Sony Xperia S — Review

The Sony Xperia S is a phone a lot of people have been looking forward to ever since it was announced by the newly formed Sony Mobile back at CES. It is Sony Mobile’s first flagship Android device so I was expecting they would go all-out on it. In terms of hardware, they have; in terms of software, they haven’t. To launch your flagship device running Android 2.3.7 when the latest version is 4.0.x is dropping the ball hard. Users miss out on the functionality and fluidity of Ice Cream Sandwich which adds a whole new level of polish to an already stunning piece of hardware.

With its 4.3-inch 1280×720 Reality Display with Bravia Engish technology is beyond amazing. At over 340ppi, it’s almost impossible to make out individual pixels — you’d have to have a very keen eye up very, very close to the display to discern between the pixels. The amazing factor doesn’t stop there. Sony have strapped a 12.1MP camera to the back of the device which is capable of shooting better-than-average photos as well as Full HD video (with continuous autofocus!). There is a single LED for flash lighting, but it’s mediocre at best.

The whole phone has a plastic feel to it, however, it is very sturdy and solid in the hand — heavier than the Galaxy Nexus, also. Sony says the touchscreen is scratch resistant as is the entire plastic shell of the Xperia S which is always nice. On the front of the Xperia S you’ll find the 1.3MP camera, notification LED, the display (duh) and 3 capacitive buttons which have terrible touch response. There’s also the attractive, glowing translucent plastic which holds the antenna mesh in place.

On the right hand side is the HDMI-out slot which has a plastic cover to keep dirt out, there’s also the volume rocker, and dedicated camera key. When you press the camera key when the phone is in sleep mode, it will open the camera and take a photo in about a second. On the left hand side is where you’ll find the standard Micro USB charging port. On the top is the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack. The bottom has a handy lanyard holder so you can have you phone hanging around your neck.

Pros

  • Slick, sexy design with a solid feel
  • Insane 720p display with 340ppi+
  • Dedicated camera button reduces shaking
  • Decent 12.1MP camera for photos

Cons

  • Android 2.3.7
  • Over 10 Sony apps that shouldn’t be installed by default
  • Shaky video
  • Bad touch response
  • Takes a long time to charge
  • No automatic brightness

What we like

It’s impossible to hate Sony’s hardware design, it’s beautiful to look at, and it’s impressive to hold in your hand. It makes a statement, and most of all, it makes you feel classy as hell. As I said in the intro, the hardware on this device isn’t a problem at all — it’s right up there with the best of the best in Android devices. The camera took some pretty decent photos, although the camera was shaky even with stabilisation on. The screen isn’t AMOLED, but it’s colour production is very natural and appealing to look at — it’s a shame Sony make their icons look so damn bland. For people who use their phones outdoors, you’ll have no problem seeing the display. I found direct sunlight to have very little effect on the readability of the display.

A problem I had on previous Sony Ericsson device was the power button being recessed into the phone so it was hard to hit it, with the Xperia S it sticks out and is simple to press when holding the phone naturally. The inclusion of a HDMI-out port is fantastic for playing high-definition content from your phone onto your TV, although considering the amazing display on the Xperia S, I doubt you’ll bother playing it on your TV too often.

The glowing translucent plastic below the display is a really nice touch. It doesn’t shine light directly into your eyes (like the Xperia X10) instead it has a gentle glow 360 degrees around it and shows the icons of where you should press the capacitive buttons above (when they decide to work). I still kind of find it annoying how the icons are on the plastic as you sometimes ending pressing it instead of the buttons.

Call quality was perfectly fine and data speeds weren’t really an issue on Optus’ 3G network, though they weren’t mind-blowing either. Battery life is good, but not great, considering it takes much longer than my Galaxy Nexus to charge, I would have thought it would have lasted a bit longer — terrible logic to go by, obviously.

What can be improved

The obviously downfall of the Xperia S is the fact it’s running a previous generation of Android. Even worse is when Sony say they add their own apps to the phone to make the user experience better. It doesn’t. There are about 13 apps on the phone that are pre-installed by Sony that just don’t need to be there. They should put them on the Google Play Store considering they have their own ‘Sony’ section on it.

TimeScape makes an appearance on the Xperia S and it’s completely useless, so not much has changed since the Xperia X10. I fired it up to try it out and quickly replaced it with Plume (for Twitter) and the official Facebook app, which works better on Gingerbread than it does on Ice Cream Sandwich, so there’s an upside to Android 2.3. If Sony were to update this device to ICS in the next month and allow the apps to be removed or even hidden, I would have no problems recommending this device to people, especially with the appealing sub-$500 pricing.

There aren’t many things about the hardware that need improvements. The loudspeaker is mediocre at best, which isn’t a good thing on a media device. The overall touch response on the Xperia S is pretty bad. The capacitive buttons are very much hit-and-miss at the best of times and even in software touches are sometimes not picked up. This has been a problem on a few Sony Ericsson devices I’ve played with, so it’s something Sony ultimately need to fix. Whether it’s a software issue that can be fixed with ICS, I’m not too sure.

Upon removing the back cover of the Xperia S, you’re faced with just one thing: the Micro SIM slot. There’s no way to access the battery as it’s completely internal. This stops you from being able to get an extended battery, or giving you the option to pull the battery in the rare instance the phone freezes up completely.

Specs..

  • Android 2.3.7
  • 1.5GHz MSM8260 Dual-Core CPU
  • 4.3-inch 1280×720 (342ppi) TFT Display
  • 128 x 64 x 10.6 mm
  • 144 grams
  • 12.1MP / 1.3MP cameras
  • 32GB Internal Memory
  • 14.4Mbps HSPA 850/900/1900/2100MHz
  • 1700mAh battery
  • NFC

Conclusion

After using the Sony Xperia S for the past few days, I had no problems moving back to my Galaxy Nexus, in fact I preferred it. If, and only if Sony launched the Xperia S with Android 4.0, I’m sure I wouldn’t be as happy to go back to the Galaxy Nexus.

Given its low price, the Xperia S is certainly going to be a device consumers are going to take a look at, and if you’re the type that will root and ROM it (when Sony allows it), then I say go ahead, it’s a good investment. If you’re the average consumer who’s going to keep the phone the way it is, I can only point you in the direction of the Galaxy Nexus or HTC’s One X — both of which run Ice Cream Sandwich — because this device won’t be getting ICS until closer to the middle of the year.

Sony have really shot themselves in the foot with this one.

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  • timmy

    thanks for the review. the format/layout of the whole article is refreshing and easy to read too. look forward to your HTC One series review. good work buzz. =)

    • http://ausdroid.net/ Buzz Moody

      Glad you found it informative and visually appealing.

  • rend2688

    Good review…  But, this is NOT Sony’s first handset. The xperia s, and the next few handsets, are simply rebranded Sony Ericsson products. We wont see a Sony in-house developed phone until later in the year…

    • http://ausdroid.net/ Buzz Moody

      Legit point. Will make some slight semantics changes in a minute.

  • Geoff Fieldew
    • http://ausdroid.net/ Buzz Moody

      It hurts for me to point out (obvious) flaws in a Sony device. I’ve had my heart set on getting one for months.

      http://buzz.id.au/2011/08/22/i-want-a-sony-ericsson-device-as-my-next-phone/

      • Geoff Fieldew

        It bothers me that Android doesn’t have another Phone OEM that can compete with Samsung. I thought maybe the One X could do it but after watching that video the other day – it’s too laggy!

        Although, Asus have the scale to take on Samsung in tablets I reckon.

      • Faeman

        Great review . I bought the galaxy note about a month ago and very happy with that. The camera and display seem pretty awesome on the Sony . But after reading reviews here and at cnet it’s obvious already opinions are mixed. I’ll stick with what I’ve got and keep the good reviews :)

  • NOZ

    While it doesn’t count for much I still like to see benchmark results if possible! Good review and covered all bases to what I thought otherwise. In thinking bout touch response I’m thinking screen resolution is the issue…much like my galaxy note. But then also OS…I’ve notice ICS is so much smoother so hopefully it’ll be rectified when the updates come

    • http://ausdroid.net/ Buzz Moody

      Which benchmarks would you like me to run?

  • Jimmy280

    sony anounced that an upgrade to icecream sandwich is coming in a cople of months 

    • http://ausdroid.net/ Buzz Moody

      Yeah that’s noted at the end.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vijay.alapati Vijay Alapati

    Few more Cons… after reading this…
    1) Where is the SD card slot :(
    2) where is NFC ?
    3) Fixed Battery (seriously….)
    4) Finally…..stupid Sony UI :p

    • http://ausdroid.net/ Buzz Moody

      No SD card slot.

      There is NFC and some tags are included. I’m thinking of a separate post for this.

      Fixed battery is lame.

      Correct.

  • Frank Benign

    So the whole back is removable just for the sake of the SIM card?  Great design.  How are the viewing angles?

    • http://ausdroid.net/ Buzz Moody

      Yeah, it doesn’t seem like the greatest design.

      Viewing angles are pretty good, not as good as the Galaxy Nexus (it’s sitting next to me).

  • Jay

    Wow is the video recording that bad or were you on a few cups of the brown stuff already? :D
    Honestly though I cant believe that would be accepted as a final product to be released.
    It’s so distracting that you are no longer concentrating on the content but more on the bad shaking!

    • http://ausdroid.net/ Buzz Moody

      Haha, not a single cup of the brown stuff (or Red Bull) was consumed on the day the video was taken. 

      I was told from other users that if you turn off auto stabilisation it gets clearer. That doesn’t even make sense.

  • ds22

    My brother has this phone, I have the Galaxy Nexus. When first seeing this phone, i must say that if i didn’t already have the GNex, I most likely would have gotten this. It certainly looks the part, been a fan of Sony products for many years. Good specs, but as Buzz, and almost everyone else has pointed out, it IS let down by 2.3.7, the plethora of pre-installed Sony Apps, and the unresponsive buttons above the antenna. Fantastic screen though, equally as good as my Gnex (We both ran the Xperia video demo which comes with the phone, side by side. In fact I was expecting the Sony to be better in this department. Surprised, and happy [again] with my AMOLED screen). Haven’t tried the camera yet, but i believe it will be quite good, most CERTAINLY a step above the crappy one in my GNex (Not hard to accomplish, really). I, too, have read to turn image stabilisation off when shooting video, but yet to try. Audio was quite good, though i flashed Beats to mine. Overall, not a bad phone, though sorely in need of ICS.

  • Meghu doshi

    Sony Xperia S is quite similar to Xperia P as well as Xperia U. Most Important feature is 12 mega pixel camera.They have very high-resolution screen, HD touch screen, an high-quality audio and lots of clout, design is also good.For more details refer http://www.techiecop.com/cellphones/sony-ericsson-cellphone/sony-xperia-s-review.html

  • Stuart Murray

    The fact that it comes with gingerbread really doesn’t bother me. What does ICS have that’s that amazing? Gingerbread is rock solid. What concerns me most is the lack of SD card slot, non-replaceable battery and dodgy touch response. These are the factors that are going to prevent this being my next phone. Thanks for the heads up on those issues!

  • Victor Ling

    Best phone ever…love every second of it…

  • Vanessa

    hmmmm think I might go for the arc S after reading this