Review by Dan Seifert on Sunday July 29, 2012.
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As the Sony Xperia P is sold unlocked and free from carrier restrictions, it doesn't have any carrier bloatware installed out of the box, which is refreshing to see. Sony has installed a fair share of its own apps, however, as well as a couple of third-party apps. Fortunately, it is possible to remove the third-party apps if you don't want them.
The Xperia P has access to most of the hundreds of thousands of apps available in the Google Play Store, but not all of them. Because it runs Android 2.3, it is not possible to use the increasing number of apps that only work with Android 4.0 and up, which means that owners of the Xperia P miss out on some of the more interesting apps coming to the platform.
The Xperia P features a slightly-modified version of the standard Android 2.3 web browser. The browser loads pages fairly quickly, and scrolling is usually responsive, but zooming is quite slow whether using the double-tap method or multitouch. The browser does support Adobe Flash Player and features multiple windows, but it's not really competitive with the better smartphone browsers available today. Since it is not possible to install Google Chrome for Android on the Xperia P until it gets upgraded to Android 4.0, owners would do well to check out the Firefox for Android Beta browser that offers a smoother and faster browsing experience than the stock browser.
Sony has equipped the Xperia P with an 8 megapixel autofocus camera and LED flash. The camera can be launched from anywhere - including the lock screen - by holding down the physical shutter key for a couple of seconds. From there, pictures can be snapped using the physical key, the on-screen shutter button, or by tapping the screen if that feature is enabled in the settings menu. The physical key is fairly stiff, and it requires a good amount of effort to press down fully, making it hard to hold the phone still while you are taking a picture. Autofocus is relatively quick, however, and the Xperia P's shot-to-shot times are respectable.
The camera interface offers quick access to various scene modes, flash controls, and other photographic settings. The Xperia P also features Sony's 3D and 2D panoramic stitch modes and face and smile detection features.
Image quality is generally good in good lighting and outdoors, but leaves a bit to be desired indoors and in more difficult lighting situations. Images taken in low light with the Xperia P have noticeable grain and noise compared to other smartphone cameras on the market. On the plus side, the Xperia P's camera doesn't have any white balance issues that I could see, which is a common problem with smartphone cameras.
The Xperia P is also capable of recording 1080p HD video. The video capture mode features zoom and continuous autofocus, but the video itself is not terribly smooth.
The Xperia P comes with a stylish music player that supports album art and playlists and can be controlled from the lock screen or a home screen widget. The phone also has a built-in FM radio and Sony's TrackID app that works similarly to Shazam to identify music playing on the radio or on TV.
The P also comes with a set of wired headphones that include an inline remote. The external speaker gets surprisingly loud without distorting and it sounds pretty good to boot.
As mentioned earlier, the Xperia P has a rather small 1305mAh battery embedded inside its aluminum frame. It is not user accessible, so it's not possible to swap in a fresh battery when it becomes exhausted. Sony claims that the battery is good for about 6 hours of talk time, but in practical terms, unless you are an exceptionally light user, you will likely have to charge the P at some point during the day. On the plus side, the included charger is said to give 60 minutes of talk time with just 10 minutes of charging.
The Sony Xperia P is a pretty good mid-range device that offers solid build quality, quick performance, and a great display. The things that really let it down are the puny battery and the dated Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system. Sony is selling the Xperia P unlocked direct through its online store and retail outlets for $449.99. But if you are in the market for an unlocked phone, you would do well to consider the GSM version of the Google Galaxy Nexus, which offers a larger display, faster processor, and newer Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system as well as support for both AT&T and T-Mobile's 3G networks for $100 less.
Dan is MobileBurn.com's Editor-in-Chief. Based in Poughkeepsie in New York, Dan can be found on Twitter as @DCSeifert.