The design of this year's Xperia range of smartphones is extremely similar from phone to phone, each looking distinctly square but in varying sizes. The Xperia P is the middle of the road size at 59 x 122mm which fits more comfortably in the hand than the Xperia S. It is somewhat lighter at 121g but effectively the same thickness, at 10.5mm.
It looks just as square as the other Xperia phones but there are some design elements which make us prefer the Xperia P over the Xperia S.
For starters the latter has a full removable rear cover just for access to the Micro-SIM card slot but the Xperia P is completely sealed and has the same slot located on the left hand side under a cover – exactly how we wished the Xperia S was designed.
Secondly we disliked how the transparent strip of plastic along the bottom of the Xperia S, showing the Back, Home and Menu buttons wasn't actually where you tapped, instead needing to hit small dots located above which we found unresponsive. This isn't the case with the Xperia P where the symbols are actually what you want to, and need to press.
Buttons and ports have been rearranged so the power, volume and camera buttons are on the right side of the device while the microUSB and Micro HDMI ports are on the left, this time not underneath covers.
Our Xperia P came in black, but it's also available in silver and red colours so you can take your pick. See also: Group test: what's the best smartphone?
Sony Xperia P: Build quality
Thanks to the one piece chassis and the lack therefore of a removable cover, the build quality of the Xperia P out classes the Xperia S. The phone feels study and well-made throughout. We found next to no flexibility in the shell and the buttons have good tactility.
The only slightly weak area we noticed was the plastic section at the bottom of the phone below the transparent strip.
Sony Xperia P: Hardware
The mid-range price of the Xperia P is reflected in its list of hardware. Most areas are cut down compared to the Xperia S, starting with the processor which is 1GHz dual-core compared to 1.5GHz dual-core. Both are equally matched on the amount of RAM with 1GB apiece.
Despite the relatively uninspiring specs – the Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X sport quad-core chips – the Xperia P fared well in our Geekbench 2 test. It scored an impressive average of 872 across three runs.
This is not far off the Xperia S which scored 922 and better than the HTC One X and One S which scored 592 and 685, respectively. From a user perspective the phone runs pretty smoothly across the board, opening apps quickly and coping reasonable well with browsing desktop websites. It's by no means the snappiest smartphone we've reviewed but it's also not annoyingly slow in its operation.
The screen is a little smaller than the Xperia S at 4in rather than 4.3in. It uses the same Mobile Bravia Engine (which may just be marketing talk) but the resolution is also lower at 540 x 960 compared to 720 x 1280.
The pixel density won't grab any headlines at 275ppi, lower than the Xperia S which touts 341ppi, but we didn't find this to be much of a problem. The quality is high enough for content to look good but doesn't have the stunning effect which higher resolution screens possess.
We were very pleased with the very broad viewing angles the screen offered and found it easy to see what we were doing when outside in bright sunlight.
Storage capacity comes in at 16GB – half that of the Xperia S – with no microSD slot for expansion. Other hardware features include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, microUSB, Micro HDMI (cable supplied) and a near-field communications (NFC) chip.
Although the handset has NFC, it doesn't come with any of Sony's SmartTags which change settings like by touching them on the phone. These can be purchased separately, however.
Sony Xperia P: Camera
Sony maintained a trend set when the firm was Sony Ericsson of making phones with good cameras with the Xperia S. We're pleased to say that the Xperia P is another good example of a smartphone with a great camera.
The device has an 8Mp rear-facing camera with auto-focus and LED flash. It uses has Sony’s Exmor R CMOS sensor and an 8x digital zoom.
As we found with the Xperia S, the camera app runs well and can be launched just by pressing the dedicated shutter button – even if the phone is asleep. The auto-detect scene feature knows what type of photo you're shooting, a portrait or macro shot for example, and saves constantly fiddling with settings.
We found our test images to be consistently sharp with colours good but occasionally a little over saturated. We were especially impressed with macro shots (see test image below). The camera can automatically create a panoramic image using the 3D Sweep Panorama feature as you sweep the phone from left to right.
Despite the 4Mp drop when compared to the Xperia S, it can record video in full-HD 1080p. We found video footage to be bright and detailed but slightly jerky at times.
There is also a VGA quality front-facing camera for things like video chats or taking self-portrait pictures. This produced a fairly grainy and sometimes slightly blurry picture which was just about good enough for a bit of video chatting.
Sony Xperia P: Software
The Xperia P comes pre-loaded with Google's Android 2.3.7 (Gingerbread) operating system. Sony has promised an upgrade to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) before the end of June but this doesn't change the fact that the software is out-of-date.
As we mentioned in the hardware section, performance is good but we're a little concerned about the possibility of it suffering once the more demanding Ice Cream Sandwich arrives.
We like the good range of widgets, wallpapers and the fact you can group apps in folders on the home screens. However, Sony pre-loads the Xperia P with too many apps in our opinion. Some of them will probably come in useful but it's just too cluttered.
This version of Gingerbread doesn't leave us pining for Ice Cream Sandwich too much but there are elements of the newer software which would improve the experience, mainly the recent apps multitasking function which makes Ice Cream Sandwich so desirable.
Sony's Timescape app and widgets cleverly combine social networks like Facebook and Twitter into one feed with emails and text messages.
Key apps like the browser work well and we found typing on the keyboard fairly easy, although the keys are quite small when typing in portrait mode.
Sony Xperia P: Battery life
Sony states the non-removable 4.8Wh battery will last 80 hours listening to music, four hours for video playback, or eight and half hours of talk time.
In the real world we managed two days' worth of use from the Xperia P before needing to fill up the tank. This included a day of light use and a second day of more regular and heavy usage.
Sony has included a Power Saver app which aims to help you stretch the battery life further. The app can be customised to switch off different functions or dim the screen. It does this automatically when the battery reaches a user-defined level, between certain times of day or when manually activated.
Our two day battery life looks even more impressive considering we didn't use the power saving mode at all.