What is the Sony Xperia M2?

The Sony Xperia M2 is a mid-range phone, the 2014 update to last year’s Xperia M. It shares its look with the much more expensive Xperia Z2, but cuts back on the flashy materials and specs in order to come in at around £200 SIM-free, or just £150 from EE.

In several respects it’s not as good as the 4G version of the Moto G, and it does feels like you’re paying a little bit for the Sony badge in this case. But if a fairly large screen is a must, the Xperia M2 is a good mid-range option.
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Sony Xperia M2 - Design

The Sony Xperia M2 looks a good deal like the Xperia Z2. It’s a moody, slick-looking _phone_ with fully flat back and front panels. It is a big style upgrade over last year’s Xperia M.

Sony rounds-off the edges to make the _phone_ more comfortable to hold, though, and if anything the phone’s size is actually more comfortable than the larger Xperia Z2. It’s 71mm wide and 8.6mm thick, giving it a slightly smaller footprint, but a slightly chunkier frame, than its brother.

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The look is good, but the build isn’t quite as impressive. It's good, just not top-end. Where the high-end Xperia Z2 is made of glass and metal, the Sony Xperia M2 is mostly plastic.

Its sides are black plastic and the rear is topped with a thin layer of transparent plastic designed to look like glass. You don’t get the cool glassy feel of the real deal, but our issue with it is much more practical than aesthetic.

The Xperia M2’s back scratches quite easily, and they are pretty apparent thanks to the high-gloss finish. Sony’s Xperia Z2’s back uses Gorilla Glass 3 to avoid this exact issue.

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It’s one of the reasons the Xperia M2 is so much cheaper than the Z2. Thankfully, the front of the Xperia M2 is Gorilla Glass 3, and so won’t scatch anywhere near as easily.

One other victim of the Xperia M2’s design cuts is waterproofing, something you get in the Xperia Z2. There is a familiar flap on the right edge to cover the microSIM and microSD memory card slots, but it is not rubber sealed.

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Still, the Xperia M2 uses the handy 'omnibalance' button layout, which puts the highly-contoured power button right under your thumb. The volume rocker and physical camera button – something fairly rare in a lower-mid-range phone – sit below the power button. It’s all very handy.

The only other design issue is that if you’re buying a phone for a younger person, they may find the Xperia M2 a little large. A 4.8-inch screen means the phone is a fair bit bigger than something like the Galaxy S4 Mini or Motorola Moto G.


Sony Xperia M2 – Screen

Using a large screen and flashy design means the Xperia M2 can easily pass for a top-end phone at a glance. We imagine this is something that will attract many to this £150-200 phone.

However, start using the M2 and it becomes fairly apparent that this isn’t a phone of that grade. The first giveaway is the screen.

At 4.8 inches it’s large for a mid-range phone, but the resolution isn’t high enough to avoid appearing compromised. It’s a 960 x 540 resolution display, with a pixel density of just 229ppi. Mild pixellation is fairly apparent.

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Our expectations of what to expect from sub-£200 phones have changed quite radically in the last 12 months. Where we might have been pretty happy with the Xperia M2’s screen resolution a year ago, phones like the Motorola Moto G and Alcatel One Touch Idol S – which cost around £100 and have 720p screens – have taught us to demand a bit more.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the 960 x 540 pixel resolution, but using it in screens larger than 4.5 inches is stretching it a bit too far. Literally.

The Xperia M2’s colours are a little off too, lacking the pop of the Motorola Moto G, whose colour calibration is a bit better.

Sony Xperia M2 – Software

The Sony Xperia M2 uses a custom interface similar to that of other Sony Xperia phones, and it sits top of Android 4.3, a slightly older version of Android.

Sony’s UI is largely a visual thing, as it doesn’t mess with the normal layout of Android. That is a good thing.
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Elements it does tweak are pleasantly restrained, too. The drop-down notification bar, for example, gets a few feature switches, but they’re small and unobtrusive. Sony’s good styling in the Xperia M2 extends from the hardware and into the software.

It is a little laden down with extra apps, though. Sony pre-installs a bunch of largely media-related apps on the Xperia M2, including Video Unlimited, Track ID and TV SideView, which is a TV guide and remote control app.

However, you can delete most of them, leaving just basics like PlayStation Mobile, Sony Select, Walkman and a few others. Some pruning is advised, but at least it's easy to do. 

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Sony Xperia M2 – Performance

The Sony Xperia M2 has one of the better custom interfaces, and it doesn’t cause a big dent in performance. There is a bit of lag at times, but it’s very minor and intermittent.

This is something to blame largely on software rather than hardware but, using the Snapdragon 400 processor, the phone is not super-powerful either.

This is the same processor used by lower-cost phones like the Moto G and EE Kestrel, although plenty of somewhat more expensive phones like the HTC One Mini 2 use it too. It’s a competent, but ultimately relatively low-power processor.

It’s a quad-core chipset, but the 1.2GHz cores use the Cortex-A7 architecture, which is more about efficiency than raw power.

In the Geekbench 3 benchmark test the Xperia M2 predictably comes out with very similar scores as the Moto G and other Snapdragon 400 phones: 312 points per core or 1,061 total.

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It’s enough for virtually any purpose, though – the dirty secret of the mobile phone market in its current state. All the games we tried ran at full speed with only minor frame rate drops, including demanding 3D titles like Real Racing 3 and Dead Trigger 2. You probably couldn’t say the same if you were to slap a 1080p display on the Xperia M2, but then no sub-£200 phone we’ve reviewed has had one of those yet.

There is a noticeable decrease in visual fidelity when playing games compared with the Motorola Moto G 4G, though, thanks to the Xperia M2’s lower-resolution screen. Games look good, but the slightly low pixel density does show. So many of the phone’s issues come back to that display.

When under strain, the Xperia M2 does get a bit hot and, much like the Xperia Z2, the hotspot sits at the top of the phone. This means you don’t really notice it when holding the phone upright – just in landscape orientation.

The extent of the heating isn’t as severe as the Xperia Z2’s, either – it stays within fairly normal limits. This is most likely because the Snapdragon 400 is a cooler-running chip than the far more powerful Snapdragon 801 used by the Xperia Z2.

Sony Xperia M2 – Camera

The Sony Xperia M2 has an 8-megapixel camera and f/2.4 lens, with a low-mid-range sensor that can offer OK image quality without producing the sort of images you’d happily trade in a dedicated camera for.

One of the best elements of the camera is that you get just about all the fun extra modes of the Xperia Z2. Lower-cost phones often chop out a lot of the extras you get in a high-end phone.

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Extra modes include kid-pleasers like the augmented reality app, which adds fantasy-like graphics to your photos, and enough filters to power your Instagram account for months.

What you don’t get is the mode that lets you artificially blur own the background, a mode seen in many of the more expensive phones of the year including the Xperia Z2 and HTC One M8. It's a great idea but generally doesn't work all that well - no great loss.

The main mode of the Xperia M2 is called Superior Auto, and it leaves you to do nothing more than pick the object you want to focus on by tapping. It’s pure point ‘n’ shoot. There’s also a ‘manual’ mode, which allows you to manually select scene types, including the fairly effective HDR mode.

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The general performance of the Xperia M2 camera is nowhere near as fast as the big dogs – focusing is a little slow in comparison, and there’s a much bigger delay between photos than in a more camera-centric phone. It’s also worth noting that while the M2 has an 8-megapixel sensor, as standard it only takes 5-megapixel pictures, cropping into the 4:3 sensor to produce 16:9 pictures.

This is standard practice in many mobiles, but is an indicator of how little faith you should put into a phone’s megapixel count at times.

Image quality too is consistent with an entry-level to mid-range phone. Colour reproduction isn’t too bad – a little on the anaemic side, but this is common among sub-£200 phones.

What is a more obvious issue is the amount of processing that does into the Xperia M2’s shots. Using a combination of pretty intensive noise reduction and then a similarly-extreme round of edge sharpening, photos tend to look quite unnatural when zoomed-into.

Edge of small object end up confused with what’s behind them, and the processing tends to introduce weird patterns in blocks of colour where it’s not there. Here's a look:

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The white outlining of the Gherkin is a tell-tale sign of massive sharpening

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Despite having a higher-spec sensor, the M2's photos look uglier than the lower-cost competition thanks to overzealous sharpening.

There is a reason for the Xperia M2’s processing, though. It makes zoomed-out shots look punchier, and may aid the phone’s efforts to up contrast in photos. It just looks very weird when viewed zoomed in.

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A nice shot of a flower...

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...becomes a bit of a mess close-up. But as long as you don't look too close, does it matter?

The Xperia M2 can also be a little conservative with its exposure metering, resulting in dull-looking photos at times. This really depends on what you’re shooting, though.

You can largely solve this issue with the highly effective HDR mode – something you can pick yourself if you shoot in the ‘manual’ mode. It’s even slower than normal shooting, but jazzes-up dull-looking scenes and also seems to have much less processing going on than standard shooting.

They are far less sharpened, looking softer but more natural up close, and you don't really lose out on any actual fine detail.

HDR Off:
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HDR On:

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HDR really brightens up this scene (man in black is not an effect of HDR, mind)

Some close crops from the above photos:

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The softer HDR shots reveal how much better photos with a bit less sharpening can look

So, does the Xperia M2 have a good camera? It's not too bad for casual snaps, and while the autofocus is a touch slow, it's fairly reliable. This is best thought-of as a fun camera whose images should never really be enlarged or viewed with too keen an eye. But for Facebook and Instagram this phone will do the trick.

The Xperia M2 has a flash too, which makes it suitable for party shots and other such low-light occasions.

There's a front camera to finish things off, but it's not much cop. It's a very low-res VGA sensor, its metering trips up and down in obvious steps and the on-screen preview in-app is quite juddery. This is not selfie heaven, and video chat will be limited to 480p resolution.

Sony Xperia M2 – Battery Life

The Sony Xperia M2 has a 2,300mAh battery, which is a fair bit bigger than the competition. We’ve heard some talk online of the phone not lasting a full-day of use, but that is not our experience.

We got 11 hours of 720p video playback off a charge, and found that average use of the phone can easily see it last for a day and a half between charges. It’s a very solid performance, on a similar level to that seen in the Xperia Z2 – which has a huge battery.

Sony also gives you more battery-saving options in the Xperia M2 than you’ll see in just about any other phone in its class. It can be pretty aggressive about it too – it’ll switch itself off automatically within 15 minutes if there’s no SIM aboard, for example.

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The M2 battery is not user-accessible

On the more practical side, you get several battery-saving modes designed to prolong the M2’s battery life.

You can be very particular about how your phone works. Stamina mode lets you disable background data when the screen is turned off, but you can set up a list of apps that have access at all times – Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger might be obvious ones to add.
 
Low Battery Mode lets you set another load of restrictions when your battery hits a certain level. You can turn off wireless connection types like mobile data and Bluetooth, alter the screen brightness and how quickly the screen turns itself off. You don’t normally get this many options.

Location-based Wi-Fi is one of the clever power extras. It keeps Wi-Fi turned off unless you’re near a saved Wi-Fi network – using mobile signal rather than GPS makes location sensing pretty battery-friendly. The last battery-saving tool is queuing of background data tasks.

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The M2 has a single, mono speaker on the bottom edge

Sony Xperia M2 – Call Quality and Speaker

One of the lesser-talked-about cuts made to the Xperia Z2 design to make it fit the M2’s blueprint is that this phone has a more conventional speaker. A single speaker output sits on the bottom edge of the phone, firing downward.

It’s a rather hard-sounding speaker, one that clearly puts more of an emphasis on being loud that in making the output sound good at all levels. The relatively thin sound is a bit harsh at top volume.

Call quality isn't too hot, either. While there is a secondary mic for noise cancellation, the call speaker is a bit low on clarity and volume.

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Should I Buy the Sony Xperia M2?

The Sony Xperia M2 is a good phone, but its killer feature is one that works best for poseurs. Namely, the phone can pass for the Xperia Z2 at a distance, and even in-hand for some people. Design does matter in phones, though, and the Xperia M2 looks a whole lot better than the original Xperia M.

At its £200 SIM-free price the Xperia M2 struggles to justify its case over the £150 Moto G 4G and the similarly-specced £100 EE Kestrel. But as part of the £150 deal you can get from – at the time of writing – EE, it’s a much more attractive option. There are limitations in the screen, but the superior design and good software make it worthwhile.

It's definitely worth considering, then, but only if you can get it at the right price or on a good contract.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia M2 screen is disappointing but the software, the design and the camera are all decent for the price, making it a top 4G buy if you’re willing to shop around.

Next, see our best cheap phones or try our Android 4.4 tips and tricks