The Sony Xperia J takes on the mid-range smartphone market head-on with its £200 pricepoint, but don't curb your expectations - £200 can get you quite a lot these days. What does the Xperia J bring to the table? A very stylish chassis for starters. Add to that a 5-megapixel camera with auto-focus and flash not to mention a pin-sharp 4-inch WVGA screen with a pixel density akin to the new iPad and things are looking promising. Definitely one of the slickest handsets in the price-range, but will the single-core 1GHz processor dampen its appeal?
Sony Xperia J - Design
Arguably the most refined looking handset for the price, the Sony Xperia J feels like the true successor to the Sony Xperia arc S. With a soft touch back it's brought the arc styling into 2012 and thanks to bold, sliced angles created at the base and top it sports an edginess missing from most mid-rangers.
The soft touch is comfortable to hold and the phone feels rich despite being light. The power button and volume rocker are the only buttons you'll find on the Xperia J and they're all located on the right hand side. Thanks to the reasonable size, all are easily accessible one handed, though the power button is small and hard to press.
Flourishes include the glossy chrome-like banding around the phone and the theme sensitive colour changing LED at the base. Not quite as rife with character as the Xperia Miro, it nevertheless lets you make your smartphone a little more you.
Sony Xperia J - Screen
Another area the Sony Xperia J triumphs over the £200 competition is screen performance. It's sharp, packs great whites, good colour reproduction, superb viewing angles and is responsive to the touch. 4-inches should be manageable for most and the wide WVGA resolution means its aspect ratio will be very well suited to movie playback.
Bright sunlight shines a light on perhaps its only real shortcoming - outdoor viewability, but this isn't a deal breaker by any means. When factoring in the Xperia J's competition, only the HTC Desire X offers a better outdoor viewing experience for the price.
Sony Xperia J - User Interface
Having Android 4.0 is still a noteworthy perk when found on entry level devices, however with mid-rangers, it's pretty much what we'd expect. Fortunately, the Xperia J doesn't disappoint with the same version of Sony's user interface found on the likes of the Sony Xperia Miro.
This means 5 home screens, smart widgets, silky themes and oodles of slickness, showcased exceptionally well on the 4-inch WVGA panel. Many of the Sony widgets are really useful, but they are practically all deployed across the homescreens when the phone's taken out of the box. Accordingly, the poor 1GHz processor is ground to a halt when thumbing through the user interface.
Not everyone will get rid of the stock widgets and personalise their phones, leaving them with an extremely sub-par, staggered experience from the offset which is a crying shame. The app drawer is a stuttery, the widget overview the same and the degree of smoothness throughout the UI is at odds with the beautiful, sharp screen the J offers and the Sony polish we're used to on the likes of the NXT series and Xperia T.
The Sony keyboard helps pick things up. With the included Swype style text entry coupled with the sizeable display, you can achieve some decent speeds and customise everything pretty extensively. Still, it's far from a saving grace.
Sony Xperia J - Camera and Multimedia
The Sony Xperia J has a 5-megapixel auto-focus camera with a single LED flash. It's good, well specced for the price and with it's pretty comprehensive UI, does a decent job of giving you a simplified Sony camera experience.
Picture taking is a little slow to focus, though no where near as bad as on the ZTE Grand X for example - another £200 contender. Focus is also on point with pictures looking out nice and sharp. The default focus mode is single autofocus which is terrible unless you centre everything you shoot. Jump into the settings and change to touch to focus before you take your first shot.
As mentioned, pictures look nice and sharp. Macro detail is strong and some attractive depth of field can be achieved. Noise handling is also ok which coupled with the on board flash keeps things competitive. The J falls down when it comes to exposure. Occasionally it felt like exposure locked, making the scene either too dark or light. This works for atmospheric images such as the lamps up above, but isn't so great when you're shooting people. Not the best £200 shooter therefore, but still respectable in spite of its shortcoming.
Video is recorded at VGA resolution. Despite packing continuous focus and ok detail for the resolution, It doesn't look particularly good on the phone given the wide WVGA screen producing some very hefty letter boxing. Viewing video on the J, even at VGA resolution such as that recorded on it is a conflicted experience. On the one hand - great screen. On the other - stuttery frame rate.
Using the phone as an MP3 player is altogether less hampered. With 2GB of user available memory out of the box and a micro SD card slot as well as a centrally located 3.5mm headphone jack up at the top it's fit for purpose. The on board music player is top notch and apps like Spotify run relatively smoothly, benefiting from the large display. Audio quality is good through the 3.5mm headphone jack and loudspeaker, though it's worth bearing in mind that the J doesn't come with headphones out of the box.
Sony Xperia J - Connectivity and Storage
Sony pump the Xperia J with most of the connections you'll want from your mid-range smartphone. These include 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth. With handy tools like an SMS and data counter, they make it easy for you to stay on top of your expenditure.
The stock browser isn't half bad and Google's Chrome browser found on the market is even better, so the Xperia J gives you two great ways to get online. The screen resolution really helps make text reading a pleasure, though the panning, pinching and general browsing isn't as fast as it should be thanks to the single core CPU.
As mentioned, the ample 2GB of user available storage on board puts the J in a good position given the fact it's expandable by an additional 32GB via micro SD card. The micro SD card slot resides under the back cover next to the full sized SIM card slot and the phone is powered by a side loaded micro USB port.
Sony Xperia J - Performance and Battery
It's all really been leading to this. Performance. If you haven't guessed already, we're considerably more underwhelmed here than we'd hoped. At £150, the 1GHz CPU would have made the Xperia J a true contender, but at £200 we have to compare it to other £200 devices - The Sony Xperia U, the HTC Desire X, the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 - all dual-core, all able to handle the ICS on board. Unfortunately - and in contrast - the J shows signs of strain out of the box with UI stutter and video playback choppiness.
Well optimised games like Asphalt 7 playback well, but don't expect the same levels of optimisation from all apps, or all aspects of the interface.
A saving grace for the J however is its 1750 mAh battery. This is massive given the humble processor and reasonable screen size. Will it last a day? Try two. Call quality is average. There have been reports of poor left handed reception, but we weren't able to replicate this. Volume is decent though clarity could be better.
Sony Xperia J - Conclusion
We find it hard to recommend the Xperia J despite its design, screen quality, camera and battery life. It doesn't do Android justice coupling mid-range positioning with a 1GHz single core processor. Even the highlights - screen quality for example - are let down by the stuttery UI and general lacklustre performance. We're not confident it will cope with a 24 month contract. If all you want from your smartphone is a great looking device, a bit of casual browsing and an MP3 player, then the Xperia J could well suffice at the right price, however for anything more it might be worth considering the slightly less pretty, considerably more capable HTC Desire X.
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