The Sony Xperia L2 illustrates an issue many established smartphone makers have been facing for a while now. How do you create a truly compelling budget handset?
Samsung seems to have gone the path of making phones that look and feel a bit like yesterday's flagship phones (like the Samsung Galaxy A3), with only a certain amount of success.
Motorola has been the one unqualified winner here, with the Moto G5 standing as the latest in a long line of highly usable, well built, bloat-free phones for around £150 (roughly $200/AU$260).
By contrast, it's a little tricky to see what Sony's approach is. Last year's Sony Xperia L1 was a big slab of not very much at all; a beige phone (metaphorically speaking) with no defining features to speak of. Unfortunately, the Sony Xperia L2 follows suit.
In the US the price of the Sony Xperia L2 is set at $249.99 (about AU$310), and we're seeing it online for around £200 in the UK. That's a bit of a problem given the competition and what they have to offer compared to the L2 for the same if not less money.
Difficult to put your finger on
- Takes sound seriously
- Includes a wide-angle selfie camera
A glance at the Sony Xperia L2's official web page gives us some insight into the Japanese company's vision for this phone.
It leads with a mention of the Xperia L2's "super wide selfie" capabilities, which are enabled by the phone's 8MP 120-degree front-facing camera. We'll grant them this one - the L2 does indeed offer a much wider view when taking self shots.
This means that you can get far more people and scenery into your selfies. Practically speaking, we found that you could get the kind of shot that would ordinarily require a full-arms-length pose while holding the phone normally.
Those who have strained necks and shoulder muscles in the pursuit of a properly framed selfie should take note.
Indeed, capable photography seems to be Sony's biggest selling point with the Xperia L2, as it next mentions the phone's 13MP rear camera. This is perhaps an understandable angle to take, given that Sony is a major camera maker, and also supplies many of the camera components used by rival smartphone manufacturers.
We'll go into the camera's performance in more detail a little later, but right now we'll say that the results aren't particularly outstanding. It has all of the issues we've become familiar with at this price point.
One key feature that was conspicuous by its absence in the Sony Xperia L1 was a fingerprint scanner, so it's good to see that Sony has addressed that with the L2.
It's located on the back of the phone in a reasonably comfortable position, just below the camera. However, it's not the quickest or the most reliable example we've used even at this price point.
We found that it would quite often fail or secure only a partial fingerprint - not all the time, but enough to lead to frustration and a crucial lack of trust in the system.
Sony also makes mention of the fact that the Xperia L2 uses ClearAudio+. It's far from a new thing, but Sony claims that this "special sound field" will detect the music that's being played and automatically adjust the sound settings accordingly.
It certainly brightened up the sound of Four Tet's New Energy album when we streamed it through Google Play Music, though the sharper sound was less welcome (to these ears) in a downloaded MP3 of Bob Dylan's Desire. Whether this form of digital processing will be to the liking of purists or not we can't be sure, but it's a nice option to have.
Talking of sound purists, Sony also offers a full equalizer option for personal tweaking, with a Clear Bass option enabling you to play with the low end.
We can't think of many other $250/£200 phones that take sound this seriously, so audiophiles on a budget might be more interested in the L2 than the average customer.
Design and display
- Hefty all-plastic body
- 5.5-inch 720p IPS LCD screen
- USB-C and 3.5mm socket
Sony has always made phones that revel in a certain angular sturdiness, and the Xperia L2 doesn't buck that trend. Flat top and bottom edges and sharp right-angled corners suggest that you could really hurt someone if you swung this phone around in a crowded bar.
The L2 is a seriously hefty bit of kit, just like last year's Sony Xperia L1. It's a belt-busting 9.8mm thick, and weighs a staggering (almost literally) 178g.
To give that some context, the famously solid iPhone X (this is potentially the only time these two phones will be compared) weighs 174g, and that's because it's made of glass and metal and has all manner of wondrous components inside.
We have no idea why the Xperia L2 is so hefty given that it's all plastic and very basic indeed.
While the Nokia 6 isn't far off the Xperia L2 at 169g, at least that phone has a premium all-metal build.
The phone is pretty sizeable when viewed head-on, too, with dimensions of 150 x 78mm. Budget phone users probably haven't grown accustomed to the wonderful world of bezel-free phones just yet, but the L2 is notably chunky wherever you're coming from.
It has a thick chin and forehead, in particular. The latter is at least broken up by the ever-tasteful Sony logo and the aforementioned front-facing camera, but the bottom of the phone looks like so much wasted space. As is Sony's custom, there are no fixed home, back, and multitasking buttons on the L2.
The side bezels are pretty thick too, giving the phone's screen a pronounced picture frame look.
Talking of the Sony Xperia L2's 5.5-inch LCD display, it's just okay. It's plenty large enough, and the basic elements of brightness and color accuracy are alright for a phone of this price - though taking it outside dulls the display considerably.
But it's a shame that once again Sony has gone with a 720p resolution, resulting in a less-than-ideal pixel density of 267ppi. Any modern phone with a display that tops 5-inches should ideally have a 1080p resolution by now.
As it stands, you can see individual pixels on the Xperia L2's screen without having to press your nose right up to it.
That's simply not an issue with the likes of the Moto G5 or the Nokia 6, both of which have 1080p displays.
We also noted the same build quality issue as the Xperia L1, in that medium pressure will yield a disconcerting ripple effect. You'd think with the extra weight that this phone is carrying that it would be a little more rigid.
On the positive side, Sony once again gives us an affordable phone that uses the modern USB-C connection standard, which is far from a given in this part of the market. And yes, there's a 3.5mm socket.