So Sony has finally rid itself of Ericsson for its phone division, and the first flagship phone of this new Sony brand is the Sony Xperia S. With a high resolution screen and fancy 12-megapixel camera, it should be a contender for our favourite Android phone, but to our minds it hasn't quite done enough.
The first slip-up is the design. When we first saw the Xperia S back at CES in January we were quite taken with its quirky styling but upon second look we're not so sure. The clear slice of plastic that runs underneath the screen still has a certain funky appeal but the rest of the handset elicits little more than a shrug from us – it's just some phone.
There are gaps running round the edge of the backplate, there are plastic flaps covering some of the ports, and just generally it doesn't look or feel as premium as we'd like. It doesn't help that we have the white model here, which doesn't quite feel coherent with its contrasting matt white plastic back and glass black front – and the gaps show up even more on white – but even the black model we suspect would lack a certain something.
The silly thing is that Sony was so close to getting it right. The matt finish looks and feels nice, the features on the back are carefully arranged in a single tidy line and again that clear plastic section is a nice touch. It also feels good in the hand. Despite having a 4.3in screen, the whole phone feels manageable and the gentle curve of the back makes it reasonably comfortable – though we'd prefer slightly more rounded corners.
As to that clear section, embedded within it are three white icons to indicate the touch sensitive buttons above (each marked by tiny white dots in their centre) but more importantly, from its depths flows light. Get a call, message notification, or just put the phone on charge and it will glow – it's fun.
However, those touch sensitive buttons, while allowing the front face of the phone to be super minimalist, aren't the most practical choice. Not only does it take quite a bit of time to get used to aiming at the dots and not the white icons, but responsiveness - even when hitting the right spot - isn't great. We regularly found ourselves poking away at the same spot to get a response.
At the other end of the vast expanse of black that makes up the front of this phone is the earpiece and the sharper than usual 1.3MP front facing camera that can record video at 720p HD quality – for the best in pimple peeping video calls.
Explaining the gaps round its edges, the back plate slides off to reveal the SIM slot and… nothing else. No expandable memory via a microSD slot and no removable battery. Quite why Sony felt the need to make the whole back removable for the sake of swapping a SIM card is anybody's guess. You can also pull off the little section that covers the bottom of the phone, but there's nothing to find under there. You get a decent 32GB of inbuilt storage but the lack of a memory slot will be a killer blow for many.
Round the edges is a rather better selection of features. The right houses the camera button, volume rocker, and microHDMI socket (instant TV playback is go.. once you buy a microHDMI cable) while the left has the microUSB charging port. Sadly both microUSB and microHDMI are covered by cumbersome plastic flaps that really detract from the usability and the look – when you have to charge a smartphone every night, why cover the charging port?
Another minor slipup to our minds is the power/screen lock button. Situated on the top edge along with the headphone jack, it's difficult to reach when operating the phone with one hand. It's not as bad as some even larger phones but with more and more handsets sensibly placing this button on the side, where it's easy to reach, Sony's choice seems more regrettable.