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Sony Xperia S : Review

Sony Xperia S : Review

Review in short:

As tech consumers, we’ve currently got a rather odd ‘problem’: there’s just too much good stuff out there. Nowhere is that more true than with phones; the adoption of Android, fast processors and uniformly smart looks means it’s hard for anything to stand out.
Take this phone, for instance. The Sony Xperia S is very fast, slick, has a large screen without feeling too big and does just about everything you need from a modern smartphone. It’s in the top tier, yet it’s weirdly hard to get excited about because there are so many other good phones either already available or imminent, including the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the LG Optimus 4X HD. Does it really have enough to make it into our list of the best smartphonesaround?

Sony Xperia S: Screen

First up, the 4.3-inch screen with Bravia tech – this phone is festooned with big hitting Sony tech sub-brands, by the way. It’s extremely vivid and bright, whether you’re looking at video, photos or surfing the web.

Some of you may prefer the more naturalistic look of, for instance, the Apple iPhone 4S‘s screen, but for anyone hooked on OLED displays, this is the nearest LCD has got to that kind of vibrant, luminescent psychedelia.

Sony Xperia S: Camera

As a result, on the screen, two- to 12-meg photos and 1080p movies shot on the Xperia S’ camera have a slightly hyper-real quality. Whip them off on to a TV or computer screen and they look more conventional, but still of very high quality for a phone, being detailed, bright even in low-ish light, and with decent sharpness.

The camera also has a dedicated button and is ready to shoot in pretty short order. All told, it’s better than the Samsung Galaxy S2 and up there with the iPhone 4S.

Arguably the iPhone’s photos across a range of different shooting conditions are of slightly higher quality, but the Xperia S has a number of extra, useful features, such as a timer, and less useful but fun stuff such as 3D panoramas. And it has more megapixels in it, which is, of course, essential.

Sony Xperia S: Build

Design is one of the areas where the Sony Xperia S falls down. The Android buttons are unresponsive and hard to find, the feel is solid rather than inspiring, and the one little flourish – a see-through, light-up strip below the buttons – is just naff, really.

Sony Xperia S: Features

One day, the built-in NFC capability will turn the S into a travel pass and debit card. Right now, you can exchange documents with it and scan tags. So tap it on the “bedroom” tag and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the ringtones turn off, while the alarm app turns on. For some reason, tapping again in the morning doesn’t have the reverse effect. Tags are user-programmable, though.

Sony Xperia S: Music, movies, game

Phones are now essentially platforms rather than standalone gadgets, and the Xperia S delivers as a source of games, movies and music.

Google Play (formerly Market) is second only to the App Store as a retailer of software nuggets, and having cut loose from Ericsson, Sony is also unleashing its full arsenal of entertainment options, with PlayStation certification, Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited.
Music Unlimited is a subscription-based Spotify clone. Video Unlimited is not aNetflix-style subscription service but actually an iTunes-style buy/rent one. Presumably “Video Unlimited as long as you keep bunging us 2 or 3 quid a time to watch said Video” was deemed to have not quite the same ring to it.

As you’d hope from the Walkman men, Sony’s music app is great. Cover Flow-style album art means it looks good (nobody actually browses their music like that though, do they?) and the audio is a bit like the screen in that it is very punchy, loud and vibrant rather than necessarily “accurate” – no bad thing, in this case.

The video and music options both offer a decent selection and pricing on a par with their rivals. We’d still use Lovefilm, Netflix, Spotify and Amazon’s MP3 Store before either, mind.

The PlayStation “certification” and associated app are what should really make Sony phones stand out, but the whole thing remains pretty half-baked. Are people really gagging to play the crusty likes of Crash Bandicoot on their phones?

There’s promise here, but not much delivery as yet. However, things can only get better, and there are plenty of non-Sony titles at Google Play (the app store formerly known as Android Market), with the 1.5GHz dualcore and 1GB RAM well up for ’em.

Sony Xperia S: Performance

We’re a little disappointed that the OS on board is ropey old Gingerbread rather than thrusting, virile Ice Cream Sandwich – an upgrade is promised “in Q1”, so presumably within the month; makes you wonder why Sony didn’t just wait a few weeks to release this.

However, Gingerbread runs with no lag, offering a level of slickness comparable to the more expensive iPhone and as good or better than any Android phone currently on the market.

We also had a few issues with Mac compatibility: we could barely get any music on to it from an iMac running Snow Leopard via Sony’s hapless Bridge for Mac software.

Sony Xperia S: Battery

Battery life is fine. Despite the use of a sealed rather than removable battery you’ll need to charge once a day, but that’s par for the course. The storage is also ‘sealed’, in the sense that there’s 32GB built in but no microSD – come on, 32GB is plenty.

Sony Xperia S: Verdict

The above niggles aside, there’s nothing very wrong with the Sony Xperia S and a lot that’s very right. All told, it’s probably the best Android handset you can get right now, unless you insist on Ice Cream Sandwich and a massive screen, in which case the Samsung Galaxy Nexus trumps it.

We’d still choose the iPhone over it most days, but the gap between Apple’s phones and cheaper Android alternatives such as this is being sandpapered down to wafer thinness.

The headline news from Sony’s star-studded press event as CES 2012 was the arrival of the first smartphone since the company bought out Ericsson’s half of the partnership.

The Sony Xperia S and Sony Xperia ION are the first devices of the new Sony Mobile Communications era, but the one we’re concerned with its the Xperia S which will be coming to the UK in March this year, with Three Mobile the first network to sign up. We were able to get some hands-on time at a packed Sony stand. Some of the pictures in our gallery will still show the Sony Ericsson branding.

Sony Xperia S: Build

The first really noticeable change is the new Sony branding at the top of the device. There’s something about that Sony font which instantly makes a device look a little more premium and this is the case with the Xperia S.

The Xperia S is a good looking phone, on its own merits. we were able to play with the white edition, which is definitely the more attractive than the black iteration of the device and its matte finish will stay nicely free of fingerprints. We really loved the see-through strip at the bottom of the device, which also houses the home, menu and back soft-keys and the phone’s antenna system. It’s a really nice design touch and sets it aside from rivals.

When we picked up the device, it wasn’t overly comfortable. The curved back on the Xperia line does fit nicely in the palm, but the very defined square edges offset that somewhat when gripping the device. Overall, it felt a little awkward. There’s also a physical camera button, volume keys and a HDMI port tucked behind a dedicated flap.

Sony Xperia S: Features

The new Sony handset will not arrive with Android Ice Cream Sandwich on board, but Sony says there’ll be an upgrade in the near future. Instead early adopters will be greeted with Android 2.3 Gingerbread. As with other phones in the Xperia range, like the Sony Xperia Arc, the UI is very Android centric. There’s no skin like on HTC and Samsung Android phones and Sony Ericsson has long ditched the Timescape UI, which was a good idea in theory but didn’t really work in practice.

Sony Ericsson cameras have always been an area of the phone’s that we can be positive about and the Sony Xperia S is no different, bringing a 12-megapixel offering which also offers some neat shot-to-shot technology which almost eliminates the shutter-lag between taking pictures. In terms of video, the device will shoot 1080p, a la the iPhone 4S. There’s also an Exmor sensor on-board. Very fancy.

There’s also a boon for gamers as the device is PlayStation certified, meaning you’ll be able to access the library of old PlayStation titles just like Xperia Play owners. It’ll also focus its attentions on the Sony Entertainment Network with apps like Music Unlimited and Movies Unlimited. It’ll also be able to throw content to your TV set in the same way AirPlay does on iOS devices.

Sony Xperia S: Screen

Continuing the trend of whopping Android screens, the Xperia S has a 4.3-inch, 1280×720 resolution screen that brings the Sony Bravia Mobile engine into play. Screen detail is fantastic, colours are engaging and well represented, but the display is by no means as encapsulating as the Samsung Galaxy S2‘s Super AMOLED offering or the Apple iPhone 4S‘s Retina Display.

Sony Xperia S: Performance

With a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8260 processor and the now-standard 1GB of RAM on-board the device is rather nippy and during our brief test performed really well. Whizzing around the Android operating system was a breeze, while video rendered very quickly and web-pages loaded at a better-than-expected-for-a-showroom-floor speed. More testing is needed in this area to give a definitive verdict.

Sony Xperia S: Verdict

Sony believes this new era can resurrect its ailing smartphone brand and the Xperia S appears to be a good start. With Sony going it alone in the smartphone world we’d expect more distinct designs from the company in the near future. However, it’s clear that this device was still designed while the Ericsson partnership remained intact. Some of the phones on display here, as you can see from our photos, still boasted the Sony Ericsson branding.

The Xperia S, on its own merits, is a feature packed phone which continues the company’s recent run of excellent Android devices. The camera is one of the best-specced we’ve ever seen on an Android device, while it’s also got plenty in the engine room to keep things ticking over. We enjoyed the lack of an over-bearing UI and for the most part we impressed by the design. The grip isn’t particularly natural however.

Sony Xperia S review

GOOD

  • Powerful and fast
  • Good stills and full-HD video
  • Decent media/app hubs

BAD

  • Mediocre design
  • PlayStation bits disappoint
  • No Ice Cream Sandwich

Full Reviews:

Sony’s split with Ericsson is as much a cultural break as a corporate one, and the Xperia S on the surface reflects that. It’s a showcase for the company’s design and technology. But with the split just months old, has Sony’s mobile team learned its lesson? Our Sony Xperia S review will decide whether Sony can hold its own, or if pressure from HTC, Samsung, and Apple is still fierce.

Design and the display

The Sony design aesthetic is certainly taking over the Xperia S’ external looks. Gone are the swoops, curves, and shine of Sony Ericsson days. In its place, Sony has implemented an almost extremely minimalist design that’s both very matte and very rectangular: it’s one of the few phones we’ve ever seen that can stand upright without help. We’re fans of the understated look, especially as it has dropped Sony Ericsson’s tendency towards fake chrome and brushed metal. Some will appreciate the multi-color notification light to let you know of new messages or similar updates.

There are a handful of quirks. The surfaces are fairly smudge-prone, both front and back. It’s easy to clean off, but it can mean heavy use in a given day will be all too clear when you get home. Sony’s design is also rounded at the back; while it will stay flat when put down on the table, we noticed that it can rock to the side if you tap the screen with too much enthusiasm.

If there’s any overt flash to the design, it’s at the bottom. Sony has implemented a transparent rim around the chin that you can’t help but notice. It’s even slightly practical: the area briefly lights up whenever you wake it up or do something such as open a menu, which can be handy in a darkened nightclub when you’re trying to find the controls.

The control layout is decidedly mixed. We like the placement of the volume rocker, and Sony has an appreciated dedicated camera button to go straight to the camera app even when the phone is locked. However, we’re not fans of the sleep/wake placement, which forces you to stretch your finger or shift your hand upwards. The capacitive Android navigation keys at the bottom are occasionally problematic, too. Sony has put the symbols for the controls on the transparent strip, not the actual touch area; there are dots to indicate where you need to touch, as well as haptic (vibration) feedback, but it’s slightly counterintuitive and is implemented in a way that seems occasionally unresponsive.

Expansion, thankfully, is seldom an issue. While there’s no microSD slot, the Xperia S we’re using ships with 32GB built-in along with 1.5GB of dedicated phone space, so it’s enough to handle most common use without running dry. The lack of a slot has the upshot of giving a lot of contiguous storage for apps and media due to a file system change. You won’t run into the common Android problem of having multiple gigabytes of wasted space. Only about 26GB is free due to OS overhead, but it’s more than most.

Our core complaints are the ports. Micro HDMI and micro USB are located on the sides of the phone behind somewhat clumsily opened covers. As much as it helps to keep the ports free of damage, it both takes more effort to plug in and precludes any kind of real docking system. We’re not as perturbed by the normally non-removable battery, in part as there are unofficial techniques to replace it if it dies. It’s mostly a limit if you’re a frequent user and don’t want to use a USB external pack to top up.

As is becoming increasingly common, the display is the centerpiece here. Getting a 720p (720×1280) mobile display isn’t new — we’ve seen them in the HTC Vivid and Samsung Galaxy Nexus — but it’s one of the few under 4.5 inches, if only just at 4.3. As such, it has even more of a Retina Display-like effect than either iOS devices or larger counterparts. Sony’s upcoming Xperia ion for AT&T has a 4.5-inch panel with the same resolution, so the Xperia S is in some ways beating Sony itself.

In some ways, it’s very pleasing to look at. The pixel density is of course the first draw. In ideal situations, the colors have just the right balance of rich colors without being oversaturated, and is definitely better head-on than the Galaxy Nexus’ slightly “fuzzy” Pentile AMOLED screen. We’d add that the 4.3-inch size is a better fit for those who like to use their phones one-handed, as it’s easier to reach the top of the screen, even if the on-screen keyboard isn’t quite as comfortable.

Not all is flawless, however, and we noticed a conspicuous problem with viewing angles. You only need to tilt the phone slightly for the image to start washing out, and while it’s still usable, it’s not as consistently good as other LCD or AMOLED panels. Sony might have brought elements of its TVs’ Bravia image processing engine to the smartphone world, but the display could use some stepping up.

Android 2.3, Timescape, NFC tags, and upgrading to Android 4.0

Sony has sometimes been chastised for at times epitomizing the flaws of customized Android builds. While it toned things down with 2011 phones like the Xperia Play, some elements of its interface were still overwrought. Its social networking in its own interface layer, Timescape, was the definition of this: like most such apps, it was built on the assumption someone would only ever have a few dozen friends, and fell apart with the way people actually use Facebook or Twitter.

There have been some steps forward since then, both in the social side and overall. Now, the friends widgets are focused on either tracking just a few constant favorites or on the raw feed. Many widgets appear more centered on being functional than flash. The music player app is now more conspicuously useful with quicker (and prettier) access to common categories, and the bottom app shortcut tray is now transparent, giving more of a sense of breathing room. The app drawer is easily sorted by name or date added. Generally, we like navigating in Sony’s space more than we did last year.

The most practical addition comes at the lock screen. Somewhat similar to certain Android layers and iOS 5, certain notifications now show before you’ve unlocked the phone; swipe an e-mail notice and it takes you directly to that app. Very few apps qualify for the notification, however, and Sony has made the somewhat odd decision to make the slide-to-unlock control’s alternate function a mute function. It’s admittedly a common task, but we’d like it to be a common app or a customizable space.

All these are meaningful changes, but at the same time, the overriding sense is of a few minor changes rather than a fundamental revision. Some of the customizations are still welcome, such a two-pane mail client in landscape mode and a keyboard that has Swype-like gesturing. But it feels like a mild change when the audience was looking for an overhaul, with some elements still needing a fix or not really adding anything. The photo widget isn’t very useful, many of the widgets bog the phone down, and the Apple Exposé-like home screen view simply tosses all the widgets into one screen as they float around disconnected from their context. Sony ought to take a cue from HTC’s One series. Pare the custom layer back, focus on where it’s truly useful; don’t “differentiate,” just make it better or leave it alone.

There’s also the concern of Android 2.3 itself. The OS is certainly solid, but it’s now a year and a half old, and only slightly changed in the revisions that followed since Sony (then Sony Ericsson) started using it. Sony had promised that Android 4.0 would come out soon after the Xperia S launched, and we commend it for at least preparing an update. That said, it’s hard to sympathize given that HTC is shipping its core 2012 lineup at the same time with Android 4.0 from the start. And in our experience with Android 4.0, there are fewer and fewer reasons to customize the OS as a whole; even in December, the Galaxy Nexus had more powerful e-mail clients, some extra features like Face Unlock, and overall senses of polish and power that some have said was missing in stock Android until now.

Sony’s approach to NFC (near-field communication) is somewhat emblematic of this. Like LG, it’s bundling a set of its own tags, here called Xperia SmartTags, to provide a sort of extra-phone shortcut. Pass the phone by one of the tags and it can trigger multiple tasks at once, akin to Motorola’s Smart Actions. You can have the phone turn on Wi-Fi when you get home, for example, or launch a remote control app for a networked audio system. It can be handy, but we found it a decidedly niche way to get things done; if you’re not near one of the tags, that automation is lost to you.

With the SmartTags the only real immediate use for NFC on the phone apart from a limited photo sharing feature, it’s hard to advocate for NFC as a feature on the Xperia S until Android 4.0 arrives. We can count the number of times we’ve used Android Beam information sharing on one finger, but it’s still a more universal feature, and it’s joined by Google Wallet support if you’re an American with either a Sprint-edition Galaxy Nexus or the or unlocked HSPA+ version. It’s better that Sony have NFC than not; it’s just that the SmartTags are more an attempt to justify hardware than a meaningful inclusion at this stage.

Performance and data speeds

On paper, the Xperia S is fast, and in some senses it is. A dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor still means a responsive Android overall. However, it’s the previous-generation Snapdragon from late 2011, and that puts an inherent cap on its potential with a 2012 launch. You won’t get the newer, 28-nanometer architecture of the similarly-clocked Snapdragon S4 in a phone like the HTC One S (or North American One X), nor will you get the faster graphics that have come in a number of mobile chips since then.

That’s somewhat borne out by our testing. Android benchmarking has been criticized for its on-the-ground utility, and not without good cause, but it can show the gaps in speed between some phones. Our test units managed 3,109 points in the general-purpose Quadrant test, 1,242 in the Vellamo browser benchmark, and 59.6 frames per second in Qualcomm’s own NeoCore 3D benchmark. All are respectable scores, but they put the phone only slightly above the Galaxy Nexus, which feels subjectively faster.

Compare this to the HTC One phones with the Snapdragon S4 inside, and the difference is much wider. Quadrant on a One S will manage roughly 5,000 points. We broke out the SunSpider browser test from the Vellamo suite and a fairly modest 2,681ms. That’s respectable and competes well against most late 2011 Android 2.3 phones. Next to any Android 4.0 phone, though, it’s plodding; an HTC One phone will get under 1,800ms even with the stock browser, and the Galaxy Nexus’ code optimization helps it get under 2,000ms. We’d add that scores usually get even better when using Chrome for Android, which isn’t an option on Android 2.3.

In regular use, there are fewer complaints. For simply navigating around Android and most 2D apps, the Xperia S is perfectly brisk. Apart from the widget slowdown we mentioned earlier, it’s smooth throughout much of Android and in 2D apps. In the web browser and some 3D games, though, you’ll notice that it’s not quite as smooth as it could be. Scrolling and zooming in the stock browser is responsive, but not especially fluid. A game like Wind-Up Knight loses a small but noticeable amount of the frame rate versus other phones. These are hardly major complaints, and it’s still very much a competent phone. It’s just that competitors have either moved on or were faster to start with.

Internet speeds are strictly middling for the modern era. Sony is using 14.4Mbps HSPA much like the iPhone 4S, and gets similar if not slightly slower results. On a fully capable network, we were getting speeds of about 4.7Mbps to 5.3Mbps downstream, and 1.8Mbps to 2Mbps upstream. They’re respectable and provide a usable Internet experience. Compared to the 21Mbps HSPA+ in the Galaxy Nexus or the LTE in the Galaxy Note, though, it’s just not as quick as it ought to be for a phone released in mid-2012.

If you’re American, we should add that the Xperia ion will carry LTE. Even as early-era 4G gives us worries about battery life, it’s a worthwhile consideration if Internet speed is important.

Camera app and image quality

What stands out in photography on the Xperia S isn’t so much the camera app itself as how quickly you can get to it. As we mentioned, the hardware camera button will skip directly to the app. It’s a technique borrowed primarily from Windows Phone 7, but a welcome one if you catch a sudden moment on the street or at a concert. You can even set the phone to automatically take a picture as soon as it’s woken into this state, although that for us mostly resulted in blurry photos; we set the app back to letting us compose the shot first.

Once inside, though, the app is simple and makes some unusual choices about how to reach common camera settings. If you use the camera shortcut button, it always reverts to the fully automatic scene detection mode, negating any custom settings you have set for when you normally launch the app. When in the normal mode, the only quick access to an advanced setting is exposure compensation; the top level emphasizes scene presets and multiple flash modes (more on those shortly). ISO sensitivity, metering, white balance, and other similar controls require first bringing up the contextual menu and then diving in, which seems artificially slow. While there’s a risk to having too many features on the top level, it feels like Sony’s current app goes a bit far in the opposite direction.

Regular shooting isn’t significantly more advanced than the pre-4.0 stock Android camera app. Sony will let you set the phone to shoot when you tap, but there’s no tap to focus like there is on the iPhone and a few Android phones. It’s possible to do an off-center focused shot by half-pressing the shutter and panning the camera, but you can’t point the Xperia S to a specific subject for focus and metering, let alone bring in autoexposure or autofocus lock like you might on an iPhone.

Despite sharing what’s in some ways the same eight-megapixel, backside-illuminated CMOS sensor as the iPhone 4S, the Xperia S’ image quality is much more hit-or-miss. Its specialties are macros and well-lit outdoor scenes. Colors are very accurate and vibrant, focus is reasonably quick, and close-ups produce a pleasingly soft background through a shallow depth of field. However, we found that the Xperia S’ hardware was considerably less tolerant of low light, often becoming too noisy and blurry where the iPhone could still have a chance at a usable, if imperfect, photo. The front camera isn’t as good, either. Shot-to-shot times are reasonably quick, although you’ll want either a Galaxy Nexus or an HTC One series phone if you value speed in an Android phone.

Sony deserves some compliments for the sophistication of its flash system. Along with regular flash, options exist for a red eye-reducing flash strobe as well as a fill flash for scenes that aren’t necessarily completely dark but may have undesirable shadows. We’d ideally take something like HTC’s smart flash, which can tell when it needs to tone down the brightness. Still, the option is appreciated.

As you might expect from a company where cameras are a focus, panorama modes are an option. The regular mode is a typical sweep mode, where the phone is guided in an arc and the images are stitched together reasonably well as long as there isn’t heavy action in the scene. An additional option lets you shoot a pseudo-3D panorama by using the rapid-fire shooting to generate a pseudo-stereoscopic 3D view, although with no 3D display on the phone and 3D displays still uncommon among TVs and PCs, it’s hard to use.

Click for full-size version

Video recording quality is a surprising positive. Unlike a lot of phones in the category, it preserves a lot of the quality and still looks sharp with a minimum of artifacts, even while the camera pans. Audio isn’t immune to wind noise, but it can pick up a good amount of ambient sounds without being overwhelmed. Continuous autofocus is normally rather slow, although it’s possible to simplify the autofocus and metering to speed this up — useful if you know you’ll have subjects at varying distances.

If there’s a limitation to video, it’s simply that it tends to be fire-and-forget; that is, you’re committed to whatever focus and settings you had when you started shooting. For most, it won’t be an issue, but it gives few choices for mid-video composition other than zoom. We’d add that going without Android 4.0 leaves the phone without a pre-supplied video editor, so most clips will be raw, unedited footage until you get to a computer or to the YouTube web editor.

Call quality and battery life

With a few exceptions, we’ve generally had a good experience with phone calls on Sony Ericsson phones, and that has kept true now that Sony is going it alone. In both directions, the audio tone felt flat, but it was consistently clear and loud. Our recipients could hear wind noise when we called outside, although they still said that the voice was clearly the most prominent part of the call. The external speaker is uncharacteristically loud, too: Sony is using processing that it calls xLoud, but which really amounts to better volume when the phone isn’t up to your ear or using headphones.

On that subject, we’d add that the stock in-ear headphones are uncommonly good for a pack-in set. You don’t, and probably shouldn’t, need xLoud to get reasonably solid voice calls or music with what Sony supplies. Multiple tips are included in the box to provide a good fit, and there’s an in-line mic and remote to let you answer a call with the phone still in your pocket. One minor quirk to be aware of: Apple’s in-ear headphones don’t register properly for unknown reasons, so don’t revert to those as a backup.

Battery life is better than we first thought, which is something of a relief given that the battery isn’t normally swappable. The Xperia S will last through a full day of moderate use, with periodic browsing, 2D apps, and a substantial voice call or two. If you use it only lightly, it can last two or even three days before the battery warning cries foul. Intensive 3D gaming or photography tends to drain the battery much faster. Like with the HSPA+ edition of the Galaxy Nexus, the Xperia S would run dry in about five hours of very heavy media recording, playback, and uploading.

Wrapping up

In some ways, the Xperia S has had more expectations thrust upon it than it really deserved. Development of the phone no doubt started well before Sony said it was buying out Ericsson’s stake in the Sony Ericsson joint venture, so to call it a “pure” Sony phone is a misnomer. What you mostly get with the finished product is a Sony Ericsson foundation with more conspicuous Sony elements layered on top. The real fruits of any change in strategy will be shown in 2013, if not later.

Taken by itself, the phone is generally accomplished. As much as we’re not fans of Timescape, the phone performs fairly well, has a sharp display, a usually good camera, and great call quality. If you’ve ever wished for distinctive looks in a smartphone that doesn’t come from Apple or Nokia, you’ll find them here. Depending on where you go, pricing can be reasonable. It won’t be hard to get the phone for free on a reasonably priced tariff if you’re European. In North America, it costs a reasonable $100 on contract at Rogers and $500 off, so if you’re enamored with the form factor or Sony ecosystem elements like the Sony Entertainment Network and PlayStation Suite, you won’t have to reach deeply to experience it.

The main obstacle, as should have become evident, is context. Sony isn’t launching the Xperia S into a void. Right away, it’s facing competition from the HTC One X and (mostly in Europe) the One S. Although the Xperia S is easier to hold than the gargantuan One X, the latter has a better overall display and is mated to a much faster processor, a better camera, and most importantly, Android 4.0 with a toned down level of customization; the One S might not have the resolution, but it has the camera, speed, and software. The Galaxy Nexus is still arguably the best Android experience: a cohesive experience, the maximum number of official features, and faster software updates. And we can’t overemphasize the irony of the best Sony camera sensor experience coming from an iPhone, not a Sony phone.

Some of these devices are more expensive, but it’s increasingly hard to argue against small differences in up front prices. If you’re paying for three years of service on Rogers, for example, the $70 more for a One X is negligible given how expensive actual service will be. Europeans may have to get a One S instead to get a good deal on a monthly rate, but we’d still seriously consider it.

As such, if there’s anything Sony is a victim of, it’s simply being mid-tier. We’d actually consider Xperia U, if and when it arrives in your area, as the Sony phone to get. It may not be as technically advanced, but the power-to-feature ratio makes the most sense. For now, the Xperia S is the most logical if you want a 720p screen and can find a good deal.

The Good

  • 720p display in modest size with good head-on color.
  • Distinctive design.
  • Rich camera quality in ideal conditions.
  • Fast in some situations.
  • Very good call and overall audio quality.
  • Solid battery life.
  • Some customizations are helpful.
  • 32GB of storage built-in.

The Bad

  • Not as fast or well-featured as some of its spring rivals.
  • Display viewing angles are poor.
  • Stuck on Android 2.3 at first.
  • Camera struggles in low light.
  • Timescape still somewhat excessive.
  • No expandable storage or removable battery.
  • Quirky navigation keys.
Sony Xperia S
MRP: 32,500
Street Price: Rs 31,000 (Flipkart.comSaholic.com) Rs 32,000 (Letsbuy.com)

Hands on

Video Review

Phone Specs:

GENERAL 2G Network GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
3G Network HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 – LT26i
Announced 2012, January
Status Available. Released 2012, February
BODY Dimensions 128 x 64 x 10.6 mm
Weight 144 g
– Touch-sensitive controls
DISPLAY Type LED-backlit LCD, capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size 720 x 1280 pixels, 4.3 inches (~342 ppi pixel density)
Multitouch Yes, up to 10 fingers
Protection Scratch-resistant glass
– Sony Mobile BRAVIA Engine
– Timescape UI
SOUND Alert types Vibration; MP3 ringtones
Loudspeaker Yes
3.5mm jack Yes
MEMORY Card slot No
Internal 32 GB storage, 1 GB RAM
DATA GPRS Up to 86 kbps
EDGE Up to 237 kbps
Speed HSDPA, 14.4 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.8 Mbps
WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot
Bluetooth Yes, v2.1 with A2DP, EDR
NFC Yes
USB Yes, microUSB v2.0
CAMERA Primary 12 MP, 4000×3000 pixels, autofocus, LED flash
Features Geo-tagging, touch focus, face and smile detection, 3D sweep panorama, image stabilization
Video Yes, 1080p@30fps, continuous autofocus, video light, video stabilizer
Secondary Yes, 1.3 MP, 720p@30fps
FEATURES OS Android OS, v2.3 (Gingerbread), planned upgrade to v4.0
Chipset Qualcomm MSM8260 Snapdragon
CPU Dual-core 1.5 GHz
GPU Adreno 220
Sensors Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
Messaging SMS (threaded view), MMS, Email, IM, Push Email
Browser HTML5, Adobe Flash
Radio Stereo FM radio with RDS
GPS Yes, with A-GPS support and GLONASS
Java Yes, via Java MIDP emulator
Colors White, Black
– MicroSIM card support only
– TV launcher
– SNS integration
– HDMI port
– Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
– MP4/H.263/H.264/WMV player
– MP3/eAAC+/WMA/WAV player
– TrackID music recognition
– Google Search, Maps, Gmail,
YouTube, Calendar, Google Talk
– Document viewer
– Voice memo/dial/commands
– Predictive text input
BATTERY Standard battery, Li-Ion 1750 mAh
Stand-by Up to 450 h (2G) / Up to 420 h (3G)
Talk time Up to 7 h 30 min (2G) / Up to 8 h 30 min (3G)
Music play Up to 25 h
MISC SAR EU 1.30 W/kg (head)     0.80 W/kg (body)
Price group  Rs. 32,500
TESTS Display Contrast ratio: 1038:1 (nominal)
Loudspeaker Voice 72dB / Noise 61dB / Ring 69dB
Audio quality Noise -86.6dB / Crosstalk -86.9dB
Camera Photo / Video

Samsung announces Galaxy Ace 2 and Galaxy Mini 2

Samsung announces Galaxy Ace 2 and Galaxy Mini 2

 

Samsung has announced two new Android smartphones just a before the Mobile World Congress begins next week.

The first one is the Galaxy Ace 2, which will have a 3.8-inch, 800 x 480 resolution display, 800MHz dual-core processor, 768MB RAM, 4GB internal memory, 5 megapixel rear camera with 720p video recording, VGA front camera, Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, GPS/GLONASS and a 1,500mAh battery.

Next up is the Galaxy Mini 2. It has a 3.27-inch, 480 x 320 resolution display, 800MHz processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB internal memory, 3 megapixel fixed-focus rear camera with VGA video recording, Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n with DLNA, A-GPS and a 1,300mAh battery.

Both the phones will be running Samsung’s TouchWiz on top of Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The Galaxy Ace 2 will launch in UK in April whereas the Galaxy Mini 2 will go on sale in France in March.

Specifications:

Samsung Galaxy Ace 2

 

GENERAL 2G Network GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
3G Network HSDPA 900 / 2100
Announced 2012, February
Status Coming soon. Exp. release 2012, Q1
BODY Dimensions 118.3 x 62.2 x 10.5 mm
Weight 122 g
– Touch-sensitive controls
DISPLAY Type PLS TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size 480 x 800 pixels, 3.8 inches (~246 ppi pixel density)
Multitouch Yes
– TouchWiz v3.0 UI
SOUND Alert types Vibration; MP3, WAV ringtones
Loudspeaker Yes
3.5mm jack Yes
MEMORY Card slot microSD, up to 32GB
Internal 4 GB storage, 768 MB RAM
DATA GPRS Yes
EDGE Yes
Speed HSDPA, 14.4 Mbps
WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hotspot
Bluetooth Yes, v3.0 with A2DP
NFC Optional
USB Yes, v2.0 microUSB
CAMERA Primary 5 MP, 2592×1944 pixels, autofocus, LED flash
Features Geo-tagging, face and smile detection
Video Yes, 720p@30fps
Secondary Yes, VGA
FEATURES OS Android OS, v2.3
CPU Dual-core 800 MHz
Sensors Accelerometer, proximity, compass
Messaging SMS(threaded view), MMS, Email
Browser HTML
Radio Stereo FM radio with RDS
GPS Yes, with A-GPS support and GLONASS
Java Yes, via Java MIDP emulator
Colors Black
– MP4/H.264/H.263 player
– MP3/WAV/eAAC+/FLAC player
– Organizer
– Document editor
– Image editor
– Google Search, Maps, Gmail,
YouTube, Calendar, Google Talk, Picasa integration
– Voice memo/dial
– Predictive text input (Swype)

 

BATTERY Standard battery, Li-Ion 1500 mAh
Stand-by
Talk time

Samsung Galaxy mini 2 S6500

 

 

 

GENERAL 2G Network GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
3G Network HSDPA 900 / 2100
Announced 2012, February
Status Coming soon. Exp. release 2012, Q1
BODY Dimensions 109.4 x 58.6 x 11.6 mm
Weight 105.3 g
– Touch-sensitive controls
DISPLAY Type TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size 320 x 480 pixels, 3.27 inches (~176 ppi pixel density)
Multitouch Yes
SOUND Alert types Vibration, MP3 ringtones
Loudspeaker Yes
3.5mm jack Yes
MEMORY Card slot microSD, up to 32 GB
Internal 4 GB storage, 512 MB RAM
DATA GPRS Yes
EDGE Yes
Speed HSDPA, 7.2 Mbps
WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot
Bluetooth Yes, v3.0 with A2DP
NFC Optional
USB Yes, microUSB v2.0
CAMERA Primary 3.15 MP, 2048×1536 pixels
Features Geo-tagging
Video Yes, VGA@25fps
Secondary No
FEATURES OS Android OS, v2.3 (Gingerbread)
Chipset Qualcomm MSM7227
CPU 800 MHz
GPU Adreno 200
Sensors Accelerometer, proximity, compass
Messaging SMS(threaded view), MMS, Email, Push Mail, IM, RSS
Browser HTML
Radio Stereo FM radio with RDS
GPS Yes, with A-GPS support
Java Yes, via Java MIDP emulator
Colors Black/Orange
– SNS integration
– MP4/H.264/H.263 player
– MP3/WAV/eAAC+/AC3/FLAC player
– Organizer
– Image/video editor
– Document viewer
– Google Search, Maps, Gmail,
YouTube, Calendar, Google Talk, Picasa integration
– Voice memo/dial
– Predictive text input

 

BATTERY Standard battery, Li-Ion 1300 mAh
Stand-by
Talk time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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