Web browsing is a breeze on the Sony Ericsson Neo thanks to an easy to use web browser with full flash support. As ever flash video can slow things down quite a bit but playback is generally smooth, and at least the option's there.
We're also impressed by the email client which includes a landscape mode that splits the screen into two panels – one for the open message and one for the full list of messages – allowing you to control the size of each panel. This makes it just that bit easier to quickly scan through a long list of emails.
Sony Ericsson has added a few other apps including a music ID service that will pick out what track's playing from listening through the microphone, a media discovery app which pulls links to music and video services from your social network feeds, and the PlayNow store that gives you access to premium games and other multimedia content. In other words, all stuff that we seldom found ourselves using. One feature we did like, though, is the LiveWire Manager that lets you define what app to launch when you either plug in the charger, a headset or a set of headphones – very neat.
An increasingly important use for smartphones is keeping up with watching your video collection and while the screen on the Neo is up to the task, the media player doesn't cut it, failing to play divx and avi files. This will simply be a bit of a pity for some but a deal breaker for others, then again only the high Samsung Galaxy (such as the Samsung Galaxy S II) phones really stand out as being able to play anything and everything.
Capturing video of your own, however, is a breeze thanks to the excellent rear camera. Easily launched with a press of the camera button, it will capture decent looking 720p HD video in a flash, and there's face recognition onboard as well. As for stills, it again performs very well, easily matching and generally out performing the majority of 8 megapixel phone models on the market. The only major bugbear is the somewhat underpowered LED flash, though this is significantly countered by the presence of a camera button.
Battery life and call quality both conformed to our expectations of an Android smartphone in so much as they were okay. A couple of days of light use is how long it'll last between charges while the calling experienced revealed a somewhat weedy tone but more than adequate volume and clarity.
The Sony Ericsson Neo doesn't set any new records but with a price of just over £300 SIM free, it's not likely to. Indeed with key features like a high-res screen, a camera button, and front facing camera, it's very well equipped for its calibre. However, while clearly reasonably competitively priced, it’s currently a little more expensive than the HTC Desire S, which is a much classier looking phone, so we might be tempted by that alternative. If and when the price drops below £300, though, it'll be well worth a look.