The essentials

As we've discussed, the Sony Xperia M has a handful of key features that mark it out from other affordable Android phones, but it does the general stuff pretty well too.

Call quality is crisp and clear, and the rear-mounted speaker is notably loud and clear when playing media or receiving phone calls.

The latter is thanks largely to Sony's xLOUD technology, which simply makes the sound output… well, louder, but without distortion.

Sony Xperia M
The speaker isn't bad for its size

While the Sony Xperia M is strong when it comes to outputting calls and media, it's not a great messager. That small screen, combined with a cramped Sony keyboard, makes tapping out messages a bit of a chore - at least until you get to grips with it.

Sony Xperia M

I came to the Xperia M directly from using an iPhone 5S as my daily driver, so I'm accustomed to using a smaller 4-inch device for typing out messages.

I suspect that anyone coming from a larger phone will struggle even more than I did.

Of course, this being Android, all that was needed was a free download of Google Keyboard (or a paid download of SwiftKey) and the problem was significantly lessened.

On the apps front, Sony has included most of the main Google apps as standard. That means using Chrome as the default (and only) web browser, which really shouldn't still be a noteworthy inclusion for new Android phones, but somehow it is.

Gmail, Maps, and Hangouts are also included. We'd recommend booting the latter up and setting it as your default SMS service, as it's much more pleasant to use than Sony's default effort.

Sony Xperia M

Likewise Google's own gallery app, Photos, is that little bit crisper and cleaner than Sony's Album equivalent, and it ties in with Google+'s excellent auto-uploading and enhancement features. Both apps are included here from the off, so the choice is yours.

Speaking of Sony software, we should note that the company continues to require you to hook your smartphone up to your computer when there's a new firmware update to install. It's a mystifying and frankly irritating decision.

What's more, when plugged into my MacBook I had to manually search for the appropriate piece of bridging software - the automated installation didn't seem to work.

Also irritating was the fact that my Xperia M handset continued to tell me I had an update pending, even after I had installed the latest update and rebooted several times.

I eventually realised that I had to manually refresh the update monitor in order to help it to realise it was up to date. It's a relatively minor niggle, but it's not one that a big company like Sony should really be making.

Camera

Sony's smartphone cameras are typically some of the strongest out there, as you might expect given the parent company's wider expertise in the area. However, you shouldn't expect particularly wondrous things from the entry-level Sony Xperia M.

It possesses a 5MP camera backed by an LED flash. Other than the physical two-stage camera button we mentioned earlier, that's a pretty bog standard set-up.

Sony Xperia M
Loo roll not included

Images are actually set to 3MP 16:9 by default, and if you manually switch to the full 5MP you'll find yourself stuck with a somewhat old fashioned 4:3 aspect ratio. Still, it lends itself better to those Instagram moments.

There's an HDR mode on board, which you don't always get with cheaper phones. I found that this noticeably brightened up the landscape images I took on one particularly cloudy day, but at the expense of blurry edges and some slightly false colour reproduction. Utilising HDR mode indoors with multiple artificial light sources, meanwhile, resulted in a complete blurry mess.

Sony Xperia M
Camera settings are comprehensive

Even general shots in decent natural lighting revealed a certain graininess and a general lack of detail, as well as a somewhat washed out colour palette.

Still, the Xperia M does feature a relatively comprehensive list of software features for such a cheap phone. These include manual settings for white balance, ISO and the like, and even a range of filters for those popular Instagram-like effects.

Sony Xperia M
Loo roll and filters, together at last

Video goes up to 720p, so there'll be no Full HD capture here. You shouldn't expect anything more than mediocre performance, either, with a shaky and somewhat blurry picture that struggles with motion.

In short, the Sony Xperia M's camera offers precisely what you'd expect from an entry-level smartphone. But that's still a little disappointing coming from Sony.

Sony Xperia M
A local landscape with HDR on...

Click here to see full resolution image

Sony Xperia M
...and the same view with it off

Click here to see full resolution image

Sony Xperia M
The Xperia M struggles with indoor shots, even with plenty of light sources

Click here to see full resolution image