Sony Xperia S NXT series Android smartphone
Big is beautiful?
Review So farewell, then, Sony Ericsson. The Xperia S is the first phone for a decade to be branded with the Sony logo, and very nice it looks, too. As does the phone itself, a large screen with matt-black rubberised casing and a curious transparent strip across the bottom. It feels good in the hand, thanks to the curved back, though it’s a bit slabbish and any bigger would be just too much.
NXT generation: Sony's Xperia S
There are some annoyances with the snazzy design to get out of the way first. The micro USB charging socket is hidden behind a very flimsy rubbery flip-out cover. It’s not as bad as the Nokia Lumia 800 but it’s annoying and feels like it won’t stay the course. The battery is sealed, but the phone is not. This is a strange combination.
The bonus of a sealed battery is you can squeeze more rechargeable matter in because you don’t have to include the battery casing, socket etc needed with a removable cell. That extra casing adds bulk. Here, though, the battery is sealed but the phone’s back cover slides off to insert the micro sim card. It’s like an unnecessary layer has been added. Presumably it’s so there are no more slots outside beside micro USB and HDMI out.
And the slot for the microSD memory card, you ask? No, that’s no problem: the phone doesn’t have any expandable memory. True, there’s 32GB of storage built in, so you may not need extra storage. Still, a memory card is a feature neither iOS nor Windows Phone offers, and Android does, so it’s a strange omission. The last design element, and one that leaps out at you, is the strip of Perspex near the base of the handset.
It looks great, with icons for the three shortcuts Android phones use (prior to Ice Cream Sandwich, anyway) set into the clear plastic. Even cooler, they light up so you can see Back, Home and Menu when you need them. Coolest of all, if you look really closely in bright light you can see a honeycomb pattern behind them. This is the antenna connector.
How long is this micro USB cover going to last?
This phone comes with Android version 2.3 – Gingerbread. That’s fine, but when handsets are upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich the menu button gets swapped for a running applications one, and when that happens to this phone, the embedded plastic icon won’t match. The Perspex strip means you want to press it. But this won’t work: there’s actually three capacitive touch-sensitive dots half an inch further up and it’s these you need to finger.
You can only wake the screen by reaching up to the top of the handset – there’s no physical Home button that works when the phone's in standby in the way there is on the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy Ace. There is an exception though, the camera's hardware button. Press and hold this, and the camera launches and takes a photograph. This happens with impressive speed, so make sure you want to do this, as I took several photographs accidentally. But it does mean if you want to snap in a hurry, you can.
The camera is one of the phone’s headline features: at 12Mp it’s more than most. Sony Ericsson handsets had strong cameraphone features and these continue with the new brand. It’s very responsive and takes great shots with rich detail and vibrant colours. A half-press on the trigger sets the focus, though if you elide this step, it’s still very fast. The lens is a little too easy to cover with your finger, if you’re not careful.
12Mp stills snapper with full HD video too
There’s also a 1.3Mp camera on the front for video calling and discreet preening. The main camera utilises a Sony Exmor R sensor, which is especially good for low light situations, and your snapped images look suitably impressive. A word to the wise though, every single snap ended up looking brighter and more appealing on the phone's screen than when viewed on a PC screen, so don't be fooled by the vibrant results the handset displays.
The phone’s 4.3in screen is exceptionally high-resolution, beating even the Retina Display on the iPhone 4S. Here, there are 720 x 1280 pixels, that’s 342 of the little blighters per inch. It looks tremendous, never better than for video playback – the film trailer and demo video on-board, for instance, gleam spectacularly. However, viewing angle is limited, so for the brightest, crispest colours you need to be front and centre.
Slide along the tiles
This is an NFC phone – as you know, this is the contactless system used for Oyster cards on the London Underground and plenty of office door entry systems. Sony has a cute twist on the tech with its NFC tags. The idea is that you can set a tag to perform an event.
Media access options
So when you touch the phone to a tag you keep in the bedroom, say, it turns your phone alarm on and mutes the ring so you won’t be disturbed as you sleep. Setting it up takes care and although there have been other attempts to domesticate NFC's potential, it’s interesting to see Sony's take on this tech: the Google Nexus S came and went without the technology being used.
Equipped with a dual-core CPU, the Xperia S notches up a very respectable AnTuTu benchmark score
Sony Ericsson’s Android phones featured the company’s Timescape aggregator which piles Twitter and Facebook tiles for you to scroll through. It’s here, too, though the photo backgrounds to tiles mean they are often hard to read easily, though definitely improved over earlier versions – and the larger tiles help. Other Sony specialities are here but are not always well implemented.
Music Unlimited is merely a link to the website so you can download the app (which costs £3.99 or £9.99 a month). Video Unlimited requires you to sign up before you can download videos. Still, Track ID, Sony’s own version of Shazam is free and effective, linking you instantly to music that’s playing which you just can’t name – and letting you buy it.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade in the works
The dual-core processor handles everything thrown at it, with no sign of lagging. Call quality is good and the phone had consistently usable signal strength. Battery life on the Xperia S is not great, however. Of course, with such a big, high-resolution screen that’s not entirely surprising. But it does mean you’ll need nightly recharges.
Out on a charge
When I didn’t charge the phone overnight, it had dropped from full to one third empty while I (and it) slept. When charged overnight, it depleted from full to nearly empty by 10pm with fairly moderate use.
Sony’s first phone post-Ericsson is an accomplished, handsome, speedy powerhouse which does most things well. Although it currently lacks Ice Cream Sandwich, it offers genuine innovation, like the NFC Smart Tags, a more-than-decent camera and a splendid display. But this is a huge handset which is sometimes hard to operate and those capacitive dots beneath the screen take practice to use properly. And like many other dual-core handsets, it suffers from a disappointing battery life. If you want this level of features and performance you'll need to learn some power saving tricks to get you through the night. ®
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