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Review: Sony Xperia S Android Smartphone

Text and Photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Let's face it. When we think of Android smartphones, Sony isn't the first company that comes to mind. While they've had some notable releases like the Xperia X10, the Xperia Arc and the game ready Xperia Play, Sony's been considered a fringe player in the Android smartphone game and its phones are usually on the high end of the pricing spectrum. Still, Sony has sold a notable numbe of smartphones in its Xperia line (over 30 million to date) and continues to innovate in the space.

The new Sony Xperia S ($99.00 on a 3-year Rogers phone plan) aims to impress in every area, with its stunning 4.3 inch display, 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, a whopping 32GB of onboard storage and a 12 megapixel camera that shoots 1080p video, it could be a serious contender in the super smartphone space.

In terms of design and aesthetics, the Xperia S, which is the first post Sony Ericsson device under the NXT line, it feels and looks like a stylish and premium smartphone.  The design is monolithic, with a sealed in battery as well as a minimum number of ports.

The front is 85 per cent glass. This isn't ordinary glass but Sony's own treated glass which makes colours pop and is well saturated with a decent reading angle.  This 4.3-inch screen is replete with features like Sony's Reality Display, Bravia Engine and the most impressive is a tight 342 pixel per inch pixel density.

Below the Android soft keys is a unique transparent bar which neatly lights up when any of the soft keys are pressed, it is a daring design choice. It gives the illuision that the bottom and top half of the smartphone are held together by a sliver of ice or frosted glass.

In terms of functionality, however, it can get confusing. Users will initially touch the lighted bar but it will not respond, the actual soft-touch buttons are slightly above it.

The entire phone is well balanced and exquisitely put together. The rear case is a grippy matte rubber, a perfect finish and texture to counterbalance the glass front. The 12 megapixel camera can  be accessed by the the menu as wella as by a dedicated button on the lower right hand side.

Much like the recent Xperia models, which have had outstanding built-in cameras, the 12 megapixel camera on the Xperia S can easily replace an entry level standalone point-and-shoot camera. 

I was very pleased with the quality of the photos taken from the Xperia S, it is one of the best phone cameras I have used in a while and while not as stellar as the camera in the iPhone 4S or as fast in shot-to-shot situations as the Galaxy Nexus, it is still a truly useful and uncompromising smartphone camera.

I took a number of sample photos around town and was really impressed by the speed and AI (artificial intelligence) the camera uses to determine the best settings given the lighting conditions, distance from the subject and it managed to take good pictures in a variety of conditions (see below).

I have yet to test the video aspect of the camera but expect it to be just as good. The recent Xperia models we've tested showed superb video quality. With the onboard storage space of 32GB, users will have a lot of space for videos and photos. Sony makes it easy to edit and share photos and videos with its own software.

Call quality is consistently good, we found reception on Rogers network to be good with the HSPA+ signal coming in consistently. This model does not have 4G connectivity, which is a shame considering that it's processor, RAM, camera and storage capacity are really attractive. 4G would have really made this fa future proof phone, at least for 2 to 4 years.

In terms of performance and speed, the 1.5GHz dual core processor performs admirably even if it is running the older Gingerbread version of the Android OS which doesn't take advantage of dual-core architecture.

We tested basic tasks, opening of apps and opening websites in the browser against the zippy Galaxy Nexus which has a slower 1.2GHz dual core processor but which is running the newer Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0.2) version of Android.

The Sony Xperia S kept pace with the Galaxy Nexus and even loaded some websites faster than the pure Google flagship phone.

If it wasn't held back by an older OS, I have no doubt that the Sony Xperia S would have been faster in rendering full websites than the Google Nexus.

This is really the biggest issue we have with the Sony Xperia S. We love everything about it except the version of Android it comes with. 

While I would love to have this as my next smartphone and an Android ICS update has been promised for Q2 2012, specifically early May, my instinct would be to wait and see.

If and when ICS is made available on the Xperia S (and provided Sony isn't heavy handed with their own overlays and software). The Xperia S will truly be a formidable Android smartphone which will be competetive in most categories for most users.

The good news is that it Sony definitely 'gets it' with this smartphone. It has maintained its identity as style brand but it has also focused on the features that are important consumers. Top of the line processor and RAM, great screen and graphics, stunning camera and solid and stylish design. This is a true flagship phone that will see its true potential once it is blessed by the latest version of Google's Android software.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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