Sony Xperia U review: Fun united
Sharp camera with some 3D magic
The Xperia U boasts a 5 megapixel camera accompanied by a single LED flash. It's capable of producing stills of 2592 х 1944 resolution. We suppose it shares one and the same image sensor with the Xperia sola, as the produced photos are very similar.
The camera controls on the Xperia U are available on two taskbars on either side of the viewfinder. On the left you get four shortcuts to various settings, while the still camera/camcorder toggle, the virtual shutter and a thumbnail of the last photo taken are on the right.
The menu key brings up two pages of extra settings - scenes, resolution, smile detection, geotagging, image stabilization and focus mode among others. You can customize three of the shortcuts on the left (the shooting mode shortcut is fixed).
There're five capture modes to choose from: Normal, Scene recognition, Sweep Panorama, Sweep Multi Angle and 3D Sweep Panorama. In Normal, you pick the Scene settings manually or you can enable Scene recognition and let the Xperia S take a guess (it's fairly good at it).
The 3D Sweep Panorama is business as usual - you press the shutter key and pan the phone across the scene. The resulting panoramic photo can be viewed in both 2D and 3D (on a compatible TV).
The Sweep Multi Angle is a different mode and it's one of the coolest camera features we've seen in a while. You take a sweep panoramic photo in the same fashion as the regular 3D Panorama above, but the result is very different. It produces something like a lenticular card.
Tilting the phone lets you look the image from different sides, if it's a still object. A shot of a moving object, however, turns into a sort of an animated GIF or creates interesting distortions, which can be pretty funny too. There are some distortions visible even in a static scene, but it's ok.
Photos taken in Sweep Multi Angle mode are handled by a separate app called 3D album, and they are not listed in the regular gallery. But just to make it clear again - the Xperia U doesn't have a 3D screen. It cleverly relies on its sensors to detect the handset movement and it changes the on-screen image accordingly.
The Xperia U features a Quick launch option, which lets you customize the phone's behavior upon a press of the camera key when the phone is locked. The default option is Launch and capture - it unlocks the phone, starts the camera and instantly snaps a photo - a rather uncomfortable option because it's nearly impossible to correctly frame a picture before the screen is on. This resulted in a couple of images with motion blur written all over them.
The stiff camera shutter key is back. It's very comfortable up until you half-press to focus, then it gets harder to take all the way down without shaking the device. It's not as bad as the one on the Xperia sola but it's still quite uncomfortable.
The camera produces decent, if unspectacular images with an average amount of detail. Noise levels are a little high, but colors rendering is quite close to reality.
The Xperia U manages good macro images as well. It can go as close as 3-4 cm and allows you to really capture a lot of detail.
Image quality comparison
The Xperia U joins a long list of tested devices in our photo comparison tool. We've selected the Xperia sola and the HTC One V as its main contenders but feel free to change them as you see fit.
Okay video recording
The Sony Xperia U captures 720p video at 30 fps. Despite its dual-core CPU 1080p remained out of reach. The camcorder has similar settings to the still camera, including focus mode, metering, exposure value, image stabilization and so on. The layout of the shortcuts can be customized here, too.
The Xperia U camcorder features continuous autofocus. It may take a few seconds to refocus after you re-frame but that's better than repeating attempts to lock focus that may ruin a video. In fast-paced videos the continuous focusing could get a little hectic and focus every second or two, but you can turn the setting off.
Switching to camcorder mode
The Xperia U's videos are smooth for the most part with stutter occuring very rarely. Coming out with bitrate of around 6.5Mbps and a framerate hovering around the 29 fps mark, the videos aren't going to win any awards for their quality, but will do for the occasional YouTube upload.
All in all, the Xperia U could be a good enough replacement of your digicam on trips. Check out the video sample below.
If you want to look closer at the video quality, you can download this untouched sample 720p@30fps, taken straight off the device.
Video quality comparison
We've enrolled the Xperia U in our video comparison tool and stacked up against the likes of the HTC One V and Xperia sola. The Xperia U didn't do particularly well in good lighting conditions, but fared a bit better than the competition in low light.