Sony Xperia P hands-on (video)

Without revealing the rhyme or reason behind its seemingly arbitrary Xperia naming convention, Sony's newly minted Mobile Communications arm unveiled its middle ground NXT series entry, the P, at this evening's MWC event. Occupying a space firmly between the S and U, this 4-inch handset boasts a company first -- that WhiteMagic display tech -- while incorporating the better known hardware elements of its older stablemate. With that signature aluminum unibody design, transparent bar and NFC-capabilities, this Android handset is poised to usher a whole new crop of smartphone users into the company's wireless folds. We spent some up close and personal time with the unit, so click on past the break to see whether this phone suffers from middle child syndrome or truly shines on its own.

Unlike the instant impressiveness imparted by the S, this handset skews more average-to-normal where its combination metal-plastic build is concerned. That's not to say it doesn't convey the same sense of style, quality and durability showcased by its high-end elder, but the wow factor just isn't present. Perhaps this was because we'd previously fondled the flashier U and its illuminating bar eye-candy. No matter, as the feature list associated with this device goes a long way towards raising its profile.

For Sony's part, the P's 4-inch Reality display merges well with its construction, resting comfortably in hand and balanced perfectly by the right amount of heft. Reassuring design aside, you won't notice much "magic" in the whites represented on screen. That boost in display tech is marginal at best, despite the company's claims to the contrary. Indeed images do appear brighter, but we're not sure this will translate as a noticeable feature to the end user.

Like its recently announced smaller sibling, the P runs Android 2.3.7 atop a 1GHz dual-core -- here, an ST-Ericsson U8500 CPU -- but should see a bump to a skinned version of ICS sometime in the very near future. Performance was on par with the U, as navigation and transitions throughout the Timescape UX were neither immediate nor sluggish. Again, it seems as if Sony's staying true to this handset's medium billing, delivering a dependable, if not, awe-inspiring experience.

The hardware keys mimic the U's positioning, relegating all that external control -- power, volume rocker and dedicated camera key -- to the right side, although a tiny speaker grill is also lumped into the mix. Shift to the left and you'll find ports for USB, HDMI out and a flap concealing access to the SIM slot. An 8 megapixel rear shooter, capable of full HD video capture in addition to 2D and 3D imaging, is located on the back.

We didn't have an opportunity to test the company's NFC smart tags, but those necklace-like tokens should function no differently than other implementations of the tech, simply launching associated apps upon a close swipe. Fast capture is also enabled on the unit, waking the display from sleep to snap with a press of the dedicated key. Sony's added a touch of customization into its propriety Xperia imaging app, giving users control of what settings and shortcuts appear on the UI.

In regard to software, the P is more of the pre-bloat same, with a slew of applications filling up the app drawer, as well as access to Sony's synergistic Entertainment Unlimited services. The company's also making a Smart Dock available at launch that should truly transform this phone into a virtual multimedia hub when connected to a TV, keyboard and mouse.

Truthfully, the P isn't the curveball wonder we saw Sony deliver at CES with the S, but it doesn't need to be. Armed with a decent mix of specs, reassuring build and that backing of its content ecosystem, this device should make a smart choice for consumers looking for an enduring workhorse imbued with subtle flair.

Zachary Lutz contributed to this report.