Sony Xperia L Review

June 8, 2013
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There are a lot of mid-range phones out there, and most of them are fairly average looking. Yes, they work and they don’t look awful, but they aren’t particularly eye catching, either. Enter the Sony Xperia L.

Though their phones aren’t proving to be as popular as we’re sure they’d like, Sony has a knack for making a phone pretty, well, pretty. Luckily for those who don’t enjoy dropping a ton of cash on a new phone, they’re bringing that same aesthetic sensibility to their mid-rangers. That’s nice, but how does the rest of the phone hold up? Find out in our review.

In a hurry? Check out our video review, or jump to the conclusion at the end of the article.

Specs

  • 4.3-inch display (480 x 854, 228 ppi)
  • 1 Ghz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU
  • Adreno 305 GPU
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 8 GB internal storage (expandable via microSD)
  • 8 MP rear-facing camera
  • VGA front-facing camera
  • 720p video capture
  • 1750 mAh battery

Build Quality & Design

As we noted at the top of the article, the Sony Xperia L is nice looking phone. My review unit was white, and though I generally prefer darker colors personally, the white Xperia L is fairly striking. One of the most visually interesting features of the phone is the concave curve of the back of the device. Though the front is flat, this gives the impression that the entire phone is curved, which is very cool.

sony-xperia-l-right

All of the Xperia L’s buttons are on the right side of the device. The volume rocker is at the very top, while the power button is lower down, almost in the middle of the device. Down at the bottom of the device is the hardware camera button. Generally feelings are mixed on these, but with the Xperia L, I found it quite handy. They’re all the buttons you get, as the L uses software buttons for everything else. On the left side you’ll find the USB port while the headphone jack sits square in the middle of the top of the device.

The Xperia L feels solidly built, and in the case of the battery cover on the back, almost too much so. Taking the cover off felt like I was in danger of breaking the phone, and this was after carefully reading the manual to make sure I was doing it right. Despite the small-ish screen, the Xperia L’s hefty bezel makes the phone feel fairly large, something that those of you with smaller hands may want to keep in mind.

Display

Always a sore spot with these mid-rangers, I definitely found myself wishing that the Xperia L had come with a higher screen resolution. At just 480 x 854 spread across a 4.3-inch screen, we’re left with a pixel density of around 228 ppi. While that pales in comparison to high end phones, I was actually surprised at how fairly nice the screen looked. While it was far from the sharpest display I’ve ever seen, the Xperia L’s display clearly displayed text and icons with few signs of pixelation.

sony-xperia-l-screen-closeup

Colors are fairly well represented, with deep blacks and bright whites at low to middle brightness settings. As you turn the brightness up, colors begin to get a little washed out, but leaving the Xperia L at it’s default with auto-brightness turned on made this a fairly uncommon occurrence. Viewing angles are good as well; by the time the screen looks dark, you’re looking at the L from an unnatural angle I can’t imagine most people even considering using.

Performance

With a 1 Ghz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chipset, Adreno 305 GPU and 1 GB of RAM, the hardware inside the Sony Xperia L is nothing we haven’t seen before, so we had a fairly good idea of what to expect. Luckily we weren’t disappointed, and the Xperia L even made a fairly good showing in some cases.

We kicked off testing with our usual test suite and, as always, AnTuTu Benchmark was up first. We ran the benchmark 10 times in situations ranging from right after boot to after hours of use, then averaged the results. Performance was fairly consistent, with scores ranging from 8,255 at the low end to 10,931 at the top end. Our final score was 10,053, which is definitely right up with some of the best scores we’ve seen on similar hardware.

sony-xperia-l-benchmark

Next we moved on to Epic Citadel, which now has three different settings: Ultra High Quality, High Quality and High Performance. We started with Ultra High and ended up with an average framerate of 41.0 FPS. High Quality delivered a marked increase in framerate at 51.7, while High Performance only increased the framerate to 52.4

Real world performance was good, just as we expected. The always popular “scroll through home screens quickly” test produced excellent results, apps launched quickly, and we didn’t really encounter any hitches in performance during testing. For gaming, we tried Fast & Furious 6 and though it isn’t the most demanding game, it did perform well, though it’s worth keeping in mind that the low-res display meant that it wasn’t pushing a lot of pixels.

Software

The Sony Xperia L runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, skinned with Sony’s own user interface. Though it definitely isn’t stock Android, the UI feels lighter than other manufacturer UIs like HTC’s Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz. The interface is themeable, though this mainly involves changing the color scheme. Still, a ton of colors are available, and since these also change the color used in the illumination bar, it is pretty cool.

sony-xperia-l-apps

Alongside the stock Google apps, Sony has included a few of its own, mainly focused on entertainment. WALKMAN for music, Album for photos and videos, Movies for, well, movies and Sony Select, which is Sony’s own app store. When it comes to other apps, we have Facebook, which seems to be par for the course these days, a Notes app, NeoReader, a backup app, the very cool File Commander and, strangely, AASTOCKS.

It’s worth noting here that the Xperia L is PlayStation certified which opens the door to a few games unavailable to other devices, at least through conventional means.

Camera

Looking purely at the specs, it seems impressive that a mid-ranger would have an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera, but unfortunately there isn’t too much of a reason to get excited here. While Sony is known for making excellent image sensors for mobile phones, results from the Xperia L just aren’t that impressive.

sony-xperia-l-from-camera

While colors are decently captured, they can tend to lean a little toward the warmer side of the spectrum. I was surprised to find that even images I took on a cool, cloudy day had a hot, summery look to them. That can be nice if that’s what you’re going for, but it wasn’t exactly accurate. Getting a nicely focused shot isn’t easy either. No matter what I did, images seemed a little fuzzy, and this was at the highest resolution. As expected, low light performance wasn’t great and while the Xperia L does have a built in flash, it did nothing but help create blown-out images.

The 720p video capture suffers from the same issues, although not quite as much as still photos do. The auto-brightness is very aggressive, so expect some very noticeable shifting in your brightness, especially if the subject is backlit. That said, movement was fairly smooth.

Battery

Sony claims a talk time of around 8.5 hours with the Xperia L and in our experience, this can often predict how long a phone can stand up to moderately heavy use. This turned out to be fairly accurate in this case. 5 hours of heavy testing brought the battery down to about 33 percent capacity. On a different day, a few hours of shooting for our video review and additional testing brought the battery to 61 percent.

sony-xperia-l-battery

In normal conditions (ie. not reviewing the phone) it’s battery life should get you through a full day, as long as you’re not using it too heavily. Should you need to use your phone for more demanding tasks, the battery is removable, so carrying a spare or using an extended battery (if one is available) is a possibility.

Video

Conclusion

In the end, the Sony Xperia L is a solid but not exactly remarkable phone when it comes to performance. What should help it stand out in its fairly crowded category are its looks and design. Whether or not this is enough to sway you from the countless other similar phones available is a matter of personal taste.

Have you used the Xperia L? Are you planning on buying it? Feel free to share your thoughts or ask any questions you may have in the comments below!

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