When one thinks about budget phones, one usually conjures up thoughts of a mobile device with very limited functionality and shoddy construction. Budget phones tend to have inferior screens compared to those found on high-end models and it is more than likely that they do not have all the technology bells-and-whistles that usually accompany first-rate mobile devices.
Well, with the release of the Xperia Sola, Sony proved that it is indeed possible to launch a budget phone that has all the functionality and design qualities of high-end models, and by using the phone users will be hard-pressed to decide if it is a budget phone or not.
Starting off with the design, the Xperia Sola is sturdily built with a simple design – it is a perfectly flat rectangle, with a thinner part at the bottom that bears the Xperia text. The thickness (or thinness, which ever you prefer) is uniform throughout the phone’s design, except for the thinner part mentioned at the bottom.
It is a simple design with no intricate curves, no fancy indentations and no fashionable design elements, but it works. It makes the phone look sleek and attractive, and the size and shape makes it fit perfectly in the user’s hand. For technical boffins, the Sola is 116 x 59 x 9.9 mm and weighs only 109g.
In terms of the screen, the device sports an LED-backlit LCD display, features capacitive four-finger multi-touch and makes use of 16-million colours. The 3.7-inch display has a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels, which might seem a little bit small for most users, but it works surprisingly well.
The only drawback to having a screen that size, is that it can be a bit difficult to navigate through small buttons and intricate menus. It is not a huge hindrance, however, as the screen is as responsive as one would expect it to be.
Under the hood, the model has a Dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9, which is the same computing power as the recently announced Samsung Galaxy SIII Mini. It makes use of a Mali-400 GPU, and has 8 GB internal memory while that can be upgraded to 32 GB by means of a microSD card. Out of the box it runs on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), but is manually upgradable to later versions.
Sony has implemented a bit of a laborious process for updating the operating system, where users will have to connect it to a PC and install the Sony PC Companion software. It is a tedious process, but well worth the effort. Other phone manufacturers such as HTC allows for updating over a Wi-Fi connection – which makes things a lot easier.
Speaking of connectivity, the phone uses Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, and can be tuned into a Wi-Fi hotspot. In terms of data, it can connect to HSDPA at 14.4 Mbps and HSUPA at 5.76 Mbps, while also capable of GPRS and EDGE. Bluetooth is also facilitated, as well as built-in Near-Field Communications (NFC), a featrure many budget phones do not have.
As mentioned before, the Sony Xperia Sola is a great little device and one will not be able to tell that it is a budget unit. In South Africa the phone is available on MTN as part of a contract deal for only R169 per month, which makes it ideal for students and cash-strapped individuals.
It is a great phone with a sleek design, works perfectly well (as any Sony does) and has all the functionality of a modern mobile device.
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor