Thanks to our friends at Clove for providing us with the Sony Xperia S to review. Purchase your Sony Xperia S from Clove today by clicking here.
The Sony Xperia S is the first standalone from Sony after their partnership ended with Sony, so how does their first solo venture into the mobile phone market really stand up to the other phones of today? Pretty well actually, as the Sony Xperia S encumbers the technology of the Sony Ericsson of the old with Sony’s style and the end result is a phone which can hold it’s own in 2012. One thing you might be disappointed to find out is that the Xperia S actually comes with Gingerbread rather than the newer Ice Cream Sandwich OS (Android 4.0) and the actual update has been delayed, which will reflect in our scores since we had no alternatives.
However, if you really want to know how the phone stacks up in our review then you’ll have to keep on reading our review!
Sony Xperia S First Look and Thoughts
Sony’s products have always been very nice to look at as the styling has been superb in recent years – just look to the Playstation 3 and Bravia Televisions. The result here is no different as this is easily one of the nicest looking Android phones we have seen in a while. It’s actually quite different from the other phones out there as it actually has a transparent bar which has no other reason than to sit and show off the symbols for the capacitive buttons directly above it (we did wish you could change the color of the bar depending on the theme). That and it looks very cool. The transparent bar actually lights up (for a brief few seconds after a tap, and there is no way to increase the time of the light or turn it off completely) anytime you use the capacitive buttons (Back, Home, and Options Button) allowing you to easily remember which button you’ve pressed. There are some that might assume right away that it’s a gimmick, but it really does mesh very nicely with the overall aesthetic of the phone. It’s most certainly a phone that stands out thanks to it’s different design approach. The entire phone consists of flat surfaces, apart from the back which is a curved surface, which holds the micro-sim card as well as the inbuilt battery. Strangely, that’s all you get as there is no option of an expandable memory slot, but we still think 32GB of storage is good enough for anyone these days.
It’s not a small phone by any means either, with a large 4.3-inch TFT LCD screen on the front of the phone. Overall dimensions are 128 x 64 x 10.6 mm, meaning they’ve managed to keep the phone down to a respectable 10.6mm thickness, which doesn’t feel too ‘fat’ in your hands. Quality wise, the phone falls a little short here as the matte soft plastic build on the Xperia S doesn’t exactly feel as solid as we would have liked it to, but it’s not terrible either – though it’s most certainly fingerprint resistant. It feels like Sony have gone for the medium plastic quality for the body, despite it being marketed as a high end device. Furthermore, we have no idea what Sony were thinking with the flaps that cover the mini usb and mini hdmi ports because they are just rubbish and annoying. They’re hard to remove, and hard to put back in and they feel like they could just pop off. And as you can see below, they can get in the way.
Another issue is the capacitive buttons for the Back, Home, and Option, which can be incredibly unreliable. Occasionally it can take 3 or 4 taps just to find the button, and then you’ll have to press the button in the right place otherwise it doesn’t register your tap. Frustrating when you’re trying to accomplish a task quickly.
Specs wise, the phone is a certain beast. Despite the fact that it’s being released at the same time as HTC’s One X which sports a quad-core processor, and the Xperia S only has a 1.5GHz Dual-core processor, it’s still incredibly fast. The phone itself shows little signs of lag thanks to it’s power and it look really good on the Xperia S’s 4.3-inch 720p TFT LCD screen (with Mobile BRAVIA Engine on board). It also comes with 1GB of RAM, and a large 12 megapixel camera with Sony Exmor R lens and a single flash. The phone itself weights 144 grams, which is only 4 grams more than the iPhone 4S despite being much larger. Overall, it’s a great designs and it’s aesthetically pleasing, but there are a few ergonomical issues that stop this phone from being a great phone in the Design/Hardware category.
We’re actually torn in two minds with the display. One one hand, it’s got the latest 1280 x 720 resolution, resulting in a 720p screen which is great for looking at and watching videos. Then, you’ll also notice it only has a TFT LCD screen, which can be easily overshadowed by any AMOLED or Super LCD screen in the market, regardless of it’s 720p resolution. Then add to the mix, that the phone actually suffers from Color banding issues (meaning that it has occasional inaccurate color representations on screen). The color banding issue isn’t entirely noticeable unless you look for it, but once you notice it you’ll continue to get annoyed by it. While it may all seem negative here, the screen is actually really nice to watch videos on (especially with Sony’s Bravia Engine, though we don’t know how much is added with it). The screen is bright, a little too bright if you ask us for the quality of the screen and it does cause certain videos to feel washed out (the SD ones). HD videos do look pretty fantastic, but not as great as if it were on a AMOLED screen. We made two videos comparing the screen quality of the Xperia S versus the Nokia Lumia 800. Take a look:
As you can see, despite having a far superior screen resolution, the video doesn’t look as good on the Xperia S when compared to the Lumia 800′s AMOLED CBD screen. However, the 720p screen does add to a more pleasant viewing experience.
The screen itself is a finger print magnet, and since we’re compulsive in this sense we end up cleaning our screen very often. Very often. Other than that we can say thanks to the TFT LCD screen and the color banding issue, the 720p screen doesn’t exactly look as good as other 720p screen such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Hopefully Sony will be able to fix this for their next phone.
There are very few phones in the market today that encompass a 12 megapixel camera in them, and the Sony Xperia S is the latest phone to join that small club. As all professional photographers know, the mexapixels don’t really matter if the lens is rubbish, and thankfully that’s not the case here. Sony have been in the camera business for a while now, so they’ve used their experience in this camera by implementing a lens which not only is quick, but takes fairly good photos. Where the camera really excels in is macro shots, which have an incredible amount of detail in it even with quick focus speeds that come with it. As you can see in the images below, color reproduction is quite accurate and macro images still retain their crispness and color despite the close up.
The one thing you’ll notice however, is that noise does seem to creep into pictures in low light situations, which is disappointing. Also, when the camera focuses too quickly the lighting seems to change in the picture to create a noisy picture, something we are confused about since the camera is meant to take pictures very quickly. The camera has the ability to wakeup from sleep by pressing the designated camera button (just like on Windows Phones) and furthermore, it can snap a picture instantly from wakeup (a picture in about a second) though due to the large resolution, loading that picture can be slightly sluggish. The flash is nice however by not being overly bright so it doesn’t wash out darker photos (even though noise can creep in), but it’s smart enough to adjust the power (or so it seems) depending on the situation. In terms of video, the camera record at 1080p but it’s only decent. Detail and color reproduction within the video is great, but the focusing is a tad slow. Still, it should be good enough for the average joe (unless you’re filming at night in which it’s pretty poor).
The Xperia S also features a 1.3 megapixel front facing camera which has the capability to offer 720p on the front. However it’s not that good, not during Skype calls nor during anything else and it’s just there because it needs to be for a 2012 phone. It’s not necessarily bad, but we’ve seen better front facing cameras in our time. Still, it’s nice to have it as an option as we used it often for video calls when we were out and about (note Skype does not allow video on 3G on Android).
Furthermore, take a look at the pictures below, with a comparison of the Sony Xperia S (top row) versus the Nokia Lumia 800 (bottom row). The Sony Xperia S is easily better in High Light, Medium Light, but although colors are better on the Xperia, low light seems brighter on the Lumia 800.
Except for the HTC One X which has a quad-core processor, this is probably up there with the most powerful Android Phones on the market right now with a busty 1.5GHz Dual-Core processor. The results below also show that we aren’t crazy as the Xperia S was able to outscore the Galaxy Note and Samsung Galaxy S 2 in a few of the benchmarks we ran (though not all of them). On the Sony Xperia S, Sony have used their own Android Skin (something every OEM does) and it’s a very streamlined skin that’s surprisingly quick. Did we notice lag on the Xperia S? Yes, especially in relation to media but overall it was surprisingly zippy and fast as it generally did what we wanted. 3rd party apps ruin the experience overall as they’re still not in the league of ICS apps which are better and faster in every single way.
Let’s have a look at the Benchmarks though (all scores are stock, and without Overclocking):
As you can see, in Quadrant the Sony Xperia S easily was the best mobile phone there, surpassing even the Galaxy Tab Tablet. The Galaxy Note would actually rank higher on this chart, closer to the 4,000 region but that’s to be expected for it’s size and power as well.
In AnTuTu, the Xperia S narrowly beat out the Galaxy Note and Galaxy Nexus which meant the 1.5GHz dual core processors finally pushed through in the score. The Xperia S will obviously never beat the Transformer Prime which also has a Quad Core processor and is a tablet.
In NenaMark. The Xperia S was no match to the Galaxy S2, and probably even the Note which would be higher. NenaMark tests the graphical prowess of the device (shading, texture performance etc) and it seems that Sony didn’t exactly pump the graphics in the Xperia S. Despite this, it’s still in the upper half of devices.
What’s great is that the Sony Xperia S is able to hold it’s own in ‘most’ tests, but what worries us is that 2012 is the Quad-core year so the Xperia S is going to slowly drop lower down the list, despite being a new phone. As it is, overall it’s worse off than the Galaxy Note in most tests, and the Note has a slower processor and was released late last year. It’s good, but not great from Sony on the performance side.
Though we feel those of you who do get the device will be happy with it’s performance because it’s still one of the better phones, it’s just not the best nor will it ever be.
It’s worth noting that Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwitch was released 6 months before the Xperia S was released. And Sony though rushing this phone onto the market without ICS would be better. Well they’re wrong because once you’ve used ICS, Gingerbread (which it currently runs) feels sluggish, old and ugly. While it does run Gingerbread really well, it’s a pain to use because it’s a step back, 6 months on which is just shocking. Furthermore, Sony have said the ICS update won’t be available till Q2 of this year. What? That’s less of a reason to purchase this phone, and more of a reason to purchase HTC’s One X regardless of the price.
Furthermore, this phone is supposed to be Playstation Certified but it has no access to any PSN games and the feature is generally usless (unless you want to see your trophy score). In time we’re sure the Xperia S will get more access, but for now it’s more of a Gimmick and less of a feature. A cool feature we like is the main lock screen which not only displays your notification, but you can swipe that notification to the right to instantly jump into that feature (and iOS 5 like feature). It makes jumping around quicker. And the keyboard you might ask, is decent for an Android device. While it’s not that fun to tap away on it, it does have it’s own Swype like feature implemented in the phone which allows you to swipe around the keyboard. It’s an interesting addition and we like it much more than the keyboard which doesn’t exactly feel as nice to use as the iPhone’s.
The phone does however had NFC inbuilt, and it’s also sold with NFC chips which help you preset apps or settings and you can swipe the NFC chip against the phone and instantly access the setting. Useful, but not really sure how much we’d use it.
Battery life has generally been a concern on Android Phones and while it’s slightly better on the Xperia S, we feel that it really could have been better. We generally like to use our phones on max brightness and the Sony Xperia S excels at that – at the cost of the battery. We had to charge it every day, and a singly video on max brightness which was 40 minutes could zap nearly 10-15% of the battery. Normal day to day activities like Twitter and Facebook did seem to not affect the battery as much which made us think that the Bravia Engine option could be problematic (though we were never proven otherwise, Videos always ate up the battery). It did generally last me through a normal work day with medium use, but it most cetainly would have died before the end of the day with high usage.
Charging was also extremely slow but we suppose that was because we didn’t have the official charger from Sony so it could perhaps result in a different charge. It’s annoying that a standard Android phone’s battery doesn’t last as long as a Windows Phone or iPhone, but ICS certainly helps in that regards. Once we started closing background apps constantly we saw a vast improvement in battery life (those darn free apps and their battery sucking downsides).
Overall decent enough, but a bit disappointing with video watching.