Sony's NXT line has been taken to like Marmite thanks to the uniform look and feel across its range. Consisting of the Sony Xperia S, Xperia P and Xperia U all offer a trademark combination of bold corners, curvaceous backing and transparent banding around the base. Of all the NXTs, the baby is the Sony Xperia U and that's the Xperia on review today, with its 3.5-inch WVGA screen, 1GHz dual-core processor and 5-megapixel camera with LED flash, not too shabby for the low-ender costing around £200, but how does it stack up against the competition?

Sony Xperia U: Design

With its plastic design and small form factor, the Sony Xperia U is the most pocketable Xperia in terms of sheer surface area however it's got some girth to it at 12mm thick. Despite being affordable, it feels well put together and solid while also being light and comfortable to hold.

As with the Xperia S, there are three icons at the bottom of the fascia in the transparent strip. These have coresponding capacitive dots above. Counter-intuitive, these can be a tad fiddly, with initial instinct taking our fingers to the icon rather than the dot, however after a few misfires, we got used to it.

With a removable back cover, the battery is replaceable and there's also a full-sized SIM card slot along the side unlike the rest of the line which use micro SIMS. Sadly though, the Xperia U doesn't offer expandable storage.

Finally, personalisation. The Sony Xperia U isn't just a solid performer with some smart design, it's also the NXT designed to add flair to your phone. First up, the base below the transparent strip is replaceable with coloured variants available, pink and yellow to be precise with murmurs of more colours down the line.

Next, our favourite feature differentiating the U aesthetically from its siblings, the colour picking illuminating strip at the base. The what where when? If viewing an image, the Xperia U will select a highlight colour and the strip will display it. Scroll to the camera section below for an example with the red from the rose being reiterated by the U's light.

Sony Xperia U: Screen

Measuring 3.5-inches, while compared to many other Android phones, the Xperia U's screen might sound small, though the reality is it's no smaller than an iPhone. Packing LCD technology, it offers WVGA resolution which makes for a very sharp picture given the Xperia U's pricing and position as the lowest end NXT device.

Sony Xperia U: User Interface

Inside the Sony Xperia U, as with the Xperia P and S is Android 2.3.7, Gingerbread - an out of date version of Android is never great news.

That said, Sony tweak to the user interface to help with the user experience on the Xperia U. This involves live wallpapers with an attractive smokey effect 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 charming animations when moving or binning shortcuts or widgets.

 

Themes are a point of note on the Xperia U as they are more pervasive than on the other NXT phones. Depending on the colour scheme of your theme, the transparent bar at the base of the Xperia U will light up with a different accent.

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 as found on the Sony Xperia S.
 

Despite the user interface being heavy and too much bloatware on board, everything comes together looking slick and working smoothly. Our closing sentiment regarding the UI would be: good, but hurry up Sony, Ice Cream Sandwich soon please.

Sony Xperia U: Camera and multimedia

Also inside the Sony Xperia U is a 5-megapixel Sony sensor with an LED flash and everything you need to get recording 720p video. Complete with Sony's fantastic camera user interface as found on the Sony Xperia S and Sony Xperia P, this 5-megapixel camera phone offers a host of focus modes, image customisations and preset scenes to make your pictures look better.

If you find the camera button a touch fiddly to press, simply use the on-screen shutter. Once you do, you'll be surprised at the quality of photos you can get on the U. Focusing nice and close, the U doesn't pack the same wide angle that its bigger brothers do but it does perform well in macro. What's more, for a 5-megapixel camera phone, detail is impressive in good lighting.

Colours have a tendency to look a little dull at times, and unfortunately when light goes down, image grain goes up. That said, there is an LED flash to help deal with those situations, just don't expect it to light up a room. You can click the sample grid above to get a better idea of just how the Sony Xperia U camera performs.

Video is shot at 720p and looks good. Framerate is a smooth 30fps and continuous focus is on-point. As with the photo mode, lower the lights and there's noise in your video, but no more so than any other handset in the price-range.

Sony Xperia U: Connectivity and Storage

Despite not packing all the bells and whistles of the Sony Xperia S and P such as an HDMI out and NFC, the Sony Xperia U still manages to deliver all the Android standards which will be enough for the majority of smartphone users such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G and a GPS unit. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack and the U supports A2DP headphones for wireless playback.

The story of storage isn't quite so favourable unfortunately, with 8GB total and shy of 4GB user available. This is a real let down for anyone in need of a lot of movies or music. That said, it will more than suffice for  casual music playback and YouTube streaming.

Sony Xperia U: Performance and Battery

A dual-core smartphone for around £200, the Sony Xperia U is in our minds one of the best value handsets out there. More powerful than the more expensive HTC One V, it's equally as appealing if not more so with its customisations and handles Sony's somewhat heavy user interface admirably. 

Transitions are smooth, the screen is responsive and it even powers a custom launcher without much in the way of juddering, great for a phone available for as little as £15 per month. Call quality is solid, though not the best out there and the on board speaker gets tinny when you ramp up the volume.

As far as battery life goes, the 1300 mAh cell on the Sony Xperia U does a great job of keeping it juiced up for a day and then some. With little use, you'll easily get over two days out of the Xperia U and if hammering it with background sync, you're looking at closer to one or two days.

Sony Xperia U: Conclusion

The Sony Xperia U rounds off our reviews of the Xperia NXT range and ends the line up on a high. It really is the little Xperia that could with its sharp LCD screen, dual-core processor and decent camera. While the screen might be too small for some, at 3.5-inches, it's iPhone sized which seems to work for millions. Our only two major gripes with the Sony Xperia U are internal storage and gone off Gingerbread. Those aside, the Xperia U makes for a great MP3 playing, dual-core swiping, Android apping treat and offers something fresh with its illuminating strip and swappable end.

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