Sony’s new Xperia 1 flagship is mightily impressive, but don’t forget about the budget Xperia L3
- Good-looking screen
- Decent dual rear cameras
- Design feels a bit cheap
- Video capabilities are lacking
Sony’s upcoming smartphone lineup covers every possible price bracket. While the Xperia 1 is catering for the top-end with its lavish 4K screen, and the Xperia 10 is circling the mid-range market, there’s another smartphone on the way that might be well-suited for lighter wallets.
This is Sony’s Xperia L3 which, despite settling down in the bargain bin, is actually nothing of the sort of experience you might expect for its price. It looks just like a flagship phone you’d pay almost three times as much for, and it has a few hidden surprises hidden under its metaphorical sleeves too.
Sony Xperia L3 review: What you need to know
Sony’s Xperia L3 might not be a flagship phone, but that’s not to say that it’s light on features. This isn’t anywhere close to the sort of pared-down experience you might expect from a phone at this price, with a generously-sized 5.7in screen, a dual rear camera arrangement and a rather speedy MediaTek Helio P22 processor, paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage.
Sony Xperia L3 review: Price and competition
Of course, these features are hardly going to set the world aflame, especially when put up against extravagant handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 or iPhone Xs, but the Xperia L3’s overall package is actually rather enticing. All this for just £169? Well, I think that’s an absolute steal.
Yet, sitting in this price bracket, the Xperia L3 isn’t without its rivals. Motorola’s fleet of budget G-branded smartphones, currently in their seventh iteration, regularly pop up as affordable favourites, Samsung’s Galaxy J6 Plus is a pretty decent choice and the £200 Honor 10 Lite is another low-cost stunner if you’re willing to spend a little extra.
Sony Xperia L3 review: Design and key features
At first glance, you might mistake the Xperia L3 for one of those top-end flagship smartphones that cost a pretty penny. This is an entry-level smartphone, no doubt about it, but it looks lovely. The all-metal unibody design is rather unexpected, and it fits nicely in the hand. You can pick up an Xperia L3 in a choice of three colours – silver, black or gold.
Elsewhere, the Xperia L3 includes a side-mounted fingerprint sensor on the right edge, which is used for secure unlocking and authorising contactless card payments via NFC. This sits between the phone’s power button and volume rocker, while a single USB Type-C port can be found at the bottom. The latter supports Sony’s “Xperia Adaptive Charging”, which monitors your phone as it charges, supposedly ensuring that the battery doesn’t degrade quickly. Just a few minutes of charge should deliver a few hours of use before battery levels drop to zero, too.
One thing I didn’t like about the Xperia L3’s design is that the rear panel could be pressed inwards about a millimetre or so. It’s a cheap phone, yes, but give it a squeeze and it feels quite cheaply made. I also wasn’t a fan of the awkwardly placed volume rocker sitting near the bottom of the phone, although I’m certain this is something I could get used to with a little bit more use.
These are both mild concerns, mind you, and I’m still mightily impressed with what Sony has managed to produce for such a relatively low asking price.
Sony Xperia L3 review: Display
The front of the phone is fitted with an edge-to-edge 18:9 screen, with a reasonably slim forehead and chin bezels above and below the display. The Gorilla Glass 5-coated screen measures 5.7in from corner to corner, with an HD+ display resolution. This isn’t a high-resolution panel, nor should you expect it to be at this price. What matters most is that it looks nice, and the Xperia L3’s screen certainly does that.
Rather than getting bogged down in the specifics, in technical testing we found that the Xperia L3’s IPS panel was capable of producing 96% of the sRGB colour gamut, with an average Delta E of 2.32. For the most part, colours have plenty of pop across the palette, and the phone is also capable of reaching a sunlight-friendly maximum brightness of 504cd/m2. Likewise, a contrast ratio of 1,641:1 is very, very good for a phone this cheap.
Sony Xperia L3 review: Performance and battery life
As for what’s powering the Xperia L3, you’ll find a reasonably weak MediaTek Helio P22 processor under the bonnet. This is far from the fastest mobile chipset around, but it shouldn’t really be compared to the likes of the Snapdragon 855 or Kirin 980; the Xperia L3 is a fraction of the price of handsets bearing that kind of hardware. What’s more, Sony hasn’t skimped too badly elsewhere in the spec. You get 3GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC flash storage, which can be expanded up to a further 512GB via microSD.
Sadly, Geekbench 4’s multi- and single-core CPU benchmarks failed to run on the Xperia L3, which is an issue we run into from time to time. This doesn’t discredit the Xperia L3’s performance which, in everyday subjective terms, is actually rather good. The phone felt nice and nippy in operation; switching between multiple apps was a breeze, and I didn’t encounter any slowdown issues when running CPU-intensive applications such as Google Maps.
Thankfully, our gaming benchmark managed to run without any problems. The GFXBench on-screen Manhattan 3.0 test recorded a result of 9.7fps, which means that the Xperia L3 is ideal for simple Android titles such as Alto’s Odyssey and Stardew Valley, but not much else.
That low-powered CPU has also helped boost the phone’s overall battery life. Our in-house battery rundown test, which plays a looped 20-hour video using the widely-used MX Player app from the Google Play Store, reached a total of 15hrs 52mins before the battery was depleted. You shouldn’t have any problems hitting a full day’s use on a single charge.
Sony Xperia L3 review: Camera
Lastly, the Xperia L3 is fitted with a dual-camera setup on the back of the phone, which is a pretty widespread arrangement these days. One of these is a standard 13-megapixel RGB lens with an aperture of f/2.2, while the other is a 2-megapixel depth-sensing unit, used for fancy Bokeh-effect portrait shots. An 8-megapixel selfie camera sits above the screen, complete with a face-smoothing beauty mode.
Again, the Xperia L3 does quite a good job at capturing detail-rich images in a variety of lighting conditions, with well-balanced exposures and accurate-looking colours. The phone’s HDR mode lifts up shadowy areas quite nicely without losing detail in overly-bright areas of the image, while visual noise is kept to a minimum, even in low-light environments.
Speaking of which, the Xperia L3’s rear-facing snapper does a much better job when the light dimmed when compared to the same scene captured with the similarly-priced Moto G7 Play. You can tell in my test shots, but the G7 Play’s images came out rather soft and warm, while the Xperia L3’s stills are nice and crisp.
The Xperia L3’s camera software could be better. It’s a bit fiddly changing through the camera settings, and the on-screen exposure and colour temperature sliders aren’t labelled, which isn’t ideal. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to turn off HDR, either.
This brings me to the Xperia L3’s limited video capabilities. There’s no frame rate adjustment for starters – all recording resolutions are locked at 30fps – and the phone is only capable of recording video at a maximum resolution of Full HD. You won’t find any form of image stabilisation either, so footage doesn’t look quite as smooth or tear-free as I would like.
Sony Xperia L3 review: Verdict
Still, while it might not be in the same league as its flagship counterparts, Sony’s Xperia L3 offers the ideal blend of usability and asking price. It’s a dangerous line to tread, and we’ve seen a long list of budget-priced phones falter in recent years, but the Xperia L3 is a solid, dependable choice for lighter wallets.