Messaging and Contacts
Another tweak Sony hasn't made is to the Contacts and dialler page. You get predictive dialling, where it matches both number and name as you type, and it’s a cinch to import and synchronise your Google, Facebook and twitter contacts. However, you don't get that next level of integration where pictures and status updates from your friends actually appear in their contact page – Windows Phone People Hub this is not. You'll have to jump into the respective apps to catchup on your friend's goings on.
Despite the relatively small screen and what looks like it isn't the easiest to use onscreen keyboard, the typing experience is very good. The phone responds quickly, keeping up with our fast typing, and more often than not it correctly guesses what word we're after. Being Android you can of course just install your favourite alternative keyboard.
When it comes to the SMS and email apps, we had no concerns – they're simple and easy to use.
Web browsing is likewise something that threw up few concerns. The browser's fast, renders pages properly and all the key features you need are easily accessible thanks to menus appearing from the bottom rather than the top of the screen, putting them within easy thumb reach. What's more, being as this phone uses an older version of Android, it still has Adobe Flash support, unlike Android 4.1. The only points of contention are that there are no dedicated onscreen buttons for Back and Forward, with the browser instead relying on the hardware back button and a trip to the menu for Forward.
Otherwise we're looking at fairly standard Android apps. Google Maps and Navigation, Facebook, Twitter, Clock, Gallery, Fm Radio, Alarm, YouTube. All are present and correct and easy to use too. Jump into the Google Play App store and you can add a plethora more.
As is mostly the case with Android phones you don't need to run any extra software to drag and drop a few music, picture and video files (or whatever else for that matter) onto the phone, so it's easy to chop and change your tunes, not matter whose PC you're using.
Music playback is the usual basics of mp3s and wmvs with no fancy flac support or such like, but you can download apps that will support almost any file type. Playback quality is also good, with no background hiss and a generally pleasing tone, with plenty of volume on offer. As we've come to expect from Sony, the included earphones are also a step above your average, though still nothing spectacular.
It's a similar story for video with native playback support being fairly mediocre but with the help of a few apps you can play just about any file that's 720p resolution or lower. The 4in screen doesn't quite have the tablet-replacing impact of larger phones but it's enough that you can happily watch an episode of something on the way to work.
The gallery is essentially the standard Google one, which isn't all that clever – the gallery is one app that really benefited from the 4.x updates. But, if shows your pictures and has easy access to share facilities.
When it comes to taking your own pictures, the Sony Xperia P has an 8MP camera with autofocus, an LED flash and dedicated shutter button, and it can shoot 1080p video too. All that sounds like it should make for a phone that's great as a reliable out and about snapper. However, while mostly very good, it isn't perfect.
The mere fact it packs in 8MP means you can capture a decent amount of detail in your shots, and colour reproduction in good lighting is nice too. However, it doesn't cope with difficult lighting conditions as well as the iPhone 4S in particular. Low light shooting is also a step below the best thanks to a relatively weak LED flash. It's comparable to most of those of last year's phones but a step below the best now. The shutter button is also a tad stiff leading to wobbly shots as you press too hard, and there aren't many built in fun effects.
Nonetheless, the core abilities are decent and with a very easy to use sweep panorama and 3D sweep panorama mode (you can view the latter on your 3D TV using the microHDMI socket), there's enough here to keep us happy.
Video recording has much the same pros and cons with reasonable quality and ease of use but not much in the way of fun extras.
It's clear then that the Xperia P isn't a world beater but with a set of features (metal body, 8MP camera with shutter button, microHDMI socket) that few phones offer at this size and sub-300 price, it holds up very well on the value front.
A few options such as the ZTE Grand X offer a similar combination of dual-core performance and a decent modest sized screen, but few add the extras. That said, if you want a cheaper option and Android 4.0, the ZTE Grand X is an impressive offering.
We like the Sony Xperia P a lot. It looks nice, is well built and offers a great set of core features, with dual-core performance, 8MP camera and sharp display, all wrapped up in a modest sized handset. Add in some unexpected extras like microHDMI connectivity and NFC and you're onto a winner. It's not without its issues but we think this is a cracking option for those looking for a small but capable Android phone.