Sony’s Xperia S is an Android smartphone that launched amidst a group of premium smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy S III and the HTC One X. That’s a big group to be a part of, except this handset is stuck somewhere in the middle between what would’ve been great last year and what stands out this year. With nice aesthetics, clean lines and good specs, this is a really good phone, but unfortunately, there are a couple of shackles attached to it that keep it from being even better.
First the specs: with a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 processor, 1GB of RAM, 4.3-inch 720p display, 32GB of storage and 12-megapixel camera, the Xperia S is no slouch. Crafted from one piece of polycarbonate and a slick-looking lightbar at the bottom, this is meant to be a stylish phone with some power under the hood. There are a few things missing, however.
The screen, while reasonably tough, isn’t made of Gorilla Glass, so it’s going to be more susceptible to scratches. There’s no microSD card slot to expand the device’s storage. And lastly, the phone also runs on Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread, which is fast becoming an aged version of Google’s operating system. That’s not to say that the phone isn’t upgradeable, as some parts of the world already have the luxury of moving up to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s just that Sony and Rogers haven’t let it happen in Canada yet. More on that in a bit.
The design of the phone is meant to be sleek and functional, but it does come with some drawbacks. The back cover does come off, though only to access the micro SIM card, since there is no microSD card slot and the battery isn’t removable. The lightbar at the bottom is probably one of those things you’ll either like or not care for. The bar just lights up the corresponding buttons above for the home, menu and back buttons, which have tactile feedback when you touch them.
There is a mini-HDMI port hidden behind a cover latch, and the same goes for the microUSB port on the other side. The volume buttons and a dedicated camera button are just under the HDMI port.
The screen is just beautiful to look at, mainly because it has a higher pixel density than other phones. Watch a video, play a game or just browse through photos, and you can appreciate the crispness. Unfortunately, there are a couple of things missing. First, Sony didn’t include automatic brightness, so it doesn’t adjust to the lighting around you. Second, the viewing angle is narrow, so tilt the phone a little bit, and colours aren’t as saturated or vibrant. This doesn’t prove to be too much of an issue, since you’re looking at the phone directly, but it is something to take note of.
The lack of automatic brightness directly affects battery life, which is not great. It’s one thing if video or gaming taxes the battery, but it’s another when basic usage starts whittling it down, too. You can expect that you would probably have to charge the Xperia S every day, and even a full charge might not last the whole day, either.
General usage for the phone is good, but not great, though I’m more inclined to blame Gingerbread for that.
Despite the processing power in the Xperia S, the phone isn’t quite as responsive as it could be, and typing messages can sometimes be annoying because of the little delays in recognizing what you’re typing. Again, with Gingerbread showing its age, it always had some issues with response time, so perhaps with Ice Cream Sandwich, there could’ve been a very different experience that way on this device.
The 12-megapixel camera is one of the best you’ll find on a smartphone. Hold the shutter button on the side while the phone is asleep and you can snap a photo in a second or two. It’s one of the quickest actions I’ve seen for a camera, and the overall performance should leave you satisfied with the results. It’s a bit more noisy than, say, the iPhone 4S or the Nokia Lumia 900, but it focuses quickly and does a better job of white balancing in lower-light conditions. Using this as your day-to-day camera should yield some excellent shots for a smartphone.
The Xperia S doesn’t have LTE, which seems strange for a device that has all the right specs for it. But then again, with battery life already being what it is, LTE would’ve cut that down even more. At that point, the phone may have only lasted five hours on one charge, whereas you can expect about six to eight right now.
And then, of course, there’s the lack of Ice Cream Sandwich. When the phone was first released, Sony had made clear that it would be upgradeable. The problem is that Rogers has to approve, too. So far, they haven’t jumped onboard with carriers in other parts of the world to roll out the update. Installing ICS on the Xperia S would actually help it reach its true potential, since it’s supposed to be a premium device with the right specs to make good use of a smoother OS.
The uncertainty over when Rogers will actually allow for the upgrade is a cloud that hangs over this device. As good as it is, in some respects, it’s still tied down by Gingerbread, which is arguably its biggest weakness after battery life. If the battery could perform a little better under ICS, an upgrade would improve the device on both fronts, though this is purely speculative, since I haven’t been able to test the Xperia S with any build of ICS.
The Xperia S isn’t available at Future Shop, but is available from Sony for $499.99 without a contract (though it’s locked to Rogers).
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