The Sony Xperia M is a mid-range dual-core device with great build quality, a vibrant 4-inch display and NFC which is a first in this price segment. It easily beats its competition the Samsung Galaxy Core both in terms of performance and gaming. The Xperia M comes in both Black and White colors, but there's just one thing that keeps it from taking the crown. Keep reading the in-depth full review of the Sony Xperia M to find out.
- Great Build Quality
- Superb performance for a dual-core device
- Good sound quality
- Quality of the bundled accessories
- Decent camera, we expected better
- Apps can't be moved to the SD Card
- 3G video calling is not supported
The Sony Xperia M features a bright, 4-inch FWVGA display with a 1Ghz dual-core Snapdragon Krait processor, Adreno 305 GPU and 1 GB RAM. Out of the 4 GB internal memory 2.05 GB is available to user apps, and apps can't be moved to the SD card which is quite a downer given the cramped storage.
There's a notification led below the display which can be customized from Display settings to show different colors for various notifications. The buttons here are on-screen just like any other Xperia device. In terms of sensors you have the light and proximity sensors up top alongwith the VGA front facing camera.
On the left of the device you have just the micro USB data syncing and charging port, while on the right of the Xperia M you have the aluminium power key, the volume rocker and the dual-stage camera key. Moving to the back of the device you have the 5MP primary camera with the single LED flash as well as the secondary noise cancellation microphone. Just below it is the Sony low and the NFC antenna, the Xperia branding and speakerphone at the bottom.
On opening the backcover you care greeted by the micro-SIM card slot alongwith the micro SD Card slot right next to it. There's a 1700 mAh battery that runs the show here. You can watch our unboxing video to see everything we get inside the box.
The GPS on the Xperia M works great and is able to get precise location within a few seconds. The phone also supports OTG connectivity and USB pen drives can be connected. This is the first smartphone in this price segment which brings NFC to the table. NFC works great on the Xperia M and you can watch our NFC Demo video to see how it works.
The Xperia M has excellent build quality, although its entirely made of plastic apart from the display covering which is scratch resistant glass. The backcover especially is quite sturdy, doesn't flex much and has a matte finish which makes holding the device easier. There's a silver strip that runs along the sides which again adds to the design quotient of the Xperia M.
The thin buttons on the other hand are a bit hard to press, especially the dual-stage camera key. It has a wedge design making it thinner in the middle and growing thicker towards the top and bottom edges. Although the design makes the Xperia M look a lot thinner than it is.
There are no creaking sounds, but the buttons on the right apart from the power button do leave us a bit dissatisfied when pressed. In terms of ergonomics the volume keys seem a bit misplaced for right handed usage although the power and camera keys are easily accessible.
Network and Call Quality
There are no network issues with the Xperia M. We had complete network coverage in metropolitan areas as well as while travelling. Even while on calls there was no call drop and the signal level never dropped below 90% in most cases.
The earpiece is loud and clear, noise cancellation also works well when you are on a call. It was able to shut out vehicle noises from the background when on a call. The other person on the line was also able to hear us without any issues and there was no echo in the conversation which can happen sometimes due to dual-microphones. Wi-Fi and 3G performance was at-par with other devices in this price segment using a Qualcomm chipset and better reception than MediaTek based smartphones.
The display on the Xperia M has excellent viewing angles, although its a bit smallish at 4-inches but its pixel packed with a resolution of 480x854 pixels. The colors seem to pop, and the display is extraordinarily sharp, which we have always noticed with Sony displays. Text, images as well as icons are as sharp as you'd want them to be and color reproduction is natural without being overbearing.
There's not ghosting while watching high-framerate videos or while playing games and the touch response is instantaneous. The display has an anti-scratch layer on top, which is a great addition. But it does make the display a bit more prone to fingerprints.
Camera and LED flash
The camera interface and options available on the Sony Xperia M are simply great, but that doesn't make the camera great. The sensor takes acceptable images in ambient light, but when it comes to artificial lighting suddenly you are left with weird artifacts and patched colors. Although you can tweak the camera settings to get better images, we would have liked the auto mode to make better use of the camera sensor.
You can manually set the ISO, Metering, Focus Mode as well as Resolution among several other options from within the camera settings. The camera can produce excellent images when the settings have been configured correctly.
The LED flash is quite bright, and alongwith helping the camera to focus in dim-lighting also helps take good shots in low-light but there too some noise is introduced to the flash over-compensating for less light.
The speakerphone is loud, clear and also plays with a hint of bass which adds depth to the music being played. Although here too sound gets muffled when you put the phone on its back on a solid surface.
Apart from that the volume is quite loud when playing music, but reduces significantly when listening to FM Radio. There's no crackling even at maximum volume and it works great while in call as well.
This is the big question mark for the Xperia M. It has the chops to play almost all of today's high-end games. But why can't we ? The limited internal storage.
You can't move apps/games to the SD card, therefore you literally can't install high-end games which tend to be around 1GB or more in size. The internal memory is limited to about 2.05 GB, if you uninstall every single app than can be.
We did this and brought to you Asphalt 8 on the Sony Xperia M which is embedded above alongwith a review of basic games running on it. High-end games are certainly playable at decent framerates given the Adreno 305 GPU but its only this point that hold it back.
Music and Bundled Earphones
The bundled earphones are not in-ear style, but offer great sound quality and that's what we expect from Sony. A good camera and good sound quality. The earbuds are of good quality, the cable is thick and can withstand general wear and tear. There's ample bass in the headset and even if you like listening to music on your smartphone you would not be disappointed.
The Walkman player has a very intuitive interface which makes finding and listening to songs a pleasure, you can also configure equalizer settings to get the best out off the music playback capabilities of the device. Sony has also bundled its own audio technologies to make listening to music on the Xperia M, more pleasurable. These include Sony ClearAudio and XLoud sound enhancement.
FM Radio too works well, and was able to locate channels very quickly. You can search for the playing tracks on stores through Sony's TrackID and the FM Radio app also supports RDS using which it displays the name of the channel you are tuned into and name of the song where applicable. There's something we noticed here, the maximum volume reduces considerably when you are tuned to a channel on FM Radio than a video or a music file. We couldn't find a possible solution nor a reason for this disparity.
The Sony Xperia M can natively play 720p videos without a hiccup but 1080p videos require MXPLayer's S/W mode. There are no framerate issues while playing videos both local and streaming. YouTube video playback is limited to 480p resolution as that's the maximum the display supports. Thankfully the onscreen buttons disappear when videos go full-screen. You can natively play AVI, MP4 and 3GP video files in the default Video player and the rest in MXPlayer.
Software and Apps
To say that Sony has customized the look and feel of Android would be an understatement. Xperia UI seems alien if you are coming from Stock Android. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, it just takes a bit getting used to. The launcher and the app drawer are especially useful and changes made by Sony seem to obvious that it makes one thing why stock Android doesn't have these. If you watch the video review, in the software section you'll be able to see that if you long tap on any of the homescreens an overlay appears using which you can add apps, widgets or even change wallpapers for that homescreen without the need to going into the app drawer.
Sony's own power widget, video, gallery widgets offer more usability than stock android widgets with the able to scroll through content without opening up any apps right from the homescreens. Although there are many widgets available in the Play Store that do the same, but its nice that these come bundled with the os and seem a cohesive part rather than disjointed apps.
The Xperia UI makes its way into every part of Android including the dialer, launcher, app drawer as well as settings menu and the lockscreen. You can set different themes for the phone from Display settings and also customize the notification LED from here. In terms of apps, you have what seems like a million apps that come pre-installed, but thankfully most of them can be uninstalled. It would take another post to name all the apps that come pre-installed. But if I want to sum it up, most of the apps you would want already come pre-installed and you can always uninstall the rest.
All apps including FlipBoard, Chrome, WhatsApp as well as Skype work flawlessly on the Xperia M. The Sony Album app deserves a special mention here, which can create beautiful slideshows from your image gallery in a matter of seconds with music and animations. Using Sony's SensMe technology the app is able to detect the similarity of the images and groups them together as well and also assigns them the perfect music to go with them. Xperia M also received its first update just before our final review and its supposed to address some security issues as well as replace the existing kernel. Its supposed to resolve the issue with heating up of the smartphone when used for a long time and also some performance improvements.
The Sony Xperia M comes with the usual set of security tools using which you can set a password for the lockscreen, a pin, or a pattern. Along with that you also have Face Unlock which works well using the VGA front facing camera.
Then there's Sony's X-Alert app for Xperia smartphones using which you can locate your smartphone, remotely wipe it or even lock if you loose it. You can also make it ring, all using Sony's myXperia web service.
Performance and Battery Life
In terms of performance, the Xperia M is among the top devices run on a dual-core processor and the Adreno 305 GPU produces about 64 FPS in Nenamark2 which makes it great for gaming. High end games are easily playable at acceptable frame-rates while the phone also cruises through daily tasks with a breeze. We didn't have any issues with playing games nor with everyday tasks. The Xperia M never became laggy, the interface was always fluid and app launch times remained normal even after prolonged use. Although the device got a bit warm from the top, just right of the camera sensor when we played games for a long duration. It was just warm, nothing alarming.
Battery life is better than we expected with the 1700 mAh battery pack, which easily lasts more than a day on a single charge. The Xperia M can even last for 2 entire days with mixed usage if you use Sony's Stamina mode. In our tests the Xperia M lasted for about one and a half days of usage which consisted of 2G internet always on, with background sync on for all Google Apps, WhatsApp and Facebook, gaming for about 30 minutes, browsing internet for about an hour on Wi-Fi, listening to music and watching local videos for about an hour along with streaming video from YouTube for about 30 minutes. Our usual day parameter also consists of 20 minutes of voice calls without the use of the speakerphone. During this time GPS was always on.
The Sony Xperia M challenges the notion of what a mid-range device should look and feel like. With its superior display, admirable performance, feature-set and overall quality, it would've been the phone to beat in this segment, but one glaring omission keeps it from taking the crown. You can't MOVE apps to the SD card on the Xperia M, there's no denying it. This makes the phone no buy for most users who want to do a bit of gaming on the smartphone, which it is quite capable of. 2.05 GB of free storage in which you can install apps/games does not go a long way. Then there's the camera, which is good in its own right, but is kept from becoming great by software configuration. Then you can't make video phone calls over 3G, which is another omission which doesn't make any sense.
So should you get the Xperia M believing that Sony might in future release an update to enable "Move To SD" option. Probably not. But if you don't install those many apps, and play just a few games then the Xperia M is far superior to any other device in this price segment. Then there's people like me who'll get the Xperia M, root it the very next day and enjoy plentiful storage on the SD card. Would we wholeheartedly recommend the Sony Xperia M, yes we would just if it would've had move to SD option and better settings for Auto mode of the Camera. So that's why we are giving the Xperia M a score of 8.1/10.