Review: After the divorce

Sim Ahmed reviews another of Sony's Xperia line of smartphones following the company's split from Ericsson

Sony’s Xperia line is the first range of smartphones produced by the company following its split with long time partner Ericsson.

When I reviewed the Xperia P earlier this year, I found that mid-range phone to be a strong Android device but was a bit hesitant about the $500 price. I had the chance to review the improved Xperia S earlier, but I wanted to wait until Sony’s latest flagship phone had received the long awaited Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) update.

The Xperia S design looks a lot like the black monoliths from Arthur C Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its smooth black surface is only broken by the distinctive transparent divider towards the bottom - a design element common throughout the latest Xperia range.

The matte back is at odds with the glossy front, but its subtle texture and slight curve makes it comfortable to use with one hand. There is a slight issue with the Android keys (back, home, menu) at the bottom of the device, which I would accidentally activate repeatedly for the first few days of using the device. This problem is not isolated to the Xperia S; it is something that I experience regularly with my iPhone 4S also. Once I got the hang of the shape of the phone this quickly became a non-starter issue.

It might not be full of stars, but without a doubt the 4.3-inch ‘Reality Display’ is the best screen I’ve ever seen on a smartphone, bar none.

The Xperia S has a pixel density of around 340 pixels per inch (ppi), which is a higher resolution than the iPhone’s ‘Retina Display’. It’s not so much a quality advantage over the iPhone, but a quantity one. Side by side with an iPhone the image quality difference isn’t noticeable, this is because past 300 ppi the human eye isn’t able to distinguish individual pixels on a screen, making images look almost printed.

The display complements the incredible 12 megapixel camera sported by the Xperia S. The photos taken are sharp, with a very realistic level of contrast and saturation (for a camera phone). Small sensors like those on smartphones are notorious for producing noise in low light, Sony’s Exmor sensor doesn’t solve this problem but at least helps keep the images usable.

Looking at other reviews and Android forums the biggest gripe seems to be that the year-old Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) under utilises the Xperia S’s capable hardware. With Ice Cream Sandwich the Xperia S is a real competitor to some of the more expensive flagships from competitors like HTC and Samsung.

The dual-core 1.5 Ghz Snapdragon processor isn’t a quad-core beast that you might see in the HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S III, but it has plenty of processing power to run multiple apps.

None

The only problem I had was forced closes in the ‘Album’ photo app, bundled with the phone. This had the frustrating habit of timing out while I was in the middle of editing photos.

There’s still the usual hardware manufacturer bloatware, but even this has its improvements. Sony is using its venerable Walkman brand for the new music player, which has a very slick and refined playlist system and downloads album art for your music automatically when on wi-fi (you can turn this option off).

The battery life of the Sony Xperia S isn’t fantastic. A full charge gives around seven hours of use with 3G web browsing, moderate YouTube playback over wi-fi and app usage. This is about par with the experience I have with my iPhone.

Following the trend of other smartphone manufacturers, Sony has foregone a removable battery option. Oddly there is a back lid for the Xperia S, but this only gives you access to the micro-SIM card slot. This seems like a bit of a tease on the part of Sony, and I’d rate this phone higher if there was the option of an expandable memory card at the least.

The Sony Xperia S brings the Japanese technology company closer to its Korean and Taiwanese competitors in terms of form and functionality. I’d recommend it for any business user looking for a professionally styled device and a fantastic display panel.

4 Stars

SPECS

Dimensions: 128 x 64 x 10.6 mm

Weight: 144g

Display: LCD 720 x 1280 pixels, 4.3 inches

Storage: 32 GB

Processor: Snapdragon, dual-core 1.5 GHz - 1GB RAM

OS: Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

Price: $600 on Price Spy

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