The Sony Xperia S is the first high-end smartphone destined for the UK to be released under the independent Sony brand, rather than the now defunct Sony Ericsson name. Recently unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the Android-based Xperia S has won considerable admiration and has a solid, attractive design which oozes quality, with impressive specs and features. The 10-year partnership with Ericsson seems to have imparted a keen set of design principles to Sony, culminating in this flagship device that has generated enormous excitement.
Understandably, the Xperia S has caused a huge splash across the pond and will no doubt be high on the wish list of British consumers when it arrives in the UK this March. Mobile networks 3, O2, Orange and T-Mobile have confirmed they will offer Xperia S mobile phone contracts, including Phones4U who will enjoy exclusivity on the white model. Prices and network tariffs have yet to be divulged, but expect an aggressive pricing policy as Sony desperately needs to attract consumers to its new smartphone range. Availability on Vodafone and Virgin is unknown but it seems inevitable they will carry it.
The most impressive feature of the Xperia S is the sublime 4.3-inch screen which boasts a 720 x 1280 resolution display. The pixel density is spectacular at 342 ppi, even surpassing the once class-leading 326 ppi of the iPhone 4S. That should mean text is rendered crisply and will be easy to read. As mobiles go, it’s among the largest smartphones on the market but not as colossal as the Samsung Galaxy Note.
The Xperia S packs a considerable punch – it can play and shoot 1080p HD movies with ease thanks to a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU and 1 GB of built-in memory, which is almost standard these days. Sony has put substantial effort into the camera and included decent quality optics; a 12-megapixel Exmor R sensor on the rear is considered top end in today’s mobiles and the sample shots appear to do it justice. Pictures can be taken up to 4,000 x 3,000 pixels in size, which should be more than enough for amateur photo enthusiasts. The lower resolution 1.3 MP front camera is suitable for video calls.
Somewhat disappointing is that it comes preloaded with the outdated Android 2.3 – Gingerbread – which doesn’t support the most up to date capabilities. Fortunately, Sony has promised that Android 4.0 – Ice Cream Sandwich – will be available later in 2012. Many people won’t really appreciate the difference but there is a sizeable tech-savvy audience who demand the best and most recent OS.
The Xperia S also has 32 GB of storage space, HDMI video output and built-in NFC (Near Field Communications) support, which should make it compatible with future E-wallet payment schemes. Weighing in at just 144 grams, it’s a shade heavier than the iPhone 4S but nearly 30g more than the Galaxy S2, however this does enhance the overall feeling of quality. Furthermore the unusual touch-sensitive, illuminated transparent strip across the front distinguishes the Xperia from other models, but it has divided opinion somewhat.
In terms of connectivity, the Xperia has all the expected capabilities such as high speed HSPA support, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
To accompany the Xperia, Sony has released a range of innovative and possibly useful accessories it’s calling Smart Extras. The first of these is the Smart Wireless Headset Pro – a bluetooth-enabled headset that includes a small receiver to display important notifications such as emails, messages and other alerts.
The second is the SmartWatch. Apart from simply telling the time, the watch links wirelessly with the Xperia to display alerts, and can run special apps downloaded from the Android Market. It will be interesting to discover what inventive uses the watch brings, and the range of apps available. Sony is obviously trying to push the boundaries and come up with unique ways to tie customers into the Android ecosystem.
Perhaps the accessories with the most potential are SmartTags – tiny NFC devices which can automatically activate preset profiles on the Xperia based on proximity. It’s not hard to imagine the novel applications for SmartTags that Sony and others may come up with, and could be an interesting idea if it catches on.
The Outlook for Sony
The Xperia S needs to make a major splash in the UK and international markets such as the US, if Sony is to re-establish itself as a major smartphone player. To this end, late in 2011, Sony bought out Ericsson’s 50% share in Sony Ericsson and subsequently dropped the Ericsson label. This was a quite bold and unexpected move, but Sony will have its work cut out to establish a premium brand image and capture the public’s imagination, besides competing head to head with rivals including Apple, Samsung, and HTC.
The Xperia S is intended to spearhead Sony’s renewed assault on the UK smartphone market and could be a force to be reckoned with. Now the gloves are off, and if the Xperia is representative of what’s to come, Sony just might have the big boys worried.
Let’s just hope that Ice Cream Sandwich arrives quickly, or the Xperia’s impact could fizzle out prematurely.