The Sony Xperia S is the first smartphone to feature Sony without Ericsson and with a HD screen, 12MP cam and NFC technology, it’s clear that the Xperia S is a serious statement of intent. But has Sony Mobile’s latest smartphone got what it takes to become Android’s new champion against potent rivals like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Apple's iPhone 4S?
This is a big slice of smartphone, but one that looks undeniably swish. We’re not completely sold on the clear bar that labels Android’s navigation buttons above and lights up in use, but that’s just our taste. Given the size, the Xperia S is comfortable in the hand and the positioning of the volume controls halfway up the body is a thoughtful ergonomic touch. Only a slightly rattling plastic back cover lets the side down, a flaw that is not shared by the iPhone 4S whose build quality is exceptional.
When on standby the Xperia S fools you into thinking it has a bezel-less screen. The genuine HD resolution of 1280x720 was the norm for full-size TVs not so long ago, and although the 4.3in screen offers a smaller viewing area than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus’ 4.65in screen, it more than bests Apple's iPhone 4S in the size department. Sony Mobile’s superior picture processing tech also results in a movie-watching experience that other smartphones simply can’t match.
processor and battery
With a 1.5GHz dual-core processor the Xperia S serves up more power than the both the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Nexus and is a seriously pokey smartphone that’s able to rip through demanding games, HD movies and general multi-tasking without breaking a sweat. That substantial power matched to the big HD screen may equal fun times, but they can be relatively short-lived – daily recharges are vital and under intensive use you’ll be looking at more like 7-8 hours.
OS and usability
Sony’s new flagship phone uses an aging operating system, but Android 2.3 does look especially crisp and clean here. Operation isn’t always quite as silky-smooth as you might expect though, with a little jerkiness creeping in from time to time, especially when switching orientation and quickly navigating the web. We’re assured that Ice Cream Sandwich is on the way, and we expect that to make the user experience more tasty.
Smartphone camera pixel counts have been creeping inexorably upwards forever, but Sony’s taken a running leap ahead with a stupendous 12.1MP lens. The shots it takes are superbly crisp and naturally coloured, but perhaps most impressive is that the phone will go from standby to capture in just 1.5 seconds. Video is similarly excellent, with fantastic shake removal. The Sweep Panorama mode works well, too, and there’s even the option to take 3D panoramas, although in our tests those didn’t turn out well. It’s no biggie.
And the prize for doing something interesting with NFC goes to... Sony! Four coloured SmartTags come in the box with most Xperia S handsets, and these can be stuck anywhere you like and used to automatically activate particular profiles when you wave your phone within range. How about one in the car to automatically open Google Maps and connect to your Bluetooth stereo, and one next to the bed to activate your alarm?
If you can tear yourself away from its gorgeous screen, you can choose to display photos or play movies stored on the Xperia S on your telly via a HDMI cable. Alternatively, Airplay-style wireless tech can have you streaming video to your TV at the press of a ‘Play On’ button, which is a very neat trick.
You can also use the ‘Play On’ icon to send music to your web-connected AV and hi-fi equipment. Sony’s Music Unlimited is another viable choice, combining the on-demand music streaming of Spotify with the library-aping skills of iTunes Match. There’s even a Shazam-style feature that adds any song you ‘capture’ straight to your library.
All of these apps should work almost as well on other DLNA-enabled TVs and network music players, and if they don’t for your kit, the Android Market has many other DLNA apps that will.
The Xperia S may be the first Sony smartphone to drop the Ericsson moniker, but make no mistake – this is not a greenhorn smartphone. The combination of a powerful dual-core processor, a stunning 4.3in screen and smart NFC and media sharing capability make the Sony Xperia S one of the best Android devices currently available, besting the flagship Samsung Galaxy Nexus in most areas bar the lack of Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box. If you want to stray over from the Apple camp and try the very best that Android has to offer, you couldn't go far wrong with the Sony Xperia S.
UPDATE Star rating adjusted to reflect age and new competitors
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Sony Xperia S
Smart, stylish and specified to the eyeballs, Sony's Xperia S is a serious rival to the iPhone 4S