So, Sony know what they're doing in the midrange. The Xperia U is so comfortably ahead of similarly priced smartphones that it's one of the easiest to recommend.
Few would've believed last year that a solid dual-core experience and a display of very good quality would be available at this price point. Screen size aside, the Xperia U is better than the Xperia Arc S in almost every way and that one passed for a flagship device mere 9 months ago.
And as if that's not enough, the Xperia U is perhaps the most affordable dual-core droid. It's the cheapest way to get a FWVGA display too, and the build and finish are worthy of a flagship. You wouldn't normally expect to get anything else on this kind of budget, but you are in for another surprise. The changeable color of the transparent strip is a nice little twist giving personality and character, which are hard to come by in the crowded smartphone midrange.
The obvious catch here is the Sony Xperia U limited storage, but if that's a deal-breaker to you we should've lost you at the intro. Granted, the issue will drive some people away, but if you can live with the 6GB provided, you'll be getting a deal that's hard to beat. Just look at the competition.
Sony obviously has a thing for affordable solid smartphones, as the device that comes closest to the Xperia U is its very own Xperia Sola. Dropping the fancy see-through strip and the removable battery, the sola offers that vital microSD slot for all the storage you may need. It also has a slightly larger 3.7" LCD, which is better suited to multimedia consumption than the tiny, by today's standards, 3.5" screen on the U. The Xperia sola will cost you a little extra though.
If you are willing to pay that extra, the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 is another offer you might want to consider. With a bigger 3.8" screen and a microSD card slot, it can match the Xperia U in terms of speed and performance and even get a slight edge in overall experience thanks to the more functional TouchWiz launcher. Given that it doesn't even look half as good, we don't think the premium is justified.
The HTC One V on the other hand, is all about premium looks and giving a taste of Sense'd ICS here and now to those who don't care to wait for an update. It has a pretty good display too, but its single-core chipset raises doubts. Spending more on a handset that's packing last-year's hardware is not the best of options.
If you want a different experience from Android, you might want to look at the Lumia 710. It's the only phone here that actually costs less than the Xperia U, with a 3.7" screen and an equally smooth UI performance, thanks to the lightweight Windows Phone 7.5 platform. The WP ecosystem still has some catching up to do to match Android.
As you can see, matching the bang for buck of the Xperia U isn't an easy job for most smartphones. Sony have a real winner on their hands. There's nothing stopping it from becoming a bestseller if they roll out the ICS update in a timely manner and play their marketing cards right. And then a stronghold in the mid-range is a good place to launch a counter attack on the high-end, where Sony
Ericsson have been less than stellar lately.