Sony Xperia Go

The Sony Xperia Go wants to be the action phone in your life. It bears some of the hallmarks of Sony Ericsson, with that company's roundel on the rear, but otherwise comes decked out like the latest Sony Mobile devices.

But does this Android handset offer you anything you can't get elsewhere? Has there been a compromise in making this phone tough, or is a respectable almost mid-range device worth considering?

Design

The Xperia Go is rather conventional for a "tough" gadget. Often the indicator of this hardcore breed of devices is brash styling, exposed bolts and the likes. In the case of the Xperia Go, the cover, in this case yellow, sits over the sealed internals.

The biggest indicator of the hardy stature of the Xperia Go falls to the port covers that protect the Micro-USB and 3.5mm headphone jack holes. This presents a physical barrier against water and dust ingress, and on removal of a connector you'll get a pop-up reminder telling you to close the flap.

Under the back cover, the microSD card slot is similarly protected, while the SIM card tray slides safely into the body, so there's little to see under the covers. You can't access the battery, because this is part of the encased structure that lies beneath the back cover.

We like the vivid colours used, the blue internals contrasting with the yellow cover: it reminds us of the trick used by HTC on the HTC HD Mini and HTC Desire C recently, so when a flap is open, you get that flash of internal colour.

Measuring 111 x 60.3 x 9.8mm and weighing only 110g, the Xperia Go is certainly small enough and light enough to take on the run, or just slip into your pocket.

It feels solidly constructed and there is little sign of creaking or flex as you handle the phone. The finish is a little slippery, but unlike large devices, the size makes it easy to hold the Xperia Go securely in your hand.

The layout of controls is conventional enough: a top power/standby button and a volume rocker on the side make up the physical buttons, with three touch controls - back, home, menu - sitting across the bottom of the display.

The location of the headphone port might annoy some as it's on the side. This is a bit of a nuisance when you put the phone in your pocket, but should you choose to use the included arm strap to listen to music when running, then it works nicely.

Display and hardware

The Sony Xperia Go has a 3.5-inch display on the front, with a less than average 480 x 320 pixels. It's here the Xperia Go reveals how it hits the affordable £229 price, as this is an entry-level resolution on a modern smartphone. That gives you 164ppi, which is low by current standards.

It means that things don't look as sharp or as refined as they do on other handsets: the fonts aren't as crisp, there isn't as much punch to images and you'll have to zoom in and out of web pages to get to all the details.

The display offers auto brightness (not always a given from Sony) and in this case you can change the level with the slider too, so if you prefer a brighter display, you can have it. It isn't a hugely bright display, however, and we found that in bright sunshine things were difficult to make out.

Some displays don't work with wet fingers, but the Xperia Go isn't fussed about being wet. We tested it in the rain and found it to be perfectly usable. We also dunked the phone in several pints during testing, as well as dropping it in the bath (an accident, honest) and we can say the Xperia Go certainly doesn't mind getting wet.

Sitting inside the protected body of the Xperia Go is a 1GHz dual-core NovaThor chipset, which means the Xperia Go has a fair amount of raw power. Unfortunately the experience is slightly tempered by the 512MB of RAM, typical of an affordable handset but it won’t make for the best overall experience, with some evident lag when opening apps.

The 8GB of internal space offers only 4GB to fill with your own content, but this can be easily expanded with a microSD card. Elsewhere you get the normal connectivity. NFC isn't present on this model, but that doesn't come as a surprise.

The battery will just about see you through a working day, but we found that to extend into the evening you'll need to give the Xperia Go a little top-up. This is entirely typical, but being a sealed unit, there's no option for a spare battery.

The Sony experience

Given the price and the specification, the Xperia Go sets off to a respectable start. It falters slightly when you hit the software however. The Xperia Go launches on Android 2.3, Gingerbread, setting it a couple of paces off the latest release.

We'd like to see Ice Cream Sandwich in there to bring the phone up to date and given that other models are launching with Android 4.0, it's a surprise that Sony Mobile hasn't stepped up faster. Sony has confirmed that it's coming, but we don't have a date yet.

But beyond the core Android experience, Sony has modified just about everything in its skinning of the Xperia Go, as it has on the Sony NXT phones released earlier in the year. The results divide opinion; in some cases, Sony's skin adds features; in others it makes something clean and simple overly fussy.

Core Android features almost survive unsullied: Gmail, Google Maps and so on, which operate as independent apps, are as you'd expect, while calendar and contacts both get skinned. The calendar feels a little inflexible compared to the stock Android version and we're not sold on the dark background and inability to assign different colours to different calendars.

Sony's alteration to the apps tray also seems a little wasteful in terms of space, although it offers up a number of options for ordering apps - and lets you remove apps simply and easily.

But outside of some of these negatives, we like the adoption of a five-space launcher, which mimics what you would find in Ice Cream Sandwich. This lets you customise the launcher to your liking, dropping in your favourite apps or creating folders.

There is a range of Sony widgets on offer supporting Sony's apps, which include the TimeScape social network integrator that we've generally found isn't worth using over the standard Twitter or Facebook apps. You'll also find Sony's music and video services bundled in, should you wish to use them.

Fitting the active remit of the Xperia Go, the phone comes equipped with miCoach, Adidas's sports app, which works in partnership with the website, along with a walking tracker and a few other fun apps. There is nothing too revolutionary and they don't represent a reason to buy the phone in their own right.

Sony Mobile has also tweaked the keyboard. It's a reasonable effort, but feels a little slow to respond at times. We hate constantly to come back to the same point, but moving straight into a third-party keyboard will offer a better experience and is possibly the first port of call for anyone looking to buy this phone.

Sony hasn't tweaked the notifications area, so you won't find shortcuts for power controls or through to settings or anything else. As the Go runs Gingerbread, you won't get access to notifications from the lock screen, or the ability to swipe them away to dismiss them.

Entertainment and media

Of course you'll also want to use your phone to keep you entertained. We've mentioned Sony's music and video offerings which sit alongside Google's own entertainment services. The biggest downside of the Go is the low screen resolution, which means video doesn't look great.

Whether it's internal video you've shot on the camera or streamed from something like BBC iPlayer, things never look very sharp. But the important thing is that they play without issue as this phone does have some power. You also have the ability to "play to" a different device, if you have compatible hardware.

The stock music player has been tweaked and although the player interface is reasonable enough, we're not totally sold on the My Music tab, which wastes space with a graphic depicting a record - space that on a device with a screen this small could be much better used.

The sound quality is good though. The bundled headphones in the box are sports headphones, with the option of ear hooks to keep them secure on the run. Whether you want them or not will come down to personal preference and you'll get better audio performance from better headphones.

The music player gives you controls from the lock screen so you can skip tracks, but you get a link back to the music player only from the notifications area.

Overall it's a reasonable performer for this price and specification, but the screen resolution lets things down a little and this won't be the best choice if you are interested in playing the latest mobile games. That said, most casual games run just fine.

Cameras

We've been impressed with the attention to detail that Sony Mobile has put into the cameras on its devices. There is a 5-megapixel camera on the rear of the Xperia Go, which offers autofocus and an LED flash.

Focusing is one of the things we're keen on, because one of the options is a neat multi-point focusing which is very much like a compact camera. It makes precise focusing much more definite as you know what's in focus and what isn't - a real benefit when the display doesn't give the clarity of the most recent larger HD displays.

It is a little slow on the capture, losing out on the speed that top-tier Android smartphones now offer. There is a quick capture option, however. The Sony NXT devices offer a dedicated camera button and in lieu of this hardware solution, the Xperia Go offers a quick capture method right from the lock screen.

Swiping the screen lock to the left will unlock, launch the camera, focus and grab your shot. It takes about a second to complete, using the camera's quick mode. It's a little more basic because it uses only centre focusing, but it means a quick snap is possible. Be aware that if you have security in place you'll have to bypass that before anything happens, so you lose the speed advantage.

The results from the camera are pretty good. Give the Xperia Go ideal conditions and you'll get some nice shots in return. Noise is something of a problem and when the light drops things get soft and noisier, but that's typical. In bright conditions things start to wash out a little too.

In addition to a choice of focusing modes, there is a smile shutter that snaps a shot as you gurn at the lens. We're not sure it's designed for self-portraits, but in the absence of a front-facing camera and no button, it makes them easier to grab. You also get various 3D sweep capture options, a regular from Sony.

On the video front the Xperia Go offers 1280 x 720 capture, so qualifies for that HD tag. Again you get focusing options, with face detection in there to keep faces sharp, straight continuous autofocus and infinity focus, the last the best option if you have lots moving in the scene and don't want the focus shifting all the time.

The nice thing about the camera is that the phone's waterproofing means you can take that shot whenever you want, come rain or shine.

Verdict

The Android market is stuffed full of phones with plenty of options on offer. The Sony Xperia Go sits somewhere just below the mid range. The dual-core processor is welcomed, but the low screen resolution is somewhat prehistoric and limited RAM doesn't really help. 

It needs an update to Android to bring in the latest convenience features and Sony's OS isn't as refined as that from HTC or Samsung, but a dab of app magic here and there will make it do pretty much all you want.

The unique selling point about the Go is its environmental protection. Sure, drop it face down and you still have an expanse of screen to smash, but if you spend your time outdoors, worried about the wet, but don't want a bulky phone, then the Xperia Go might just do that for you.

The yellow version we reviewed was met equally with jubilation and disgust, but the practicalities of taking photos in the rain or just in the bath give this little phone some charm. It's tough, but not overtly so. It's capable, but not overly so.

Ultimately, the Sony Xperia Go doesn't offer the best Android experience out there, but it serves up most of what you want to do, in whatever conditions, with little complaint.



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