There is a lot riding on the Xperia S, the first flagship Android phone from Sony Mobile.
By CHONG JINN XIUNG
THE Xperia S is the first smartphone from Sony after it parted ways from long-time partner Ericsson last year.
The separation gives Sony full control over the mobile phone design for the first time and it will be interesting to see the company's direction for its smartphones which starts with the Xperia S.
The Xperia S is a stylish phone with a piano black finish on the front and a cool transparent strip that lights up when the phone is in use. It has a distinct Bravia-like design and looks a little like a tiny TV.
Connectivity wise, it has the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, USB port for data transfer and charging, and micro HDMI out for displaying content on a HDTV.
The 4.3in screen is pretty and is powered by Bravia technology. It is reasonably bright, has nice colours and offers decent viewing angles. Also, it doesn't suffer from excessive reflections when used outdoors.
The screen has a high pixel density which made text appear crisp and readable even when they are tiny, and this is handy for browsing webpages.
There are small capacitive buttons at the bottom of the screen which are not particularly responsive. Usually we have to press the buttons several times before they registered any input.
Also, the build quality is good but the device is thicker than earlier Xperia models.
The Xperia S comes preloaded with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) instead of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).
It is a bit disappointing to be saddled with an outdated OS but Sony Mobile promises that the Xperia S will be getting an update for Ice Cream Sandwich in the future.
There are five homescreens with the Timescape theme and they are populated with lots of exclusive Sony widgets.
We are not big fans of widgets because they take up screen space but are still too small to display useful information.
However, if you don't like the widgets you can easily delete them.
Performance isn't too shabby thanks to the 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 1GB RAM. The processor may not be the fastest but we didn't encounter any significant slowdowns.
Also, the phone is capable of handling 3D graphics and fast paced games like Temple Run.
The phone's default web browser is fast at loading webpages and it supports Flash apps and games.
The phone has a few features exclusive to Sony devices like the ability to view content on a Bravia TV by "flicking" images and videos at it. It's a novel feature if not anything else.
The Xperia S is also PlayStation Certified but only in other countries which means the model sold here can't play classic PS games. Bummer.
Sony also has an interesting use for NFC (near field communication) - the phone works with devices called SmartTags to turn on/off functions in the phone.
For example, if you have a SmartTag in the car, it can be set to turn off WiFi and switch on Bluetooth to pair with your handsfree headset when you tap on it.
Or you can place it by your bedside and tap on it to mute the phone and turn on the alarm.
It's a handy feature to have but the Xperia S only comes with two SmartTags and you can't buy more. Also, we didn't get to test this feature because the review unit didn't come with any.
The phone has 32GB of internal storage which should be sufficient for storing most of your stuff. However, unlike most other Android phones you can't expand the storage space with a microSD memory card.
The device has a non-removeable 1,750mAh battery that can barely make it through an entire day unless the phone is used very frugally.
Most premium Android smartphones have an 8-megapixel camera but the Xperia S is even better - it has a 12.1-megapixel shooter.
The camera starts up in just 1.5 seconds from standby mode and it's the quickest we've encountered on a smartphone to date which makes it great for spontaneous shots.
The trade off, however, is that the camera may not have enough time to focus so some shots could be blur.
The camera has several handy modes including one for shooting long panoramas and another for automatically snapping a picture when the subject smiles.
The photo quality is nearly on par with a compact camera in terms of resolution but details appear soft and grainy when blown up due to strong noise reduction.
Low light performance is also poor as the phone struggled to get the right exposure and the built-in flash is not much help.
Still, if the camera is primarily used for snapping Facebook or Twitter pictures, it is more than sufficient.
The Xperia S is also capable of recording full HD videos and is reasonably good at it. It even has face detection so people's faces are properly exposed.
There is also image stabilisation but it only compensates for minor shakes.
Sony's first smartphone since it parted ways from Ericsson, the Xperia S, is a feature-packed premium Android smartphone.
It has an amazing screen, decent dual-core processor, fast 12.1-megapixel camera and some interesting Sony exclusive features.
The phone is also bundled with a couple of cool accessories such as SmartTags and LiveSound HiFi headset which lets you enjoy your music while on the go.
There are some minor issues - the capacitive buttons are not responsive enough, battery life is a little short and there is no support for classic PlayStation games here. It also doesn't ship with the latest Android OS but we are hoping Sony Mobile will fix this soon.
All in all, the Xperia S is a sleek smartphone that's worth a look if you are shopping for a feature-packed Android.
Pros: Nice 4.3in screen; good 12.1-megapixel camera with very fast startup time; SmartTags are handy.
Cons: Runs on an older OS; capacitive buttons are not responsive; poor battery performance; doesn't play classic PlayStation games.
NETWORK: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
DISPLAY: 4.3in (1,280 x 720-pixels)
CAMERA: 12.1-megapixel with autofocus, LED flash (rear), 1.3-megapixel (front)
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, WiFi, microUSB 2.0
MEMORY: 32GB built-in storage
EXPANSION SLOT: None
STANDBY/TALK TIME: 420 hours/8 hours
OTHER FEATURES: NFC, DLNA support, personal WiFi hotspot, HDMI out, TrackID music recognition, Timescape widgets, 3D Sweep Panorama, facial recognition, Smile Shutter
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 128 x 64 x 10.6mm
Review unit courtesy of Sony Mobile Malaysia, 1-800-88-7666