Feature-packed mid-range camera
Limited internal storage;
Average battery life
Sony’s flagship Xperia Z phone is a premium five-inch slice of loveliness, but likely to be priced out of most people’s budget, hence a swift release of two more wallet-friendly models: the 4.6-inch Xperia SP, which costs a good chunk less but still rocks the same sleek design and excellent features, and this 4.3-inch Xperia L. The Xperia L is the baby of the bunch but still crams in a dual-core processor and eight megapixel camera, for around half the cost of the Xperia Z. Nifty.
Like the Xperia SP, the Xperia L sports an attractive and slightly chunky body with subtle curves and the same iconic aluminium power button sticking out of the right edge. The front panel is all glass, and separated from the plastic rear by a thin silver band. Although the glass front does get smudged up quite easily, the overall look is smart and the phone fits comfortably in your palm for one-handed use.
At 137g it’s also the lightest of the new Xperias, and we love how the back panel has a rubbery feel, which keeps it from slipping out of your grip. The rear prises off without much of a struggle (providing you know how), revealing the SIM card slot and Micro SD memory card slot beneath. You can also replace the battery if needed.
One of our favourite design features of the Xperia SP was the glowing light beneath the screen, which informs you of any waiting alerts. The Xperia L sports a similar indicator, which is certainly bright enough to get your attention – in fact, at night we had to bury the phone beneath our wallet, as the flash was so strong it practically lit up the room.
Cut back pixels
The Xperia L’s screen is one of the areas that’s been slashed compared to the Xperia Z and SP, to shave the cost. The 4.3-inch panel has a 480 x 854 resolution, giving it a much lower pixel density (just 228 pixels-per-inch, compared to the Xperia SP’s 319 and the Xperia Z’s 441).
However, while the visuals certainly lose some of that crisp, clean quality, the Xperia L’s display is far from garish. We happily took in full-length movies on our travels and photos are sharp enough to enjoy, although colours aren’t as rich or vibrant compared to some close rivals such as the Motorola Razr i and Nokia’s brilliant Lumia 720. On top brightness levels, the screen is strong enough to cut through sun glare.
The other area which has been cut down compared to the Xperia SP is the processor. The Xperia L still boasts a dual-core CPU, but it’s been scaled back from a 1.7GHz model to a measly 1GHZ. Thankfully this hasn’t had much of an impact, at least with current apps. Web browsing was a smooth and satisfying experience using Google Chrome, with pages loading quickly and no stuttering or other issues when scrolling around even mega-busy websites.
We also tried out some of the latest Android games, to test how the processor would handle more intensive tasks. Thankfully it was more than equal: even fast-paced action games were perfectly responsive. We didn’t notice any graphical glitches or other gremlins sneaking in, and frame rates were consistently high, so gamers looking for a mid-range device should be happy. Bear in mind, however, that you can find other dual core devices such as the Huawei Ascend G510 for a lot less cash.
Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean has been given the usual Sony once-over, with the wavy Xperia wallpaper in place and a slew of Sony apps and services pre-installed. Sony Select, for instance, recommends apps that you might enjoy, while Diagnostics tests your mobile for any potential issues and the Playstation Mobile app gives you access to Sony’s mobile games collection (compatible with the Vita handheld system). We particularly like the colourful Walkman app, a simple-to-use organiser and player for your music collection. Of course, you only get 4GB of internal storage, so you’ll need to invest in a memory card to carry your media around.
You can also use Sony’s Smart Connect app to quickly hook up with other Sony NFC devices. That means you can wirelessly stream music to your speakers, for instance, or control your TV using the Xperia L as a remote. Of course this ties you into Sony’s brand, but if you dream of a fully connected home, this is one way of doing it.
The Xperia SP lasted for over 24 hours with moderate use, and the Xperia L will happily repeat that - unlike the Xperia Z, which often died well before the day was done. If you’re punishing the Xperia L with games and video, expect it to die a lot sooner of course - when streaming movies, the Xperia L lasted around four and a half hours. If you’re looking for something that lasts well over a day between charges, the Huawei Ascend G510 is again a strong option.
Launching the Xperia L’s eight megapixel camera always took a number of seconds on our review model, and we’re hoping this delay won’t affect the final retail versions. Still, once it was ready for action, the camera performed well for a mid-range model. This despite the lack of Sony’s superb Superior Auto mode too (featured on the Xperia SP and Z).
Gently push on the physical shutter button, found on the right edge of the phone, and the lens focuses on your subject to keep it sharp, a process that takes roughly a second and produces particularly strong macro shots. You can then press the button all the way down to take the photo. When we browsed our photos on our PC, they looked just as good as they did on the phone’s screen. Detail levels are good, especially using HDR mode – there’s no obvious pixellation or other distortion – and colours such as grassy greens are realistically reproduced.
Sony has thrown in all kinds of extra features, including a self timer, smile shutter (photo takes automatically when a smile is detected), image stabiliser and a quick launch tool. The latter can be set up so the phone launches the camera app from hibernation when the shutter button is pressed. You also get a panorama mode, a number of lenses such as ‘Sketch’ (turn your photos into cartoons) and ‘Fisheye’, and the ability to shoot Full HD video. Rounding off the features is a front-facing lens for portrait shots or Skype chats.
Sony’s Xperia L is the most affordable of the new Xperia generation, and although it strips away some fantastic features such as Superior Auto camera mode, it still packs in some good stuff for its mid-range price. The stripped-back processor copes admirably with the latest apps and games, as well as everyday tasks such as web browsing, and the capable eight megapixel camera is laden with features. However, the likes of Huawei’s Ascend G510 offers just as much plus longer battery life for even less cash.