Sony Xperia U hands-on (update: video!)

Sony certainly didn't pull out the big guns today at its Mobile World Congress 2012 keynote -- those showstoppers were for CES. Instead, the electronics giant decided to trot out two new, mid-to-low end additions to its NXT line of handsets, a portfolio that previously claimed the ion and S as its sole occupants. Focused on delivering a handset for every price point, the ill-concealed Xperia U, formerly known by its cheeky Kumquat codename, combines a compact, idiosyncratic design with user experience flourishes to add value and a higher profile to an otherwise ground floor device. We got to spend some brief time with the handset, so join us after the break as we share our first impressions.

It's clear that rather than concentrate on top shelf specs, Sony's narrowed its mobile eye on neat, if not frivolous, quirks. With a 3.5-inch Reality display complementing its palm-friendly size and solid build, there's not much initially impressive about the phone -- in truth, it's rather ho humm. Enter the gallery app or even swap around some of the pre-installed themes, however, and you'll immediately begin to notice the subtle effects tossed in to set this little fella apart from its brood. In step with whatever image is being displayed, that transparent element first introduced with the S changes here to a variety of complementary hues. It's a surprising value-add, though truth be told, we'd rather see that attention to detail showered upon the handset's internals.

Below the hood, the U packs an 1GHz dual-core chipset which does an acceptable job powering the Timescape-skinned version of Gingerbread 2.3.7 that Sony plans to ship this with. An Ice Cream Sandwich update is in the works, but when we pressed a company rep for a timeline, we only received a coy "very soon" in response. Purists take note that all handsets upgraded to Android 4.0 will still sport the company's UX.

All of the U's hardware keys are restricted to its right edge, with the power button, volume rocker and fast capture camera key easily located and evenly spaced out. On the opposite side, a covered port hides the SIM slot, with access to HDMI and USB located just above it. As far as imaging goes, a VGA front-facer sits atop the screen, with the more ample 720p-capable 5 megapixel shooter around back. Fashionistas should be delighted to know that the casing below the illuminating bar is replaceable, as the device ships with an additional, colored bottom cap: pink for the black unit and yellow for the white.

Consumers looking for the zippy navigation associated with higher-clocked CPUs won't necessarily find that briskness at play here. That said, transitions in and out of applications, as well as throughout the five homescreens, menu settings were fluid, evincing only a hint of sluggishness. Sadly, it does appear that Sony's loaded up quite a bit of bloatware on the device, taking up three pages of space within the app drawer. On the upside, some of that is dedicated to the company's renewed stab at synergy, mixing in its Music and Video unlimited service.

All told, it's quite a respectable, entry-level phone for Android newbies; one that takes full advantage of hardware glitz and glam to make up for its middle road internals. Consumers itching for the "One Sony" hardware, software and content experience can snag this mini-Me Xperia when it's expected to hit in mid-Q2.