Sony's first rugged handset since ditching Ericsson as its mobile phone partner, the Sony Xperia Go has taken a number of design hints from its fellow Android-filled, Xperia-branded siblings, lining up with an appealing aesthetic that detracts from the hard-wearing rugged nature of the svelte smartphone.
Despite being IP67 certified - meaning it is dust-proof and can be submerged up to 1m underwater for as long as 30 minutes without damage, the Sony Xperia Go is a slim, compact phone that lines up at a minimalist 9.8mm thick and 110g in weight, just 0.5mm thicker than the smartphone-defining Apple iPhone 4S and considerably lighter than a number of its similarly priced lower mid-market rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2.
Bucking the trend of increasingly oversized devices, the Sony Xperia Go features a traditional 3.5-inch touchscreen, with the 320 x 480p resolution, 165ppi, LED-backlit LCD display lining up identical in size to the screen found on the iPhone 4S, albeit with a considerably reduced image quality.
This said, given the handset's mid-range positioning, the multi-touch display offers largely impressive visuals, while proving responsive to the touch.
Eclipsing the specs of a number of its dedicated rugged handset rivals, such as the collection of Motorola Defy-branded phones (the Motorola Defy Mini being the most recent), the Sony Xperia Go's features list is more akin to rivalling a number of more illustrious and notable mid-range devices.
With a 1GHz dual-core NovaThor processor running the show, the Sony Xperia Go is by no means a sluggish device, zipping along quite nicely and largely ensuring applications are opened, run and closed relatively quickly.
On top of the handset's multi-core CPU, the Sony Xperia Go plays host to the sector standard 512MB of RAM as well as 8GB of internal storage. Although this 8GB of storage seems at first impressive, in reality, just half of this is available to the user meaning the available microSD card expansion, up to 32GB, once again becomes a necessity.
Omitting the now year-old Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system in favour of the positively dated, albeit largely used, Android 2.3 Gingerbread offering, the Sony Xperia Go partners a strong, thoroughly tested OS with an intuitive UI for what is a pleasant, if some what uninspiring software collection, that will have you achieving all your personal needs with little fuss or fanfare.
As with most modern smartphones, Sony with the Xperia Go has partnered a strong collection of functional features with a selection of specs that are tilted far more towards the entertainment medium. A 5-megapixel rear-mounted camera lines up alongside an integrated LED flash and autofocus features.
Although there is no secondary forward-facing snapper, Sony has expanded the possibilities of its rear-mounted camera, adding 30 frames per second 720p HD video recording capabilities.
Making the Sony Xperia Go's impressive, although far from ground-breaking array of innards all the more appealing, the handset sports a reasonably wallet-friendly £229 (around $350) SIM-free price tag.
This price sees the phone line up considerably cheaper than the less resilient, marginally higher specced Sony Xperia P sibling and just £30 more expensive than the similarly specced Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 rival - a device that would suffer far more severe consequences if dunked under water.
For what is self-proclaimed as a 'rugged' handset, the Sony Xperia Go is far from the standard mould, with the usual oversized, rubberised form making way for a svelte, smooth plastic finish that gladly bucks the trend of thick, clunky, unappealing devices in favour of a minimalistic, aesthetically pleasing form that is more appealing to the eye than many of its rivals that lack the same IP67 rating.
Although remaining a mobile phone that you can throw around with little concern of damage, the Sony Xperia Go is not the sort of rugged classic that is more attuned to being whipped out at a building site as opposed to a bar, with an extremely stylish, aesthetically pleasing finish that features a super-slim 9.8mm thick form factor that defies the phone's rugged nature.
Despite being a largely plastic affair, the Sony Xperia Go, which features a polycarbonate back, is strong and sturdy in the hand, with the 110g design proving comfortable without being unnervingly light, while also producing no unwanted flex, bending or worrying creeks when put under large amounts of pressure.
With the usual collection of three touch-sensitive Android controls at the base of the phone offering the essential home, back and option access, the Sony Xperia Go hosts just three physical buttons - the top-mounted sleep turn power button and the right-mounted up and down volume controls.
Although the volume controls are placed in a position prone to accidental presses when holding the device in a conventional left-handed manner, the physical buttons have enough resistance to not be of concern.
What is slightly more troubling, however, is the compact sleep button that can prove unnecessarily fiddly to access and use.
With a scratch-resistant screen coating further aiding the Sony Xperia Go's rugged nature, the latest Xperia handset ensures against water damage by fitting the handset with independent micro USB and 3.5mm audio jack connection covers.
Although successfully keeping the device's components dry (we had no issue after dunking the Sony Xperia Go), these seals are extremely stiff and awkward to open at first, with a number of uses giving the feeling that the fittings would wear down with time, hindering the handset's waterproof abilities.
With an all-encompassing rear panel that offers little grip in the hand and can be troublesome to return to place once removed to access the microSD and SIM card, the Sony Xperia Go's biggest design downfall is in the selection of handset colours on offer.
While the black unit is attractive and functional and the yellow model offers something different on a largely stoic smartphone scene, the white Sony Xperia Go is an option that stands out for all the wrong reasons.
Although visually impressive when removed from the box, for a handset that is supposed to live up to all that life can throw at it, the white Sony Xperia Go shows sign of wear, tear and general day-to-day grotty use all too quickly.
Reasonably quick to be brought to life, the Sony Xperia Go interface sees the standard collection of Google's Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system paired with a smooth, functional, friendly user interface to form a rugged smartphone that is simple and intuitive to use while offering a broad and expansive array of features and functions.
Despite a 1GHz dual-core processor and 512MB of RAM, the moderately specced, mid-range Sony Xperia Go is far from the smoothest and speediest handset on the market, with a noticeable period of lag and a selection of stutters and miss-starts accompanying most commands, program selections and menu scrolls.
Unlike many Android-filled handsets, the Sony Xperia Go's centralised apps menu is not that intuitive or user-friendly, with the oversized app icons deducing the amount of options that can be viewed on a single screen.
A linear selection process means the first and last menu screens are not accessible, forcing you to scroll backwards multiple times to get back to missed content.
Although there is an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update already planned for this resilient little handset, disappointingly, the phone comes pre-installed with the dated Android 2.3 Gingerbread system, an inclusion that offers a deceptive insight into the age and ability of this largely impressive device.
While this Gingerbread inclusion will be sure to disappoint and deter some, there is no denying that Sony has worked well with the Google software to create a device that is, for the most part, simple and pleasant to use.
Further aiding the user friendliness of the handset, the Sony Xperia Go's selection of five home screens can be easily and quickly filled with a selection of app shortcuts, folders and widgets that give an immersive view of a broad range of features, from an interactive music player and image gallery to upfront social networking access. All these features help save time and improve the overall user experience.
Contacts and calling
As with many of the Sony Xperia Go's rival phones, be they Samsung or HTC-branded, the Sony handset's contacts services are much of the usual Android fare, with a simple, well laid out setup offering quick and easy - albeit far from inspiring - access to contacts.
Accessed via a dedicated application icon that can be found in the handset's centralised apps menu or pinned to one of the device's numerous home screens, the Sony Xperia Go's contact features see all stored data displayed in handy, familiar alphabetical fashion.
As easy to add a contact as it is to access the personnel storage service, a simplistic template with pre-organised input boxes ensures speedy, efficient data collection and a user-friendly formulaic system that is pleasant to navigate and doesn't become clogged with unnecessary details.
Although it is possible to sync your social networking contacts such as Facebook Friends lists with the Sony Xperia Go's centralised contacts form, doing so proves problematic, with the phone intent on only adding social details for people who are already added to the device rather than simply mirroring the available details, as found on many rival handsets.
Moving away from the handset's contacts and on to the Sony Xperia Go's calling capabilities, the story is much the same - a familiar Android-based interface that offers a smooth, useful user experience that fails to offer any revolutionary features or market-defining functions.
Despite this relatively formulaic setup, the Sony Xperia Go could have benefited from Sony focusing less on the unnecessary entertainment-based bells and whistles and more on the calling performance, with a number of niggles detracting from what is an otherwise very solid smartphone.
Although there are no issues with signal strength - the handset's 3G base in fact performs admirably - calls are far from clear, with the speaker creating a muffled effect to voices that can prove problematic, while background noise at times is all too apparent.
Despite these concerns, the Sony Xperia Go lines up against the majority of its competitors on level ground, with far too many other mid-range smartphones failing to fully address strong calling capabilities.
Although not as coveted as a strong camera or speedy processor, the messaging abilities of a handset are, alongside the phone's calling capabilities, arguably the most important and frequently used aspect. The Sony Xperia Go ensures such functions and features are handled with style and grace.
With a centralised messaging system enabling you to select whether you wish to send a text or email when picking desired recipients, the Sony Xperia Go's messaging abilities are further enhanced by a relatively impressive input option and simple MMS abilities.
The bane of many touchscreen smartphones, the Sony Xperia Go's digitally generated on-screen QWERTY keyboard is, at first use, a very middle of the road affair, not proving hugely intuitive to use and still forcing the occasional accidental button press, thanks to its relatively compact form. The software-based input system, however, is not without its merits.
Where Samsung-branded TouchWiz handsets feature fast, intuitive input methods in the form of the company's Swype system, the Sony Xperia Go features largely the same software, just under a different, more direct but far less recognised name: 'gesture control'.
Extremely accurate and simple to use, Sony's Gesture Control input method is every bit as functional as Samsung's Swype offering, with one additional niggle.
Unlike Swype, the Sony system requires you to physically enter spaces between words, as opposed to auto inputing a space after each finger lift at the end of the current word - a setup that is far more intuitive and appealing.
The keyboard further benefits from the handset being rotated into a more spacious landscape stance.
Building on a strong foundation, as always seems to be the case on Android-powered handsets, multimedia messaging services on the Sony Xperia Go are easy to access and simple to use, with a single tap of the landscape-depicting button that accompanies standard SMS templates enabling you to instantly attach a photo, video or sound recording to outgoing messages.
With a dedicated social networking widget available on the handset's home screens, the Sony Xperia Go handles all desired messaging types with relative ease for a well-rounded and intuitive user experience.
One of the most used aspects of smartphones, Sony's Xperia Go does not fall short of expectation on the internet access front, with impressive load times and strong connections accompanying your browsing habits, whether venturing online by Wi-Fi or 3G means.
Using a standard Android 2.3 browser, the Sony Xperia Go's web experience is far from unique, with a standard layout joined by a familiar selection of features.
Despite this generic base, however, the Sony Xperia Go performs far better than a selection of its rivals, thanks to its zippy load times and rendering.
With Wi-Fi networks proving easy to set up and manage, once connected the rugged Xperia is all action, with extremely fast load times seeing images and text rendered simultaneously, and no lag accompanying page launches, searches or backwards skipping.
Although the handset's 3G internet speeds are notably slower with content-rich websites, causing slight issues as images and graphics take considerably longer than text to appear, the Sony Xperia Go still manages to offer an impressive experience, surpassing a number of its closest, web-struggling rivals.
Further enhancing the browsing experience and general user friendliness, the Sony Xperia Go's integrated browser features text reflow functionality, enabling you to better zoom in on text within the confines of the 3.5-inch display, removing the need for time-consuming side scrolling.
Despite its availability, the handset's text reflow functions are far from perfect, with the potentially hugely useful feature forcing you to use a selection of dedicated on-screen zoom controls to move in and out of content with reflow effects.
A slightly annoying quirk that fails to incorporate the frequently used and more intuitive pinch-to-zoom options, the flaw fails to capitalise on what could be a hugely intuitive feature.
Thanks to the Sony Xperia Go's mediocre 3.5-inch display, viewing images within the handset's generic Android browser is a far from earth-shattering affair, with integrated content all too frequently lacking in sharpness and definition, looking almost pixelated in their disappointing form. This issue is further compounded when accessing the web via 3G connections.
As is generally the case when dealing with a generically skinned version of Google's Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS, accessing and using the bookmarking features of the Sony Xperia Go is a quick and painless affair, with a simple click of the dedicated on-screen button not only enabling you to view and create bookmarks, but also to gain quick, instant access to your most visited sites and see your browsing history.
Lining up as a mid-range handset, the Sony Xperia Go's integrated camera is a very much middle of the road affair, with the 5 megapixel image resolution abilities partnering with clunky autofocus and an integrated LED flash.
Fully integrated as an integral, heavily pushed aspect of the handset, the Sony Xperia Go's camera is available from the off, with you able to unlock the device directly into the snapper's camera mode.
Sadly, what could be a useful, time saving and user-friendly feature is once again let down by an unnecessary niggling quirk.
Unlocking to camera, while giving you quick, instant access to the handset's photographic capabilities forces the Sony Xperia Go to automatically take a shot, with the seemingly foolish command coming far too quickly, catching both you and the handset unawares and resulting in snaps that are rushed, lacking focus and, as a result, quality.
A largely impressive integrated camera, strong overall results can be let down by slightly blocky colours that can at times appear over-exaggerated and an almost mocking representation of the realistic hues.
On top of this, given the handset's rugged, fast lifestyle persona, the Sony Xperia Go's camera is sluggishly slow to focus, meaning shots with any desired action aspect or moving focal point are often out of focus, disappointing and, thanks to the frankly farcical shutter speed, lacking the targeted content.
Unlike on a number of its Samsung-branded rivals that manage to perform the task well, the panorama shooting modes on the Sony Xperia Go are annoyingly flaky, not enabling you to select the length of the panorama shot and continuing to miss areas, branded 'grey areas' that subsequently spoil shots.
Annoyingly, despite being fully capable of capturing impressive 5 megapixel shots, the Sony Xperia Go's rear-mounted camera sets itself to shoot at just 3 megapixels when removed from the box.
Although this is something that is easily rectified through accessing the handset's simple, Android-based camera options menu, for first-time smartphone users this could be a performance-depleting niggle that reduces the image quality of snaps for a considerable period.
As with many of its rivals, the handset's lack of a dedicated camera button is disappointing.
With the Sony Xperia Go, however, this omission has a greater knock-on effect, making possible underwater snaps tricky, since the touchscreen-based capture button is far from responsive when submerged, leaving you having to dip your device in upside-down in order to make the most of the sub-surface imaging abilities.
Despite not featuring a dedicated Macro shooting mode, the inbuilt camera found on the Sony Xperia Go is capable of producing a number of pleasantly surprising results when faced with extremely close-up subject matters, with pin-sharp results featuring a strong depth of image and a well-rounded colour palette.
Far from the most customisable smartphone snapper on the market, the Sony Xperia Go offers users a limited array of changeable settings, with minimal alterations to the ISO and white balance settings the extent of the options.
Taking the specs fight to a number of its higher priced rivals, the Sony Xperia Go's video capabilities are nothing to be sniffed at, with the impressive on-paper combination of 720p HD recording at 30 frames per second translating into strong, well-round results and largely pleasing content.
Like the stills aspect of the Sony Xperia Go's 5 megapixel, 720p snapper, the handset's video content can at times suffer from blocky colours that fail to replicate the intricacies of the real world.
But the device largely handles lighting conditions surprisingly well, with a good balance when transitioning between areas of light and shade.
Further enhancing the Sony Xperia Go's variable light shooting, the handset's integrated LED flash can be turned on to act as a recording light of sorts. Although in close indoor quarters this can prove marginally overpowering, it's an option that helps expand the phone's capturing capabilities.
Although the Xperia handset's video recording results offer little concern for unwanted, distracting motion blur, the device isn't without fault, with an unsteady hand resulting in nauseating content playback.
Although the Sony Xperia Go features image stabilising technologies, this proves largely ineffective, with even the smallest tremor in the hand resulting in noticeable jerks and wobbles in the captured content.
With a few customisable options enabling you to make minor white balance adjustments before shooting, the Sony Xperia Go plays host to one very handy feature, enabling you to capture in a dedicated MMS mode.
Although recording direct for media messaging purposes reduces the quality of the recording quite dramatically, the option makes sending video clips a breeze, removing all the file limit fuss from the equation.
Continuing the company's run of deep media integration within its latest smartphone offerings, Sony once again offers you a fully ingrained multimedia experience with the Xperia Go, a smartphone that brings all of its photographic, music and video functionality to the fore.
Although only half of the 8GB worth of internal storage is available to you, the optional microSD card expansion means up to 32GB of content can fill the media-loving handset.
You're able to enjoy playback through a selection of well designed outlets compatible with MP3, MP4, WAV and WMV file types.
Although the handset's integrated music player can be accessed through the centralised app menu, more intuitively, a pleasant widget offers quick, simple and attractive access to your tunes without the need to open up a dedicated program.
While the handset's MP3 player is a joy to use, the audio output is somewhat less impressive, with the integrated xLoud speaker technology failing to complete the strong media package.
Losing some of its charm when hitting the top end, although the Sony Xperia Go's inbuilt, rear-positioned speaker does not suffer from the usual distorting issues, sound quality is reduced, with a lack of depth and clarity accompanying playback.
On top of this, thanks to the speaker's placement, it is hard to achieve non-headphone-based playback that is not muffled, with the lower back positioning seeing hands frequently cover the output when held. This issue is extrapolated and audio ability reduced to near nothingness when placed on a surface.
Although the Sony Xperia Go's 3.5-inch 320 x 480p screen is capable of surprisingly strong video playback with clear, smooth lines, in areas of direct sunlight, viewing the screen becomes a struggle.
Unlike its Sony Xperia P sibling, the Sony Xperia Go doesn't feature Sony's WhiteMagic technologies, meaning viewing media playback, or indeed simply attempting to use the display in areas of direct sunlight, can prove troublesome.
A considerable amount of glare dramatically reduces the quality of the on-screen content and tarnishes the enjoyment of media absorption in the process.
Despite Facebook syncing being a feature that will appeal to many, it isn't without its media-depleting faults, since the Sony Xperia Go's image gallery quickly becomes clogged by folder after folder of Facebook images, a move that can prove highly annoying when attempting to find a specific snap.
Battery life and connectivity
Due to the need to keep all connection ports covered and waterproof, the Sony Xperia Go causes itself a number of issues when it comes to accessing the micro USB connector required for charging and the 3.5mm jack for audio playback through a pair of headphones.
While it is reassuring that difficulties in accessing the sockets implies they are thoroughly protected against accidental immersions, opening the protective covers requires you to have relatively long fingernails, otherwise their inaccessibility will have you searching for a small object to wedge under the access point.
Furthermore, once opened, these access covers often get in the way of the cables being connected, causing frustration. Plus excessive bending over time looks certain to weaken the protective lids, a move that could spell disaster for the handset's 1m, 30 minute waterproof standards.
Away from physical connectors the Sony Xperia Go offers the now standard collection of mid-range connectivity options as the impressive 3G and Wi-Fi connection methods are paired with Bluetooth 3.0 and 14.4Mbps HSDPA options.
Pleasingly, the Sony Xperia Go is a smartphone that is relatively friendly on its battery. Like all modern smartphones the Sony Xperia Go will run its life down speedily if being used to watch movies or extensively play high-end, strenuous app-based games.
But with general levels of day-to-day use the handset can easily combat the one day battery hump and power you through a couple of days without major concern.
With the integrated 1,305mAh lithium-ion battery touting a claimed 460 hours standby time and 5 hour 30 minute talk time, although these ambitions aren't particularly high when compared with a selection of rival devices, they ring true, offering ample ability between charges.
For those often on the move, the Sony Xperia Go's battery can't be removed, meaning replacement power packs can't be carried to switch around during heavy periods of use while away from a charging outlet.
Wrapped securely within the device to avoid unexpected leakages damaging the handset's power supply, Sony's decision to have the Xperia Go's battery fixed is in order to combat an all too frequent cause of smartphone death when taking an unexpected trip to a liquid grave.
As is the trend with the latest Xperia smartphones introduced in the months since Sony parted ways with Ericsson, the Sony Xperia Go comes boxed with a hugely over-engineered plug adaptor.
Thanks to its unnecessary moving parts and plastic construct, this fails to offer any reassurance when being used and frequently gives off the feeling that the all-important lead prong is about to snap off.
Maps and apps
With the usual Google Maps and Navigation software pre-installed, the rugged Sony Xperia Go is a handy device to have with you when venturing out with an uncertain destination in mind.
Speedy to lock on to a GPS signal, the smartphone's mapping abilities - like those of most modern Android handsets - is simple and intuitive to use, with location-based data and quick, easy to follow point-by-point directions just a few quick clicks away.
Further expanding the tough, outdoors appeal of the handset, the Sony Xperia Go comes pre-installed with a selection of high profile fitness apps that are sure to appeal to a large proportion of the people in the market for a water and dust-proof, life-beating handset.
Loaded up front and centre to highlight the outdoorsy nature of the device, the Sony Xperia Go's home screen apps bar hosts a 'Fitness' folder with the likes of Adidas miCoach and the pedometer-styled WalkMate apps available for use from the off.
Although these might be overlooked by some, given the Sony Xperia Go's target market and unique selling points, their inclusion is one that is sure to appeal to many.
For those not taken by the fitness scene, the Sony Xperia Go also boasts a broad range of standard Android fare, with the usual Google+ and YouTube offerings joined by pre-installed Facebook and WhatsApp offerings.
Enabling you to individually customise and fully tune your handset to personal wants and needs, the Google Play Store is accessible via a centrally located app, enabling you to fill your handset from the 600,000 apps on offer to Android handset users.
Because the Sony Xperia Go has been released since the Google outlet's rebranding saw it turn from the Android Market to the Google Play Store, the revamped service comes pre-installed, saving any confusion and time-consuming updates.
Hands on gallery
An all-round impressive smartphone, the Sony Xperia Go exceeds expectations on multiple fronts but is let down by a number of avoidable flaws that tarnish the handset's user friendliness and general performance.
Although not the most specs-impressive handset on the market, the Sony Xperia Go pushes the boundaries of its sub-market with largely pleasing results.
There is no getting away from the fact that for an IP67 certified handset, the Sony Xperia Go is stunning. Take away these rugged handset capabilities and you are left with an aesthetically pleasing handset. With them you have what is easily a leading device in its life-beating sub-sector.
With an intuitive operating system and user interface combo, the Sony Xperia Go is easy to use and will appeal to first time smartphone users and hardened handset fans alike.
With a broad selection of pre-installed content, Sony's tough pocket blower is capable of impressive camera results and is, in general, a joy to use.
While we still can't get our heads around making a rugged handset white, there are bigger issues with the Sony Xperia Go than its colour scheme.
Despite the handset's 1GHz dual-core processor running the show nicely, there is an irritating amount of lag that accompanies screen movements and application launches. Add to this poor speaker placement and a rather glare-friendly screen, and media playback is somewhat lacking.
Stunning to look at and comfortable in the hand, from the box the Sony Xperia Go is an all-round hit. Sadly with continued use the Sony Xperia Go fails to live up to these initial high expectations, with a number of irritating niggles emerging to add a slight air of infuriation to what is a largely well rounded device.
Although the Sony Xperia Go is not going to set the smartphone world alight, for anyone looking for a handset that is both beautiful on the eye and able to stand up to whatever you can throw at it, there is no better option than the Sony Xperia Go. And at just £229 (around $350) SIM-free, it's also a bit of a bargain.