Review: Sony's Xperia S Thrives In Quad-Core Shadows
By Tony Ibrahim | Monday | 16/04/2012
Sony's Xperia S comes with a feature-set akin to the heavy weight flagships of yester-year, so why is it all the better for it?
For a smartphone distinguished by a 4.3 inch screen, the Xperia S is a giant. It stands as tall as Samsung's Galaxy Nexus, and that's big considering the latter has a larger 4.65 inch screen.
Despite the smaller screen, the Xperia S manages to condense the same 720x1280 resolution which endows it with an unmatched 342 pixels per inch. Although scarcely noticeable during day-to-day operations, its precision shines when it comes to apps/games that require more than the usual finesse. The popular game DrawSomething is one that comes to mind.
It has a curved back that does feel natural to hold; however, abrupt corners prevent it from feeling as ergonomic and the Galaxy Nexus.
Other than that though, it radiates character: its matte plastic cover isn't tainted by smudgy fingerprints; volume, camera shutter and power keys are also matte and are comfortable to use; a single, transparent strip breaks the display from the base and glows during phone calls and interactions, while its black screen resembles an endless abyss, camouflaging with the bezel.
My only gripe is the transparent stripâ€”which acts as the phone's antennaeâ€”doesn't assume the responsibilities of the LED notification light. The pulsating light draws you to the phone, ensures it is uniquely special, and would add to its provocative charm if it was triggered from everything between a missed call to a Facebook poke. Instead, Sony relies on a single multi-coloured LED indicator located at the top of the phone.
Small gripes aside, the Xperia S is elegantly understated; adhering to a design philosophy that will ensure it maintains its charisma over the course of a phone contract.
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The Xperia S uses Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and will eventually benefit from an Ice Cream Sandwich update. It's a shame Sony couldn't release the phone with 4.0 (Ice cream sandwich) as the efficient OS and many innovations would've reaped rewards.
Headlining the NXT range of Sony smartphones, the Xperia S is dressed with Sony's unmistakable rendition of Android, distinguished by evolutionary attributes. For starters, the dial-pad has undergone a sensible makeover, while the browser endures some cosmetic tweaking. The software is dressed in a consistently attractive theme, savvy in social communication and intuitively learns user habits.
When Sony first started making Android smartphones, its Timescape software was a big draw. The graphic-intensive application would chronologically tie in social communications, messages, emails and multimedia. However over time, native Android applications have matured and prove Timescape redundant.
Timing plays a big role in the success of a smartphone and the Xperia S spawns amidst a difficult climate: smartphones are coming out with Android 4.0 and quad-core processors, of which the Xperia has neither.
Its 2.3 variant of Android is powered by a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM and benefits from 32GB of internal memory. Although not on the cutting-edge side of processors, it competently handles the software with a sense of urgency and rarely succumbs to lag. In plain, the fact this phone has a dual-core processor and not a quad-core isn't reason enough to not buy it.
With the screen donning HD resolution and employing beneficial BRAVIA software, the Xperia S relies on its 1,750 mAh battery. With the vibrant display suckling 40 or so per cent of the battery, the Xperia S manages roughly one day of charge.
On the front of the Xperia S is a 1.3MP front facing camera capable of 720p videos at 30fps. Although a capable video conferencing camera, the dazzling star is its 12MP rear cam. It features a mobile version of the company's Exmor R sensor; technology inspired by its pro camera range that helps find light in conditions lacking it. The tech is particularly proficient during twilight, capturing the setting sun's tonal gradations with striking colours and seamless clarity. With the brightness up, viewing photos on the screen genuinely inspires awe.
Photos in good lighting continue the blissful tradition, deeming the cameraâ€”and not the processorâ€”as the phone's big draw. It also articulately renders mid-shots at night, but the single LED flash lacks the virility needed for long range pics.
The camera captures Full HD video at 30fps with great clarity, and uses a variety of software tools to produce footage free from distorting shake and incomprehensible blur. For the most part, its efforts are successful, but it does falter from time to time when you try to capture rapid motion.
The audio track complementing these recordings is far more sensitive to sound than most of the Xperia's rivals, perceptively recognising subtle audio cues that other phones would simply overlook.
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|Test Pic: 9MP, good conditions|
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|Test Pic: 9MP, Low Light|
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|Test Pic: 9MP, Twilight|
The music software used by the Xperia S is a radical deviation from the standard Android suite. It alternates between a 'Playing' tab and a 'My Music' tab.
The last time Sony tinkered with an Android's phone software (X10's Mediascape) it was crippled by incessant lag and dragged the phone's overall performance down. When I learned the company gave music customisation another crack I cringed, worried the Xperia S would meet the same fate as its forefather.
Fortunately my concerns were unfounded as the music player is not only spiffy, aesthetically appealing and easy to navigate, but it retains the same webcentric charm offered by Sony's Infinite button. It caters to a vast variety of music formats and feeds rich sound to high end headphones and speakers. If anything, the revamped music player contributes to the phone's allure and is yet another incentive that'll attract customers to the Xperia S.
The Xperia S is testament to Sony's philosophy of prioritising the 'Xperience', building the S from finger-print free materials, including a quick charge battery and endowing it with receptive touch sensitivity. These little traits, often neglected when it comes to spec sheets, do make using the S more enjoyable.
It's a great looking smartphone that has wits to match, and will undoubtedly make a worthy day-to-day companion. Although its spec-sheet consists of yester-year's highlights, at $579 it's a very attractive buy and rates high on the bang-for-buck scale.
Apr/May 2011 issue
reviews the hot new iPhone attach device, the Zeppelin Air. And we look at what's going on in the tablet space...