review Sony Ericsson has a lot riding on the Xperio neo, which arrived in Australia late last month. It’s the company’s most recent top-of-the-line handset, with a focus on an all-round great performance. The Xperia neo is available in Australia exclusively through Telstra.
Sony Ericsson has invested a lot of time in making the Xperia neo as sleek and modern-looking as possible. Colour-wise, and the neo comes with a (very) dark blue metallic tint, that in most light really comes across as being black. Interestingly, Sony has opted to make the standard Android back, home and menu buttons at the bottom of the front of the device physical — they’re not touch-sensitive like on most other Android phones coming out at the moment. Depending on your preference, you’ll either love them or hate them, but they match the style of the phone and the chrome look is suitable with the dark blue backing.
Down the right-hand side of the device is the power, volume and camera button; all of which are nicely set-back into the frame of the neo. They too, sport the chromium-style featured on the Android buttons which seems to match in nicely with the handset, but it does feel like the power button is set-back a little too deep — perhaps making it more prominent would make it easier to distinguish the button.
Intriguingly, rather than place the power button on the top of the phone in it’s traditional position, Sony Ericsson has opted to put the HDMI and USB port on top, and demote the power button to the side of the handset. Perhaps one of these could have gone on the side of the device? Having two on top feels a little cluttered, but credit to Sony Ericsson for making it still fit in well with the neo’s overall design.
Nit-pick time, and we’d have to say that once again, it seems Android handset manufacturers just can’t seem to settle on using the standard Android button layout. Sony Ericsson has decided not to include the search button found on most other Android handsets at all, and as seems to be the norm at the moment the buttons are in a different order to other handsets.
The frame of the phone is also a little hit and miss. It strikes us as perhaps looking a little ‘cheap’ when compared to the frames of others such as Apple’s iPhone 4 or the Samsung Galaxy S II — fingerprints show in the right light, and the plastic doesn’t feel quite as good as others in your hand.
Hardware & Performance
The neo’s speed was amongst the best we’ve seen so far from an Android handset — probably thanks to the 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor it boasts. Everything from loading apps to browsing lists is as quick and snappy as you’d expect and in most cases performed better than on the Nexus S. Once again the Xperia neo passed our Angry Birds test in style – performance was smooth, and it responded to input well.
A quick performance test using the Quadrant Android app showed quite reasonable results — it didn’t drop below 20fps during the animation test and averaged well above 50fps. According to Quadrant, it got a total score of 1674, topping the Nexus One, Motorola Droid, HTC Evo, Galaxy S and HTC Desire.
Storage-wise, and the phone comes with up to 320MB of internal storage, although our review unit had just 250MB of space remaining. Thankfully Sony Ericsson include an 8GB microSD card with the neo, and you can buy one up to 32GB in size.
The key selling point of the Xperia neo is the 8MP HD-capable camera situated on the rear of the device. Using the latest Exmor R mobile image sensor, Sony Ericsson is able to take some of the most stunning images we’ve seen from an Android smartphone in quite some time.
Sometimes we found the flash came on when it really wasn’t needed, and some images (depending on the situation) were a little whitewashed, but on the whole most images came out stunningly.
The neo is also one of the (very) few handsets available in Australia to support Telstra’s brand new HD voice calling — although we were unable to test this, because both handsets on a call need to support the standard. Telstra claims the standard is “clearer and sharper” than normal voice calls, but we’ll have to take their word on that for now.
The neo runs the latest version of Android for smartphones, 2.3 or “Gingerbread”. We’re not going to review that in this review, but what we will say is that for the most part, the changes Sony Ericsson has made to the open source OS are for the most part, quite good.
They’ve given the lock screen a bit of a makeover, making it more squarish to suit the phone’s design. Once unlocked, it’s clear that for the most part Sony Ericsson have stuck to making cosmetic changes to Google’s Android UI, rather than more substantial changes that HTC make with their Sense overlay.
It smartens up the neo, and certainly is a vast improvement on some of the vanilla version of Android’s UI features such as the menu and notification bar.
The neo also ships with a number of custom widgets, including a number of clocks, phone data and settings such as cell information, on or off backlight, bluetooth, GPS, sound, wi-fi and more.
You’re stuck with Telstra’s Android apps that are pre-installed on the phone including BigPond and Foxtel, as they can’t be easily removed, but that’s not a neo-specific problem.
And lastly Sony Ericsson have pre-installed a number of their own apps including Sync to keep phone contacts up to date, and TimeScape, which sits on the phone’s homescreen as a widget and allows you to quickly flick through Twitter or Facebook feeds. Unfortunately selecting an update takes you to the mobile Twitter website — there’s no native app available by default.
If you’re big on using your phone as a camera, you definitely can’t go past the neo without a second glance. The camera is brilliant in most situations, the 1GHz processor makes it snappy and very fast and yes, it passed the all-important Angry Birds test. Of course it’s not perfect, there’s some things that could be improved for any future neo devices, but for now it’s a comprehensive Android device well worth a look.
The Xperia neo is available in Australia exclusively through Telstra.
Image credit: Sony Ericsson