature that sony promote it will be)
    but for the price it offers, i cannot complain much. ;-)

  • jules

    i have had this phone for 3 weeks and it was working fine to start off with then i noticed when i press the lock button on the side to show the lock screen the 100% and lightening bolt for charging appears then dissappears within a second even though the battery is neither charging or 100%. Also i get an error message every now and again whenever i go to use the camera, the shutter button for the camera is rubbish and needs to be pressed down hard to get a photo taken and most of my apps crash even though i only have a few and barely anything on the phone and its so slow. i am that displeased with what this phone has become i am taking it back to the shop today.

  • wouter

    all you do is breaking down the phone man this phone is amazing

  • kronos

    most o the problems experienced by these users are not due to xperia u but due to its software version (ex. network problem, restarting problem etc…) update ur phone to latest version through SUS u will get most of ur problem solved especially network problem

  • Sheridan Froggatt#

    I have the Xperia U and my only issue is the fact for whatever reason my internet isn’t connecting despite I used orange bundles to get a month worth of internet. It says Connection error though I have full signal…?? Umm what!

  • deep

    how to install andoid 4.0 in xperia u?

  • deep

    can we install andoid 4.0 in xperia u?

  • Nagra Raman

    Sound quallity of Sony is always very gud but in “XPERIA U”, the audio quality is too low

    • dori

      got sony xperia u this week……..it shut down and restarts on its own when playing music…..whats the issue ^

  • xperia u

    Do NOT BUY THIS PHONE ! IT will give you terrible horrible night & day dreams i have this that;s why !

  • khalid

    U get less then 50 mb of free space to use. Ive only got about 15 songs, about 20 images and videos and 2 apps. That’s all I can fit on and the phone still freezes sayin I’ve got to much.

  • Ely

    awesome phone! Very fast, especially the browser.

  • Michael

    i dropped the phone from a height of no more than 2 feet, it bounced on its back, rolled over and the screen cracked. Absolutely no screen protection! Only had it about 3 weeks!

  • s sunilkumaar

    i am having a problem with camera flash..when i take a pic with flash pic becomes totally white..couldnt see any thing..any solutions for this problem??

    • mrudul

      Pls remove that plastic coat on the camera.

  • richy

    After i updated to android 4.0.4 it is much faster i can run nfs most wanted perfect for others wanting to upgrade use pc companion and give the phone 2-3 days to settle into the new software.

  • karen

    I just bought my xperia U 3 days ago and experienced some problems regarding the sensitivity of the back, home, and menu buttons. It wouldn’t function at times and it was so frustrating since I just bought it. I tried to have it replaced, but they insisted to diagnose the problem first and a replacement for the unit was not sure yet. I’m really worried if that was just a minor malfunction or a serious issue that won’t be solved by an upgrade or something. I’m not a geek of smartphones so I felt lost and very frustrated. I’m still hoping that it would be all fine though. I really love sony phone and I think that it was a smart buy.

  • Ali gee

    Mine has been faulty from day one, multiple software issues affecting the display, touch screen ability etc, been off 3 times for repaire and ‘apparently fixed’ but still a piece of shit which I might add NINJA I do know how to use……..taking it back tomorrow and I aint walking away with some ‘reconditioned’, sorry, make that someone elses ‘fixed’ faulty one! This phone is 6 months old for gods sake.

  • Emmy

    Ive had the xperia u for 3 months and its already had to be sent in for repairs multiple of time due to continuous problems. So I wouldnt even bother looking into gettimg the phone.

  • http://twitter.com/sonneyd Sundeep Dawale

    Hi All!

    This is the worst phone I’ve ever had. This is my first smartphone and I regret I did not go for Samsung which is a trusted name for Android phones. Silly me I just wanted to get a different brand, worst mistake of my life.

    Don’t get sold on the dual core bullshit, this phone is slower than a turtle f**k. If you keep your wifi or data connection on then the phone will simply freeze. I gifted my wife a Samsung Galaxy Y on her birthday and even that works much better than this awful piece of shit.

    The fact that you cannot expand the abysmal 8GB memory is a big minus too.

    Within 3 months of buying this phone I had to send it to the service center as the touch screen had died a slow death. First a small portion of the top left corner had become unresponsive and I used to rotate the screen just to hit the right buttons. Then in no time it spread like a cancer and the phone was f****g useless. Since the phone was within warranty the service center replaced it but only after 15 days. This place is like 20 kms away from where I live. Bloody nightmare.

    Went back to my old Nokia 5800 until the phone was getting repaired and realised how much I had missed it, so much so that I continued using it for 2 weeks even after I had collected the Sony Xpired U F***k-tart from the service center.

    Every time an app on this good-for-nothing phone crashes my heart skips a beat. Just yourself the nightmare guys go for trusted names like Samsung if you want Android, Nokia if you want Windows 8 or iPhone. This phone is so bad that Sony should actually recall it and compensate people for the agony their product has caused.

  • yech

    a very bad phone! wifi and screen touch problem! very disappointing!

    the first unit i got wifi was not working and the next unit they gave me after 5 months i can’t even unlock it anymore! i’m waiting for over a month already after bringing it to xperia service center hk because they don’t have the available spare parts!

    very bad quality and very bad repair service!

  • AprilWilson1377

    I’ve had the Xperia U since christmas 2012 and for the past month ive been having problems with the connections, when I ring someone it makes a static noise and does it continuously throughout a phone call. I haven’t dropped it in water or anything and I have only dropped it twice. Does anyone know what the problem could be? :/

  • breaking_felony

    Okay, I got it at the end of 2012, it was working perfectly until I tried to do the update to ICS through my P.C and it cut it off and I had to send it back…another problem I got about 2 weeks ago was camera app does not respond anymore, my RAM is a 124mb and is still lagging like there is no ram at all and now my screen has suddenly just stopped and will not work :/ I was very happy when I first got my phone now I am annoyed I can’t take any pictures when I am in Italy next week.

    Sony should release Jelly Bean onto this phone and fix some bugs and allow free repairs for this phone!!!

  • freechelmi

    I’ve used this phone for few weeks and yeah , it’s quite horrible. Even a Chinese phone like wiko is better than that

  • Amy

    I have had this phone for a year and for a while it was working perfectly fine but now it is extremely difficult to use. Such a shame, I love the size and feel of the phone in my palm as I have really small hands. Probably will go for a Samsung or HTC next.