Hands on: Sony Xperia M2

By Pat Pilcher

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Cyclo 505 bike GPS.
Cyclo 505 bike GPS.

Having won over many with the Xperia Z2, could Sony have pulled the proverbial rabbit out of their hat with the Xperia M2?

Look and Feel

The M2 is a curious beast. On paper it looks a lot like a flagship device thanks to a quad-core CPU and 4G support. A giveaway that we're talking mid-range hardware is the M2's 8MP camera.

The mid-range end of the smartphone market is subject to intense competition. Sony are betting big that the M2's spec and high-end build allows it to compete head on with Motorola, Samsung, LG, and Huawei.

Screens tend to be one of the more expensive smartphone components. On mid-range handsets they're often smaller or have a lower resolution. In the case of the M2's screen, it is still a decent 4.8" but its resolution is only 540 x 960 at 229ppi. At a glance the M2's screen still impresses.

The M2 pretty much speaks the same design language as the Z2. Its slim body is all but identical to the Z2's, although it's made out of plastic and alloy rather than glass.

In practice this means the M2 has a reasonable 148g weight. It won't rip linings out of pockets or purses yet still packs a decent amount of heft.

If there's a downside, it's this. The M2's shiny plastic body is a fingerprint magnet. If you carry it in a pocket with keys and spare change, scratches soon become noticeable. Buying a case and screen protector is definitely recommended.

On its right hand side, there's a dedicated camera button. This is not only convenient but is something other smartphone makers should be doing. There's also a micro SD and SIM slot cover, volume toggle and Sony's now familiar round power button. The M2's left hand side is pretty uncluttered with just a micro USB socket for charging.

Sony has persisted in putting the speaker in the M2's base. Depending on how you hold it when in landscape orientation for games or watching a video clip your hand can muffle its audio.

Even though the SIM and MicroSD slot have covers, the M2 isn't water and dust resistant like the Z2.

Under the Hood

Sitting behind the M2's screen is a reasonable spec. It packs a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage (of which 5GB is accessible). A generous 2300mAh battery is also included.

The M2's rear camera has an 8MP sensor and uses the same app as on the Xperia Z2. Its front camera uses a VGA sensor, which takes reasonable selfies, and Skype calls but it isn't much use for anything else. In low light conditions the M2's rear camera acquitted itself well. Zooming in on photos taken in low light conditions revealed pixel noise was low. Photos remained still well defined, although a tad desaturated.

Sony has put a fair bit of work into optimising the M2 for use with Qualcommm's Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz quad-core CPU. This may sound impressive but other handsets running the same CPU tend to be prone to lags with heavy multi-tasking and games. This wasn't the case with the M2, which ran fine no matter what I threw at it.

In Use

The M2's user interface impressed. Where manufacturers ladle ugly interface customisations onto Android, Sony opted for a more subtle approach. The M2 is so much better for it.

Android is still there and tasks like moving between screens or adding and removing widgets on the M2 are dead easy. Sony have also kept key interface elements such as the notifications bar and app drawer uncluttered.

As with the Z series, themes are there and can give the M2 a whole new look and feel. There's plenty of themes to choose from and if these don't tickle your fancy, you can always download more.

The lock screen gives access to the phone by swiping up and down. You can also enable/disable widgets by swiping sideways along the top left to right. A swipe from right to left fires up the M2's camera.

The review unit has Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) installed but an update for Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) is on the horizon. Here's hoping it arrives sooner rather than later.

The M2 exceeded a day's typical use. This is thanks to a combination of software optimisation and a generous 2300mAh battery. Unfortunately its battery is non removable. This means there's no way of swapping it out once it wears out (by then most people will want to upgrade anyhow).

Even after giving the M2 a fair thrashing all day, a solid 35 per cent of the battery was still there by the evening. Once battery life dips into single digits there's also a stamina mode that disables battery-draining apps.

On the multimedia front, there wasn't much that the M2 didn't do. As with the Xperia Z range, the M2 also sports the rather excellent Walkman app, which delivers great audio. The Music Unlimited app is also built into the Walkman app. DLNA streaming is present too. Using it I was able to send music to the SONOS players scattered around my house.

One thing that I'd been dying to test was the ability to hook up a DualShock 3 controller. It worked. While a DualShock 3 controller isn't something I'm going to carry around with a phone, it made for a great gaming experience at home.

Verdict

The M2 has launched into an ultra competitive market. There's an endless range of affordable well specc'd handsets available. The question is can the M2 compete?

Sony's flagship phone, The Z2 has set a high benchmark. It isn't too surprising that buyers will have high expectations with the M2.

Sony has put a fair bit of thought into the M2 and have crafted a handset that feels more high end than its sticker price would have you believe. For those wanting premium features on a budget, the M2 may be just the device.

Tech Specs
RRP $399
Weight 148g
Dimensions 139.6 x 71.1 x 8.6 mm
Camera (Rear) 8 megapixels
4 x digital zoom
HD video recording (1080 p)
(Front) VGA
Display 4.8", 960 x 540, TFT LCD
OS Google Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean)
CPU 1.2 GHz Qualcomm MSM8926 Quad Core
Battery Battery (Embedded) 2330 mAh
(Talk) 12 hours 11 min**
(Standby) 641 hours**

- NZ Herald

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