There's been a lot of attention paid to high end smartphones and the flipside of this is that low end and midrange models have mostly been left to languish. Hopefully Sony's Xperia M will bring a bit of excitement back into the midrange scene by batting well above its $349 sticker price.
Look and Feel
Looks-wise, the Xperia M takes its design cues from Sony's existing Xperia design. This is definitely a good thing and as the Xperia's clean shape, curved corners and wafer slim design makes it extremely pocketable as well as giving it an air of desirability you'd normally associate with flagship phones.
Powering on the Xperia M reveals a tidy Android 4.1 interface with minimal cosmetic tweakery. Where many other phone makers go overboard throwing in tonnes of free apps (which on most budget phones with next to no storage is just plain annoying), Sony have thoughtfully chosen to keep the shovel-ware to a sensible minimum, instead bundling a highly tweakable music player and several other media apps.
Another indication that some thought was put into design of the Xperia M is the presence of a hardware camera button, which aside from being insanely useful, is something that other smartphone makers have cut in favour of cheaper (and more frustrating) software buttons. Other standout features include a capacious (and removable) battery, plus a micro SD expansion slot (which supports up to 32GB).
Under the Hood
A closer look at the Xperia M's specs also reveals some decent bang per buck value. For a start it packs an incredibly vivid 4" FWVGA 245ppi screen, and under its hood sits a dual-core Krait processor. Not bad considering that most other similarly priced smartphones tend to have lower end Cortex-A9 silicon and sub-WVGA screens.
While the Xperia M's 854x480 display won't give Apple or Samsung any real cause for concern, the Xperia M's display still produced well saturated and vivid colours, along with decent contrast levels. About the only noticeable indication that the display wasn't high-end, were its limited viewing angles.
By packing a Snapdragon 1GHz dual-core processor and Adreno 305 graphics, the Xperia M also delivered the goods in a smooth, lag free fashion across all apps I tested. I'd have preferred a little more than the 4GB of RAM bundled, but at least a micro SD slot gives the Xperia M some leg room, even if that means forking out an additional wedge of cash.
Sony have also baked a 5 megapixel image sensor into the rear of the M that can shoot 720p video. While most flagship phones boast of being able to shoot 1080p video, the ability to record what turned out to be pretty good 720p is unusual for most phones priced under $400. In terms of still shots however, its 5 megapixel front shooter wasn't earth shattering, but can still do a passable job for posting photos to Facebook.
Another area where the Xperia M scored well was battery life. This is in part to its stamina mode setting and the inclusion of a large 1750mAh battery. I managed to squeeze a full 9 to 5 day plus the evening out of it before it demanded quality time with its USB charger. Heavy data use knocked battery life down to just shy of 7 hours, which is still pretty respectable.
The Xperia M may appear to come up short when compared with the current crop of flagship phones, but that's comparing apples with oranges. Comparing the Xperia M to other smartphones at the $349 mark sees it offering some pretty excellent spec for budget buyer dollars. If you're looking for a smartphone that can do it all and don't want to spend a king's ransom, check out the Xperia M, chances are that you won't be disappointed.
RRP $349 (actual price will vary depending on mobile plan and telco subsidies)
Network support: Quad-band
Mobile data: GSM/EDGE/21 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
Display: 4" TFT capacitive FWVGA LCD (480 x 854 pixels) at 245ppi
OS: Android OS v4.1.2 Jelly Bean
CPU: Dual-core 1 GHz Krait CPU, Adreno 305 GPU, Qualcomm MSM8227 Snapdragon chipset
RAM: 1 GB of RAM
Storage: 4 GB of built-in storage (2 GB user available plus a microSD slot)
Camera: (Rear) 5 MP autofocus camera, single LED flashlight, geo-tagging, touch focus, HDR, hardware shutter key; (Front) VGA
Video capture: (Rear Camera) 720p @ 30fps video capture
Wireless Support: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP
Other: NFC, ANT+, GPS with A-GPS; GLONASS
Sensors: Accelerometer, ambient light and proximity sensor
Audio: 3.5 mm audio jack; Stereo FM radio with RDS
Ports: microUSB port (charging)
Battery: 1,750mAh Li-Ion battery, user-replaceable