Sony Xperia Touch review: Innovative, but a touch too soon

£1400
Price when reviewed

The Sony Xperia Touch gestures to a future where the walls in your house can be thumbed, fingered and stroked; where digital wallpaper decks your living room in scenes of pastoral bliss, your kitchen in wall-to-wall recipes, and your bedroom in a constellation of Facebook notifications. As a glimpse into this world of projected touchscreens, it is intriguing, but as an actual product that costs money, the Touch is half-baked and laden with impracticalities.

The Xperia Touch is a standalone device that runs on Android 7 Nougat and comes with a number of modules you’d expect from a smartphone, including a 13-megapixel camera, built-in speakers and a microSD slot. In terms of connectivity, it’s Wi-Fi-enabled and includes Bluetooth 4.2, with a USB Type-C and micro-HDMI port. There’s no SIM slot, so you won’t be making phone calls, although video calling is a possibility if you’re hooked up to Wi-Fi. Screen sharing also works, both wireless and via a wired connection.

Sony’s projector weighs 932g and, at 69 x 134 x 143mm, it’s dinky enough to fit inside your backpack. Plonk it on a surface and it will project a 23in image that can be touched much like a tablet. Stick it by a wall and it can scale the projection up to 80in diagonal. In theory, it can turn almost any white surface in your home into a touchscreen, or pull it back to make a canvas for larger, more standard projections. In practice, however, this ambition falls short.

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Sony Xperia Touch review: The dream and the reality

Sitting on a kitchen surface, shifting between online recipes, video messages and YouTube clips is when the Xperia Touch makes the most sense. Plugged into the mains and tucked beside the toaster, the device makes for a handy mini-projector, and the touchscreen’s sensitivity is adequate enough for swiping between apps while cooking. As you’re only dealing with the kitchen surface, it doesn’t matter if you spill a drop of wine over the “screen”, or if your fingers are wet with chicken grease. Want to make way for the roast potatoes? Just move the projector and it will automatically refocus its display.

But the Sony Xperia Touch is a penny shy of £1,400, and that’s a great deal of money to spend on a device that only really solves the problem of sticky fingers in the kitchen. While the version of Android Nougat on the device is comprehensible if you’ve ever used an Android smartphone, it is far from optimised for touchscreen projections. Try to type an email and you’ll be faced with a keyboard that covers half the display, with a level of responsiveness that makes it impossible to do sustained work. Playing games with projected light is entertaining for guests, but the latency between touches quickly becomes frustrating beyond the first game of Fruit Ninja.[gallery:8]

Things get even worse when you set the Xperia Touch beside a wall. Place it directly against the surface and the projector will shine its 23in display upwards, or pull the device backwards to scale the screen up to 80in. But with a resolution of 1,366 x 768 and a paltry brightness of only 100nits, don’t expect to see much detail at this size unless all the blinds have been drawn.

Touchscreen functionality is patchy even at the smallest scale – and greasy fingers do NOT work well with your living-room wall. Pull the device backward to watch a film and there’s no way to control what’s happening onscreen. The Sony Xperia Touch doesn’t come with a separate controller, so you’ll have to set a movie running on a horizontal surface, and then quickly flip to vertical. Not great if you need a bathroom break.

Throw in only one hour of battery life and you have a device that’s burdened with too many practical issues to be the all-in-one tablet-slash-projector it clearly dreams of being. As a prototype for a nascent technology, the Xperia Touch’s shortcomings are forgivable. For a £1,400 product, they are fatal.

Sony Xperia Touch review: Verdict

If you’re looking for an exceptional projector for films or gaming, there are plenty of stellar options for less than £1,000, including the BenQ W2000 and the Optoma GT1080Darbee. What the Sony Xperia Touch boasts, of course, is touch functionality, and it’s currently the only device out there with this technology. It is therefore a unique piece of kit, and has a certain degree of novelty appeal, but its problems also highlight how far touch projectors have to go before they stand a chance of becoming commonplace.  

As an ancillary point, the Xperia Touch also underlined how the design of our homes will need to change if interactive walls become a reality. White surfaces are necessary for projections, that’s a given, but they also need to be made of materials that are comfortable enough to swipe and clean enough not to pick up stains. Will paint give way to glass? Will interactive lightboxes replace bookshelves and record collections? I think not. After all, people like adorning their homes with objects, not projections. A number of futurists would disagree, however, so it may be that Sony’s Xperia Touch is the first – albeit shaky – step towards a vision of homes decorated not with posters and framed pictures, but with interactive light.

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