On first glance, the Sony Xperia go looks like a lightweight, compact Android mid-ranger like the Xperia U we've already seen. Look again and you'll notice this good-looking little smartphone is submerged in water and you're still pawing through apps and games. The go's hidden toughphone features – like a scratch resistant screen and water resistance – might just give it the edge over the higher-specced, equally water-friendly Panasonic Eluga and the cheap, rugged Motorola Defy+.

Sony Xperia go review – toughphone in disguise

The textured matte plastic casing won't be for everyone, but we like that the Xperia go doesn't make us feel like we're trying to tame a slippery eel as many slick smartphones do. At just 110g, the compact handset is very light indeed, but it does give the overall impression of being a colourful case away from kids' phone territory. The 3.5in display serves up vivid colours thanks to the Sony Mobile Bravia Engine, but it’s let down by a rather paltry 480x320 resolution. Text is jagged, typing is cramped and video looks rather ropey considering the phone’s price.

Sony Xperia go review – Gingerbread handset

Running a skinned version of Android Gingerbread 2.3, the Xperia go's quirks (like a widget showing YouTube videos your Facebook friends are watching) are useful enough, and there’s an outdoorsy theme to the pre-loaded apps (miCoach, Walkmate, a compass and torch, for example) but that doesn’t make up for a lack of Ice Cream Sandwich. Come on, Sony, even affordable handsets deserve the latest Android.

Sony Xperia go review – in use

With a 1 GHz dual-core chip, the Xperia go has plenty of power to keep all those widgets going, but it does occasionally lag when opening up apps (perhaps down to the 512MB of RAM) and it'd be a good bet to replace the stock browser with something like Firefox. Only 4GB of storage is available to you so another worthwhile investment would be a microSD card to bump this up by up to 32GB – the slot is underneath the back cover with the SIM card slot.

Sony Xperia go review – wet and wild?

The Xperia go looks completely different to its predecessor, the Sony Ericsson Xperia active, instead flaunting some trickle-down styling from the rather lovely Xperia S. It’s still the same IP67 credentials in scratch, dust and water resistance underneath, though, so you're not getting a more robust phone here.

The display turns on when you plunge the Xperia go into water, and once rescued the wet finger tracking means the phone is still very usable, if a little slower than usual. The headphone jack and microUSB port have covers to keep the insides safe from water damage so you don't need to pocket the Xperia go at the first sign of rain.

Sony Xperia go review – camera

From the lock screen the quick automatic capture mode is a nice touch, but would be more useful if the 5MP camera's auto focus was faster. Stills are otherwise fairly detailed in helpful daylight, there's an LED flash onboard and the Xperia go will also shoot decent 720p video and 3D Panorama images. It’s unsurprisingly no rival to the cameras on the latest and greatest smartphones, but for everyday, on-the-go use it’s perfectly decent.

Sony Xperia go review – battery

The Xperia go's battery life really isn’t great – in our tests it took less than 24 hours to run down from standby, and in normal usage (with GPS and data turned on and maximum brightness) we only just managed the quoted six hours. When you open the back casing you're met with brightly coloured but impenetrable innards, so you won’t be swapping in a spare, either.

Sony Xperia go review – verdict

If you fancy an Xperia active in a more attractive disguise this is absolutely the phone for you. What’s more the go is an excellent all-rounder for the money, especially when you compare it to key rugged rivals like the Motorola Defy+ and far pricier Panasonic Eluga. Even if you’re not especially in need of a rugged phone we can see the water resistance being genuinely useful, especially if you’re adventurous and allergic to phone insurance, and we’d be very surprised if Sony didn’t give the go a lick of Ice Cream Sandwich before the year is out.

Stuff says... 

Sony Xperia go review

All the tough credentials of the Xperia active mixed with Sony's new smartphone style