Sony Xperia S

Feature set summary for Sony Xperia S review
The 12.1 megapixel snapper produces sharp images, and performs well in low light, while the smart tags show there is some use for NFC
Sony Xperia S

Style and handling summary for Sony Xperia S review
This slim handset looks good and feels substantial, although it’s a shame that the back cover gets marked really easily

Battery power summary for Sony Xperia S review
A fully charged battery will take you through more than a day, even if you’re using apps, checking email and making a few calls

Performance summary for Sony Xperia S review
Runs smoothly, even with the more complex apps and games, thanks to a dual-core processor

User friendliness summary for Sony Xperia S review
A responsive screen makes sending emails and text simple, although using the phone with one hand can be hard because of the size of the device

Full Review and Specification for the Sony Xperia S
Sony parted company with Sony Ericsson last year, so we have been waiting with bated breath to see what kind of handsets the Japanese manufacturer would produce on its ownsome. And the good news is that the first device to come out of the Sony stable is a nicely designed handset with a great snapper – and it actually offers some practical use for NFC – hooray!

Looking good

Sony’s previous launches (the Xperia Arc S for instance) looked and felt good – all shiny and curvy – and when we first saw pictures of the Xperia S we thought it appeared rather dull in comparison, but in actual fact we’re rather enamoured with it having seen it in the flesh.

The handset is a little thicker thanks to the rounded reverse – still it’s only 11mm, so it won’t stick out too much if you slip it in your pocket. The only thing is that because of its size it’s a tad awkward to use with one hand – when we were surfing the net we sometimes found it hard to hit links, so had to switch to using two hands.

There are no hard buttons on the front of the device – the touch-sensitive areas for Home, Menu and Back are located above the band. The whole design is kept pretty simple, in fact – you’ll find the shutter key, volume buttons and HDMI port (which is covered) on the right edge, and the Micro USB port (also covered) on the right.

The rear has a soft covering, which feels good to hold, but gets marked and scuffed really easily. And we also noticed a lot of ‘sweat’ marks on the back, which were hard to remove. Maybe we just have really sweaty hands!

One standout feature is the transparent band at the base. This actually lights up should you hit a button or get a notification. Not exactly a vital addition, but it’s quite novel.

It’s got the power

Power comes from the dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm chip, which is combined with 1GB of memory. This combination gives you plenty of oomph to run even the most complex of apps, and should be fine for the length of your two-year contract. Sony has turned its back on the new quad-core devices for the moment, as it says that the poor battery life means they won’t be making any this year. Fair enough, we say, and you’ll get a good day out of the Xperia S battery, even if you’re using it pretty much the whole time. With Bluetooth, Wi-Fi ad NFC switched on, battery life is around 24 hours.

Media marvel

If you want to watch films on your mobile, the Xperia S is a real treat. It has a fantastic TFT 4.3in display, which shows off HD movies beautifully. The screen benefits from a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, which keeps images and video sharp. The viewing angles are impressive too, you won’t see fading or colour loss if you angle the display differently. There’s plenty of space for music and movies too – thanks to the 25GB of onboard storage – but you can’t expand this at all as there is no memory card slot. Should you want to show your mates video or snaps on the TV there’s a HDMI cable included in the box.

The screen has other uses, apart from watching films. It offers a speedy typing experience for sending emails and texts – and you can set up auto-correct so that you decide how often it offers alternative solutions. The screen also enhances the net surfing experience – pinch to zoom works well and there is no stuttering or blurring.

If you’re a music fan, you’ll find you can forget your MP3 player and use the Xperia S to listen to your favourite tunes instead. We were pleasantly surprised by the included earphones, which produced a sound that was static free and full of body. They’re good at keeping out external noise, and prevent the rest of the train knowing about your guilty pleasures such as 80s cheese or Michael Buble. Without earphones you can make use of the in-built speaker, which we found pretty powerful.

The model we reviewed was running on Android Gingerbread 2.3.7. although Sony says an Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade is due later in the year. It didn’t really matter to us, as Gingerbread benefits from some classy Sony touches. We still like its wavy themes, but we can’t bring ourselves to be enamoured of the Timescape widget, which takes too long to update. There is a PlayStation widget too, but this proved disappointing – taking too long to update and offering not much apart from the latest Sony news.

Playing tag

Lots of new phones are coming to the market with NFC technology, but not many are actually doing anything practical with it. NFC is a way of connecting to other devices wireless (it’s a bit like Bluetooth). It means that you should be able to use a smartphone to pay for your shopping, for instance, or to swipe at station barriers, rather like an Oyster card.

What Sony has come up with are NFC tags. These are chips that are about the size of a coin, and which your mobile is able to ‘read’. They can be used to change your phone’s setting without having to delve into the menus. So, you might have one at home, where you use it to put your ring volume on high, and choose to have a personal photo of the kids as the wallpaper. The one at work might set your phone to vibrate and have a plain background, or the logo of your company as a wallaper. All you do is tap on your chip as you get home or into the office and all the hard work is done for you. You can also use the chip to play a song, open your favourite app, or fire up certain websites.

Two tags are included in the box, and a pack of four will cost £12 if you buy them online.

Picture perfect

Keen photographers will love the Xperia S. For a start it has a dedicated shutter button, which will fire up the snapper in about a second from sleep mode, so you won’t miss those spontaneous snaps. Autofocus proves speedy and accurate, and in decent light the shutter speed is excellent.

Even in low light the snapper performed impressively. The lens is skilful at drawing in as much light as it can, so you may not even need the flash. Images taken in low light can seem grainy at times, but are certainly no worse than on any other smartphone snapper. The camera offers 3D and panoramic modes too. (Note you’ll only be able to view those 3D shots on a 3D TV.)

Our conclusion

Sony has made a sterling effort for its first solo production and it has been a triumph. If you want to use apps, surf the net, listen to music and watch movies, the Xperia S offers a great experience, A nice design and impressive snapper round off a highly desirable device. We can’t wait to see how the next Xperia devices – the Xperia P and Xperia U – perform.