Sony Xperia S review

Sony Xperia S review

T3 4
  • The Sony Xperia S is the brand's first smartphone since it parted ways with Ericsson. But has it got what it takes to take the Android crown?

    Sony Xperia S review

    Love

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

    Hate

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

    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 smartphones around?  

    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 a Netflix-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.   
       
    Sony Xperia S availability: Available now   
       
    Sony Xperia S price: £430

    Check out our Sony Xperia S video:

  • Sony is going it alone in the smartphone world and the first device to bring in the new era will be the feature-packed Sony Xperia S. We go hands-on

    Sony Xperia S review

    Love

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

    Hate

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

    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, 1280x720 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 availability: Available around March on Three Mobile

    Sony Xperia S price: TBC

    Hands-on review by Chris Smith

    • Sony Xperia S video
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