About Gary Cook

Honestly, I've always been a big fan of tech. I started working for a mobile phone company over a decade ago, and that led to a fascination in mobile phones as well as gadgets such as tablets, cameras, electronic toys and well, anything that requires batteries or a charger. I'm a plug in baby..!

Samsung Galaxy Note II Review

Samsung Galaxy Note II

A couple of weeks ago I got my hands on the Samsung Galaxy Note II to put it through its paces and review what is Samsung’s latest powerhouse device, with a spec list even more impressive than the hugely successful and popular Galaxy S III that came out earlier in the year. Might I add this is not just a test unit but my daily phone and for a couple of reasons. Well, three in all. First and foremost was the screen size, which of my (6 month) old Sony at 4.3″ just wasn’t big enough for me. I do a fair amount of web browsing on my phone and like the large real estate the phone gives for this. The Samsung Galaxy Note II has a 5.55″ screen and although it has a lower ppi (pixel per inch) density than the Sony Xperia S I had, the Note II does have a much clearer screen, thanks to some clever sub-pixel wizardry I’ll touch on later.

The second factor to aide my decision in plunging my short arms into my deep pockets was the sheer power of the device. Running a 1.6GHz quad-core processor and 2GB RAM it makes it one of the most powerful phones on the market right now, with the likes of Google’s new Nexus 4 up there too. The third point is a little gimmicky, but the S Pen that the Samsung Galaxy Note II comes with. It really is the cherry on top. Gone are the days of resistive touchscreens with clunky pens, this is a full capacitive touchscreen that allows the use of a pen, but I’ll pick up on that later too.

It was the aforementioned spec list of this phone which I felt was incredible. As a quick run down, this phone has a 1.6GHz quad-core chipset with 2GB RAM along with Android’s latest Jelly Bean OS which has their famous Project Butter implementation which controls the GPU and CPU governance, this phone is really fast. An 8MP camera takes stunning photos with a really intuitive autofocus, and full 1080p video recording capabilities with image stabilisation for some impressive HD videos. A 1.9MP camera up front for video calls is a good quality image, though honestly it’s not something I ever use, I have always felt self-portrait photos taken with the front facing camera a little too “MySpace-esque” for my liking.

Samsung Galaxy Note II S Pen

The S Pen is the true selling point of this phone, if the 5.55” screen isn’t quite enough of an attention grabber for you. Samsung have built into their TouchWiz UI some really clever tricks which help the S Pen feel part of the phone, not just an aftermarket attachment. There are little tweaks like when pressing the pen’s button and double tapping on screen calls up a post-it note you can doodle or makes notes on, with quick toggles on screen to make it smaller, full screen, and by touching and dragging the header bar the top can be dragged around the screen. The S Pen also fits perfectly inside the phone, and has been developed on since the original Samsung Galaxy Note to be much more ergonomic and with a nice satin feel has a much more tactile quality.

Samsung Galaxy Note II grey

I have never been a fan of manufacturer’s added software or “bloatware” they add to enhance an operating system, most notably HTC’s Sense UI as I feel it is just adding to the overall OS which has to be run by the phone’s processor, however this time Samsung have done a great job adding useful tweaks into their UI, TouchWiz. The overall UI for the Samsung Galaxy Note II is very similar to the Galaxy S III’s interface whilst building on that with added functionality for the S Pen. The post-it note function for notes, drawings and sheer text can be doodled or written on and saved, which is really handy when pen and paper aren’t to hand. I’ve used this a few times and it’s really good, though personally speaking it’s not something I’ll use daily, but that’s not to say others wouldn’t use it. TouchWiz also has a swype-like text input function built in which when using the pen makes for really fast and simple text input. Similar can be seen on Android’s latest 4.2 update. If you find the screen a bit large for one-handed operation, there is a setting in which you can set it for left or right hand use on the Samsung Keyboard which just shrinks it down a little and makes for simple one handed use. This was a feature I really liked, however when I had to text anything I found myself reaching for the pen to use the swipe function which I have always liked. Samsung get a good +1 from me for their UI tweaks to Android for this phone. Yes it is bloatware, but they are all useful tweaks. This said I unlocked the bootloader and had the phone rooted within a week to put a nightly version of CyanogenMod 10 on, which removes all of the aforementioned bloatware and runs a pure vanilla version of Android (v4.1.2 at the moment) with just a few tweaks to the UI like wallpapers and lock screen functions, courtesy of Trebuchet. A much preferred option for myself.

The screen is another jaw-dropping highlight of the Samsung Galaxy Note II. It’s size at 5.55″ makes it the largest screened phone on the market at the moment and fills that nice void between a standard phone at the now typical 4″ or 4.3″ screen size and the now popular 7″ tablets and, on bridging that said gap Samsung have decided to name this a phablet, part phone part tablet, almost making a new category of devices. Although this screen is bigger than the original Samsung Galaxy Note, the Note II has as narrower screen, thanks to changing the aspect ratio from 16:10 to 16:9 which gives it that lovely cinema style screen and really lends itself towards watching videos and YouTube.

New screen matrix of the Note II on the left, and the old PenTile Matrix on the right, of the original Galaxy Note

Now in reducing the width of the screen, it has resulted in a slightly lower resolution at 1280×720 down from its predecessor at 1280×800 and also a lower ppi (pixel per inch) density down from 285ppi to 267ppi. Samsung have played around with the matrix and gives a higher perceivable clarity and sharpness. Here’s the techy bit. They have done away with the PenTile matrix and changed the colour from green to blue of the sub pixel, also breaking the main pixels up from single red and blue cells, to half red half green cells. As you can see from the image, this really makes a huge difference to the crispness of the screen. It is nice to see Samsung standing up and proving that a high ppi doesn’t necessarily mean a better quality screen.

The camera quality is good. It’s not the best quality camera phone on the market, but Samsung make up for that with some nice functionality on the phone, like burst shot, capturing stills while video recording and different colourways to apply to photos such as sepia and black and white. Taking photos was one area the size of the phone comes into fruition and hinderance. It really is nice to have this lovely screen size to utilise as a viewfinder, though physically holding it for photo taking felt too much. I felt like one of those tourists you see in London taking photos of Big Ben with an iPad. That just can’t be practical! For me I’ve never looked at a phone as also my dedicated camera, for me a phone is also my MP3 player and media device, so I can live with using it just for the occasional snapshots and using my D-SLR for real “David Bailey” moments.

Samsung Galaxy Note II screen and S Pen

So screen size, a fancy pen and a more powerful processor than most 5 year old laptops, just how good is this to use as a daily device? It took me about 48 hours to adjust to the size of the phone/phablet in my hands. Luckily I’ve large enough hands to not worry about single-handed operation, however Samsung have put some nice tweaks into TouchWiz to cater for those that struggle with the screen size. I always felt more inclined to reach for the S Pen before I cursed the large screen and went playing with the one-handed operation adjustments within the settings. Now I have removed the Samsung software and run CyanogenMod these functions aren’t there, and as I’d not used them, I don’t miss them. It’s one of those screen sizes you will either adjust to really quickly and love, or instantly not get on with. At 183g this is not a light phone, though I have never liked light phones as I personally like to always know it’s in my pocket, particularly when zipping on the underground in London. The overall size of the phone is not a concern for use, but I do now think which jeans to throw on as some have shallow or narrow pockets that then makes this uncomfy throw in.

Being on Android you know the overall usability of the device is going to be great, it’s so simple and effective, putting all control in the end user and allowing you to show the information, apps and widgets on your homescreen as you wish. It’s great that Samsung pushed this device out to the public with the latest version of Android, nearly, running Jelly Bean v4.1.1 which is only a stone’s throw away from the very new v4.2 Jelly Bean update, which I hope Samsung pushes to Galaxy Note II users in the new year.

Ultimately I am really pleased with the Samsung Galaxy Note II. It did take me a couple of days to get used to the size, but within mere moments I was in love with the screen, its size and clarity are excellent. One gripe are the capacitive touch keys at the bottom of the front of the phone. They are very sensitive and sometimes when holding the phone in my hand firmly I have accidently pressed them. Their positioning perhaps could have been re-thought. The hardware home key does sometimes require a firm press, a gentle click in doesn’t always activate the command due. With a phone screen this size I’m surprised Samsung didn’t opt for Android’s in screen navigation bar, though that wouldn’t sit in line with the Galaxy branding style. I’m not sure where manufacturers are going to go with screen size now, I do feel this is as large as you’d want to go. There are parts of the Note II I don’t like, partly Samsung’s “bloatware” as although some of it, in particular the S Pen tweaks were good, I didn’t really use them and personally didn’t need them, however I do see how they are good tweaks, so good that people are currently looking at building them into custom software ROM’s. The S Pen itself is fantastic. It has a sublime ergonomic quality to it, and I go to grab it out the bottom of the phone each time I pick it up, regardless of whether I need to use it or not. It works fantastically well controlling games like Angry Birds of my favourite game Flow, and the handwriting recognition really is good, even picking up most of my scrawls for actual words.

Samsung Galaxy Note II in Grey and White

If you can adjust to the screen size, your hands and pockets are big enough to hold it, it really is worth considering over the Samsung Galaxy S III as it does have that larger processor for faster operating speeds. The Samsung Galaxy Note II comes in 16/32/64GB internal memory versions, though all are capable of taking up to a 64GB MicroSD card, so internal memory isn’t greatly needed and you will find that most retailers like Carphone Warehouse or E2Save will just be stocking the 16GB variant until the price drops a little. In white and grey now, the colour options are limited though there has been speculation of new colours coming out in the new year.

I’d highly recommend this phone if you like big phones, or even just powerful phones and it’s worth considering if you are looking at the Samsung Galaxy S III, give the Note II a look at see what you think. I for one am certain I made the right decision and thoroughly pleased with this phone, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe it!

Google Nexus 7 Review

Back on the 27th June Google announced they were adding a new device to the Nexus line up, this time a tablet, called the Google Nexus 7 which is built for Google by Asus and was set to be the epitome of an Android tablet experience.

Asus Google Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7

Historically when Google release a new Nexus device, it is the first device to run a new version of the operating system, such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus which was the first device to run Android v4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and this time when Google wanted to release its newest version of the OS, 4.1 Jelly Bean, they decided a phone wouldn’t suffice, a tablet was in order.

Now it goes without saying really that when a new Google device launches, pre-orders and sales are always strong and the Google Nexus 7 stood up to the test too, with Google halting UK sales for the 16GB version online to begin with and stores selling out as well. Because of this I had to wait a little while to get hold of one. Since the boss didn’t get a unit to review and return, I thought I’d just go out and personally get one, so I opted for the 16GB variant, my view on internal memory is go big or go home!

Prices really are affordable. Asus were tasked to build to a budget when manufacturing the Nexus 7, something Google would not budge on as they wanted this device to not only be kickass but at a cost anyone could afford, and what a sweet price bracket they have dropped the tablet into. The 8GB variant is £159 direct from Google and the 16GB variant is £199 and just to add an extra incentive, when you first sign into your Google account (gmail) on the Nexus 7 you’ll get £15 of Google Play Credit to spend in the Google Play store on apps, books or movies, as well as a copy of Transformers: Dark of the Moon on Google Movies, a nice little kick back to save precious memory on the device itself if going for the 8GB. At the time of publishing if you log into one or more gmail account on the Nexus 7, that account also gets the £15 credit. This additional account does need to also be in your name, not a mates, sadly.

On the topic of variants, the Google Nexus 7 comes in two forms, an 8GB and a 16GB version. Now 8GB doesn’t seem a lot but this is for a clever reason on Google’s part. They are trying to promote their Books, Movies and Music options which store your content on the cloud and not on the device itself, rendering the large memory redundant, however not all of us want to have our content on the cloud which requires an internet connection to play, so the larger memory option proves beneficial.

Nexus 7 sideview

Nexus 7 sideview

The device itself looks great. it is really thin and light, and makes my Motorola Xoom feel like a brick, though this is due to the Google Nexus 7 having a 7” screen, much smaller than the Xoom’s 10.1” screen, and the Xoom having a metal build over the Nexus 7’s plastic build. That said the build quality is exceptional and feels so nice in the hand, with bevelled edges and the patterned back panel which reduces finger marks and has a nice non slip feel to it. The Google Nexus 7 weighs in at 340g which is a nice weight for the tablet. It’s heavy enough to confirm to you the strong build quality, but not so strong it would be uncomfy to use for long periods.

The screen is a real joy to look at. It is a 7″ 1280×800 HD display (216 ppi) back-lit IPS display with scratch-resistant Corning glass meaning it handles videos and apps with high-level graphics really well. There have been a few issues appearing with some devices where the Corning glass screen comes away from the device, but I have not found this with my unit. Don’t worry though as this is covered under warranty, so just follow the procedure to return if you find an issue with yours, when you get one.

Briefly touching on the packaging the box isn’t much to talk about, it is not much bigger than the tablet itself, upon removing the sleeve and lifting the lid off it uncovers the tablet in all its glory. I couldn’t help but be reminded of unboxing an Apple iPhone 4S, the Google Nexus 7 takes an awfully similar approach to boxing and displaying. I hope Apple didn’t take a patent out on packaging too, it wouldn’t surprise me if they had. The contents of the box aren’t much to write home about, being just the tablet, USB lead and power plug. There’s no cover, screen protector or fancy gifts it is very basic but then to get the price down to its juicy number there had to be some cutbacks. I was slightly disappointed to not see a set of headphones included, though this isn’t something any tablets come with, I just personally feel it would have added to the portability of the unit.

Google Play on the Nexus 7

Google Play on the Nexus 7

The Google Nexus 7 is a feature rich little beauty. I’ve already touched on the screen resolution and quality and the light weight of the device. Deep down in the belly of the tablet are a set of lovely features which make the spec list sing and scares off rivals such as the Amazon Kindle Fire stateside and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 over here in the UK. Powering the device and keeping it ticking over sweetly is a quad-core Tegra 3 chipset clocked at 1.3GHz courtesy of the good guys over at Nvidia and a battery life of “all day” according to Google, or 10 hours playback in reality, of course depending on how bright you like the screen and how many graphic-heavy apps or games you are running but do expect the 10 hours on video playback to be near capable. Tried and tested, and in glorious 720p it is great to watch films on.

Of course this excellent battery life and powerful CPU are only achieved thanks to Google’s newest version of the Android operating system, Jelly Bean, and the clever trickery they have done with this OS adding in some really clever features, and Project Butter.

Project Butter is Google’s attempt to quash lag time when using a device. It’s main advantage is it lets the CPU and graphics run parallel instead of interfere with each other and now all runs at 60 frames per second letting everything run faster and smoother now, which can be perceived both in reality and thought. Without getting too technical, it also pre-renders pages and menus for you, and learns where you will touch the screen next after the first touch. So if you hit a certain part of the screen, Android will know the most likely place you will next hit the screen next. It does this as when you touch the screen, it has to send a signal to the processor to action your command, whereas if it knows where you’ll touch, it’s already sideloaded that command to it doesn’t have to load it. All this makes the user experience great, and everything run so much smoother. Google’s attack on lagginess has really paid off. The Nexus 7 runs as smooth as butter.

A lot of people have already questioned why the Google Nexus 7 doesn’t have a rear-facing camera and it’s simple really, it’s a tablet not a camera. For one, it is cumbersome to use a tablet to photo, even a nice small light one like this, but second to put the camera unit in is costly, and so to keep the tablet at this sweet price point, some corners had to be cut, although I do feel even if it was a higher price bracket Google would leave it out, as it’s not needed. I see tourists  in London taking photos of Big Ben with an iPad and it just looks awkward. The Google Nexus 7 does has a front-facing camera for your video calling on Skype or other app, and is a good quality being a 1.2mp snapper, though again I don’t feel it’s massively needed, video calling isn’t a widely popular way to communicate.

Google Now on Jelly Bean

Google Now on the Nexus 7

Another new feature to Android v4.1 (now v4.1.1) is Google Now. Google Now gets you just the right information, just when it is needed. For instance, if your device is synced with all your other Google services, such as Calendar and Maps etc, it will show you a card telling you your appointment is at 10am at “this address” and also how far away you are and how long it will take to get there. A Weather card always appears, which you can swipe to dismiss. With Google’s new voice search function, you can simply ask it a question like “How tall is the Eiffel Tower?” and it will respond “The Eiffel Tower is 324m tall”. It also remembers your routine, so if you travel to the office at a certain time each day, it will give you a card with your travel details each day when you need it, before you leave.  It works beautifully well, and is arguably better working than Siri at performing many tasks.

In summary the Google Nexus 7 is a cracking little device, and I personally feel it offers up the best Android tablet experience I’ve used to date, even more appealing than the Asus Transformer Prime I’ve played with, but this knocks the spots off all rivals as it’s tech spec under the hood is rich, and comes at such a pleasant price.

Google Nexus 7 back

Nexus 7 Back

Yes there are a few niggles with the device, like it’s plastic build quality and that some users have found the Corning glass to come away from the device, but the latter hasn’t affected many users and the fact the build quality is exceptional makes the use of plastic no bad thing. Some people have to gain more of a sense of reality when it comes to just how much of a device can be made at a £159 price tag, for the 8GB variant.

Memory sizes may snag a few people. I personally also have the 16GB Motorola Xoom with a 32GB memory card and very rarely have I ever used the card, so the 16GB Nexus 7 suits me fine, however I do feel I could manage quite comfortably with the 8GB, if I made more effort to use Google’s Play services, such as Movies and Music which store everything on the cloud and so frees up space on the internal memory. One little disappointment is the lack of a memory card slot, however as mentioned this is with Google trying to steer customers subtly towards their cloud services. I’m sure it wouldn’t take long to adjust, I can’t remember the last time I saved Excel or Word docs anymore, in favour of Google Drive where a project or blog can be picked up on any device.

 For the money this is the perfect device for people of all ages, be it for a child’s Christmas present or Grandad’s first tablet. The £159 price tag for the 8GB on Google is very reasonable, as with the included £15 Google Play Credit, and £199 for the 16GB also. I don’t feel the extra £40 justifies the memory increase, as there is no other benefit the units are otherwise identical, and with hindsight I would probably have opted for the 8GB. Most retailers other than Google only offer the 16GB and for £199.99 but you may find they can ship it quicker than Google themselves. I have used Currys in the past and never had an issue with the delivery times.

I am 100% sure if/when you get your hands on one you will enjoy the Google Nexus 7 and will forget I even mentioned the gripes I had with it, as the more I use it I do.

Stay Classy San Diego

A few weeks ago we blogged about the announcement of the latest phone exclusively from Orange, the Orange San Diego, which is the first phone in Europe to be powered by Intel. Well, the phone has released now and so we thought we’d bring you a little more info on device.

Intel powered Orange San Diego

The Orange San Diego is an Android running device, meaning if you’ve ever picked up an Android phone before you’ll know how to use this phone, but to make it better Orange have overlayed their own UI onto it to make life a little easier for you, with Your Account apps, Orange Wednesday apps etc all built in. The San Diego currently ships with Android OS v2.3 with a planned upgrade to v4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich though dates on the release have not been finalised just yet. Needless to say, I’m sure it won’t be long as in the fast paced world of Android the updates come through without too much delay, ready then for the next one.

The Orange San Diego itself features a plethora of greatness, including the aforementioned Intel inside, which is a 1.6GHz single-core Intel Atom Z2460 chipset. Put simply this means the phone will run smoothly and won’t suffer any lag time when you’re flying through menus, streaming videos on YouTube via Wi-Fi or even playing some of the top Play Store games like Angry Birds or Temple Run. The San Diego is also equipped with an 8MP camera and 16GB internal memory to store all those photos on.

We really like the Orange San Diego here at Gadget Stylist as it brings all the loveable features of Android we like into a 4″ touchscreen phone, at a fantastic price. Directly through Orange you can grab the San Diego for £199.99 when you top up £10 which makes it a seriously good deal, considering just how good a phone this is.

 In summary this is a seriously good Android device that won’t break the bank, leaving you with some spare cash to spend on something else.

The Google Nexus 7 has been Announced

At Google I/O this week Google announced several new cool things but most notably the release of their first own-branded tablet, the Google Nexus 7. A lot was anticipated in terms of what this, the first Nexus tablet will offer but most notably the fact it is running Android’s latest version, v4.1 Jelly Bean.

Google Nexus 7

The Google Nexus 7 which has been made by Asus showcases all of Google’s Tablet ambitions, highlighting to us everything they feel a tablet should include from the form factor, screen size memory options and then some. It comes with two memory options, 8GB or 16GB at £159 or £199 respectively.

I think the Google Nexus 7 is the perfect sized Tablet, with it’s 7″ screen size indicated in its name. Possibly this could lead the way for future tabs with larger screens. The screen is an edge to edge 720p screen and Google believe it too be the perfect size for a tablet, it’s not too big that it is combersome, and not too small that reading Google Books on it is awkward or a strain on the eyes.

Google Nexus 7 is the world’s first 7″ quad-core processor tablet so it’s really fast. Google made it clear that the Tablet had to have a really crisp screen and run really fast and with their improvements on the operating system, moving on from Ice Cream Sandwich to Jelly Bean helps this. Google declared a war on lagginess and have also announced within Jelly Bean, a part of the OS called Project Butter. Project Butter is a project designed to improve the UI smoothness, getting rid of that Android Lag that has been a complaint in the past. It will do this in a few different ways, like managing the way the processors (dual or quad) are accessed for power, but a super clever way is by learning and predicting your finger movements before your finger hits the screen. This will eliminate the lag time between touching the screen and the OS completing the action. It is scary to think your device will know where you’re going to touch the screen next before a menu has loaded, but it does mean the phone will be more receptive to commands.

For more info and have a look on their page about it, where you can order it. Jelly Bean as an operating system comes on very soon, and the Google Nexus 7 will ship in 2-3 weeks, but you can pre-order it now. This is a great looking Tablet with a fantastic list of features and if Jelly Bean is as good to look at as Google make out, this is surely one device to be in hugely popular demand, both on pre-orders and after it’s released.

Sony Xperia S Review

Sony Xperia S

The Sony Xperia S is the first flagship phone from Sony after divorcing Ericsson but does it really live up to the flagship status it’s been given? I feel a full Gadget Stylist review coming on.

After getting hold of a test unit I was eager to look at it after reviewing the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray a few weeks ago as I wanted to see how the Xperia brand followed suit. We know that the brands like the old Walkman phones and their Cybershot phones had a set design brief and the Xperia set were the top dogs in the old Sony Ericsson camp, but how well does it translate now Ericsson have been removed from the equation? Can this phone really walk the walk? Did Sony buying out of Ericsson really work as a smart business move? Only time will tell.

At the end of last year it was announced that the Sony Ericsson joint venture were to split, with the Japanese electronics company buying out the 50% share for around 1.05bn Euros. This is seen as good for both parties as Ericsson now have a large wallet, and Sony can be more of a competitor to Apple and Google as they have a large content package, what with Sony SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) and Playstation now tapping into phones.

Back to the Xperia S. The phone comes boxed really well, and upon opening presents the handset dead centre, with all the cables, packaged charger and headphones hidden. The Xperia S comes in two colours, black and white, with the black being a matte finish and the white being much more glossy, but still stylish. We prefer the black as the glossy white is a bit too bling for us, though both are practical being coated in an anti-stain coating, simply put it detracts fingerprints, but if you search the forums, we found a chap writing in permanent pen on it, and just rubbing it off with a rubber. I don’t know whether rubbing the pen ink off takes the anti stain coating off too, so I wouldn’t try it personally.

Back Panel

The Xperia S has the good old fashioned “Sony” logo having ditched the Sony Ericsson logo, though I was confused that it still has the silver framed green heart logo on the back cover, I thought that was also a Sony Ericsson logo. The design of the phone itself is a clean square looking device with a slightly bevelled back battery cover but the great highlight of the design is below the screen. There is a transparent, luminescent strip, lighting up white in colour when touching one of the 3 capacitive keys, be it back, home or menu, and Sony have said that this light bar with also in time be used for notifications. There is an LED light at the top of the phone that flashes different colours for notifications such as blue for text messages, green for Twitter, Facebook and emails, and flashes red indicating a low battery level.

Included in the box can be different things depending on which network you grab yours on, or directly from Sony, but all will offer up headphones, USB lead and charger adaptor. Some networks such as Orange offer a free mini-HDMI cable to plug your phone into a TV to view your videos or photos on, others like O2, offer up 2 smart tags which are an NFC tool. More on that later. The phone comes pre-installed with a screen protector that I didn’t even notice to begin with, as it’s not written down as included at all, but it is laminated on to the screen and offers up an anti-shatter quality, so if you drop the phone it will be much more likely not to smash. Annoyingly this isn’t also an anti-scratch protector, so does scratch up very easily. If peeled off you uncover the actual screen which scratch-resistant glass which long term would prove more beneficial I’m sure, just be aware that without the pre-installed screen protector you are losing the anti-shatter properties although I’d weigh it up and see which is more important to you, for me it is the anti-scratch screen as I never drop my phone, it sits on my desk all day.

For me there are 4 important areas of a feature phone that’s claiming to be a flagship device so these are where I focussed my attention on testing the Sony Xperia S, which are screen quality, performance, camera quality and the user experience which is defined by the operating system and user interface. I realise there are many more aspects of a phone that are deemed important, such as playing music and connectivity options so I will cover off those too.

Xperia S Black

The 4.3″ screen is a real joy to look at, even more so the brighter the screen is, which you really have to crank up for sunlight legibility. The Sony Xperia S does something very clever in it’s marketing for the screen. Unlike the iPhone, they don’t make a big fuss about the PPI density (pixels per inch) or that it’s a fantastic Retina display with more pixels than your naked eye can take in, oh no, they say it’s simply a 720p screen. Yes it has a much higher PPI density but they don’t harp on about it(iPhone 4S 330ppi Vs. Xperia S 342ppi). It’s a real unsung feature of the phone that is great to look at, being 4.3″ so it’s much bigger than the iPhones 3.5″ and coupled with the Bravia engine from Sony to enhance video and photo quality on screen, it’s stunning. I am in awe of this screen. A stupid statement but i can’t stop looking at it the colour reproduction and clarity are superb. There are simply not enough superlatives to describe the quality of this screen it’s a true testament to Sony’s dedication to high quality screens as seen on their TV sets. As you can imagine a large screen doesn’t do much for the battery life, if the brightness is turned up and the Bravia engine turned on, though luckily Sony have very recently put out a FOTA (Firmware update Over The Air) to .75 which looks into this and improves battery performance. Phones currently shipping come boxed with .67 Sony Firmware which wasn’t as good at conserving battery life, which is important as the Sony Xperia S is a fixed unit in that the battery doesn’t come out. On that note, neither does the memory, it is a built in 32GB.

The performance of the phone does well for a device that is up against the likes of the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S3 which run off quad-core processors whereas the Sony runs off a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, but does perform very well. I stuck a 1.2GB video onto the phone and played it through the obligatory video player app, MX video player, and it played it seamlessly with no judders, file buffering or audio/video mis-syncing. It did perform just as well on the homebrew video player though I personally prefer MX as the user interface is more intuitive. The true test of a phones performance has to be Temple Run as it’s a seriously popular game and it is a heavily 3D graphic intensive app with sound, touch screen and gesture control. Again, played it without a hitch even to the point I became far to engrossed in it and scored over 2.1million collecting over 4,500 coins. Leave a comment below if you can better me, and I’ll take it on to beat you. As Barney Stinson says, “Challenge, accepted!”

The Xperia S has a 32GB onboard memory which is a decent size for a phone, though that is your lot as there is no memory card slot. It does partition it to 1.5GB as SDCARD memory and aroung 25GB for user storage. 1GB of RAM as well so plenty of power for those games. Of course you don’t have access to the full 32GB as it is partly used for the Operating System and Network add-ons.

All of this adds up to a really good user experience, if we can live with the fact that Sony have launched a flagship phone running Android OS v2.3.7 Gingerbread when Ice Cream Sandwich is already out and on phones. Disappointing as this is a brand new phone with not such a brand new OS running on it, although Sony have promised v4.0.4 ICS to come out end of Q2, so really in just a couple of weeks. Sony have made some “enhancements” (or bloatware as us tech heads call it) which make it feel much more like ICS already, so the jump from GB up to ICS won’t feel as drastic a change. The update might mean a slight reduction in the level of bloatware the phone has, unless Sony decided to enhance ICS which is the reason for the delayed update.

It’s not really an issue as Gingerbread is a good operating system and now Google have pushed out Google Play onto GB, with a separate app for books and one for movies which makes the access to apps and games much easier and simpler to navigate through, so if not everything is updated at least some parts are fresh thanks to Google.

Sony Xperia S Camera

The other big performing act of the Sony Xperia S is the camera. Subtly embedded on the back panel with no extrusion like HTC phones often have, is a 12MP shooter with serious capabilities. It sucks in 4000×3000 pixels so is capable of being blown up to a very large size. The LED flash isn’t great for a 12MP camera as a flash like this can often give false colour depiction when used, whereas a xenon flash is a much truer colour representation. Video capture is great on this device too as it takes it in full 1080p@30fps with continuous autofocus to ensure you don’t get a blurry shot half way through. There are a host of other camera features the phone offers up including Geo-tagging, touch focus, face and smile detection, image stabilisation and 3D sweep panorama which is very clever but can only be viewed if plugged in to a 3DTV via the mini-HDMI cable, so kind of useless to the average consumer.

The Sony Xperia S also has NFC (Near Field Communication) built in which in time will offer up more functionality but the Smart Tags Sony sell separately (unless bundled in) have really clever tricks. There is one for the car that when you touch the phone against automatically turns on the Sat-Nav, one for the bedroom that turns the phone to silent and turns Wi-Fi etc off whilst turning the alarm on for your morning wake up call.

The music player on the Xperia S is fantastic. It is the generic Android player but with a few Sony tweaks here and there, and it becomes apparent that Sony did make Walkman devices, if forgotten these days, and put all their knowledge of improving audio quality into this phone so you can play with the EQ to get a tone you want, or simply choose a pre-defined one. It is just a shame that the Sony Xperia S comes bundled with Sony Ericsson headphones. Really Sony? What happened you had surplus stock you wanted to get rid of? For a flagship device I was wanting some decent quality in-ear ‘fones, even from Sony’s mid-range level products. I wasn’t looking for the best, merely better than the awful SE ones.

Via bluetooth the phone can also connect to other devices, such as the Sony Wireless Headset Pro which hasn’t been released just yet, and the Sony SmartWatch which we reviewed very recently.  

For developers and phone geeks, Sony do allow you to unlock the Bootloader to then root and flash a different ROM onto it, often to get rid of the aforementioned bloatware that manufacturers and networks stick on it. To see if your phone allows you to do this just type in *#*#7378423#*#* (the numbers spelling SERVICE on a phonepad) and enter the system info and configuration. More often than not networks will lock this feature once they have put their additional value added content on to the phone, so sit back and wait for an exploit if you so wish to root your phone. Just be aware there is always a risk of bricking your phone, basically rendering it into one expensive paperweight.

In summary I cannot speak highly enough for this phone. There are parts of the Sony Xperia S that aren’t an attractive proposition, such as the older Android version but the pros far outweigh the cons and when this phone does get Ice Cream Sandwich it should be a real contender for the top Android phone spot. I don’t think it is the best Android phone in the market now, with the likes of the previously mentioned HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3 out there, though with the Sony’s screen and camera really they add armour to the battle and although the SmartWatch can connect to any Android phone, it was made for the Xperia S and follows its design style taken from the Xperia line up so does help fight for the Sony’s cause. 

Sony Xperia S

Ultimately this is one seriously capable Android device and the connectivity options make it a really unique phone. One of these can be had cheaper than other Android devices, I presume as this doesn’t have that flashy new OS, even though it shortly will. The Xperia S has been out since early March so is still new to the market, does not have a successor yet and is still Sony’s flagship device, which after reviewing I think it really does deserve to be called.

You can get one for yourself if this review has piqued your interest, either on a contract by looking at the available deals here, or purchasing outright so you’re not tied in to that 24 month contract, and can get a better deal on either Sim only or Pay as you Go. Amazon and Play.com have them in stock for a really good price, just under £360 Sim free, which is a great way to spend your ill-gotten gains.