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.
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.