Sony Xperia Go review

What Mobile
August 29, 2012

Tough smartphones have a hard time of things. Despite their waterproof, dust-resistant designs they seldom prove mass market hits, as they can tend to be ugly, bulky and overpriced devices.

Recently we’re seeing things change, though. Motorola’s original Defy was the sleeper hit of 2010 and shunned convention by shrugging off scuffs and looking slick. And the Motorola Defy Mini has packed it all into a pocket-sized chassis.

Now Sony’s back to capitalise on last year’s surprise hit tough phone, the Xperia Active, with its spiritual successor, the Xperia Go – an IP67 certified smartphone that’s quite the looker too.

The Sony Xperia Go is a surprisingly attractive phone. In fact, we wish more Sony phones were this easy on the eye. While the Xperia Active had a strange hook on one side for a wrist band, the same nook on the Go is discretely notched into the phone’s body. What you get is a pleasingly modern design with straight lines and curved edges that is still packed with Sony’s style.

We tested the white model, but a choice of black and yellow shades are also avaiable. The matte plastics are surprisingly smudge resistant and there are just three easy-to-press capacitive buttons below the screen. The whole package is light, sturdy, and measures just 10mm thick.

While that’s not as thin as some phones on the market, few rivals are Ingress Protection 67 certified. That means the Xperia Go is totally dustproof, and water-resistant up to a depth of one metre. There are few phones out there better equipped to take on nature.

Indeed, it certainly stood up to our tests, taking a trip in the shower and a dunk in a glass of water. In a touch of class, Sony has also programmed the phone to warn you when its ports aren’t completely sealed.

Usually, the question with tough phones is whether you really need such protection. Sony’s made the issue almost moot in this case with its design flair. Tragically though, it has gone and spoiled it all with one small error.

Sony Xperia Go water-resistant smartphone

On the back of the phone protrudes a dome shaped Sony Ericsson logo, a hangover from before Sony’s buyout of the company at the end of last year. The logo sticks out, marring the otherwise flat surface so you cannot lay the device flat on the table without it rocking somewhat annoyingly.

The 3.5-inch screen is scratch-proof and while it survived our tests of raking it with keys and a kitchen knife, it is also a bit of a disappointment. While it’s big enough for most uses, the 320 x 480 resolution just doesn’t cut it in 2012. To put it in perspective, it’s as sharp as 2007’s first iPhone.

Everything looks grainy, particularly when you view text on websites and email. Videos still look good courtesy of Sony’s great image-enhancing Mobile Bravia engine, but for £200 SIM-free, you can pick up plenty of smartphones that pack sharper and better-looking touchscreens.

Thankfully, Sony hasn’t skimped on the innards and the Xperia Go is powered by a dual-core 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM. In our benchmark tests, the handset showed results that put it on a par with some of last year’s flagship Android phones. In real-world terms it leads to a pretty quick experience. And battery life clocks in at around a day and a half – about par for the smartphone course these days.

The web browser fires up pages in a jiffy, and helpfully resizes text columns to fit the small screen and resolution. The camera meanwhile loads in under a second and processes shots remarkably quickly. Sadly the 5-Megapixel images suffer from Sony’s rather zealous JPEG compression. This means you can fit plenty of snaps on board, but they will lose some detail.

More pleasingly Sony’s managed to shave off even more time with a camera shortcut on the device’s lock screen. But it doesn’t just load the app, it focuses and shoots automatically too.

That’s just one of Sony’s flourishes on top of the Android OS itself, which is now a vibrant eco-system with hundreds of thousands of apps and games, most of which, bar a few made for higher resolutions, will run just fine on the Xperia Go.

Sony has added plenty of tweaks throughout the Android 2.3 OS. The spruced up, image heavy contact pages and music player look gorgeous, while the drag and drop folders make organising your homescreen a cinch.

Sony Xperia Go dustproof smartphone

Sony’s also gone out of its way to integrate Facebook into the experience – a welcome move given that Google’s actually removed Facebook account syncing from Android’s code in recent updates. Log in once and you’ll find all your Facebook photos synchronised to the Go’s gallery app – even new images posted by your friends.

One downside to the Android experience on the Xperia Go is the rather pathetic onscreen keyboard. Its needlessly narrow keys make typing more like hen-pecking and a world away from the fast predictive keyboards seen on other devices. On the plus side, if you don’t like anything from the keyboard to the phone’s dial pad you can easily change them all via Android.

But for all the good the software tweaks do, Sony has gone and shot itself in the foot by loading the Xperia Go, as it does with many of its Android phones, with apps you almost certainly won’t need. Nobody should be force fed a navigation app like Wisepilot when the Google Maps app is already preloaded, free and vastly superior.

Another particularly nasty tactic Sony employs is to not even install these apps. Sometimes tapping an icon will only then prompt you to download the program. And to rub salt in the wound, you can’t even remove these shortcuts from the apps menu. They’re there to stay.

There’s another problem too. While Android 4.0 has been around for months, the Xperia Go runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which was first released way back in 2010. It’s missing the simplified, beautiful design of the latest version and lacks clever extra features including notifications and apps you can swipe to remove.

Sony says that the Xperia Go will be updated to Android 4.0 in due course, but no firm date has been announced. We have to admit Sony Mobile has been better than most when it comes to delivering on these pledges. But even so we struggle to recommend a phone that doesn’t run the latest version of Android out of the box.

The trouble is, the Xperia Go doesn’t even run the second latest version of Android, as the world has now moved on from Android 4.0 to 4.1. It’s a shame Sony’s engineers couldn’t pull a few more late nighters to reflect that, but Android 2.3 is still a fast and comfortable OS for most requirements.

It is this that sums up the Xperia Go. It is a nice looking, tough device that is easy to use and works well for its core audience. But as a day to day smartphone it just can’t quite measure up.

If you really need a semi-rugged phone then you’re sure to love it. Just don’t expect anything more than the basics packed into its tough shell.

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