Let me get the cold, hard, blunt bit out of the way: I don’t know why the Sony Xperia P exists. I know the market it’s aiming for, but I don’t know why Sony wants to go there. I’ve been using the handset for the past week for the purpose of this review, but it’s left me with more questions than answers. Chief among which: has Sony forgotten how to be Sony?
The Xperia P has arrived as one of what seems to be an endless stream of Xperia handsets. Sony’s efforts to bring its mobile dealings in-house by buying out Ericsson’s stake seems to have left it with a renewed sense of energy, and Xperia phones have been flying out of the factory gates rapidly as a result.
The Xperia S is the flagship; the daddy. Our review of that phone was mixed, thanks to some shonky design choices and the fact that it didn’t launch with Android 4.0 at a time when rival HTC was launching its Ice Cream Sandwich juggernauts. Then there’s the Xperia U, the Xperia Go, Xperia Sola and soon the Xperia GX. Sony’s covering all the bases, but when you do that, there’s always going to be some things that hit the wall and don’t stick. I think the Xperia P is that.
The standard review bit
On paper, the Sony Xperia P is every bit the middle man it’s meant to be. The specs are top end for last year or 18 months ago, but will likely put the more discerning tech buyer off. A dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9 processor beats away behind the 4-inch display, which is bright and impressive thanks to both Sony’s WhiteMagic technology and Mobile Bravia Engine.
It’s running Android 2.3 like all its Xperia brethren, but it’s on the list of imminent upgrades. The camera’s not brilliant, but it won’t offend anyone, while the grunt inside means the performance is reasonable, despite some classic Android swiping lag on the home screens.
The build and design is actually, to my eyes, better and more polished than the Xperia S. It looks less prototype-y than its larger sibling, is available in a couple of nice colours and is, in my opinion, the optimum size for a phone. That’s a very subjective matter, though and one I’ve delved into at length here. You also get HDMI output and the cable with which to do it in the box, which is always a nice option to have for showing photos and the like on your TV.
Ok, so I like the Xperia S to an extent. But I don’t think that extent is very large, because it… Well, it just shouldn’t be. Let me explain: Sony is a premium technology brand. It always has been. Look at its TVs, laptops or HiFi equipment. Bravia and Vaio are sub-brands that tend to sit in the very top tier of their markets.
Ericsson was never a premium phone brand, but I assumed that Sony’s buyout meant that it was planning to turn Xperia – a branch of handsets that sat across every budget – into a proper Sony property. A small set of premium Sony products.
But that’s not what it’s done. It’s copying Samsung by making one of absolutely everything. I can see why; Samsung’s hardly suffered from its multitude of handsets, has it? It’s the number one smartphone maker in the world now, and rightly so, but what works for one doesn’t always work for another.
Here’s the point: Samsung is Android’s most premium manufacturer by default. The Galaxy S3 resides over the rest because of its specs. It’s actual design and build? Not so much. Sony has a chance here to leverage all its strengths and become, for want of a better analogy, the iPhone of the Android market. It could make the Mac Daddy Google phone – hewn from better materials, with Bravia screens, the Walkman brand and brilliant connections to both TVs and Laptops. It could be a monster.
The Xperia S was Sony’s first stab at this, and it didn’t quite get there. But whether subsequent phones do or don’t is largely irrelevant when the Xperia brand is also represented by phones at the bottom, middle-bottom, middle and middle-top markets. That sullies Sony’s reputation, and stops it from ever being the go-to brand for high-end Android as a result.
I can’t exactly hear the sound of Sony’s HR people rushing towards my door, job offers in hand, but if I was to step in as Sony CEO for the day my commands would be simple: scrap anything less than flagship, and just focus on making one, truly brilliant Android handset. The one that not everyone can afford, but that everyone will want. That’s the hero that Android deserves.
The Sony Xperia P isn’t a bad phone by a long shot, and will, I suspect make a section of customers very happy. But if you’re looking at Sony as a company – as a whole – I don’t know why the P exists, and I almost wish it didn’t. It’s just not as special as a Sony product traditionally should be.