The Sony Xperia M is a decent but inexpensive Android smartphone. Shop around and you can pick up an Xperia M for as little as £100, although more typically it retails for around £130, new and SIM free.
It fits into an ever increasing market: that of the the budget smartphone for first-time buyers. At the top of the market most people who want an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy or Sony Xperia Z smartphone have already purchased one. They may upgrade every year, but they won't contribute to overall smartphone market growth.
That's why phone makers are continually pushing down the prices of decent quality smartphones, using components that get cheaper as years go buy. So it is that Motorola's Moto G and the Windows-toting Nokia Lumia 520 can be totally respectable, full-featured smartphones that offer solid performance and cost around £100. And that's the market in which the Sony Xperia M must compete.
It's a tough market. Is the Xperia M worth the money?
Sony Xperia M review: Interface and screen
The display is arguably the most important component of a smartphone - it's the bit you look at and use as your interface. And it's also the difference between cheap and budget - with a good display you can feel that you have a proper smartphone, with a poor one a toy. With early inexpensive Androids in particular a low-resoution, low-quality display makes the whole handset feel like more of a toy than a sophisticated tool.
In the case of the Sony Xperia M there is bad- as well as some good news. On the one hand the 4in 480x854 TFT capacitive touchscreen is by no means a 'bad' display. But it's not great. For one thing four inches just doesn't feel like enough (stop sniggering).
These days 5in is standard for a high-end smartphone, and arguably 4.3in is the acceptable minimum for an Android handset. We just couldn't get along with the Xperia M's display. It may be the wide bezel into which it is set but it just feels unnaturally small - even when used next to the relatively small iPhone 5.
It's possible that the problem is the touchscreen. Using the Xperia M it feels as though the elements you 'touch' through the screen are a long way away. It feels deep. It's like trying to grab something through water, and it makes the screen real estate feel unaccountably far away. Not great.
On the plus side? Well that 480x854-pixel resolution is by no means outstanding, but it does mean that the Xperia M offers a pixel density of 245ppi. This is unable to compete with the Moto G (326ppi) but for photos and video it is perfectly acceptable. And colours are the usual Sony mix of accuracy without the eye-bleeding power of Samsung's OLED displays. Just don't expect to enjoy reading text on the Xperia M - when you focus in it is bluey and pixelated.
Our problem with the Xperia M's display could also relate to the interface. This is Sony's take on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Sony's version of Jelly Bean is sufficiently recent to be decent, but it is no KitKat. And that combined with the small screen underneath what feels like a yard of toughened glass it is not a great experience. This makes typing a nightmarish trial. Shame.