There’s an age old saying that nothing lasts forever, and never has there been a truer word spoken about our friends at Sony Ericsson. For reasons unknown to us, the two companies have chosen to separate, fortunately though, one side of the couple has decided to carry on the family business and have already prepared a brand new device to add to the current Xperia line-up.
The Xperia S from Sony is the first handset to emerge since the break-up and packs an impressive specification, highlights of which include a whopping 12 megapixel camera and HD Reality Display. Scan down the spec list and you’ll notice that the Xperia S has a lot going for it, rivalling not only its Xperia siblings but the majority of current market leaders too.
- Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS
- 1.5GHz Qualcomm MSM8260 Dual-Core Processor
- 1GB RAM
- Adreno 220 GPU
- 4.3-inch 16M-colour capacitive HD Reality display with Mobile BRAVIA Engine
- 32GB internal memory
- 12MP autofocus camera with 16x digital zoom, 3D sweep panorama
- 1080p video recording
- 1.3MP front camera, with 720p video recording
- Accelerometer and proximity sensor
- Standard 3.5mm audio jack
- Stereo FM radio with RDS
- microUSB port, micro HDMI port, Bluetooth, DLNA, NFC, Wi-FI
- Adobe Flash support
- Social network integration
Hardware and Design
Taking all this into consideration, first impressions are very good, and suggest that Sony aren’t willing to follow the trend – the shiny rectangular block will certainly turn heads. Despite its minimalist styling, the Xperia S from Sony does feel a bit bulky for your average smartphone and this is something that that the straight edges and sharp corners don’t help to hide. Coming in a 128 x 64 x 10.6mm and weighing 144 grams you’ll notice it in your pocket, but it’s not uncomfortable by any stretch of the imagination.
The chic design and different colourways in which the handset is avaialable (black and white) extends the Xperia S’ reach to both the male and female markets. The illuminated strip that sits beneath the touch sensitive nav buttons however, is a bit of an oddity; It doesn’t really serve any purpose apart from denoting the function of the key that sits above the three symbols it’s marked with. Whilst it does provide a bit of eye-candy, we would have preferred it to respond to touch, that said though, it’s still nice to see a manufacturer trying something different and straying from the norm.
The overall build feels quite solid and, despite being made out of plastic it seems fairly robust (the cambered back panel harks back to the days of the human curvature bodywork seen on a number of Xperia handsets). Not only does this make the block of plastic lying before us far less brick-like but it also ensures that it’s far comfier to hold, our only gripe however, is the speed at which it accumulates greasy paw prints and scratches.
The 4.3-inch 16M-colour capacitive screen of the Xperia S has a full HD resolution Reality display (1280 x 720 pixels) and comes complete with the company’s Mobile BRAVIA Engine. This technology – borrowed from Sony’s range of high-end televisions – is said to enhance sharpness, increase contrast and saturation and help reduce digital noise, and they’re not far wrong. The Xperia S from Sony has one of the best screens that we’ve seen on a mobile device; menu icons and widgets are clear and text rendering is extremely crisp.
Underneath the hood, the hardware continues to please. There’s a 1.5GHz dual-core processor doing the leg work and 1GB RAM ensures smooth navigation of the user-interface. Strangely though, the 1750 mAh battery is sealed away and there’s no microSD slot, meaning you’re limited to the internal 32GB memory and the only thing that’s left for you to tamper with beneath the back panel is the microSIM slot.
Software and Multimedia
The Xperia S from Sony runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, and although Sony has said that Ice Cream Sandwich will come to the handset soon, it’s a little disappointing that Sony’s first device won’t ship with the latest OS. However, the usual collection Google applications and services are available, including Maps, Gmail and access to the Android Market. One saving grace for Sony is they’ve incorporated the ICS sharing function, Android Beam. Using a feature called ‘Touch to Share’ users can transfer content between other Xperia and Ice Cream Sandwich device owners via NFC.
As expected, the Xperia UI remains in situ and provides a simple platform to navigate around. Similar to other Xperia handsets, the S comes with five customisable homescreens (none of which can be deleted). The Overview mode (similar to HTC’s ‘Leap View’) is a rather cool but somewhat pointless function. Pinch the screen to zoom out of the homescreens and all your widgets will gather together on a single screen, simply click one of them to be taken to its page. Whilst it’s nice to see a creative display, the floating widgets can be a little difficult to pinpoint if you want to select them.
The camera on the Xperia S is impressive to say the least, boasting 12 megapixels and Sony’s Exmor R sensor (the same sensor that we saw previously on the Arc and Arc S). The images it produces are extremely clear, even in low light and there’s a whole host of features packed in to enhance image capture including autofocus, face detection and recognition, image stabiliser, red-eye reduction, an LED flash, 16 x digital zoom and 3D sweep panorama. Sony has also incorporated a fast capture mode which allows for photos to be taken in a mere 1.5 seconds. In our tests this worked well, although if the handset is in standby mode that time increases to around 2.2 seconds. Nevertheless, it’s definitely one of the quickest cameras we’ve seen as of yet.
A second camera can be found on the front of the handset and packs 1.3 Megapixels and HD video recording at 720p. Again, during testing, image and video capture worked well and the resulting images and footage was well focused and very clear. The front facing imager will most likely be utilised for video chats and we’d definitely recommend it – we found the clarity of video streaming to rival some of the webcams we’ve used to video call in the past.
The Xperia S from Sony is being marketed as a HD content hub, which provides a comprehensive solution for the capture, playback and more importantly sharing all manner of media. There are a number of ways in which to do this, most notably via NFC sharing but as this method is currently limited to NFC enabled devices it’s not going to be first choice for everyone.
Naturally, Bluetooth V2.1, Wi-Fi and microUSB all come as standard and provide simple solutions for large and small transfers. For content sharing specifically, the Xperia S comes with a micro HDMI port which allows you to hook up your device to a TV and effectively stream your videos and music to the big screen. The same connectivity options can be used to stream a number of PlayStation titles available via the gaming app (due to the Xperia S being PS Certified), to a compatible TV whilst using your phone as a controller.
If you’re not satisfied with the aforementioned options, you’ll be pleased to learn that DLNA has been thrown in too. We set up our own network and tested the device with a DLNA-enabled TV and speaker and were able to stream music, images and videos between the devices seamlessly and with very little lag.
Performance and Verdict
The device we had to play with wasn’t final software or hardware (the Sony Ericsson branding will be removed on the final piece), but nevertheless the device still performed well in tests across the board. It’s disappointing to see it running on Gingerbread but this is something we’re assured will be rectified with an ICS update in the near future. The HD and camera capabilities really are worth the noise that Sony is making about them – the display is well lit image reproduction is vivid and the fast capture mode is a great feature to have. Battery life performance was as expected, a full charge lasted a whole day and that’s with heavy data and multimedia use.
Despite not having a final unit, we found very little to grumble about. We’d like to reserve judgement until we’ve played with the real thing but as far as first impressions go, the Xperia S from Sony has left a lasting one. Not a bad start to 2012 for Sony, not a bad start at all.