Sony Xperia M

Sony’s Xperia M is a lower-mid-range 3G smartphone, exclusive to Telecom in New Zealand at a price of $349.

Sony Xperia M
  • Sony Xperia M
  • Sony Xperia M
  • Sony Xperia M
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Reasonable 480x854 pixel, 4.0-inch display for the price
  • Good performance in day-to-day tasks
  • Dedicated camera button

Cons

  • 3G only (max 21Mbit/s download)
  • White plastic finish is very prone to marks
  • Screen has high glare/fingerprint retention

Bottom Line

A fine Android smartphone for business or personal use, the Xperia M's greatest downsides are an easily-marked back panel and an overly fingerprint-friendly screen finish.

Would you buy this?

Sony’s Xperia M is a lower-mid-range 3G smartphone, exclusive to Telecom in New Zealand at a price of $349.

Just a year or two ago we’d have called the Xperia M an ‘entry-level’ smartphone – with the amount of viable competition in the sub-$200 market, that’s no longer the case. Though a top-shelf Android phone will still set you back over a grand, we’d expect something in the $350 range to serve as a perfectly functional smartphone for personal or business use.

The Xperia M is slightly classier in look and feel than its price tag suggests. It’s slim, at 9.3mm, and sized similarly to the iPhone 5 with its 4-inch screen and 124 x 62mm footprint. The white model that we tested looks particularly iPhone-like, though the silver banding the edges is plastic, the corners aren’t nearly as rounded, and it lacks the physical ‘home’ button beneath the screen. So, okay, not that iPhone-like, but enough so to confuse the casual, smartphone-unfamiliar observer. The colour makes most of the resemblance and if you don’t like it, Telecom also sells the Xperia M in black. It’s available in purple and yellow internationally, but New Zealanders are limited to the achromatic options.

The white version of the Xperia M has a slight resemblance to Apple's iPhone 5.
The white version of the Xperia M has a slight resemblance to Apple's iPhone 5.

Instead of a flimsy backplate, the M’s entire outer shell snaps off to reveal its user-replaceable battery, micro-SIM slot and microSD memory card slot. It all clicks together solidly enough, though there was a tiny gap visible at the top seam which worried me a little. The white body we tested was very prone to black marks and smudges, which appeared to come from sharing a pocket or bag with other gadgets. It’s a purely cosmetic issue, but an irritating one that cheapens the otherwise classy styling.

The 4-inch screen isn’t the sharpest you’ll find, at 480x854 pixels/245dpi, but it’s certainly a nice leap up from something truly entry-level such as the Vodafone Smart Mini’s 320x480. If you’re used to the ultra-fine displays of the iPhone and other top-end models, the Xperia M will be visibly less sharp. However, it’s far from ‘blocky’ or ‘pixellated’. Colour quality and maximum brightness are good, though the screen has the usual high-gloss finish which makes it somewhat hard to see in direct sunlight. The display attracts fingerprints and smudges, which doesn’t exactly help the situation.

Rather than a plastic backplate, the entire shell of the phone (rear and sides) snaps off as a single piece.
Rather than a plastic backplate, the entire shell of the phone (rear and sides) snaps off as a single piece.

Commensurate with the price, the Xperia M runs a basic dual-core 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, with 1GB of RAM and 4GB of onboard storage (1.7GB user accessible). It runs Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean).

It’s no powerhouse by today’s standards, benchmarking just slightly above Samsung’s 2011-model Galaxy SII . In real terms, however, it runs just fine. Navigating menus, launching and switching between apps, and web browsing all ran smoothly. We even had a great experience with the latest Robot Unicorn Attack 2, which seriously lagged down the technically-more-powerful Huawei Ascend P6. In other words, synthetic benchmarks aren’t everything.

If you like to play console-quality games on your smartphone, or run a bajillion intensive apps at once, the Xperia M will probably let you down. As, you know, a mobile phone that lets you check your email, update Facebook, and Google search answers under the table at a pub quiz, it did just fine for us.

The five-megapixel rear-facing camera takes sharp and colour-accurate shots, comparable to any midrange smartphone we’ve seen. While the quality isn’t groundbreaking, the presence of a dedicated camera button is very welcome. You can take photos right from the lock screen, a feature we first saw with Windows Phone 7. It’s a real time-saver, and makes the Xperia M far more useful as a basic point-and-shoot camera than many of its buttonless alternatives.

The Xperia M is NFC-capable -- you can faintly see the square black antenna through the thin white plastic shell.
The Xperia M is NFC-capable -- you can faintly see the square black antenna through the thin white plastic shell.

The last truly notable feature is NFC, which facilitates Sony’s ‘One-touch’ pairing with compatible Bluetooth speakers, televisions, smartphones and other devices. The ‘tap to start playing through this speaker’ sort of functionality may be a little gimmicky for some, but could be genuinely useful if you’ve got a range of compatible Sony products at home. One-touch does work with a range of third-party devices, but it’s far from ubiquitous at this point.

Overall the Sony Xperia M is a good Android smartphone for $350. It offers an appreciable step-up from the entry-level, primarily in its screen quality and secondarily in its style. It’s a pity that – with the white model at least – an easily-marked finish will wear that style away over time.

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Read more on these topics: Android, sony, smartphone, Xperia M
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