Motorola has been turning out rugged phones for a while and now Sony's crafted its own burly blower. The Sony Xperia Go is a compact Android smart phone designed to resist dust and water, meaning butterfingered bakers shouldn't worry about dropping it in the mixing bowl. At least, not until you reach the sticky, eggy batter stage -- at which point all bets on smart phone survival are off.
Should I buy the Sony Xperia Go?
The Go is a neat, pocketable handset that's aimed at outdoorsy or butterfingered types. If you're after a mobile to slip in a pocket and take to the beach without fear of it biting the dust (literally), or being scratched by sharp shells, the Go wants to meet you. Sony has even pre-loaded it with a selection of adventure apps.
The phone's hardware isn't super-powerful, super-fast or super-slick, but nor is it markedly under-powered or awfully clunky. Sony's Android skin is nothing to write home about but it's straightforward to use and low on distracting bells and whistles -- so again, it could be a good fit for someone who's more interested in exploring the real world than investigating every nook and cranny of gadget land.
The worst thing about the Go is its low-res display, which makes on-screen content look slightly pixelated and means small text on websites isn't legible until you zoom in. Presumably Sony thought you'd be too busy looking at the glorious vista around you to care about slick graphics.
Of potentially greater concern -- certainly to talkative types who love to chinwag on the move -- is the poor quality of voice calls when using the Go in the great outdoors.
If your heart's not set on owning a burly blower, you could consider the cheaper Sony Xperia U. Or for a smidge more cash, Samsung's Galaxy S Advance will deliver a large screen and slicker graphics -- you just won't be able to drop it in the bath.
Ogle the Go and you wouldn't guess it was designed to survive a trip down the toilet. It looks like a neat, compact smart phone, with only a pair of sealed port doors to indicate it's built for a splash.
The corners are slightly rounded, while there's a plastic chin at the bottom of the phone underneath the row of touch-sensitive keys.
The handset is pleasingly light and slight, at 9.8mm thick, and fairly easy on the eye, without being especially fancy. It's a small phone so you'll certainly have no trouble pocketing it. A scratch-resistant display means you also shouldn't have to worry about it mingling with your coins. I had a good go attacking it with my keys and couldn't make a mark.
To protect against the cruel progress of dust and water, the phone's 3.5mm headphone jack and micro-USB ports have little plastic doors covering them. This may annoy you as you'll need to flick them off every time you plug in, but if you do spend a lot of time on the beach, that barrier could keep it from getting a sandy slot.
A resistance rating of IP67 says the Go should be protected completely from dust, and can handle fresh water immersion of up to 1m for as long as 30 minutes. Bear in mind though, the port doors must be closed to protect against the elements -- or the Go will start taking on water faster than the Titanic.
To test it, I left the Go dunked in a big glass of water for more than 29 minutes and it did indeed continue working afterwards -- although the water killed the Wi-Fi reception and deadened the touchscreen during submersion, so don't expect to send a flotilla of texts from the bottom of the riverbed.
I also tested its dust defences by dropping it into a bowl of dry flour. It survived these powdery conditions but flour found its way into various crevices on the phone and was a pain to clean out. So even though it's dust-proof, you'll want to avoid the phone coming into contact with too much of the grainy stuff.
Crack off the plastic back and you'll discover the battery has been sealed inside -- meaning it's non-removeable (but presumably safe from watery/dusty doom). You'll also find a microSD card slot inside for expanding the 8GB of onboard storage, along with the phone's SIM tray.
The display measures 3.5 inches on the diagonal -- which is fairly small in these days of enormo-phones. Smart phones with 4 inch+ screens are as easy to spot as Olympic tourists in London.
As noted above, the Go also has a fairly low resolution of 320x480 pixels, giving it a pixel-per-inch count of just 165. The resolution is the biggest let-down. It means the Go doesn't excel when it comes to web browsing because you're always having to zoom in to read stuff. Nor does it do your high-definition videos justice. This is dismaying for a smart phone that costs over £200. Essentially, you're trading sleek quality for extra 'ardness. So if you're not that clumsy, you'd be better off bagging a flashier but more fragile 'droid.
Being ruggedised, the Go's touchscreen feels a tad unresponsive -- requiring presses that are a fraction harder than a standard capacitive touchscreen. It's not awfully unresponsive by any means and most people won't even notice this thicker skin, but if you're a sensitive soul, you may find it irritating.
Power and performance
The Go is powered by a 1GHz dual-core processor, which delivers fairly decent performance without being blazingly fast -- the small screen size and low res helping to keep its engine ticking along most of the time.
Flipping through menus is fast, and lightweight apps such as Angry Birds and Facebook load without big delays. There are laggy moments and slowdowns, but if your mobile needs are fairly undemanding, you'll have no serious complaints.
The Go does skip a beat when loading some photos in the gallery view, leaving you staring at blurry versions, waiting for them to fully render. The same is true with Google's Play Store, while Sony's music and video stores noticeably tax the Go's engine. Scrolling on websites and in apps can often feel foot-dragging too.
Generally speaking, for lightweight web browsing and apps, the Go has enough power. The main issue is all the pinching to zoom you have to do to read small text on websites, owing to the lowly screen res.
In benchmark tests, the Go proved it has a fair amount of fight in it. In the Sunspider Java benchmark, which probes browsing speed, it served up a score of 2,889.4ms (lower is better in this test), while on Vellamo's browser test it delivered 1,014 -- a better performance than the dainty Xperia U.
The Go's processor and graphics clout also produced a solid performance. On Antutu's benchmark, it scored 5,628 -- beating the LG Optimus 2X and only slightly lagging behind the Samsung Galaxy S2. In Quadrant's test, it bested the performance of the HTC Desire HD, bagging a score of 2,375 (and once again beating the Xperia U).
I also ran GL Benchmark's Standard Egypt test of 3D graphics. The Go ran this at an impressive 60 frames per second -- so the phone should happily handle 3D games. I was able to go a few rounds of Blood & Glory without any signs of stutter.
Setting the smart functions aside for a moment and focusing on the phone, the Go was less impressive. In fairly noisy environments -- alongside a road, inside a busy station, on a train -- I found it really hard to hear what the person I was talking to was saying. The volume simply didn't go loud enough to allow me to catch every word.
Calls were okay in quiet indoor conditions but since outdoorsy types are generally, well, outdoors, it's pretty unfortunate.
If you're after a phone with awesome audio, look elsewhere. The rear speaker doesn't go that loud and crackles at the top of its range.
Software and apps
The Go runs Google's Android OS. Specifically 2.3 Gingerbread -- which is a couple of iterations behind the latest version (4.1 Jelly Bean), but at this mid-range price, Gingerbread-flavoured phones still dominate.
While it's certainly a shame you don't get served up the newer Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), Sony has said the Go is upgradeable to ICS. That's no guarantee it will happen -- but at least you know the hardware should be able to cope with the new software, which is a start.
Gingerbread still gives you access to Google's Play Store, which allows you to load up the phone with scores of apps -- such as Angry Birds, Facebook, Twitter and so on.
Sony has pre-loaded a selection of adventurous apps onto the Go -- gathering them in a folder called 'Fitness'. Here you'll find a compass, pedometer, run monitor, personal trainer and a torch app. It's a nice touch. And even if you don't want to use any of these, you can download alternatives.
Sony's Android skin gives you five homescreens to swipe around and fill with apps and widgets. The Japanese mobile maker has added various widgets onto the device including a basic weather app and its Timescape social network widget. If these don't take your fancy you can, of course, delete them and add different widgets -- though the small screen and resolution mean homescreen space is sparse.
Also pre-loaded on the Go are Sony's Music and Video Unlimited stores, where you can purchase music or buy or rent films to watch on the go -- though I can't imagine wanting to view a full-length feature film on this impoverished pane.
Sony has added its own take on a Swype-style keyboard interface to the Go -- letting you drag a finger over the keyboard to form words, rather than tapping on individual letters. However, unlike proper Swype, Sony's system requires you to tap the space bar at the end of each word, which breaks the flow and makes it less speedy than it could be.
Battery life isn't a strong point of the Go. This is true of a lot of smart phones but that doesn't excuse the Go's unimpressive stamina. I've certainly come across worse juice guzzlers but they tend to be quad-core devices, packing more under the hood.
Sony reckons the Go is good for up to 6.5 hours of talk time, up to 6 hours of video playback or up to 45 hours of music playback. Standby time -- not using the phone at all -- is up to 520 hours.
I was able to drain the battery from full to 60 per cent after 2 hours of playing back video over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness at maximum. Provided you're not a super-heavy mobile poker and prodder, you should be able to eke out a day's use (circa 6 hours), before needing to charge it, especially if you dial down the screen's brightness. But good luck finding a plug to juice it up in the great outdoors.
The Go has a 5-megapixel camera on the back. Results from the lens aren't amazing so don't expect to be bringing home award-winning shots of your awesome cliff-top view. But it's perfectly adequate for basic Facebook fodder.
In dingier conditions, the shots quickly speckle with noise and if you're dealing with variable light levels across a scene, expect the sky to be washed out or the foreground to be super-dark.
Indoor shots generally have a hazy, stippled quality, unless they're really well lit. I also found it pretty fiddly to get shots in focus properly. There's no dedicated camera button either so all your snapping is done by pressing the touchscreen.
The Go can capture 720p HD video. Results during testing were fair, if not especially dazzling. It'll certainly serve for making YouTube clips of your open-air exploits.
The Sony Xperia Go doesn't offer hugely impressive feats in terms of hardware, beyond being brawnier than your average blower. If you're outdoorsy and want a phone you don't have to worry about scratching or wrecking on your next trip, the Go might be worth pocketing. It's no powerhouse but it shouldn't let you down.
If you plan on using its phone feature -- you know, for actually talking to people -- when you're in the great outdoors, be warned: the volume may not go loud enough to drown out the background noise. If you're after a rugged phone, it's worth sizing up the Motorola Defy+ and the Defy Mini too.
Additional writing and testing by Luke Westaway.