Sony Xperia S review
So the Sony and Ericsson affair has finally ended and the mobile tech world is waiting for Sony to reveal its pure blood offspring the way they would for the next pope. What Sony has released from its labs is far from anything that resembles a PlayStation-loving teenager. Carrying a 4.3” HD screen under a piano black glass that is mounted on a polycarbonate black-matte body, they have sent out a man in an Armani suit.
Design and Construction
The Xperia S is more on squares and curves and less on lines compared to the Arc S. Sony’s designers could have gone with the flat back but instead opted for a curved one, making it more appealing to the hands (reminds us of the Xperia X10 too).
One thing that is definitely noticeable with the Xperia S is the transparent strip below the display which gives off a cool white glow. At first I thought it’s just for aesthetic purposes but later realized that it actually holds the phone’s antenna strip inside.
Located on the left side is the microUSB / charging port while on the right side are the micro HDMI port camera and volume button. Right up on top is the sleep/wake button. It is worth mentioning that the external buttons are made of brushed metal, which is less likely to discolor or fade compared to its chromed counterparts.
When the phone is inside my pocket, its slim form factor had me feeling it out every now and then just to make sure that it is still there. Probably because I’m more accustomed to thicker phones. Although I would not advise keeping the Xperia S inside shallow pockets. The phone’s tall frame may slide off or easily get snatched.
Even with its polycarbonate body, the Xperia S gives an ample weight that makes it feel solid yet comfortable to hold. The build quality is certainly better compared to the SE Arc handsets but not the design.
The Xperia S comes loaded with Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread under the Timescape skin with five home screens for your favorite widgets and shortcuts. The home screen also has neat feature called Overview which allows you to view all your shortcuts and widgets from all five home screens with just a pinch gesture then just tap on the one that you like for quicker navigation.
Opening the app drawer brings out a 4×5 grid of apps which you can rearrange and delete with just a simple tap of another button. Sony has also managed to add animated themes but they’re all the same swirl effects that comes in 7 different colors. I was never a fan of skinned Androids but Sony’s version looks elegant and works well with the device.
Overall, the UI is really attractive, smooth and responsive even with lightest of touch. As a person who values functionality over aesthetics, this is good enough for me. I just hope that it won’t take long before Sony pushes the Ice Cream Sandwich update to give the Xperia S the justice it deserves.
At 342 pixels per inch, the Xperia S packs a denser display than that of the iPhone 4S, which is at 330 ppi. With the help of the Mobile BRAVIA Engine and the ability to pop out 16 million+ colors, the images and videos come out more vibrant with high level of detail, while the icons and widgets appear glossy and sharp.
Sunlight legibility is good. Under direct sunlight most of your view will be obstructed by your fingerprints and glare but I can still manage to read text messages and navigate the phone with no hiccups.
I’m not quite sure if Sony is playing the megapixel mind game with the Sony Xperia S but if you’re planning to hook this up on your beloved HD TV so you can view your images and 1080p videos, then the 12.1 megapixel shooter on the Xperia S is a justified fact. As an added treat, this sleek device has the capability to shoot simulated 3D images. I say simulated since dual-lenses are needed to capture images in real 3D, the Xperia S only has one. Either way, this is good for those with 3D TVs.
You can see more photos here in the gallery (raw files).
Like what we mentioned in our first impressions, the camera has a fast shutter speed that can produce clear and crisp images especially under bright conditions. But in a dimly lit environment, Sony’s Exmor R CMOS sensor experiences some difficulty when it comes to focusing. There were a few times when I have to focus twice before I take a shot, making me lose some precious moments. Another problem is taking photos under yellow light like in restaurants or cafes, the camera makes the photo even very yellowish even with the flash on. There’s some color over-saturation in occasional instances.
The Xperia S can also shoot full HD videos at 1080p resolution. You can check out the sample video below:
Low-light performance when recording videos is very good as shown in this sample video below (recorded the same scene with the iPhone 4S and the difference is significant).
For the front-facing camera, even at 1.3MP it is a little disappointing. It is sluggish at times and even under bright conditions, image noise is very evident. The iPod Touch 4th Gen’s front camera performs even better. Of course, the front camera is designed for video calls and as an emergency mirror to make sure that your nose is clean.
The Xperia S’s display can be fully utilized when playing HD videos like the samples that come with the phone. Sony included a movie trailer and a sample video that shows the playback capability and display quality of the Xperia S. The videos look stunning and has this certain level of vibrancy that watching it too close will almost hurt the eyes.
The 4.3 inch wide display is was put there for a reason, and one of them is to make sure that watching videos would be a great experience. The Xperia S can play MP4 files very well including videos in MKV format with no stutters or skips. It managed to play an AVI file smoothly but with no audio. It was a bit of a letdown for me since most of my video collections are in AVI but installing a video-playing app such as MX Video Player did the trick.
Music playback is not a chore with the Xperia S. I just simply drag and drop the MP3 files to the phone’s music folder and it’s ready to play. You can also choose from 8 equaliser presets to suit your listening preferences. Viewing album art covers on the Xperia S is also a visual treat which makes playing of songs more enticing. No album cover art and info? That wouldn’t be a problem since the music app can download album art and track information via Gracenote and update your music files right away.
Sounds coming from the speaker is clear and very audible but I find the bass lacking but Sony’s xLoud technology does a very good job in enhancing it. Although sometimes I still find myself cupping a hand behind the phone to be able to hear more. On the other hand, playing tunes with xLoud turned off seems like listening to a faint, distant sound, so may I suggest that you keep it on. What I hate though is the speaker placement which is right smack at the back. Place it on your bed or any surface that can muffle the speaker and you’ll find xLoud or any sound almost useless.
Aside from the smooth and responsive system, the Xperia S got really high marks in a number of benchmarks we run on unit. Antutu benchmark gave it a nice 6,308 points while in Quadrant Standard, it was able to hit as high as 3,197 besting the Galaxy Nexus by a wide margin (as shown in the chart below).
On the other hand, the Nenamark 2 benchmark showed 37.5fps and considering the high resolution of the screen, this is already very good.
Over-all, the Xperia S got one of the best benchmark results we’ve ever seen in a handset. These are just figures but they somewhat help us give a better idea when comparing other similarly spec’ed phones.
All that HD display, BRAVIA engine, xLoud tech, and dual-core processing power, surely won’t come without paying a price. The Xperia S drains down the 1750 mAh battery like a drunk Russian would with a Vodka.
With regular use such as texting, a few minutes of calls, some picture taking, and Facebook browsing, I ended the day with 62% battery. With Wifi on with almost no calls and texts, just casual Facebook and Twitter browsing, got me a day and half. With Wifi off and virtually no calls or texts, it managed to last 3 days. But when boredom kicks in, that’s when the battery really suffers, Wifi on, texting, calls, photo shoots, music, a movie, and some gaming, got me down to 20% before it even got dark outside.
So far I haven’t experienced running on an empty tank with the Xperia S. With its USB charging capabilities I can just plug it into a computer or laptop and it will juice up pretty quickly. The battery is not removable, meaning you can’t buy an extra battery for it. So if you’re planning to go heavy on this phone during the day, may I suggest charging it to full capacity before leaving the house or bring the charger with you.
Support for Apps
Getting apps for the Xperia S is no problem thanks to the Android app store, which has been recently rebranded to Google Play. Inside Google Play you will find Sony’s app catalog containing Sony apps that you can use to maximize the Xperia’s functionality such as vscreens photo sharing and LiveKey Camera app.
Thanks to the hardware I can run whatever games and other apps I throw at it without a hint of struggle from the phone. Thanks to the huge screen and amazing display quality, I’ve never seen Angry Birds and Temple Run so vibrant.
The Xperia S also comes with pre-installed apps that is pretty much useless for my everyday needs such as Football Downloads, appXtra and McAfee Security which constantly bugs me to register so I can use it. It’s like being served 5-star cutlery in a fast food restaurant. The good thing though that most of it can be uninstalled. Given a few days your app drawer will be pretty much filled according to your tastes.
No doubt that Sony put its best foot forward in releasing their first Sony-only phone. Designed with the BRAVIA concept in mind, the Xperia S is a half-phone-half-HDTV device, aimed at solidifying its solo-name brand.
Do I want this phone? The high-resolution wide HD display, the 12.1 MP camera, 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, and the slick design? Definitely! But like any other smartphone out there, the Xperia S is far from perfect. Sony didn’t include a microSD slot for memory expansion. If you’re heavy on apps, music, high-res photos and videos, you’ll find the 32GB internal memory insufficient. The speaker placement is also frustrating since I have to make sure that it isn’t muffled when I put it down on a soft surface and I don’t like the idea of laying my phone face down just so I can hear my tunes better. And finally, the battery. Like a sedan with a Hummer engine, the Xperia S is one juice guzzler.
But if you really want this phone, you’ll certainly survive the few cons and will be able to work your way around it. With a suggested retail price of Php27,900, it’s a little bit on the expensive side. It could have been a really strong contender against the Galaxy S2 had the Xperia S came out earlier. In the end though, everything boils down to personal preference, but we can say that the Sony Xperia S is one smartphone to consider.
Sony Xperia S LT26i specs:
4.3-inch HD Reality Display @ 1280×720 pixels, 344ppi
Mobile Bravia Engine
Snapdragon S3 1.5GHz dual-core processor
1.5GB built-in storage
32GB external storage (non-removable)
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA
GPS w/ aGPS support
12.1MP Exmor R rear camera
1080p video recording
1.3MP front facing camera
720p video recording
Li-Ion 1750mAh battery
Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread
What we liked about the handset:
* fast and responsive
* beautiful screen, very high pixel density
* great camera
* large built-in storage
What we did not like about the handset:
* a little chunky, could have been thinner
* slow Bluetooth chip
* no option for expandable storage
* non-removable battery
Editor’s Note: Original reporting/review by Louie Diangson with additional details and photos by Abe Olandres.
Disclosure: We received 2 units of the Sony Xperia S. One is from Widget City which is also a display banner advertiser on this site. The second hanset is from Sony Mobile Philippines which gave us this unit for free.