Sony Xperia Advance Review: Water-Resistant Ruggedness With Flaws
Sony's Xperia Advance, dubbed the "Go" overseas, comes with some surprisingly out-of-date features, but it offers an extremely rugged device for people who hate contracts, selling unlocked for $250. It's a good price for an unlocked phone, and if you've been jealously eyeing Europe for its access to the Xperia Go, now's your time to shine -- it's the same phone, different name.
The Xperia Advance is a little device, measuring 0.4-inches thick and characterized by a slender feel and gently rounded corners, so you can easily take it on a trip snug in your pocket. The design is simple and aesthetically pleasing, with minimal branding besides a small logo on the back, and the phone comes in a variety of colors, all with a matte plastic finish. But the look of the hardware isn't the selling point -- it's the slim phone's unexpected durability.
It's an extremely durable phone, boasting an Ingress Protection rating of 67, which means it's resistant to water and dust. Dunking it in shallow water shouldn't damage the phone, so if you're prone to dropping your handsets in the toilet or sink, this might just be your perfect match, although letting it sit at the bottom of a swimming pool will likely not leave it unscathed. And you need to make sure all the ports are sealed tight, or your Advance will regress back to an unusable box of plastic.
Despite its durability, the Advance is absolutely nothing special compared to Sony's latest carrier-approved phone, the TL, which boasts a large high-resolution screen. The screen on the Advance is far less desirable, clocking in at smallish 3.5-inches, which isn't necessarily tiny -- the same size as the iPhone 4S -- but it looks puny compared to the 4.5- to 5-inch mammoths dominating the market. The small display is less of a problem than the low resolution -- the 480-by-320 pixel count results in a meager 165 pixel-per-inch, for blurry, ill-defined and altogether unpleasant-to-look-at imaging. For comparison, the iPhone 5 has nearly double the clarity with 326 pixels-per-inch. So if you want to watch high-resolution movies, the Advance won't cut it.
The 5-megapixel camera, meanwhile, is on the same level of the screen -- not very good. It's stymied by a lot of visible noise on photos, and unless the lighting is absolutely ideal, images end up blurry unless you have rock-solid hands. You won't be able to capture details, but it'll work in an emergency. The 720p video capture is actually better than still shots, but it also falls on the fuzzy side of things.
Ironically, the Advance comes with a particularly un-advanced operating system -- specifically running on Android's Gingerbread platform. Not only is it two revisions behind, with Ice Cream Sandwich and now Jelly Bean, it's unlocked, so automatic updates won't be pushed out by your carrier. Even though Gingerbread is only a year or so out, the outdated software feels ancient since technology moves at such a fast pace. On a bright note, Sony's skin is fairly unobtrusive, but there are some preloaded apps in a "Fitness" folder, which you may like if you're the active type.
Don't think about going online. Instead of 4G, it runs on older 3.5G networks using HSPA-plus technology. As other devices push the limits of mobile broadband and streaming multimedia, the Advance is firmly placed on technoloyg of the past. The 1-gigahertz processor is more than up to the task of powering the device, so it's smooth and zippy, and the non-removable battery helps seal the phone to better protect it from the elements. It lasts quite a long time, over a day, so you won't have to worry about charging it. You can't take the battery out, but you can boost the memory with a microSD card.
Overall, the Advance has some significant negatives. If you're looking for an off-contract device that can withstand abuse, it's an okay choice. But for anything more, it's a bad choice. The Advance would have been decent had it been released in 2010, but if you don't plan to hike into the wilderness, look elsewhere for a better screen, better camera and up-to-date software. ♦
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