Throughout the entire review, we had to keep in mind that the Sony Xperia SP was a mid-level handset costing £350/US$490, which is a good deal less than the top-tier smartphones available today. The very simple reason for this is that it kept threatening to break out of that classification and asked to be judged as a premium device.

The Xperia SP is a very accomplished handset from Sony, and it's with a tinge of sadness that we acknowledge it will probably fail to get the attention it deserves. Brighter lights are shining in the smartphone world these days, and the fact is that last year's superstars such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 and iPhone 4S remain very solid, affordable handsets

If you don't fancy the 5-inch screen size touted by top smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, Sony Xperia Z or HTC One, then the Sony Xperia SP is a very attractive alternative. There are plenty of people out there who are quite content to have a 4.6-inch device that doesn't require a hand like a baseball glove to keep hold of.

We liked

Top marks go to the Sony Xperia SP's camera. The range of settings and the quality of the images it produces were well beyond what we would expect from a smartphone at this price. It's become an indispensable tool of any modern smartphone, and Sony has concentrated its efforts to make sure this part of the Sony Xperia SP really punches above its weight.

Another positive inclusion is the addition of a microSD slot. It's pretty much a necessity really, and if Sony hadn't included one, it would have made this phone all-but-unpurchasable.

Lastly, we have to give a mention to the Walkman app. The way it looks is far more attractive than the standard Android music player found on other smartphones, and the interactive antenna is gimmicky but endearing. Music is a big part of Sony and the sheer amount of options available for organising, cataloguing and playing music shouldn't go unnoticed here.

We disliked

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As we repeatedly mentioned, the 8GB of storage space on the Sony Xperia SP really hampers it. You'll only get 5.5GB of actual usable space, which will quickly fill up with some albums, a couple of movies and a handful of apps.

Luckily, a microSD card won't set you back very much these days, which is a good thing, since you'll need one here, but does preclude downloading massive games to really test the internals.

The battery life also leaves a lot to be desired. Sony appears to have taken note of this with its Stamina software, which goes some way towards addressing the problem. However, if you're going to be away from home or the office for a day, there's no getting around the fact you're going to need to bring a charger with you.

Despite Sony's attempt to dress the Xperia SP up with a good-looking interface, premium design and extra features, this is still a phone with a dual-core 1.7GHz processor.

At times, it shows. If anything, you'll forget this is a mid-level handset and try to overstretch it with tasks, resulting in a bit of lag when surfing the internet or using apps. What we will say, though, is that it handles Android Jelly Bean very well - moving around the OS is a real pleasure on this phone.

Final verdict

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Despite noticeable shortcomings with storage space and occasional processor speed, we really came to like the Sony Xperia SP. It's a handset that so desperately wants to be able to sit at the grown-up table even though it's really only a mid-level device.

The excellent camera and range of connectivity that includes NFC and 4G go hand-in-hand with a great design and a screen size that will be just right for someone that doesn't want a high-end 5-inch monster.

If you're on a budget, we'd consider it ahead of last year's high-flyers, and it's certainly better than Sony's previous Xperia T model.

Heavy users will likely get frustrated with the moderate battery and mediocre processor. But if you want to save a bit of money and still own a smartphone that you can show off at parties or around the office, you could do a lot worse than picking up the Sony Xperia SP.