If the new Sony Xperia Go is telling us anything it's that rugged phones aren't what they used to be. With a slim, stylish high grade plastic chassis and dual-core processor, the Go is no slouch on the style or specs front. At £220 it's also competitively priced for a dual-core device. The question is, can the weatherproofed Go hold its own in a sea of similarly priced non-rugged smartphones or will a weeks worth of hard core Recombu usage leave it dead in the water?

Sony Xperia Go design image screen, Sony Xperia Go design image at angle, Sony Xperia Go design image close up screenSony Xperia Go: Design

Sporting a flat physique with a stepped lower end, the Xperia Go looks great and feels rich to the touch with its clean matte back cover. Looking markedly Sony, it’s cohesive with the rest of the 2012 line of NXTs, but differentiates itself with a slimmer 9.8mm form and sporty colour scheme, also available in a loud bumblebee yellow.

Sony Xperia Go design image - front, Sony Xperia Go design image - back, Sony Xperia Go design image back cover removed
The 3.5-inch display takes centre stage with three capacitive buttons below. All ports are housed under flaps, with the 3.5mm headphone jack to the left and microUSB port to the right. The power button is up at the top with a lanyard dock to the bottom right. While the battery isn’t removable, the back cover is, revealing a fantastic bright turquoise undercarriage on our white variant. This is where you’ll find the micro SD card slot and full sized SIM card slot.

For a tough phone, the Xperia Go is the best looker out there. Slim, rigid and loaded with character. In fact, even if it wasn’t a tough phone, we’d still say it was one of the stronger handsets in terms of design with its rich materials and quirky turquoise lining.

Sony Xperia Go: Screen

Sony Xperia Go HVGA screen close up, Sony Xperia Go HVGA screen zoomed in revealing pixels, Sony Xperia Go HVGA screen zoomed in more, revealing more pixels

As much as we love the Sony Xperia Go’s body, we aren’t loving the face. The 3.5-inch screen comes in at HVGA resolution. This means jagged diagonal lines and unsharp text when all you want is crisp smooth clarity. The Mobile Bravia Engine helps deliver a bright display for pretty decent outdoor viewability, but the fact is outside the rugged phone category, the resolution is sub-par at the £220 price point. In it's favour, it is nevertheless Gorilla Glass so will be able to take a scratch every now and then.

Sony Xperia Go: User Interface

As with the Sony Xperia U and P, inside the Xperia Go is Android 2.3.7, Gingerbread. This is now two versions of Android out of date, with Ice Cream Sandwich confirmed for the Go later in the year and no word of Jelly Bean of yet.

That said, Sony do tweak to the interface to help with the user experience. This involves live wallpapers with an attractive smokey effect, really charming themes and a host of custom widgets. With four constant shortcuts on your homescreen at the bottom of the display, it's easy to get to your apps quickly with stacking apps creating folders and endearing animations when moving or binning shortcuts or widgets.

Sony Xperia Go screenshot - home, Sony Xperia Go screenshot - apps, Sony Xperia Go screenshot - overview mode, Sony Xperia Go screenshot - settings

The Sony keyboard offers two input method - traditional typing or a Swype style method allowing you to trail your finger along the keys in order to make words. The latter works exceptionally well, accompanied by a charming ribbon animation.

This being a rugged phone, Sony have rammed the Xperia Go with a Fitness category of apps, including Adidas miCoach, WalkMate and Figure Running. These are fun additions to the Xperia Go’s app arsenal, but don’t remedy the fact that it’s still rocking Android 2.3, Gingerbread when last season’s Sony phones are stuffing their faces with Ice Cream Sandwich. 

Sony Xperia Go: Camera and Multimedia

5-megapixels with auto-focus seems to be about the standard in the price point of the Sony Xperia Go. In the face of the competition though, the Xperia Go is something of a throw back to last season's Androids. It has the same camera UI as found in the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc and Active. This isn't a bad thing, it's just less refined than the UI of the Xperia U.

Sony Xperia Go camera samples

Picture quality is ok compared to similarly priced Androids, but class leading in the rugged phone category alongside the Xperia Active. Noise  is, as with most camera phones, the main stumbling block. As you'll see from the sample images, the Go is able to capture some strong shots and get some good depth of field in macro, but you have to spoon feed it good light, a very steady hand and on occasion, a couple of attempts to get focus bang on. The on board flash lights things up nicely, but once again, can take multiple attempts to get the shot right.

Video on the Go is captured at 720p and funnily enough fares a bit better than photos in good lighting. The ample resolution coupled with smooth frame-rate means the Go's outdoor video should play back well on most TVs and monitors. Lower the lights though and noise naturally takes over, with the LED flash helping matters somewhat in close quarters.

The Sony Music player is charming, complete with Sony's custom widget. The speakers also utilise Sony's xLOUD technology making for audible ring tones and music playback that travels, despite being tinny at its upper levels.

In terms of video playback, no doubt thanks to its snappy processor, the Go plays files very well, even playing back HD content. Having said that, with the HVGA screen, there's little to be gained from loading HD videos on it unless you'll be sending them to a DLNA compatible HD display.

Sony Xperia Go: Connectivity and Storage

The Xperia Go is a rugged phone, so you won’t find bells and whistles such as an HDMI out and NFC chip. Don’t worry though, it still manages to deliver Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G and a GPS unit. There's is a 3.5mm headphone jack and the Go supports A2DP headphones for wireless Bluetooth playback.

Sony Xperia Go box image, Sony Xperia Go SIM card tray, Sony Xperia Go back cover removed

The 3.5-inch HVGA screen is anything but ideal for web browsing with text looking pixelated and un-optimised content being very clunky to navigate around. The dual-core processor does do a fine job of powering through though large sites though, remedying things somewhat.

As we pointed out earlier in our design section, there is a micro SD card slot under the back cover on the Xperia Go. It also packs 8GB of internal memory, 4GB of which is user available. This should suffice for casual music playback and the occasional video, though for anything more, pick up a microSD card.

Sony Xperia Go: Performance and Battery

Coupling the Sony Xperia Go with an HVGA screen is on the one hand a let down as we’ve said over and over. There is an upside to the low-res display though, and that comes in the form of speed. Less pixels means less strain on the more than ample 1GHz dual-core processor and more zoom zoom zoom on the Go Go Go. In turn, games play back smoothly with Riptide and even the new Batman Dark Knight Rises game delivering respectable frame-rates.

The 1350mAh battery on board the Go isn’t anything to rave about and is frankly speaking slightly underwhelming for a rugged phone. It will last a day which is standard for smartphones, but rugged smartphones like the Motorola DEFY MINI and even the Go’s predecessor, the Sony Ericcson Xperia Active last considerably longer.

Sony Xperia Go: Conclusion

Sony Xperia Go in glass of water 1, Sony Xperia Go in glass of water 2, Sony Xperia Go in glass of water 3

The Sony Xperia Go is therefore fine looking, easily the most handsome and powerful rugged phone out there. The fact its waterproof, able to deal with life’s little mishaps definitely adds a great USP to the mix. We’re not sure that this excuses the low resolution screen or out of date operating system, but the Xperia Go has plenty of appeal. In turn, anyone who wants a waterproof looker and can splash out £220 needn’t look elsewhere. If however you’re after the most premium Android experience £200 can buy, you may well be better served with the Xperia U.