Say hello to the Sony Xperia S. Sony is the new brand name for Xperia mobile phones, now that the Ericsson name has been dropped from the line. The Xperia S is the downsized firm's new flagship Android smartphone. See also Group test: what's the best Android phone.
Sony Xperia S: Design
Rectangular is the watchword for the predominant style of the Xperia S with square edges but a curved rear. The smartphone isn't markedly thin or light at 10.6mm and 144g but we didn't find any problems with its weight or size. See also Group test: what's the best smartphone?
The highlight of the design is the transparent strip of plastic along the phone’s bottom, with its own white backlight. This strip contains the Back, Home and Menu symbols in a stylish way but does present a problem. It feels natural to tap the icons but the actual buttons are above and only shown by small white dots. Worse is the fact that these buttons can be very unresponsive at times.
A plastic rear cover is removable, providing access to a Micro-SIM card slot. However, the battery is not removable and there’s no microSD expansion slot. Sony has provided 32GB of internal flash storage though.
The Xperia S is available in black and white - we thought both styles looked quite sleek.
Sony Xperia S: Build quality
Build quality is good but we can't help but feel it could be a lot better. The handset is solid and has a durable feel but is let down by the thin and flimsy removable rear cover. The overall effect would have been better if the Micro-SIM card slot was side mounted to leave the case in one piece.
Sony Xperia S: Hardware
In general Sony has equipped the Xperia S with a solid line-up of hardware. It is the processor which doesn’t quite stack up with the competition on paper, though. Many Google smartphones launched this year have a quad-core chip but the Xperia S takes a 1.5GHz Qualcomm dual-core processor. This is accompanied by the current standard 1GB of RAM.
The display is perhaps the best feature of the Xperia S. At 4.3in, it strikes a good balance between being large but manageable. It’s said to use Sony's Mobile Bravia Engine (a 19-page white paper fails to substantiate what that means) and has an impressive 720 x 1280-pixel resolution. This means it has one of the highest pixel densities we've seen on a smartphone at a whopping 341ppi - higher than even the iPhone 4S' 326ppi.
Other hardware features include dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, microUSB, Micro HDMI and a near-field communications (NFC) chip.
A selling point of the Xperia S is the bundled NFC Xperia SmartTags. These keyring-type devices can change settings like sound, connectivity and launch apps by touching them on the phone. It could be a handy feature if you want different settings for different places like home or the office.
Sony Xperia S: Camera
Sony Ericsson was once renowned for making phones with good-quality cameras and Sony has maintained this trend with the Xperia S.
The device has a 12.1Mp rear-facing camera with auto-focus and LED flash. It has Sony’s Exmor R CMOS sensor, 16x digital zoom and an F2.4 aperture.
The camera app runs well and can be launched easily by pressing the dedicated shutter button - from sleep you can launch the app and take a photo in about two seconds. The auto-detect scene feature knows if you're shooting a portrait or macro shot for example and is a nice time saver.
Images were brilliantly sharp and we were particularly impressed with macro shots. The camera can automatically create a panoramic image using the 3D Sweep Panorama feature as you sweep the phone. It can record video in full-HD 1080p.
The Xperia S’ front-facing camera is for video chats or taking self-portrait pictures. This 1.3Mp cam is situated nicely on the phone and delivers a reasonably clear image.
Sony Xperia S: Software
The Xperia S packs Google's Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) operating system. We were told the handset is due to get an upgrade to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) but this didn't stop us wondering why a phone launched in spring 2012 is pre-loaded with an OS that was officially superceded in October of 2011.
It also remains to be seen how well a 1.5GHz dual-core processor will run Android 4.0 as reports have suggested some Android phones struggle with the more demanding software.
We found the interface to run smoothly with a useful number of widgets to choose from, plus the ability to group apps in folders. The biggest performance dip was noticed when browsing the web, which struggled slightly with pinch-to- zoom gestures.
However, there are far too many apps pre-installed on the Xperia S; more than three pages worth to be exact. Crucially, most of these cannot be uninstalled.
Some apps may come in handy, like navigation, but there's a confusingly large amount of different apps for music, books, films and games. We feel it would be easier and neater if individual Sony apps like Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited were combined into just one or two apps.
Sony Xperia S: Battery life
Sony doesn’t specify the energy capacity of the internal battery but touts a life of 25 hours listening to music, six and a half hours video playback, or eight and half hours of talk time.
We got one day of use out of the Xperia S with what could be called an orthodox amount of use. Clever use of an included Power Saver app may help you get more out of the battery life. A power-saving mode can be customised to switch off certain useful functions or dim the screen. It can also automatically be enabled at a user-defined battery level or between certain hours of the day.