March 6, 2013

Sony Xperia V review: Bond’s wetsuit


Introduction

It won't be long before those full-HD five-inchers start stealing the show and the older Xperia generation should be preparing for life in their shadow. It doesn't mean though that the Xperia V cannot hope for a good time.
We don't see why a phone with dual-core Krait and an LTE connectivity shouldn't enjoy life in the midrange. OK, the upper midrange - but the Xperia V isn't easily caught off guard. Of course, people are not as easily impressed today as, say, a year ago. Yet, a select few phones are willing to offer 1080p videos and 13MP stills, while putting an HD touchscreen at your fingertips.
   
Sony Xperia V water-resistant phone
And there's more to the Xperia V than that. It's more durable than your average smartphone without looking like an army bot. You should've figured it by now, what we have here is a dust and water-resistant Xperia T with 4G connectivity and a tad smaller screen. Oh, well they needed to make sure the wetsuit would still fit the user.

Key features

  • Quad-band GSM /GPRS/EDGE support
  • 3G with 42.2 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
  • LTE Cat3 DL 100 Mbps UL 50 Mbps
  • 4.3" 16M-color capacitive LED-backlit Reality LCD touchscreen of 720p resolution (720 x 1280 pixels) with Sony Mobile BRAVIA engine 2; Scratch-resistant glass
  • Android OS v4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean coming up
  • IP57 certified for dust and water resistance, up to 1 meter immersion for 30 minutes
  • Dual-core 1.5 GHz Krait CPU, 1 GB RAM, Adreno 225 GPU, Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960 chipset
  • 13 MP autofocus camera with LED flash and geotagging, Superior Auto mode
  • 1080p video recording @ 30fps with continuous autofocus and stereo sound
  • VGA front-facing camera
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g/n with DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct and hotspot
  • GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS
  • 8GB of built-in storage, microSD card slot
  • microUSB port with MHL and USB-host support
  • Stereo Bluetooth v4.0
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • Voice dialing
  • Deep Facebook integration
  • PlayStation Certified, access to the PS Store
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • NFC connectivity

Main disadvantages

  • No JellyBean at launch
  • Relatively modest battery capacity
  • Video recording fails to impress
  • No hardware shutter key
  • Comes across as overpriced
The one thing that doesn't help Sony look particularly good is the tardy arrival of the latest software. The Xperia V is still to get Jelly Bean - and it will most likely be JB 4.1. There have been reports of Sony pushing back the Xperia V's launch on certain markets to put the latest software in. That makes sense but is perhaps part of the reason for the limited supply, that's been keeping prices quite high.
A bit of a vicious circle there, not too good for Sony, but hopefully not for long. Hopefully, the Xperia V should be getting the Jelly Bean treatment as early as February.
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The Sony Xperia V at HQ
Elsewhere, the Sony Xperia V makes a pretty strong case for itself. The HD display is looking good, the camera on the back is ready to serve 13MP stills, there's LTE and the dual-core Krait is humming along. And the Xperia V is ready to take calls at the poolside or in the shower.
Sounds like an exciting package, and good-looking too. Hit us up on page 2 and let's get started.


Unboxing the Xperia V

The Sony Xperia V arrives in a simple flat box with the standard peripherals: an A/C adapter, a microUSB cable and a headset with three earbud sizes and a lapel cilp.
No NFC tags were to be found - these are consistently being omitted recently, which is a bit strange considering cheaper Sony smartphones used to have them bundled. It could be either that Sony don't see much point anymore in promoting a technology that should be well familiar by now, or the tags are market-specific accessories.
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The Xperia V retail box

Sony Xperia V 360-degree view

The Xperia V measures a reasonable 129 x 65 x 10.7 mm and weighs 120 g. The handset definitely looks heavier than that and we were quite surprised by its lightness the first time we handled it. Nothing wrong, mind you - the Xperia V has a very pleasant feel in hand. The Xperia T, in comparison, weighs a good 20g more but we wouldn't say the V lacks substance.
What we didn't quite like about the Xperia V, and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has handled the Xperia T, is the excessive bezel top and bottom of the screen. With on-screen controls requiring no extra space, it seems this could've easily been a smaller package. The Xperia V is nearly the same size as the 4.7-inch HTC One X, but with a 4.3" of screen diagonal.
To be fair though, the Xperia V is IP57-certified for dust and water-resistance, so the overall superior durability may be a fair trade to many.

Design and controls

The Sony Ericsson legacy is still firmly felt across the new Xperia line of smartphones - in this case the Xperia Arc takes the credit. Of course, the Xperia V is a minor redesign of the Xperia T, and once again we're impressed with the subtlety of the curved shape and the overall finish.
The Xperia V is all plastic but has no glossy parts whatsoever. The most prominent difference - which we think is well in favor of the V - is the dark chrome frame that separates the back and front.
The handset's back feels rubbery to the touch and is quite nice to hold.
Above the 4.3" Reality display there's an earpiece, a VGA camera, ambient light and proximity sensors and a notification LED.
Sony Xperia V
The Xperia V
The VGA front-facer on the Xperia V isn't quite up to par with the 13 MP around back - that's one of the things getting downgraded from the Xperia T. The Bond phone had a 1.3MP front cam.
Under the display there's nothing but blank space. Sony is done with physical buttons and not looking back. The Home, Back and Task switcher keys are right onto the touchscreen panel.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Up and under the display
The power button and volume rocker are placed near the top on the right side of the Xperia V. Both buttons are slim but prominent enough and solid to press. This is the perfect placement for right-handed users, but lefties may find it hard to reach the controls with an index finger.
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The right side
The bottom of the Xperia V features only the primary microphone. There's a tiny slit on the back panel to place a fingernail and pull it open.
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On the bottom
The covered microUSB port is on the left side. Further down on the same side are the dock pogo pins.
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On the left side
The 3.5 mm headphone jack is at the top, sealed with a plastic lid again, to ensure the water resistance.
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The microUSB port at the top
The back panel is entirely made of plastic but with a rubbery finish, which not only is a pleasure to hold but has anti-slip properties too.
The 13 MP camera lens is located in the top with the secondary, noise-reducing microphone next to it. A single LED flash is below the lens and, a little further down, an Xperia logo.
Centrally-placed at the very bottom is the loudspeaker grille, which is small and designed as to not let water in. It still sounds decent though, unlike on the acro S.
A tiny pinhole above the loudspeaker grille, matched by a membrane on the inside of the battery cover, is a water sensor which however is of no value to the user. It will only let the people at a Sony service center know if the limits of safe operation have been exceeded.
There are no water resistance warnings on the Xperia V - unlike the Xperia Active, which would warn you when the flaps of the connectivity ports have been undone.
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The back panel
Removing the panel is perhaps too easy for an IP57 certified device (though we have no reason to question the water-resistance claims) and doing so reveals an insulating trim of rubber on its inside, to protect the innards from getting wet in an event of water making its way inside.
The 1750 mAh Li-Ion battery is said to offer 300 or 400 hours of stand-by (2G/3G), 7 hours of talk time on either network and 18 hours of music playback (in airplane mode).
Our real life tests show an endurance rating of 30 hours, meaning an hour of calling, browsing and video will result in the phone being charged every 30 hours.

Some users have reported the so called Sleep of Death issue with the Xperia V. When the phone stands idle for a couple of hours (mainly during the night) it freezes itself and can then be powered on only after removing the battery. We experienced the issue a couple of times too, but after updating the phone to the latest firmware (9.0.1.D.0.10) the issue seemed to be resolved.
However some users are reporting than the update hasn't done the trick for them and the bug is still present even after the latest update. Others report the Xperia V heats up prior to freezing and loses battery fast, but we didn't observe such a phenomenon.
Sony has already acknowledged the issue and has promised it is working on a fix. However there's no info when exactly we might expect that.
The SIM card and microSD slots are placed one above the other and the battery needs to be removed to access either of them. Now, a water-resistant phone is one of those rare occasions where a non-hot-swappable memory card slot actually makes sense.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Under the hood


Display

The Xperia V displays everything in 720p resolution on the 4.3" Reality display. With Full HD screens already upon us, the Xperia V will find it hard to get anyone impressed, but to be fair, the screen is well above average. At 342ppi, the Bravia-backed Reality display is quite sharp and pleasant to look at.
Sony used the second generation Mobile BRAVIA engine for the Xperia V and it's supposed to improve contrast and enhance colors. In reality, viewing the screen head on will leave you pleased but as soon as you tilt the device to the side even slightly, the colors begin to look washed out and contrast is heading south at a frightful pace.
It's by no means a deal breaker and most people should be happy with the Xperia V's screen most of the time.
Sony Xperia V
The Xperia V
The display uses a standard RGB matrix arrangement, which you can see in the picture below. As for contract itself - it's passable but far from the standard setters.

The Xperia V and Xperia T displays under a microscope

Contrast ratio

  • Nokia 808 PureView 4.698
  • HTC One X 2.158
  • Nokia N8 2.144
  • Apple iPhone 4 2.016
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia ray 1.955
  • Samsung Galaxy Camera 1.938
  • Sony Xperia V 1.792
  • Sony Xperia U 1.758
  • LG Optimus 4X HD 1.691
  • HTC One V 1.685
  • LG Optimus Vu 1.680
  • HTC Desire V 1.646
  • Samsung Galaxy mini 21.114

Handling

The Xperia V isn't the most compact of smartphones with a 4.3" screen but the surprisingly lightweight body is a pleasure to handle, and the finish is great.
Single-handed operation is very comfortable and the dust and water resistance are something many users will appreciate. The flipside is a non-hot-swappable microSD card and the absence of a proper shutter key.
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The Xperia V held in hand
Overall though, it's a great-looking smartphone - without overdoing it - and one that's very secure and comfortable to hold.


Ice Cream Sandwich at the forefront

The Sony Xperia V runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich out of box but Sony is reassuring users that an eventual Jelly Bean is in the works for this year. If you are not familiar with the features specific to the various Android versions, make sure you check out our dedicated Android version scoop.
If you're familiar with Sony's latest Android UI, the Xperia V should look familiar. Sony has smothered Android 4.0.4 with its custom launcher, which runs much deeper than skin-deep. This isn't the first time we've seen ICS on a Sony device either, things are undistinguishable from the Xperia T.
Here's our rundown of the Xperia V.

The Xperia V has the usual five-pane homescreen configuration, but there is no option to add or remove panes. Along the bottom, there are five docked shortcuts (the app drawer shortcut and two on each of its sides). These are visible across all five homescreen panes and are user configurable: they can be either single icons or folders with multiple items in them. For folders, you get smaller icons of the first four items in them.
As with older Sony smartphones, you can change the color theme of the launcher according to your preferences.
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The Sony Xperia V UI • Choosing theme • Folders
The homescreen does a neat trick called Overview mode, which lets you quickly find a widget across any of your homescreen panes. Pinch to zoom out on any of the 5 homescreen panes and a new screen opens up showing all active widgets for easy viewing and selection. Tapping on a widget takes you directly to the homescreen that it is on.
Sony Xperia V
Overview mode helps you find the widget you are looking for
The Xperia V has some custom-made Sony widgets in addition to the standard set. Those include the Timescape widget (there's a dedicated app too) and a Mediascape-like widget for photos and videos (the actual app isn't there anymore, but the Album gallery is).
Pressing on an empty area of a homescreen opens up a small contextual menu under the status bar. It gives you two options - choosing a widget and choosing a wallpaper/theme. It's oddly placed and easy to miss at first because the animation is so understated it looks as if nothing has happened.
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The new personalize menu is a lot less obtrusive • Choosing a widget • The wallpaper menu
Moving and removing widgets hasn't changed and is as simple as on droids of old - hold a finger over a desired widget and move it around. The action has a cool wobble animation to it.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Moving and deleting widgets
A cool new addition to the lockscreen, missing from the Xperia phones of old, is the Walkman widget which lets you control music playback without unlocking the phone. You can also enable Face, Pattern, PIN or Password unlock, in ascending order of security.
The standard notification area is also present, and features a few added toggles - sound, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, mobile data and the settings shortcut. There's also a quick shortcut to the settings menu. For some reason, the notification area isn't accessible from the lockscreen as it usually is on other ICS-running phones.
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The lockscreen • Lockscreen options • The notification area now has a few connectivity shortcuts
There's also a brand new task manager, which still lets you go to open apps as well as remove them with a side-swipe, but also introduces something we haven't seen in Sony ICS before, and that's 'small apps'. They are similar to Mini Apps from Samsung, and pop up tiny widget-like applications on your homescreen, which you can use in an overlay mode without having to fully open a dedicated app. So far, there's a default set of four: Calculator, Timer, Notes, and Voice Recorder - and it looks like you should be able to stock up on some more from the Play Store as well.
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The updated task manager now features 'small apps' • The Timer small app
As a part of the ICS platform you get the Data usage app. Sony provided one on Gingerbread as well, but this one is far more accurate in calculating your traffic. It also lets you set a limit for network data for a specific period and usage is broken down by apps.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Data usage app
Sony has added its own Backup & Reset feature for Android ICS. It works for apps you've uninstalled and then reinstalled again, restoring them with the previous saved settings. The reset option is in the same submenu.
Sony Xperia V
Backup & reset
Sony has made a lot of improvements to its ICS build - like the notification area toggles, but it's still missing a few extras that are some that other OEMs are opting for. For example, Samsung has a Remove all feature when you open the task switcher, and most Android UI's let you adjust the number of homescreen panes. There're also no widgets in the app drawer, which is slightly inconvenient.

Synthetic benchmarks

The Sony Xperia V is powered by a Qualcomm MSM8960 chipset with two Krait cores, clocked at 1.5 GHz. Graphics are handled by an Adreno 225 GPU and there's 1 GB of RAM on board.
This setup is more than qualified to handle the screen's 720p resolution and more demanding tasks like decoding and encoding 1080p video, not to mention running Android OS smoothly. Things, in theory, should be running even smoother on Jelly Bean.
For testing the Xperia V performance we begin with Quadrant. Here the Xperia V did a stellar job against equal competition. It outperformed the Xperia T by a wide margin, too.

Quadrant

Higher is better
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3) 5952
  • Sony Xperia V 5816
  • Sony Xperia TX 5793
  • Samsung Galaxy S III 5365
  • Meizu MX 4-core 5170
  • Motorola DROID RAZR M 5126
  • LG Optimus 4X HD 4814
  • Sony Xperia T 4774
  • Motorola Atrix HD 4178
  • Motorola RAZR i 4125
BenchmarkPi gives the individual processor cores a run for their money, testing their calculative performance. Here the Xperia V is just behind its Xperia T sibling and even managed to put the Galaxy S III to shame.

BenchmarkPi

Lower is better
  • Motorola DROID RAZR M 264
  • Sony Xperia T 269
  • Sony Xperia V 279
  • Sony Xperia V 286
  • Sony Xperia TX 289
  • Motorola Atrix HD 294
  • HTC One S 306
  • HTC One X 330
  • Samsung Galaxy S III 344
  • Motorola RAZR MAXX 402
  • Motorola RAZR i 534
Geekbench 2 is a CPU and memory benchmark, which is optimized for multi-core environments. The Xperia V managed to best the Xperia T and even came close to the twice-as-many-cores-touting Optimus G.

Geekbench 2

Higher is better
  • Samsung Galaxy S III 1845
  • LG Optimus G 1723
  • LG Optimus 4X HD 1661
  • Sony Xperia V 1638
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3) 1634
  • Sony Xperia T 1625
  • iPhone 5 1601
  • HTC One S 1589
The Android browser inside the Xperia V did a fine job even without the Jelly Bean update. SunSpider is a JavaScript benchmark but manufacturers are known for "coaching" their device to show good results on similar benchmarks.
BrowserMark 2 is an HTML 5-based benchmark, which shows the Xperia V as a top contender.
And finally comes Vellamo's HTML 5 benchmark. The Xperia V shows a good result here too, once again besting more powerful smartphones.

SunSpider

Lower is better
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II 972
  • Motorola RAZR i 1043
  • Sony Xperia V 1189
  • Samsung Galaxy S III 1304
  • LG Optimus 4X HD 1446
  • HTC One X 1468
  • Sony Xperia T 1608
  • Motorola Atrix HD 1647
  • HTC One S 1708
  • Motorola DROID RAZR M 1861
  • Motorola RAZR MAXX 2136

BrowserMark 2

Higher is better
  • LG Optimus G 2555
  • Sony Xperia V 1957
  • Google Nexus 4 1794
  • Nokia Lumia 920 1774
  • Nokia Lumia 820 1760
  • Samsung Omnia W 1632
  • Samsung Galaxy S III (JB) 1247

Vellamo

Higher is better
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II 2418
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3) 2078
  • Sony Xperia V 1968
  • Samsung Galaxy S III 1641
  • LG Optimus 4X HD 1568
  • LG Optimus G 1522
  • Meizu MX 4-core 1468
  • Google Nexus 4 1310
So even without the latest quad-core Krait processor the Xperia V posted some pretty good benchmark scores. But it is real-life performance that counts the most.
Luckily, the Xperia V handles that very well too and didn't slow down not even once during our time with it. We're sure Jelly Bean will speed things up when it comes to the OS animations but the Xperia V is in a great shape even on ICS.


Phonebook

The Sony Xperia V phonebook looks slightly different from what we're used to in ICS. The bottom bar no longer shows you shortcuts to phone, favorites, contacts, and is now a search and add number field. The contacts, phone, favorites and groups tabs have been moved to the top and can be side-swiped.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The phonebook • The quick contact shortcuts • The options from the contextual menu
The contact list can be sorted by either first or last name. There are two contact search options - a dedicated search field at the bottom of the contact list, and an alphabetical scroll bar to jump to names starting with a specific letter on the right.
You can sync with multiple accounts, including Exchange and Facebook, and you can selectively show or hide contacts from some accounts (as well as filter specific groups in an account), or set the phonebook to display only contacts with phone numbers or only contacts that are online.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Filtering contacts in the phonebook
If a contact has accounts in multiple services, you can "link" their details to keep everything in one place. Their Facebook photos and interests (part of the Facebook integration) will show as extra tabs.
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Viewing a contact entry • Editing a contact • Contact groups
Quick contacts are enabled - a tap on the contact's photo brings up shortcuts for calling, texting or emailing the contact.
Each contact can have a variety of fields (and repeat fields of the same type). There's an Add field button and the X button lets you remove fields as needed. The fields cover anything from names (including a field to write the name down phonetically) to addresses, nicknames and notes.
There is an option to redirect calls directly to voicemail. Custom ringtones are enabled too.

Smart telephony

The Xperia V was able to hold on to signal with relative ease. Along our usual path in the dense urban environment the smartphone never lost more than 2 bars of signal. The built-in secondary microphone is used  for active noise-cancellation, so calls are loud and clear even in noisy environments.
The call log is integrated in the dialer - it shows a list of recently dialed, received and missed calls in the top half of the screen and the keypad on the bottom half. Once you start typing, the call log is replaced by the smart dial list which searches for matches in both the contacts' phones and names. You can hide the keypad to make more room for the call log.
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Smart dialing is available
Thanks to the proximity and accelerometer sensors, the Sony Xperia V automatically disables the touchscreen when you lift it up during a call.
We ran our traditional loudspeaker test on the Sony Xperia V, and the results were far from good. Scoring a Below Average result the Xperia V is a definite disappointment in terms of speakerphone loudness. Even Sony's loudspeaker-enhancing xLOUD mode didn't really make a difference. The loudspeaker on the back of the Xperia V is water-tight, which could be a contributing factor here.
More info on our loudspeaker test can be found here.
Speakerphone testVoice, dBPink noise/ Music, dBRinging phone, dBOveral score
Sony Xperia sola60.959.061.7Below Average
Sony Xperia T63.758.962.1Below Average
Sony Xperia V xLOUD65.561.166.2Below Average
Sony Xperia V no xLOUD64.861.566.1Below Average
Sony Xperia acro S65.362.167.8Below Average
Apple iPhone 4S65.864.574.6Average
HTC Desire C64.664.775.7Average
Samsung Galaxy mini 2 S650069.766.671.5Average
Sony Xperia Go68.765.876.2Good
Sony Xperia neo L65.865.476.9Good
Motorola RAZR XT91074.766.682.1Very Good
HTC Desire76.675.784.6Excellent

Messaging is business as usual

Text messages and MMS use standard threaded layouts. Each thread is displayed as an IM chat session, with the most recent message at the bottom. You can manage individual messages (forward, copy, delete) and even lock them against deletion. Search is enabled to locate a specific message in all conversations and you can also activate delivery reports.
Adding multimedia (photos, videos, sounds, etc.) will convert the message into an MMS.
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The messaging app • Adding multimedia turns it into an MMS
Moving on to email, the Gmail app supports batch operations, which allows multiple emails to be archived, labeled or deleted. The app supports multiple Gmail accounts, but there's no unified inbox for other email services.
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Gmail app supports batch operations and multiple (Gmail) accounts
However, the generic email app can do that. It can handle multiple POP or IMAP accounts and you have access to the messages in the original folders that are created online.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The generic Email client has a combined inbox option for multiple services
Google Talk handles Instant Messaging. The GTalk network is compatible with a variety of popular clients like Pidgin, Kopete, iChat and Ovi Contacts.
You can also get a quick overview of your Twitter and Facebook feeds using the integrated Timescape app. Your feeds show up in a flowing vertical carousel that is very quick and responsive.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The Timescape apps is great for social networking
As for text input, the Xperia V offers a customized on-screen full QWERTY keyboard. Typing on the portrait keyboard is fairly comfortable - the screen is big enough to house decently-sized keys that are easy to hit.
Flipping the phone to landscape gives you even bigger, easier to press buttons. There's also the added feature of being able to customize the keyboard. You can choose a different skin, or even a new key layout.
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Xperia V keyboard is comfortable in either layout
You can also try the so-called Gesture input if hitting those keys individually doesn't give you the desired typing speed. It's similar to Swype, and even if you've never used a Swype-like input before you'll quickly get used to it.


Album handles pictures

The Sony Xperia V comes with a new Sony Ice Cream Sandwich gallery, called Album.
Images are organized into stacks of thumbnails and sorted by date. You can opt to show all of your albums in one place, and there are three tabs above the stacks - Pictures, Map and Online.
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The Album gallery
Pictures is the main tab and one of its features managed to impress us: you can use pinch gestures to make the image thumbnails bigger or smaller. The whole thing is super responsive and hundreds of thumbs fall in and out of differently sized grids with cool animation.
Map reminds us of the iOS gallery, where all geotagged pictures are shown on a world map.
The Online tab displays pictures from Google Picasa and Facebook. You have options to tag, like and comment on Facebook photos much like you did in the previous Xperia Gallery.
Sony Xperia V
The Geo-tagging à la iOS
Images can be cropped or rotated directly in the gallery. Quick sharing via Picasa, Email apps, Facebook, Bluetooth or MMS is also enabled.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Viewing an image
The BRAVIA engine 2 enhances contrast and colors by sharpening the image and reducing noise. These steps normally lead to visual artifacts, but you'll have to look at them very close up to notice. You can switch BRAVIA off, but we recommend keeping it on - it really improves the viewing experience straight on.

Movies with an editor

The video player is dubbed Movies and it too has a new interface. It's connected to Gracenote, which helps you find additional information about the movies you have on board. It works fine, but it identified our version of The Mask not as the famous Jim Carrey flick, but rather as a horror movie from 1961, which goes by the same name.
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Watching a video on the Xperia V
Unfortunately, the Xperia V video player was very selective about the movies it would play. Videos with AC3 audio ran fine but without sound. Some XviD movies would play okay and others wouldn't play at all. DivX movies were okay throughout, though.
A video editing app called Movie Studio is bundled too. It lets you edit video, images, and audio together (both imported from files as well as recorded/taken by the device itself), using a variety of cool transitions. You can then export the resulting project into a video file that you can share using the V's generous connectivity features (more on this below).
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The Xperia V Movie Studio

Walkman music player on board

Another of the redesigned Sony media apps which has gotten a facelift is the new Walkman music player. It retains all the functionality of the older music players but adds a little bit extra here and there.
It is divided into Playing and My music panels.
In the My music section, you can update your album art and music information like album, year released, and more. SensMe is included, meaning you can filter your songs by mood - upbeat, energetic, mellow, dance, etc. Creating playlists is enabled and you can also view your Facebook friends' activity if they too use the Walkman player.
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The music player is decent looking and snappy
The Now Playing screen offers the standard music controls, shortcuts to the library, "Infinity" key and the song cover art. The Infinity key lets you quickly look up a song on YouTube or browse for the lyrics, among others.
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The Now Playing interface • The equalizer
Sony has improved on the Walkman player's settings. There's a new ClearAudio+ option, which determines the best audio quality settings depending on the song you're listening to.
There's Surround sound mode, which imitates the Studio, Club or Concert Hall experience. The Clear stereo mode enhances the perceivable stereo channel separation.
Speaker settings include Clear Phase, which adjusts the quality, while xLOUD enhances the loudness of the internal speaker.
And audio fans will be pleased as there is a configurable 5-band equalizer with bass adjustment. However die-hard audiophiles might prefer additional players, which sport a 10-band or even 20-band equalizer.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Sound enhancements and EQ
There are music controls on the lockscreen. Swiping them to either side brings back the clock. The notification area also offers the now playing screen with music controls and the option to jump into the Walkman player.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Music player controls on the lockscreen and notification area
The Sony Xperia V also features an FM Radio aboard complete with RDS support. The app automatically seeks and adds bookmarks to stations in range, although you'll need to have a set of headphones attached to use as an antenna.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The FM Radio

Audio quality is decent

The water and dust proofing has cost the Sony Xperia V a tiny bit in terms of audio output, but the smartphone still performs identically to the Sony Xperia T for the most part. This means that when you use it with an active external amplifier you get good scores all over. The volume levels were slightly below average, but the overall performance is still good.
The degradation when you plug in a pair of headphones consists of a moderate hike in stereo crosstalk rises and distortion levels. Neither of those readings is anything to worry too badly about, though. Volume levels remain about the same, though, which is not a common sight among smartphones. We'd rate the overall performance as good, although there are clearly superior options out there.
And here go the results so you can see for yourselves.
TestFrequency responseNoise levelDynamic rangeTHDIMD + NoiseStereo crosstalk
Sony Xperia V+0.16, -0.04-81.682.20.0640.052-81.9
Sony Xperia V (headphones attached)+0.46, -0.10-81.481.90.1100.268-52.9
Sony Xperia T+0.11, -0.10-86.187.80.0230.023-84.1
Sony Xperia T (headphones attached)+0.43, -0.11-86.187.50.1400.260-62.7
LG Optimus 4X HD+0.02, -0.52-74.874.80.3450.318-81.6
LG Optimus 4X HD (headphones attached)+0.03, -0.51-70.169.90.8150.811-64.5
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III+0.03, -0.05-90.390.30.0120.018-92.6
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III (headphones attached)+0.11, -0.04-90.290.20.00920.090-53.1
HTC One X+0.02, -0.08-82.182.10.1370.393-80.7
HTC One X (headphones attached)+0.10, -0.10-80.680.60.1740.459-60.8

Sony Xperia V frequency response
Sony Xperia V frequency response
You can learn more about the whole testing process here.


13 MP Camera comes with its own interface

The Xperia V sports a 13 megapixel camera with a backside-illuminated Exmor R sensor and a single LED flash. It's capable of producing stills with a maximum resolution of 4128 x 3096px.
The camera controls on the Xperia V are available on two taskbars on either side of the viewfinder. On the left you get four shortcuts to various settings, while the still camera/camcorder toggle, the virtual shutter and a thumbnail of the last photo taken are on the right.
The menu key brings up two pages of extra settings - scenes, resolution, smile detection, geotagging, image stabilization and focus mode among others. You can customize three of the shortcuts on the left (the shooting mode shortcut is fixed).
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The new camera interface
With the Xperia V Sony is debuting its new Superior auto mode, which determines the best scene depending on the conditions. It basically does the same as the old Auto mode, but reportedly even better. However there is a trick, under Superior auto the Xperia V will only shoot 12 MP stills so if you want the full 13 MP resolution you should take pictures in Normal.
Sweep Panorama is also here. You can choose the direction of capture and upon a press of the shutter all you have to do is steadily move the phone to capture. Scene selection gives you a manual choice of Backlight correction HDR, Night scene, sports, etc.
The Xperia V features a Quick launch option, which lets you customize the default behavior of the camera slider in the lockscreen. The default option is Launch and capture - it unlocks the phone, starts the camera and instantly snaps a photo. It's not the best option as the camera doesn't take the needed time to focus properly.
It's also hard to frame the first shot right from this mode, but you can quickly take another photo as the camera reloads quite fast. The other option is to just unlock the phone and start the camera, or you can just disable this feature altogether.
The 13 MP sensor on the Xperia V is a capable one. Stills look good with great exposure and nice levels of detail. Colors are also on the good side and we're impressed with the Xperia V's shot to shot times - it's a really fast camera.
Images are sharp and the software is fine-tuned to deal with cloudy or too bright conditions with ease. Here are some samples below.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Sony Xperia V camera samples
We also snapped a couple of macro shots with the LED turned on. The Xperia flashes the LED to focus and then re-flashes again during image capture. Here the level of detail is also impressive.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Sony Xperia V macro samples
Since most of samples were captured with the Superior auto, which caps the resolution to 12 MP we're posting two 13 MP samples for comparison's sake. Aside from the actual pixel count the quality is virtually the same.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Sony Xperia V 13 MP samples
We'd easily recommend the Xperia V to a friend in need of a cameraphone. It's fast and produces nice images. Users that want larger prints of their photos will be pleased with the 13 MP maximum resolution.

Image quality comparison

We're putting the Xperia V against its slightly-older sibling, the Xperia T, and LG's front-runner Optimus G. You can choose other adversaries as you please.
Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool
Sony Xperia V in our Photo Compare Tool

Passable video recording

The Sony Xperia V captures 1080p video at 30 fps, which is the norm nowadays for most upper-class smartphones.
The camcorder has similar settings to the still camera, including focus mode, metering, exposure value, image stabilization and so on. The layout of the shortcuts can be customized here, too.
The Xperia V camcorder features continuous autofocus. It may take a few seconds to refocus after you re-frame but that's better than repeatedly attempting to lock focus and ruining your video. Focusing during video recording is done smoothly and doesn't interfere with the overall fluidity of the clip.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Camcorder mode offers largely the same interface
FullHD videos are stored in MP4 format (19Mbps bitrate) and the framerate is very stable at just a notch below the 30fps mark. The Xperia V videos come with stereo sound recorded at 127Kbps bitrate and 48kHz sampling - all pointing to on-par video recording compared to the Xperia T.
The Xperia V records smooth 1080p videos but they lack sharpness and turn out unpleasantly soft. Shooting at specific objects isn't a problem as the sensor is constantly focusing on the right thing but scenes filled with moving cars, people, etc. proved a problem for it as it didn't really know where to focus.
Here is a 1080p video sample captured with the Sony Xperia V:

If you want to look closer at the video quality, you can download an untouched sample right here.

Video quality comparison

We've added the Xperia V to our video comparison tool. See how it fares against the likes of the Galaxy S III and the iPhone 5.
Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool
Sony Xperia V in our Video Compare Tool


Full-fledged connectivity

The Sony Xperia V has quad-band 2G, tri-band 3G connectivity and penta-band LTE. Mobile data speeds are an impressive 42 Mbps of HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA.
Local connectivity is covered by Wi-Fi a/b/g/n with DLNA and Wi-Fi Direct, so you can easily share content from your phone on a DLNA TV or music player. There's also Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP.
MicroUSB handles the charging and connecting to your PC and there's also USB On-the-go support so you can attach external flash drives.
Media Remote isn't preinstalled on the Xperia V but you can get it through the Google Play Store for free. It will serve as a remote control for DLNA-capable BRAVIA TVs and Sony DVD/Blu-ray players too. There are a few versions of the interface ranging from simply changing the channels to mouse input and viewing disc history.
There's a Connected Devices app that also lets you manage DLNA connectivity with the Xperia V. You can either browse content on other DLNA-enabled devices on the same Wi-Fi network, or set the V as a media  server for other devices.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The Connected Devices app
The Xperia V also comes with Sony's Smart Connect app, which replaces the former LiveWare manager, although the functionality remains basically the same. With Smart connect, you can set your device to do a variety of things, like launch an app or set an alarm, whenever you connect an accessory, e.g. a headset or a charger.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Smart Connect manager can, for example, launch the music player as soon as you connect a headset
Finally, if you have an Xperia tablet, Xperia link is a simple app that lets you share the internet connection from your phone to your tablet. Alternatively you can do Wi-Fi tethering the old-fashioned way.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Xperia link

The ICS browser is great as usual

The browser interface is quite minimalistic: all you get is the URL bar with a tabs shortcut and contextual menu. The bar automatically disappears as you start scrolling down a page. To make it reappear again, simply scroll up. The contextual menu gives you more browsing options - Refresh, Forward, Save to bookmarks, Share page, Find on page, full settings and a couple of more - Request desktop site (no more hunting for that "Desktop" option buried at the bottom of the site) and Save for offline reading.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The web browser was redesigned
The full settings menu offers extra options. For example, you can set your search engine to Yahoo or Bing, you can adjust text size and the level of which double tap will zoom in.
The browser borrows several features from its desktop counterpart: when searching for something, if the browser is confident you'll click on a certain search result, it will start preloading that page right away so that it opens faster if you do click it. You can set this feature to work over Wi-Fi only to preserve data.
The other trick is the ability to open Incognito tabs.
Speaking of tabs, the tab switching interface looks exactly like the Recent apps list. You can even close tabs by swiping them off the screen.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Switching tabs works the same way as switching apps does
Quick controls (available as a Google Labs extra) reveal five controls (New tab, Tabs, URL, Bookmarks, More) when you slide your finger in from the side. These really go a long way in improving the browser experience. Another cool feature from Labs is Full screen, which squeezes in a little more screen real estate by hiding the status bar.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Quick controls can be enabled from Google Labs
As far as Flash support is concerned, only certain Flash-related ads will pop-up, while YouTube videos will open in their own app once selected and, as expected, flash games are a no-go. The Adobe Flash Player app has been omitted from the Google Play store, so if you don't side-load it from somewhere else, the browser will only be able to handle HTML 5 videos out of box.
You can also opt for the much-improved Google Chrome web browser, which has also been pre-installed. It's very smooth and it's actually the default web browser on Android Jelly Bean. The interface is pretty simple - you get a combined URL and search bar at the top. To the right of it there's a tab switcher button with the number of open tabs on it. Hitting the menu button reveals options like new tab, bookmarks, look at  closed tabs on other devices, request desktop site, etc.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Google Chrome
To switch between tabs you just swipe to the left or right to move between various open pages. In the tab interface you can also swipe away tabs you don't want anymore, except this time with a cooler animation.
Sony Xperia V
Switching tabs in Chrome
Chrome offers full synchronization with your Google account. Just type it in and it will immediately connect to all of your devices with Chrome installed. The only thing that doesn't get synced is your passwords.

Great organizer

The Sony Xperia V comes with the OfficeSuite 6 viewer. OfficeSuite 6 allows you to view almost any type of document, although you'll have to fork over for the Pro version if you want editing capabilities as well.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
OfficeSuite 6 handles all your documents
There's a Notes app that comes with the Xperia V. It's pretty simple to use - you can select the color of the note and just start typing or doodling. There's also an option for Evernote integration.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The Notes app
The Power Saver app helps you extend your battery life by toggling things like Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth screen brightness, auto sync and background data on and off automatically when the battery charge falls below a certain user-defined threshold.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The Power saver app
The calendar has three different types of view - daily, weekly and monthly. The lower section of the screen is reserved for a list of upcoming events. Adding a new event is quick and easy, and you can also set an alarm to act as a reminder.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The organizer centerpiece - the calendar
The Calendar also pulls info on upcoming events from your Facebook account. Facebook events appear just like regular calendar entries, except that you can't edit them from the app.
There is a nicely touch-optimized calculator aboard. The buttons are really big and easy to hit, and you can expand it to include advanced functions (trigonometry, logarithms).
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Regular Calculator • Scientific Calculator
The clock app supports multiple alarms, each with its own start and repeat time. There's also a desk clock option, although it doesn't have integrated weather or news information.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The Clock app
The stopwatch, world clock and timer are available within the clock app. The Timer function now has a history option, and the world clock features a cool slider which helps you quickly figure out the local time in another city.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
World Clock • Stopwatch • Timer
The Google Play store is full of free apps that will cater to all your organizational needs.


Offline Google Maps and Wisepilot navigation

The Sony Xperia V comes with a GPS receiver, which took about a minute to get satellite lock upon a cold start. You can use the A-GPS functionality to get near instantaneous locks. Alternatively, network positioning will also do if you only need an estimate of your location. There's GLONASS support too, which reduces the time needed to acquire a satellite lock and improve its accuracy.
Google Maps is an integral part of the Android package and we've covered it many times before. It offers voice-guided navigation in certain countries and falls back to a list of instructions elsewhere.
3D buildings are shown for some of the bigger cities and you can use two-finger camera tilt and rotate to get a better view of the area.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Google Maps
Google Maps uses vector maps, which are very data efficient. The latest version has an easy to use interface for caching maps - you just choose "Make available offline" from the menu and pan/zoom around until the desired area is in view (there's an indicator showing how much storage caching that area will take). You can later view cached areas and delete ones you no longer need.
Note that there's a limit to the size of the area you can cache - you can't just make all of Europe available offline, not even a whole country. We managed to cache London and some surrounding regions before Maps told us the area is too big. Also, there's no address search in the cached maps and you can only cache map data in supported regions of the world.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Making an area of the map available for offline usage is very easy
You can also plan routes, search for nearby POI and go into the always cool Street View. The app will reroute you if you get off course, even without a data connection.
Wisepilot is also part of the Sony Xperia V package, with a full navigation license for the first 30 days and downloadable maps for offline navigation. After the initial trial period is over you either need to present a voucher code to extend the license or buy a full navigation pack.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Wisepilot takes care of your navigation needs

The Play Store with over 700 thousand apps

Running on Android ICS, the Xperia V has access to almost all the latest apps and the ample built-in memory plus the available microSD slot guarantees you won't have trouble with space.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The Google Play Store
The Store is organized in a few scrollable tabs - categories, featured, top paid, top free, top grossing, top new paid, top new free and trending. The in-app section is untouched though and it's very informative - a description, latest changes, number of downloads and comments with rating. There is usually a demo video and several screenshots for most apps too.


Offline Google Maps and Wisepilot navigation

The Sony Xperia V comes with a GPS receiver, which took about a minute to get satellite lock upon a cold start. You can use the A-GPS functionality to get near instantaneous locks. Alternatively, network positioning will also do if you only need an estimate of your location. There's GLONASS support too, which reduces the time needed to acquire a satellite lock and improve its accuracy.
Google Maps is an integral part of the Android package and we've covered it many times before. It offers voice-guided navigation in certain countries and falls back to a list of instructions elsewhere.
3D buildings are shown for some of the bigger cities and you can use two-finger camera tilt and rotate to get a better view of the area.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Google Maps
Google Maps uses vector maps, which are very data efficient. The latest version has an easy to use interface for caching maps - you just choose "Make available offline" from the menu and pan/zoom around until the desired area is in view (there's an indicator showing how much storage caching that area will take). You can later view cached areas and delete ones you no longer need.
Note that there's a limit to the size of the area you can cache - you can't just make all of Europe available offline, not even a whole country. We managed to cache London and some surrounding regions before Maps told us the area is too big. Also, there's no address search in the cached maps and you can only cache map data in supported regions of the world.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Making an area of the map available for offline usage is very easy
You can also plan routes, search for nearby POI and go into the always cool Street View. The app will reroute you if you get off course, even without a data connection.
Wisepilot is also part of the Sony Xperia V package, with a full navigation license for the first 30 days and downloadable maps for offline navigation. After the initial trial period is over you either need to present a voucher code to extend the license or buy a full navigation pack.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
Wisepilot takes care of your navigation needs

The Play Store with over 700 thousand apps

Running on Android ICS, the Xperia V has access to almost all the latest apps and the ample built-in memory plus the available microSD slot guarantees you won't have trouble with space.
Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V Sony Xperia V
The Google Play Store
The Store is organized in a few scrollable tabs - categories, featured, top paid, top free, top grossing, top new paid, top new free and trending. The in-app section is untouched though and it's very informative - a description, latest changes, number of downloads and comments with rating. There is usually a demo video and several screenshots for most apps too.


Final Words

We're obviously reviewing the Xperia V at a time when the eyes of the Sony faithful are set elsewhere. It's been a year since the Japanese went solo and, although they've blown hot and cold thus far, they seem to have found their pace. With a couple of full-HD five-inchers, Sony is ahead of some of their top rivals. Not bad for a year's work.
And what about the Xperia V? Long story short, it is the water-proof version of the soon-to-be-ex-flagship and it will most likely interest users who have a use for an IP57-certified handset and who wouldn't overspend on a smartphone, state-of-the-art five-inch full-HD touchscreen or not.
This isn't a particularly bad situation to be in. The Xperia V is more durable than the Bond phone and looks not a bit worse. It's got all the value-adding features that Sony has at the top shelf: a 13MP camera with 1080p video recording, the custom Album app, the Walkman player. Half the built-in storage of the Xperia T and a lower-res front camera are not things we'd complain about. After all, the Xperia V is supposed to be the more durable and slightly less expensive version of the flagship.
But is it? Well, not at this point, no. And we mean the price tag, not the water resistance. Instead of making short work of the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus, the HTC One S and why not even the LG Optimus 4X HD, its current price sets it on a collision course with the quad-core flagship monsters that wouldn't mind one last fight before retirement, especially one that they're guaranteed to win.
Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus HTC One S LG Optimus 4X HD P880
Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus • HTC One S • LG Optimus 4X HD P880
It just doesn't make sense for a phone like the Xperia V to cost about the same (and sometimes even more) than a Samsung Galaxy S III or an HTC One X. Not to mention the Google Nexus 4, which is ridiculously cheap at Google Play.
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III HTC One X LG Nexus 4 E960
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III • HTC One X • LG Nexus 4 E960
To add insult to injury, Sony still has the Xperia V waiting for Jelly Bean. It could really be a matter of weeks now, but that's still worse than what most of its competitors got.
Maybe the current price is kept up by low supply, as Sony is said to be pushing back the Xperia V launch on some markets to make Jelly Bean available. The result is a weird situation where the Xperia V costs a good 100 euro more than the Xperia T. This seems way off and perhaps it will get corrected faster than it's usual for a newly-released device.
And when it does, we wouldn't mind a phone that looks this good, runs Jelly Bean and is water-resistant. Maybe the launch of the Xperia Z and ZL will help too. Sony may realize it's running out of alphabet but, more importantly, they'll run out of reasons too for charging so much on the Xperia V.

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