It’s been a while since I handled a Sony phone. Back in the mid 2000s, I was a big fan of the Sony Ericsson line of Walkman phones and had plenty of fun taking quite high quality photos with the Cybershot versions. As the smartphone market grew, function specific devices like those Sony used to put out became less and less common – unfortunately, it seems that the same goes for Sony phones in general.
At least that is my perspective in the United States. Underneath the onslaught of wonderful devices from the top companies like Samsung, Apple, and HTC, it would seem that the Playstation manufacturer has not been able to reach the same kind of zenith as its competitors. Though I know that Sony is indeed enjoying success outside of the States, I couldn’t help but wonder why they weren’t more popular here.
Which makes this a pretty exciting moment for me, because the Sony Xperia V beckons. From a line of smartphones predicated on its connection to their gaming networks, the Xperia V does seem to have some of the old function-specific spirit I remember. But Sony has been able to put even more features into at least this particular version of its smartphone that they hope will sweeten the pot.
You get the picture even before opening the box – sprawled on the front of is a picture of the V riddled with water like a window. A couple extra blue-colored pictures of my new smartphone coming into contact with water serve as reminders of what is explained quite well within the manual: “protected against the effects of immersion in water in depths of between 0 and 100 cm for up to 30 minutes.”
It might not be the most exciting feature to come along in a smartphone, but it is certainly a feather in its cap – and of course I’m going to throw this phone in some water. Read on for my review of this water-resistant phone and watch the video at the end to see my thoughts on the Sony Xperia V.
Look and Feel
Here at Android Authority we love the design of Sony phones and have often stated that they are some of the best looking phones out there. As a first time Xperia user with the V, I would have to agree, given this device. It has a very nice, sleek look that echoes the style that we are used to from a company like Sony.
The front is as typical as ever, featuring a black slate consisting of the 4.3 inch display and black bezel surrounding it. At the top is the phone speaker grill with the front facing camera on the left and a notification light found on the top right.
If you happen to be used to the most common button layouts found on Samsung and now LG phones, the one found on the Xperia V might feel a little odd. All of the buttons are found on the right side, as the volume rocker is smaller than usual and right underneath it is an equally small power button. This allows for everything to be accessible from the right thumb, though I suppose left handed people might have to use their index fingers to wrap around and get to the buttons. The buttons and the bezel that houses them are, quite literally, a silver lining found all around the device that separate the black screen front from the white cover back.
Opposite the buttons is the charging port, protected by a small cover that can be nicked out of place in order to reveal what is underneath. The same covering is found on the top of the device, protecting the headphone jack. These covers obviously lend themselves to the waterproofing of the Xperia V, but I have had problems in the past with these types of covers – use them too much and it is possible that they can not be worn down, but they can actually sometimes snap off. Keeping them sealed helps keep the water out, but if they break off, your waterproofing is foiled.
Coming around the back, a simplistic but elegant white detachable cover is found. ‘XPERIA’ is just above center with the camera with flash up top and the speaker slit found on the bottom. This bottom portion of the back protrudes out from underneath the front bezel, giving this phone a unique design aside from the all-inclusive black bricks that we’re used to in currently popular devices.
The entire back is slightly curved, allowing for more girth in the top and bottom portions. This attributes to the pretty balanced feel of the device – it is easy to feel a lightness from the middle portion of the phone that is countered by the weight at top and bottom. The result is a phone that feels sturdy in the hand without feeling like a brick.
Having a 4.3 inch screen might yield only a .4 difference with the market’s larger and more popular phones, but that near half inch does help. This phone will likely be just the right size for most all users, and that is quite the happy medium. What we end up having here, then, is a wonderful looking phone with some unique trim that feels great in the hand.
Screen and Display
4.3 inches might not sound as appealing as the display offerings found on other devices, but rest assured that Sony has the capability to create a nice viewing experience on their Xperia phones.
The TFT capacitive display found the Xperia V is capable of displaying 16,777,216 colors at 1280×720 resolution with a pixel density of 342 ppi. That pixel density is nothing to brush off, as this display is thus quite sharp and renders text very well.
Multi-touch is also available here, but the reason why I mention it is because the Xperia V is capable of registering up to 10 touches simultaneously. I do not know, for the life of me, how to even get 10 fingers onto a display this size (let alone, even a screen like that found on the Nexus 7, for example) but the touch capabilities do seem to check out. Having the touches enabled in Developer Settings shows that all five of my at-once presses have been registered.
All put together, this display does a good job of relaying an enjoyable experience. It isn’t the brightest display I have ever worked with, but its highest setting was more than adequate for viewing in broad daylight. Perhaps this is the result of a perception skewed by the theme consisting primarily of white and grey tones, but I felt that the actual colors lacked a bit of vibrancy. Colors don’t quite jump out of the screen the way that I am used to them doing on devices like the Samsung Galaxy S3 (which, admittedly, has an overly colorful theme compared to the Xperia V).
It is also worth mentioning that because there are no capacitive buttons found underneath the screen, the Xperia OS uses soft keys in the same manner as vanilla Android. This line of keys does take up a little bit of real estate on the screen, which may be a little discouraging for those looking to take full advantage of an already smaller-than-usual display. Personally, however, I do not think that the soft keys are much of a bother at all, here or on any Nexus device.
Ultimately, you get a very good viewing experience on a very capable screen. It might not pop as loudly or as vividly as some other displays, but the sharpness in text and crispness in textures are definitely worth the 16M colors and very decent pixel density. It’s not the biggest screen on a smartphone out there, but I think a lot of people will come to view the 4.3 inch screen as a nice and more than adequate medium.
Hardware and Battery
And so we come to the hardware, all tucked away in a casing that is supposed to waterproof all the power underneath. Even if all the various bits of this phone seem to be sealed off, it isn’t hard to take out the layers and find a few pleasant surprises underneath.
We’ll start with the obvious portions, as I have mentioned before that the cover on the Xperia V is indeed detachable. When popped off, what you find under the Xperia branding is a removable/replaceable battery of 1750mAh capacity and two slots nestled in one little nook – one for the microSD expansion slot and the microSIM tray.
As I have learned with the reviews I have done for Android Authority, the battery and expandable memory seem to be the wild cards for many users in terms of purchasing a new device. Current top-tier devices, surprisingly enough, often don’t take SD cards and seal away the battery for a unibody finish. I used to chalk this up to the manufacturer’s desire to keep the design of the phone as simple as possible, as these features can sometimes add girth to already large devices; but in the case of the Xperia V, I have been proven wrong. Having the SIM and SD slots in the same nook and then under the detachable cover allows this phone to retain a sleek and very minimalistic look. And on top of all that, the color is capable of sealing the device from water damage? That is nothing short of a feat, in my book. And with only 8GB of onboard memory available, you probably will come to appreciate the expandability even more.
As far as the battery goes, its capacity coupled with whatever optimizations Sony has managed to put into its dual core 1.5 GHz Krait Snapdragon processor affords the Xperia V decent longevity. While not tested with the 4G LTE running (I use T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network on my SIM), my usual battery drain test was able to bring this one down to half battery in around three and a half hours. Decent enough for a battery its size, though having the ability to replace the battery is definitely a blessing. I imagine 4G LTE connectivity in the background will skew this result further, but nonetheless, you should be able to get through a whole day on this battery with few problems. Perhaps enabling the Extended Standby Mode in the Power Management settings would help those looking for a lot more life in the long run.
Aside from the memory and battery, this phone has your standard bells and whistles – NFC, Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi connectivity. I do have to mention, as I touched upon just earlier, that this is a phone geared for LTE coverage. I was excited to use my T-Mobile microSIM card in this device, only to be thwarted from using fast data connections because of this phone’s lack of support for HSPA+. LTE is available in my area, but not for this carrier. I am sure that with the right phone service, the Xperia V’s true potential can be realized.
Sound is pretty impressive on all fronts with this phone, as calls came out loud and clear without any problems. It is the media speaker that I was impressed with, however, as I was taken aback by just how powerful it is. A game of Jetpack Joyride at full blast actually put some strain on my ears. It isn’t the fullest or most dynamic sound, but it gets the job done better than a number of devices I have tested with weaker speakers.
If it hasn’t already been made clear, the Sony Xperia V definitely has a lot to offer its users. 8GB of available memory might not be very appealing, but having an expandable memory slot is. Battery life is decent at best, but being able to replace it on the fly is a very welcome capability. All of this is tucked under a shell that protects it all from the harmful effects of water, so even if you drop your phone in a puddle, it should be able to bounce right back. That test is coming up.
As has been a trend for Sony smartphones, this Xperia V uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor – in this case, the Krait variation at clocked out at 1.5GHz. This should provide a nice usage experience as well as some decent multitasking with 1GB of RAM included. Video and graphics performance is bolstered by an Adreno 225, as well, so gaming and video viewing should get a much needed boost.
These might not be the best specifications in the market right now, but the translation into practice is quite good – for the most part. While the Xperia V certainly doesn’t belong in the top-most tier of current Android devices, it also doesn’t deserve to be considered one of the worst. On the contrary, the phone works quite well without too much lag when opening apps and running more intensive tasks. Even the startup time of the Xperia V is impressive, as the boot up took no longer than about a minute to complete. Of course, this startup time could change with the installation of more applications and modules.
As I had originally expected, the Sony Xperia V is nestled right alongside the higher mid-tier devices in benchmark tests. AnTuTu gave it just above the 10000 mark, quite average given that some of the best devices get close to breaking the 20000 threshold. The rankings are largely the same with Quadrant and Vellamo, putting the Xperia V just around the mark where the original HTC One X currently sits.
Ultimately, the performance aspect of this phone is just above average, at best. The average user will not have any qualms regarding the speed or usage of their Xperia V, though it certainly can’t hold a candle to the likes of the Nexus 4 and even the slightly aged Galaxy S3. The lag might be slightly noticeable even when scrolling through homescreens (especially if content in a widget hasn’t been loaded yet) and when navigating through various functions of the phone, but you should be able to get through your tasks with some ease.
We then come over to the camera – if you are like me and used to have a Cybershot Sony Ericsson phone, then this might be an interesting prospect. After all, Sony has a pedigree of great camera optics that have made their mid-2000s phones hot items.
The Xperia V camera comes with an impressive 13 megapixels – with the industry standard being 8, this is certainly one aspect of Sony’s phone that trumps much of the competition. However, megapixels don’t tell the story when it comes to quality, and hopefully the optics at f/2.4 will bring some good quality pictures even under average lighting.
I am delighted to report that the camera on the Xperia V actually lives up to these specs and expectations. All of the following shots were done under indoor lighting without scene manipulation – meaning the lights are either the ones already found within my residence or the sunlight emanating from the windows. In the shot below, you can see how having a low aperture allows for a good depth of field. Only the particular portion I touch-focused in the orange is in focus while the rest of the scene doesn’t have the same focus. Disregard the fringe on the bottom left – that is my finger.
Playing with depth of field is a typical trope for photographers, so having an actually fast and responsive touch-induced focusing system helps make the Xperia V’s camera excel. Here’s one for all you Instragram foodies – the low aperture helps me to flush out the background a bit to keep the food as the main focus. This is done without Instagram’s filters or selective focus tools.
In the following shot, I was able to capture a lovely orchid under the sun rays emanating through the nearby window. The color of the purple pedals is quite detailed and nicely rendered without being too washed out. The green leaves underneath are just as detailed and you can see how the stick on the side is also in focus, giving more of an example of the benefit to a low aperture lens.
And finally, a nice close up shot of a battery. It doesn’t sound all too exciting, but Eneloop batteries have a nice design and come in nice colors. This light blue battery was right up to the lens, prompting the Superior Auto feature of the camera to automatically select Macro Mode for this shot. Given the low light in my room, the flash also went off – it first synched by flashing once and then took the picture with a less powerful blast. The result is this macro shot that was clear and actually turned out a little artistic.
The app itself, although based upon the Ice Cream Sandwich version, has a look that is a little bit like the Jelly Bean camera. Instead of using separation bars for menus, which could sometimes skew your perception of the shot through your viewfinder, the various settings are simply overlays as the whole display is thus used for framing your scene. Press on any of the buttons and you will be given an easy view of your options. As far as settings go, HDR is available as well as Panorama and various toy effect modes. Touch capture is available, so you don’t have to use the shutter button – and if you are into video, this camera can capture Full HD 1080p footage.
All in all, the camera is a very good performer that is sure to please almost any smartphone shutterbugs out there. In line with the photography philosophy I adopt, in which ‘the best camera you have is the one on you,’ this camera can certainly be one of your best companions.
As I just mentioned, the Xperia V is a little bit behind in the Android game because it is sporting 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich. This might be an aging operating system, but it still works well under the phone’s processing power and is kept pretty fresh due to some added features.
Before we get into that, however, we should look through some of the features that Sony has retained from Google’s own vanilla OS. As detailed earlier, Sony’s smartphone uses the contextual soft keys that Nexus devices utilize in lieu of dedicated, capacitive keys. The Xperia V even hearkens back to older days with its lockscreen that is simply a left and right slider for unlocking and launching the camera, respectively.
When it comes to general aesthetic, I have to say that Sony’s custom UI is a little lacking. While there are some themes built-in to choose from, the default ‘Sapphire’ looks a little too much like the original Ice Cream Sandwich – grey tones with blue neon – to really stand out. While the app drawer and notification dropdown might include some changes, there isn’t much else to it than that. The lack of customization compared to other user interfaces like TouchWiz, Sense, and Optimus make the Xperia V’s operating system more akin to vanilla Android than its own unique entity. While I prefer the original Android experience most, it isn’t what I expect from a non-Nexus device.
Luckily, Sony has been able to remedy this by adding functionality over aesthetic. The first thing a user might notice is a different looking recent apps screen. Hit the key and you get a quick line of your most recently used applications, but at the bottom you see some icons for various extra functions. These are called Small Apps, and are Sony’s way of adding more multitasking within its user interface. While more can be installed from the Play Store, the ones installed include a calculator, note taker, and a quick timer. These are actually pretty useful ways of getting some tasks done quickly while you are in the middle of doing something else.
And finally, there is the Xperia/Playstation connection. This is one of the Playstation Certified devices and thus should be able to access and run content from Sony for gaming fun. I checked on the accessibility of such content and was able to install the dedicated Playstation Store app directly from Sony, but the games within did not include the ones I wanted to play (Tekken, for one). Even if just for the purposes of this test, I would have loved to put down a little bit of money to try out a Playstation game on a handheld like this, but I guess it isn’t meant to be – such titles are probably only available for the Xperia Play and PS Vita anyway. If you really want to try some of the (mostly) generic content available in the PSM Store, you can – but you might be better off just sticking to the Android tried-and-true classics.
So, with Small Apps and Playstation Certification, there is already some good added functionality and then the hope for future potential built into Sony’s version of Android Ice Cream Sandwich. It isn’t the most unique or even prettiest user interface out there, but it does get the job done and is, to its credit, simplistic enough to avoid being called ugly. Transitions between screens and functions are nice and smooth, so the navigation experience is far from flawed – there just isn’t enough to deem this a truly unique, truly Sony-esque way of using your phone.
And now we finally come to the part you’ve all been waiting for – well, at least I have. While this feature might have been already available in the Xperia acro S and the Xperia Active, I was given some affirmation to how much more effective the waterproofing is on this phone than those other two models. Apparently it isn’t only supposed to withstand a good splashing, but even a full immersion into a small body of water.
A couple videos found online show tests of the Xperia V in even a full cup of liquid, so I will go one step further and make this device go swimming with the fishes. Okay, I don’t actually have any fish; but I used to, and its former home will be the site of my waterproof test. Because of the depth this phone will go, I will shorten the 30 minute limit and let it go for 10 minutes.
Perhaps miraculously, the phone remained on and even played the next video in the playlist after my intro (see the video review for that). I turned off the screen timeout and watched as the phone remained powered on for the duration of its swim. This was awesome to watch and a lot of fun to do, as I even reached into the bowl at one point to wake up the phone again. Using the screen underwater, however, is not possible – the touch registration of the screen seems to be completely shut off once it knows it is submerged in water.
After taking out the phone, I was able to wake it back up get right into Fruit Ninja. Nearly all of my presses were registered flawlessly. I was able to get through a quick round even with the phone dripping wet and my fingers damp from the usage. This waterproofing is nothing short of a feat, and I am now very confident that even in the pouring rain or after an unfortunate spill at a restaurant or bar, a quick wipe down is all that is needed to get this phone back to tip top shape.
Price Point and Conclusion
I have to say that while much of what makes smartphones top-tier devices might not be included in the Sony Xperia V, there is an aspect to this phone I cannot deny – it is damn fun to use. From the looks alone, you are already getting a feeling of style from the Xperia V, and with its great camera and expandable memory, the possibilities for a media and photography person like me are quite endless.
It might not have the most updated Android OS or even have an interface that is completely unique, but the Xperia V totally makes up for these shortcomings by excelling in a number of other ways. And you have to admit, there is something really cool about knowing your phone can withstand a dip in a glass of water, a fish bowl, or even a pool. Those with butterfingers might truly appreciate a phone that can withstand some clumsy falls into puddles or spills on countertops.
All in all, I have to give the Xperia V a lot of credit for reminding me how good Sony can be at creating phones. This isn’t even the James Bond phone that many people are raging about, but I am just as jazzed about the V as they are. The camera reminds me of the days when I’d look at the new Sony Ericsson Cybershot phones and feel a lot of phone envy, the design is almost quintessentially Sony and is nothing short of sleek and stylish, and thus the overall package is definitely worth a look alongside our current Android champions.
The Xperia V is currently seeing a delay in Europe and some parts of Asia – it is unknown what kind of release it will see in the United States, if at all. Nonetheless, this phone is available unlocked at around $500 price point. We’ll cross our fingers that this very worthwhile release by Sony makes it to phone carriers in the States – and perhaps at that point the price will be a little be easier to handle. I do believe that the features the Xperia V excels in are worth the extra investment (especially when you are getting a phone with such great weather and splash sealing) but even I would have a difficult time stomaching such a high price point.
How about you? How does the Xperia V look to you? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to check out the video review, in which you can actually see me testing the phone’s waterproofing!