In 2011 things are looking a lot rosier for the company, with the introduction of their new handsets: the Sony Ericsson Neo, Arc and Play. And in a coup for Sony Ericsson, they are the first handsets (with the exception of the Google Nexus S) to launch with Android 2.3 Gingerbread.
The Sony Ericsson Neo is SE’s mid-range offering, equipped with the same camera and UI as the Arc, but with a smaller non-LED backlit screen.
With its thin, 13mm body and curved two-tone back the Neo looks the part, but aside from its slick, albeit overly plasticky looks, little has changed since the Xperia X10 and it’s certainly not as stylish as the HTC Incredible S.
On the top plate are microUSB and HDMI connections. The latter letting you play back HD movies on your flatscreen TV, pleasingly a cable is supplied. There’s a single rocker for adjusting volume levels even when the Neo is locked, a power button and shutter.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Android 2.3 Gingerbread
Android 2.3 Gingerbread has been overlaid with Sony Ericsson’s own skin, which isn’t as all-encompassing HTC Sense, but has some welcome additions.
Alongside solid back, home and menu Android buttons, are four touch sensitive buttons, by default these are Media, Messaging, Contacts and Phone, but you can drag them to remove them and replace them with others.
Creating folders on an Android device hasn’t been as simple as it should. Here you just drag an item on top of another one to create a folder, choosing a name and icon. It’s easy and very – dare we say - Apple-like. Pinch the screen to see an overview of open widgets. All the widgets are arranged to fit a single screen space automatically, which is a better use of the screen real estate and makes them easier to see than HTC’s Helicopter view.
Tap the menu button to view all applications. Chose to order them yourself, or alphabetically, most used or recently installed. It's good to have so many customisation options.
Social networking feature Timescape is back, but this time as a widget. It displays messages, calls, Twitter and Facebook updates as playing cards that you can flick through. Although it looks slick, it seems to be aimed at the young market because it’s not practical; flicking the cards is fiddly and after a few days we binned it, using the separate Facebook widget instead.
Despite having the same size screen as the iPhone 4, the shorter phone width means the keyboard feels cramped in portrait mode. Text correction is accurate and dedicated full stop and comma keys are welcome.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Media Player
The Media Player is also an improvement on the basic Android version. The Gallery is split into three sections: photos, images and videos, each of which is displayed as piles of cards. Click each one to view the contents as thumbnails you flick through chronologically, or choose to view them via date piles. It’s incredibly simple and quick to use, press the screen to select multiple pictures which you can quickly share via Bluetooth, Email or Facebook.
Neat touches are found in the music player. A quick-access icon links though to You Tube vdeos by the artist from within a song.
Plug in headphones via the 3.5mm and music playback is pretty good, with 10 equalizer presets. It’s also easy to create playlists within the application.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Screen
At 3.7-inches the 854x480 Reality display (as Sony Ericsson insists on calling it) screen feels a little pokey, although this is probably due to the thin bezel.
The handset is equipped with Sony Mobile BRAVIA Engine, which borrows technology from Sony’s Bravia TV sets, activate this when playing back a video to improve playback. This is purely for playback, the effect can’t be saved.
HD playback is bright and sharp, with natural colours, although colours lack the punch and contrast of AMOLED rivals like the Dell Venue Pro and Nokia E7. It’s not LED backlit like the Arc or Play though. Visibility in poor light is good and off-angle viewing isn’t bad either.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Performance
Powered by a 1GHz processor, the Neo feels quick, if not as blisteringly fast as its closest rivals, the HTC Incredible S and iPhone 4. It loads T3.com (which is quite a media heavy website) in 24 seconds over Wi-Fi. It's not as quick as the iPhone 4. Multitouch is pleasingly responsive too, pinch to zoom is responsive, double tap when browsing and the text automatically wraps to fit.
With moderate browsing, some music playback and calls we got about a day from the battery, although to save power make sure you turn Mobile Bravia Engine off.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Camera
Sony Ericsson’s equipped the Neo with an 8-megapixel camera; the quick shutter captures bright, fairly sharp pictures with natural colours. The Exmor R sensor makes a big difference in low light; the screen visibility is best on test, pictures displaying detail rivals can’t.
720p footage is good rather than amazing. Examined with a critical eyes it’s not quite as sharp or detailed as the Apple or Nokia’s output, but it’s still colourful and fairly smooth and DNLA support lets you easily stream via a media server.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Verdict
We’re impressed with the Neo, sure the design is very last year and the screen feels a little small, but it’s well built and equipped with the latest version of Android with some user-friendly Sony Ericsson additions. It’s a well-featured handset too, with a good 8-megapixel camera, DLNA and HDMI, great features for a phone for available for £25 on contract. In the mid-tier smartphone market it deserves to do well and it has certainly whetted our appetite for the Arc and its superior screen.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo launch date: Friday, link Sony Ericsson
Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo price: £370 sim free online, free on £25 a month contract