Google Now gives you a short overview of information it believes is relevant to you right now. Going to work in the morning? Google Now knows this and lets you know if there's a big traffic jam on your usual way to the office, and offers you a re-route.
It can interpret a lot of things from your search history as well. If you've been searching for, let's say, your favorite football team, Google Now will prepare a card showing you the next match the team is playing and will provide you score updates once the game begins.
Google has also integrated Voice Actions. They can handle stuff like sending messages (SMS or email), initiating a voice call, asking for directions, taking a note or opening a site. Google Now can also launch apps, check and manage your calendar and look for nearby places of interest and stuff like movie openings in theaters.
Google Now on the Xperia SP gets activated with a press-and-hold of the virtual Home button. You can either type or talk to it and the app will give you one of its info cards (if available) and read you its contents aloud (you can disable this from the app settings). If there's no card to help with the answer to your question Google Now will simply initiate a Google web search instead.
We've prepared a review of all popular voice assistants and you can learn even more about Google Now there. Just follow this link.
The Sony Xperia SP phonebook has also been upgraded since the last iteration under ICS and, thanks to the light background, it looks livelier. The bottom bar holds shortcuts to search option, add number field, and the advanced settings menu. The tabs for Contacts, Phone, Favorites and Groups tabs have been moved to the top and can be side-swiped.
The contact list can be sorted by either first or last name. There are two contact search options - a dedicated search field at the bottom of the contact list, and an alphabetical scroll bar to jump to names starting with a specific letter on the right.
You can sync with multiple accounts, including Exchange and Facebook, and you can selectively show or hide contacts from some accounts (as well as filter specific groups in an account), or set the phonebook to display only contacts with phone numbers or only contacts that are online.
If a contact has accounts in multiple services, you can "link" their details to keep everything in one place. Their Facebook photos and interests (part of the Facebook integration) will show as extra tabs.
Quick contacts are enabled - a tap on the contact's photo brings a pop-up windows with shortcuts for calling, texting or emailing the contact.
Each contact can have a variety of fields (and repeat fields of the same type). There's an Add field button and the X button lets you remove fields as needed. The fields cover anything from names (including a field to write the name down phonetically) to addresses, nicknames and notes.
There is an option to redirect calls directly to voicemail. Custom ringtones are enabled too. This is where the LED strip comes into play as well. You can set a custom color for a contact, so the ambience light can serve as a caller ID of sorts. Of course you cannot possibly have a different color for every single contact in your phonebook.
Receiving and making calls on the Xperia SP was trouble-free. The built-in secondary microphone is used for active noise-cancellation, so calls are loud and clear even in noisy environments.
The call log is integrated in the dialer - it shows a list of recently dialed, received and missed calls in the top half of the screen and the keypad in the bottom half. Once you start typing, the call log is replaced by the smart dial list which searches for matches in both the contacts' phones and names. You can hide the keypad to make more room for the call log.
Thanks to the proximity and accelerometer sensors, the Sony Xperia SP automatically disables the touchscreen when you lift it up during a call.
We ran our traditional loudspeaker test on the Sony Xperia SP, and the results were far from impressive. It scored a Below Average mark. We recommend keeping on the xLOUD and turning off the ClearPhase features, otherwise you'll get worse results.
|Speakerphone test||Voice, dB||Ringing ||Overal score|
|Sony Xperia SP||66.6||61.9||68.2|
|Apple iPhone 5||66.8||66.1||67.7||Below Average|
|Nokia Lumia 920||61.6||64.8||65.8|
|HTC One X+||64.6||65.8||74.6|
|Asus Padfone 2||57.3||66.7||77.8|
|Oppo Find 5||70.7||67.7||73.0|
|Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4||70.6||66.2||77.3|
|Google Nexus 4||71.1||66.6||78.8|
|Samsung Galaxy S III||75.1||66.5||75.0|
|Sony Xperia ZL||74.8||66.2||82.7|
Text messages and MMS use standard thread layout. Each thread is displayed as an IM chat session, with the most recent message at the bottom. You can manage individual messages (forward, copy, delete) and even lock them against deletion. Search is enabled to locate a specific message in all conversations and you can also activate delivery reports.
Adding multimedia (photos, videos, sounds, etc.) will convert the message into an MMS.
Moving on to email, the Gmail app supports batch operations, which allows multiple emails to be archived, labeled or deleted. The app supports multiple Gmail accounts, but there's no unified inbox for other email services.
However, the generic email app can do that. It can handle multiple POP or IMAP accounts and you have access to the messages in the original folders that are created online.
Google Talk handles Instant Messaging. The GTalk network is compatible with a variety of popular clients like Pidgin, Kopete, iChat and Ovi Contacts.
As for text input, the Xperia SP offers a customized on-screen full QWERTY keyboard. Typing on the portrait keyboard is fairly comfortable - the screen is big enough to house decently-sized keys that are easy to hit.
Flipping the phone to landscape gives you even bigger, easier to press buttons. There's also the added feature of being able to customize the keyboard. You can choose a different skin, or even a new key layout.
You can also try the so-called Gesture input if hitting those keys individually doesn't give you the desired typing speed. It's similar to Swype, and even if you've never used a Swype-like input before you'll quickly get used to it.