- Attractive screen
- Expandable storage
- User friendly OS
- Limited performance
- No fingerprint sensor
Our Sony Xperia L1 review takes a close look at one of Sony’s most affordable phones of 2017. With its simple specs but typical Sony design, is the Xperia L1 a smart choice for anyone on a budget?
Sony Mobile has released a full range of handsets so far in 2017, offering a smartphone for pretty much any kind of budget. From the pricey Xperia XZ Premium (which boasts a 4K HDR screen) down to the great-value (and stunning) Xperia XA1, chances are you’ll find a Sony blower that’ll meet your everyday needs - without blowing the bank balance.
Even those on a strict budget are now catered for, with the UK release of the Xperia L1. This Sony handset cost just £150 SIM-free, making it even cheaper than the Xperia XA1. The L1 is a direct rival to the likes of the Moto G5, Lenovo P2 and Huawei P8 Lite 2017, offering a full smartphone experience for under £200.
So is the Sony Xperia L1 worth your time and cash? Here’s our in-depth review.
Read next: Best Sony phones you can buy in 2017
Sony Xperia L1 review: Design
Although the Xperia L1 is one of the most affordable phones in Sony’s current catalogue, you still get some flashes of the Japanese giant’s typical design language. That iconic, sharp rectangular finish is similar to the Xperia XZ and XZ Premium’s frame. The top and bottom edges might not be completely flat, while the Xperia L1’s body is of course constructed from plastic, but at least the handset clearly belongs to the Sony Mobile family.
One-handed use is a bit tricky as this budget blower is a mighty 5.5-incher. Combine that spacious screen with the thick bezels above and below the display, and you’re definitely better off with two hands at all times. Still, using a single mitt is just about manageable in a pinch.
The Xperia L1 isn’t water resistant, matching most other budget mobiles under the £200 price point. Neither is that plastic finish particularly durable. After just 24 hours of (admittedly constant) use, the rear end already had a permanent scar etched into the surface. If you grab an L1 of your own, you’ll want to treat it with serious respect to keep it looking fresh.
The SIM card and microSD memory card slip into hidden slots, which are concealed behind a pull-out flap. This flap is pretty discrete and stays firmly in place when not in use.
Sony Xperia L1 review: Screen and media
At 5.5-inches, this budget blower sports the same screen size as the considerably-more-expensive Xperia XZ Premium. Of course, you don’t get those same luscious 4K visuals or HDR support here, as you’d hopefully expect. Neither do you get the Full HD resolution of the Moto G5, which costs about the same.
Rather, Sony has gone with a basic 720p HD IPS screen for the Xperia L1. While that means images are less crisp than those produced by Motorola’s rival, you’ll still have to squint to make out individual pixels. High-def movies and photos look good, with eye-pleasing colour reproduction (considering the cost). Viewing angles are solid, while the maximum brightness is also strong.
Sony’s Super Vivid Mode and X-Reality engine are missing in action here, which isn’t a surprise considering the Xperia L1’s budget roots. Still, they aren’t particularly missed, as that panel is still fine for consuming media on the move. Especially given its spacious size, which makes for comfortable viewing.
Audio is pumped out from a dinky speaker on the phone’s bottom edge. Quality isn’t too hot, with most music sounding like a distorted, tinny mess at any kind of volume. Still, it’s fine for watch YouTube videos without the use of headphones.
If you prefer to carry around a big media collection on your phone, rather than streaming from the likes of Spotify and Netflix, the Xperia L1 will suit just fine. Although you only get a paltry 16GB of storage space (with 6 gigs already used up by the OS), you can slot in microSD memory cards up to 256GB in size. Plenty of room for your music and movie collection.
Sony Xperia L1 review: Features and OS
Android Nougat has been jazzed up with Sony’s Unified Design overlay, to set the Xperia L1 apart from every other Android handset out there. This adds some extra functionality and a consistent theme which matches the colour of the hardware.
On other Xperias this includes a funky animated wallpaper, which swirls as you skip around your desktops. The Xperia L1 isn’t up to the challenge however, with its basic performance (more on that later). So instead, you just get a static wallpaper.
Still, Sony’s built-in interactive tutorial is present and correct, helping smartphone noobs to learn about every aspect of their mobile. You don’t get too much crapware pre-installed either, although this does include some duplicate apps. For instance, you not only have Google Photos for viewing your snaps, but also Sony’s Album app.
Sadly there’s no fingerprint sensor on the Xperia L1, even though much cheaper alternative handsets such as the Vodafone Smart N8 sport one. Instead you’ll have to rely on a PIN, secret pattern or Google’s smart unlock feature. This allows you to bypass the traditional security barriers if the phone detects a trusted Bluetooth device, well-known GPS location and so on.
Sony Xperia L1 review: Performance and battery life
With a basic Mediatek 6737 chipset on-board, backed by just 2GB of memory, the Xperia L1 is designed for quite simple everyday tasks.
Web browsing, messaging, messing around on social media. All reasonably smooth on the L1, although occasionally an app will take a little while to load or the phone will suddenly stammer. However, when you attempt something more extravagant such as a spot of gaming or multitasking with two apps at once, you’ll notice some serious slowdown. If you’re a fairly demanding user, you’ll be better off with the Xperia XA1 (which sports a slightly more beefy Mediatek chipset and an extra gig of RAM).
As for battery life, you can rest assured that the Xperia L1 delivers a full day of use, even with constant fiddling. Get stuck into lots of web browsing, camera use and messaging and you should still make it to bedtime before plugging the L1 in.
If you’re really struggling and need to squeeze every drop of life from the Xperia L1, Sony has included the usual Stamina modes. These cull the most power-hungry features and apps, to stretch your remaining time.
Sony Xperia L1 review: Cameras
The Xperia L1 sports a basic 13-megapixel Sony snapper on the rear end, with an f/2.2 aperture lens and single LED flash. You also get a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, again with f/2.2 aperture. Both of these cameras are capable of shooting up to Full HD resolution video.
For our in-depth thoughts and plenty of photo and video samples, check out our Xperia L1 camera review.
Sony Xperia L1 review: Verdict
The Xperia L1 is your typical budget blower, offering some slick Sony styling for the £150 asking price. In some areas it lags behind rivals such as the Moto G5, especially when it comes to performance, while the camera tech isn’t quite as strong either. However, the capable screen, expandable storage and user-friendly interface combine for a satisfying everyday experience.
- Android 7.0
- 1.45GHz MediaTek Quad Core 64bit MT6737T
- 16GB + microSD