Ease of Learning: 4.5 / 5
Ease of Use: 4.5 / 5
Enjoyment: 4.5 / 5
Design: 4.5 / 5
Value for Money: 3.5 / 5
Almost a year has passed since news surfaced about the impending split between cooperate giants, Sony and Ericsson. It’s obvious that Ericsson will not enter the smartphone market in the near future, opting rather to focus on what made them a success in the first place, telecommunications equipment and data communication systems. For Sony, however, they’ve pushed on with mobile research and development and promised the end user a more complete smartphone, something you can use in every situation. Sony launched their NXT Xperia range in South Africa back in May, with the Xperia S at the fore as its flagship smartphone. Has the decision to split from Ericsson worked out for Sony, and what’s different this time around?
The Sony Xperia S would be the first Sony-branded smartphone after Sony acquired Ericsson’s stake in Sony Ericsson, so the pressure was on to create something worth talking about. First impressions last and there’s no doubting that the Xperia S stands out from other smartphones in terms of its design. Although accounting for more than 90% of the front design, it is not the screen that grabs your attention. Sony’s design team have ingeniously embedded the device’s antenna base of the device, connected by a transparent* strip that illuminates when the device is in use (to indicate the on screen buttons). With a flat base, the device is able to stand upright on its own, which looks eerily like the Black Tower (representing knowledge) in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
* Although it appears transparent, if you magnify an image (or just look real close) you will be able to see the strip. You can also see it when viewing the device side on. Be that as it may, it’s still a unique and really good design.
Being the flagship device of a brand carries with it the burden of including the best hardware; something that compete with other flagship devices. At 4.3” and a resolution of 1280×720 (342ppi), the display isn’t just big, the HD Bravia Engine display makes it good to look at as well. At the time of its release, the Xperia S was tied for the highest pixel density of any mobile phone, and still holds this position even after the release of the Samsung Galaxy SIII. The device also packs a 12MP rear-facing camera, with Exmor R for low-light capture. It is also capable of capturing full 1080p video. It’s clear that the camera plays an important role with the Xperia S and Sony have smacked on a dedicated camera button, which allows the user to capture an image in less than 1.5 seconds from a locked state.
With a 1.5GHz Dual Core CPU and 1GB RAM, this smartphone is no slouch; booting up and ready for use in seconds. Certainly not having a microSD slot these days is unexplainable, but with sufficient internal storage of 32GB to back it up, it’s not a serious concern.
When the Sony Xperia S was first unveiled, it was given good ratings for its hardware, design HD display and efficient camera capabilities. What was lacking in previous Xperia devices was the lack of software functionality. The Xperia S was also critised at the MWC in Barcelona for its dated software, and similarities to the previous Sony Ericsson smartphones. Although this is true, and disappointing, that’s not the end of the story in terms of its software.
As it stands today, Xperia S is not the highest powered, the thinnest, the lightest, smoothest or even the most advanced smartphone on the market. But before you swallow that bit of information, however, there one good reason (although there might be many more reasons) why this is one of the best smartphones available right now. Integration. If thre’s one thing techies love, it’s device integration. Being able to connect your Xperia S to your Sony Wi-Fi-enabled TV, your PS3, NFC smart tags, and pretty much any other Sony Wi-Fi-enabled device, you can enjoy all facets of your tech life all from a single device. Stopping short of sounding like a salesman looking for commission, I have experienced this integration first hand, and can vouch for its efficiency. Although many other companies, such as Samsung and Apple, also offer such integration with their products, having the PS3 in your back pocket certainly aids Sony in this case.
If you, however, don’t have a Wi-Fi-enabled TV, you can always fall back to physically connecting the Xperia S, as it includes a microHDMI port onboard. Other ports include the microUSB port for charging and connection to your PC, as well as a 3.5mm audio jack.
As you would have seen on the top of the page (What We Didn’t Like), the Xperia S isn’t without its drawbacks. Although most of the points are self-explanatory, some points need to be touched on, as it’s not all doom and gloom. What is a serious concern for me is the lack of Android 4.0 ICS. It’s been close to a full year since Google launched Android 4, and while some legitimate updates are slowly trickling through to higher-end devices, the process has been all to slow, and Sony is not different in this regard. Although the build quality of the device is good, the finish is lacking somewhat. What makes this device so easy to drop can be attributed to 2 factors: its bulky design and no grip (smooth matte finish). Despite having a 1750mAh battery, with all the integration happening around you, the device’s life isn’t much to write home about.
If I really want to be picky, for completeness sake, I can also criticise the positioning of the ports and power button. With a large-screened device, as this is, it’s not easy unlocking the screen in one hand (unless you’re left handed) when the power button is placed on the top left hand corner. Placing important buttons close to where your thumb is positioned is always a design plus.
Sony’s solo venture into the smartphone market is something that can be discussed at length, both in terms of the actual split and the new line-up of devices (and Sony’s election to keep the old Sony Ericsson logo). The device has a long list of good features and is let down by small mistakes. With ICS updates being rolled out in Europe, it clear that Sony is making progress on that issue. Unfortunately, there’s nothing they can do in terms of the bad points. Despite that, however, the Sony Xperia S is different, if nothing else. But it’s more than just different, it’s really good. And with a software update or 2, I can only see improvements.
You can find the full specifications here.