Sony Xperia P Review: Does Sony's White Magic Cast The Right Spell?

The Sony Xperia P has had me rubbing my eyes and scratching more than once over the last week that I've been living with it. Not because it's amazing, but because it's deeply vexing.

What Is It?

The Sony Xperia P is Sony's latest attempt to get you excited about using one of its smartphones. Behind the 4-inch, 540x960, White Magic-powered screen (which we'll get to later), is a dual-core 1Ghz Cortex A9 processor coupled with 1GB of RAM and 16GB worth of internal storage. On the back of the curved smartphone is an 8-megapixel, panorama-capable camera that can shoot video at 1080p.

It ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread (I know, we'll get there), with a promised update to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich in the very near future. It's available on Telstra's Next G network right now for $0 on the $60 Every Day Connect plan.

What's To Like?

To be honest, there's a fair bit to like on the surface of the Xperia P. It's a striking design. It boasts a black body with a transparent bar at the base, rounded-off by either a black, white or maroon cap. It's really striking and the see-through bar at the bottom of the handset is wonderful. More handsets should have design features this pretty. The curved back is also really nice and it fits into the hand well. The curved design is reminiscent of the iPhone 3GS that went down so well with most.

The camera is fantastic too. The Cybershot-like camera has always been welcome in Sony smartphones. I remember having the Sony Ericsson K850i and the best part of it was the 3.2-megapixel camera that produced images better than the 5-megapixel Nokia N95. Ah, memories. The sound is also fantastic thanks to Sony speakers.

Sony's Android skin, Timescape UI, really gets out of your way here too. I use an iPhone 4S as my daily driver, and the Xperia P's implementation of Android isn't so in-your-face, meaning that iPhone converts will probably enjoy this phone. It doesn't hurt that it's dead easy to use either.

The White Magic screen is a curious little invention too. Basically it sees Sony put a white pixel next to the red, green and blue pixels on the display. It gives the display a distinctly yellowish tinge. Compare that to the darkened blue display of the Galaxy Nexus and the greenish display of the iPhone 4S and it's not a huge issue. It doesn't reproduce perfect whites, but when you walk out of a store with it and start using it everyday, it's barely noticeable.

No Like

It's only when you start prodding below the surface of the Xperia P that you realise you're kind of getting a raw deal here.

The specifications, for example, read off the page as less exciting when compared to other smartphones around the same price bracket. On the $60 Telstra Every Day Connect plan, you're given a choice of two other handsets next to the Xperia P: the HTC Velocity 4G and the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G. Both 4G-capable handsets, both running a higher version of Android and both with considerably more screen real estate.

It gets worse too. Quadrant tests show us that the Xperia P handles processing tasks like handsets that were released almost two years ago. This is the real indictment of how bad this handset really is.

In our tests, we found that the Xperia P scored only marginally higher than the HTC Desire HD, and slightly lower than the LG Optimus 2X with a score of 2189. Compare that with the score of the HTC One X for example which is pushing 5000 in Quadrant test numbers. The HTC One X is only $6 more expensive per month on the Telstra plan.

Which begs you to ask the question: why would you get this phone when you can get a better one for less than the cost of two lattes on your monthly phone bill?

The battery also warrants a mention. It's fully integrated into the handset so theoretically it should provide better efficiency, right? Wrong. The Xperia P was out of juice after seven hours. Seven hours doesn't sound that bad, but compare it to the notoriously bad iPhone 4S, which outlasted the Xperia P by an additional two hours. Ouch.

And I know that a software update is coming some time in the next month (supposedly), but did we really have to ship this with Android 2.3 the week before we previewed Android 4.1 Jelly Bean? By the time this gets its Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade, Galaxy Nexus owners will already be running around with something better.

Should You Buy One?

Comparison shopping is a tricky thing. With the facts we're presented with right now, the Xperia P isn't the best value. Especially considering you can get a better handset for just a few extra dollars per month. Being stuck with a phone you don't like for two years is especially difficult when you see other phones you could have bought running rings around yours at parties. It's the price that kills the case for the Xperia P. The prices at the time this review was written stack up against the Xperia P, but that could change in future. If this phone was on a lower plan tier for example, it'd be great value.

The phone only gets a recommend from me if you come at it from a certain angle.

If you're a staunch iPhone opponent who doesn't want anything that the fruit stand is selling and need the best looking phone on the Telstra market, you'll get the Xperia P. Or if you're someone who's had enough of Apple and wants to get off the bandwagon, but doesn't want to be frightened off by Android, you'll get the Xperia P. It's then and only then that it makes sense to get one.

Am I missing something here? Did you buy the Xperia P over something like a Galaxy S II or an HTC One X? How's that going?


    Telstra doesn't sell the One X, they sell the One XL which scores lower on quadrant by a reasonable margin. Just nitpicking but the point remains... buy an XL for an extra $6/mo - absolute no brainer.

      Do you own one? I'm very interested in the XL, but it's downgrade to a dual core CPU and battery life concerns (my old HTC Desire was woeful) are the only things holding me back.

        Its snapdragon so it kinda sucks balls if you were hoping it would soak up some bus time (snapdragon command, the app market specially designed for this chip set is not even available in Australia either, I emailed them four weeks ago as to whether we could ever expect it and have yet to receive a reply), it is fast to be sure but to be honest you are still probably better off either sticking with an S2 4g or waiting for the S3 4g (if it happens).

        My experience so far hasn't been bad, but I really wish I had put the effort into finding out what you could expect from snapdragon in terms of 3D rendered apps, but in all other fields its quite a nice phone.

        IMO depends what you're going to use it for. The snapdragon CPU is only dual core, yes, but it's architecture is more advanced, A15 vs A9 so for a lot of things it is much more efficient.

        If you want to play a lot of intense 3D games then the OneX is better as these tend to be specifically designed for the Tegra3 processor (Nvidia pushes developers for this).

        If you want to have very fast access to data, web pages, streaming video etc then the XL is much better. Even without 4G, if both phones are on wifi, the XL will outperform the X in these areas and in general OS fluidity.

        Battery life is much of a muchness - it's the LTE connection that saps the battery, not the processor. If you're woried about battery over 4G conection you can just turn off 4G on the XL and it's HSDPA (3.5G) connection will still be faster than that of the X.

    In that top photo it looks suspiciously like my ZuneHD.

    It's a completely different value proposition if you look at the outright price of phones.

    I'm in the market for a new outright phone and the quality of the camera is high priority for me. Both the Xperia P and SGS2 have reputations for taking good photos but Xperia P is $50 cheaper as a grey import.

    Just bought one yesterday, I'm posting from it right now in fact. I've had it on charge since this morning, used it on the bus around 20 minutesand had it in my pocket all day until now (1:40ish) and I still have most of a charge. Worth noting is there'sno expandable memory and I had to cut my SIM card down. I bought my one from work outright, do no carrier bloat. Had to resort the menu items to alphabetical, which I couldn'tdo on the Galaxy S2, but I will probably change my keyboard.

      Keyboard changed! It's ui feels pretty refreshing, and although I do see a slight yellow tinge, it's not distracting at all.

        11:15pm and still going, from my charge this morning. Granted, I was working all day and that job didn't have me stress testing the phone or prodding around it's nooks and crannies. Just checked in on my breaks. I wasn't even expecting it to survive my adventure through eTax 2012 this evening, but she's still chugging along.

        Overall, fairly impressed despite the low capacity battery. The system shock of Sony's take on things has worn off fairly smoothly.

          So how many hours did it last overall? What did you use it for? Did you game a lot? What was the screen brightness?

            On Monday, it was 14-15 hours all up, didn't get a battery low warning at all. I downloaded Plants Vs Zombies (a few artifacts when there's meant to be glowing effects btw, but plays perfectly), but didn't do anything more than make sure it actually run, along with my bus trips, lunch and obligatory work-Google web surfing. I did play yesterday and spent a good 40 minutes or so playing before chucking it on charge that night, can't honestly remember if that killed the battery though. The screen brightness on auto is decent, it does seem a little dark, but it's still easily readable. It's also worth noting that the retail units that have just come out have an update available that I wasn't able to do from the phone itself for some reason, but once I plugged it into my notebook at home, it was fairly painless if a little long. I haven't noticed any difference since applying that update.

            Also, there is a little bloatware in the Sony services, Foursquare and Facebook. I use some of those services, so I don't mind, but if I were to root the device, they'd probably go.

    But why did you use a picture of Sir Ian Mckellen as Gandalf if you weren't all too impressed with the phone? A picture of Christopher Lee as Saruman, or January Jones as The White Queen, could be more in tune with your experience with it.

    i bought the xperia s. quite happy with it. it replaced my s2 that is now out in the wide world on its own (i thought of blocking it, but hell, my fault for losing it. i hope the finder treats her well).

    Surely the point is not everybody wants a massive handset? Over here in England we have the Xperia S, which was my first choice, but it's huge! I don't want to carry something around that big, which is why I discounted the HTC and Galaxy S III, as good as they may be. So I bought the Xperia P. This may be lower spec than the HTC et all but it's enough for most people, scores extra points in the design stakes and after all, 6 dollars a month doesn't sound like a lot of difference in price but over two years that's 144 dollars - now it looks like a significant difference, so it's an unfair comparison in my opinion. Oh, it's a great phone by the way, if you like it buy it, you will not be disappointed. The integrated battery is an issue though, and I can never understand why manufacturers take away the memory card slot - swapping cards is still the easiest way to transfer stuff!

      I very nearly got the HTC One V instead of this through Kogan, but The Register seemed to like this handset more and I do generally like to have a half decent camera on my phone. I hear ya on the memory card front though, it almost seems like the micro-SIM slot was made for the memory card instead, not as clean as on an iPhone, but at least you don't need additional tools just to do it.

        Spot on with the SIM tool comment. That is by far the most annoying element of phone design around. I have to pop my SIM in and out of my 4S because of reviews and the most annoying thing is getting my SIM tool out to do it. I've lost the one I usually use too. So irritating.

    idk whether to get this, the xperia arc s, the xperia u, the xperia sola or the xperia ray. my dads buying my new phone, but i cant decide. i only want sony xperia phones dont ay samsung or something.. i kinda wanted an 8mp camera but i dont want a tiny phone or a huge phone. plz help!!!

Join the discussion!