The Sony Xperia U is the smallest and most affordable offering from this year's Xperia smartphone range. This sub-£200 smartphone punches well above its weight in a number of areas. Read our Sony Xperia U review to find out more. Read more mobile phone reviews.

Sony Xperia U: Design

Sony's Xperia S, Xperia P and Xperia U models all come with a uniform square ’n’ straight-cut design. Even if it's not to your taste, it’s a refreshing break from the norm. Read more Google Android reviews.

The Sony Xperia U is the smallest of the three smartphones at 54 x 112mm. Unsurprisingly, it's also the lightest at a featherweight 110g.

Like its larger counterparts, the Sony Xperia U has a transparent strip of plastic beneath the screen below the Back, Home and Menu buttons. This also has a backlight, but unlike the Xperia S and Xperia P is able to change between multiple colours. These colours can change to either match the interface theme, photos on the screen, even album covers from the music player.

However, it does exhibit the same problem as the Sony Xperia S – the icons on the strip aren't actually buttons. Instead you need to tap touch-sensitive areas indicated by small dots above it.

A unique element to the design is an interchangeable cap which sits at the bottom of the phone. The black and white models come with a cap to match, as well as a pink or yellow alternatives, respectively.

A removable rear cover hides a similarly removable battery and full-sized SIM card slot. This cover is quite basic but has a reasonably nice feel to it.

The Sony Xperia U has all its physical buttons running down the right hand side, namely Power, Volume and Camera. A headphone socket can be found on top while a Micro-USB port sits on the left-hand side. 

Sony Xperia U: Build quality

We like a well-made smartphone and the Sony Xperia U passes muster in this area. The device feels very sturdy, offering minimal flexing. 

Our minor quibbles in build quality would be the removable rear cover, on the flimsy side but improved when attached to the phone; and in terms of design the main control keys lack tactility and we found the power button to small to hit reliably.

Sony Xperia U: Hardware 

We were impressed at the array of hardware the Xperia U includes at this budget price. The smartphone is driven by a 1GHz STE dual-core processor that matches the more expensive Sony Xperia P. It does have less RAM at 512MB rather than 1GB, but this is still a reasonable amount.

The Sony Xperia U did astonishingly well in our Geekbench 2 test. It scored an average of 875 across three rounds, indeed three points higher than the Sony Xperia P and higher than the HTC One range of smartphones.

We found the performance of the handset to be very impressive, especially considering its reasonable price. 

The interface responds well and moves quickly throughout while navigating the interface. Even more demanding tasks like playing a game or browsing a full-version of a website were no problem for the phone. We didn't see the kind of lag we’ve come to expect of Android.

Its main spec downfall can be found in the storage. It's also confusing, because there is 2GB of available space for apps and app data, and a separate 4GB of internal storage for your own content such as music, photos and video.

For most users 2GB of space will be enough to store a decent number of apps, unless you want to install larger bundles suchs as games like GTA 3 or full satnav apps. 

The bigger issue is the 4GB of internal capacity for media content. It’s fairly standard for a budget phone but it will quickly fill – and since there’s no expansion card slot the Xperia U may be found to be very limited. 

The Xperia U sports a 3.5in capacitive touchscreen, the same size as the Apple iPhone 4S. 

It uses Sony's Mobile Bravia Engine, which promises to improve image quality for photos and video, and has a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels.

The pixel density of 279ppi actually outclasses the Xperia P, HTC One V and HTC One S – all of which are more expensive than the Xperia U.  

The screen is one of the best we've seen on a budget smartphone. It has good clarity, brightness and contrast, and decent viewing angles.

Connectivity is basic, running to just Micro-USB, dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1. You won’t find the Micro HDMI or near-field communications (NFC) of the Xperia S and P, but it does carry digital living network alliance (DLNA) certification.  

NEXT PAGE: Sony Xperia U cameras, software and battery life >>

Sony Xperia U: Cameras 

The Xperia U comes with dual cameras, 5Mp at the rear and 0.3Mp to the front. The former is accompanied by an LED flash and offers 16x digital zoom, auto focus and face detection. 

Even without the Sony Exmor R CMOS sensor of its brothers, and fielding a lower resolution, we found results to be of a good standard. The camera doesn't offer mind blowing photos but will be suitable for day-to-day snaps 

The rear-facing camera can also capture video footage up to 1280x720 resolution. We found video quality to be middle of the road with footage often coming out somewhat fuzzy and blurry.  

The camera app runs well and offers a range of different scenes, focus modes and adjustments such as exposure and white balance. There are also Sony's 2D and 3D Sweep Panorama modes for automatically shooting panoramic images.

A dedicated camera button is an asset we appreciated, which can be used to quickly launch the camera and take a picture from sleep mode.

With only a VGA-spec sensor at the front don't expect to do any high quality video calling with the Xperia U. We found the resulting image to be very grainy and somewhat out of focus.

Sony Xperia U: Software

Like the rest of the Xperia range Sony has only managed to include Android 2.3.7. This dated operating system may be bumped up to Android 4.0 with an upgrade promised to be available before November 2012. 

Sony has nevertheless done a good job with the interface. It looks sleek with plenty of widgets and wallpapers and themes for customisation. We also like the grouping of apps into folders, and access notifications from the lock screen.

There’s no attempt to replicate the recent apps menu found on recent versions of Android, which allows you to quickly switch between and manage open apps.

Social network users may appreciate Sony's Timescape app which combines feeds from social networks like Facebook and Twitter into one page with emails and text messages.

There are a few too many pre-loaded apps in our opinion, almost four pages-worth from the box. A number of these might come in useful but we still wish that Sony's own apps like Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited and PlayNow would be combined into one neater package.

Sony Xperia U: Battery life

Sony supplies the Xperia U with a decent 4.9Wh removable battery which the firm says will last for 6 hours of video playback, or 45 hours of music playback or 6.5 hours of talk time. 

In our testing of the Xperia U, it comfortably managed two days before needing to be charged. The screen was responsible for consuming around two-thirds of the battery's juice. If you enjoy gaming or watching video, it will likely need a charge at the end of one day.

A Power Saver app tries to stretch more time out of the battery. The app saves power by automatically switching off certain functions, like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or by dimming the screen. It does this either when engaged manually, or when the battery reaches a pre-set level, or between user-stated times.

Sony Xperia U: Specs

  • 1GHz STE U8500 dual-core processor
  • Google Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread
  • 512MB RAM
  • 4GB internal storage
  • 3.5in TFT (480 x 854) display
  • 5Mp rear camera with LED flash
  • VGA front camera
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • DLNA
  • microUSB
  • full-sized SIM
  • GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900MHz
  • UMTS/HSPA 850/900/1900/2100MHz
  • 4.9Wh removable battery
  • 54 x 112 x 10.5mm
  • 121g
  • 1GHz STE U8500 dual-core processor
  • Google Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread
  • 512MB RAM
  • 4GB internal storage
  • 3.5in TFT (480 x 854) display
  • 5Mp rear camera with LED flash
  • VGA front camera
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • DLNA
  • microUSB
  • full-sized SIM
  • GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900MHz
  • UMTS/HSPA 850/900/1900/2100MHz
  • 4.9Wh removable battery
  • 54 x 112 x 10.5mm
  • 121g

OUR VERDICT

The Xperia U is one of the best smartphones we've seen for under £200. For this price you get a capable handset providing higher performance than some more expensive rivals – all with a fantastic screen and a two-day battery life. The phone's maind downfalls are limited storage and old software, although this should be updated one day.

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