Sony Xperia S

Sunday, 4 March 2012 0 comments
Sony Xperia S ReviewSony is starting fresh after 10 years of marriage with Ericsson, and thus the Xperia S marks a whole lot of firsts for it. It is the first handset branded simply “Sony”, as well as the first with the new “Iconic Identity” design of the renamed Xperia NXT line.

That’s the big picture, but the device itself also consists of elements that have never been in a Sony smartphone, like an HD display, multicore chipset and microSIM card slot.

Sony Xperia S ReviewMost would be satisfied with so many firsts, but not Sony - it also gave the handset a very capable 12MP Exmor R sensor on the back, and hopefully started a trend by shipping it with the generous 32GB of internal memory.

Did the company succeed to raise the bar with its first Sony phone, something that it badly needs to drum up excitement around the new Xperia line, or is the Xperia S plagued by the typical for such initial efforts teething problems? Read on to find out...

In the box:

  • Wall charger
  • microUSB cable
  • Warranty and information leaflets
  • Sony in-ear headset

The phone looks like a boxy slab, especially our black review version, yet it weighs close to the iPhone 4S, and when picked provides a firm grip precisely because of the sharp edges. It still offers the slightly curved back of the former Xperias for added grip comfort, but its matte plastic is a bit slippery, so the phone not being overly thin as some other anorexic handsets helps to grip it tight. 

The phone looks like a boxy slab and provides a firm grip when picked
The back cover of the Xperia S get blotched really quickly - Sony Xperia S Review
The back cover of the Xperia S get blotched really quickly - Sony Xperia S Review
The back cover of the Xperia S get blotched really quickly
Sony says it has covered the Xperia S in dirt-repellent nanocoating, but the back actually gets blotched really quickly with skin grease even if you don’t peruse it along with chicken fingers. The stains tend to stubbornly stay even if you wipe it afterwards, until they dry out, and the back is also prone to microscopic scratches from everything but a mirror surface. The boxy phone has this rugged good looks, though, so no biggy. 

Sony has gone with the narrower but more elongated design that first appeared in the Xperia arc, and which we very much appreciate, as it allows your thumb to reach almost everywhere on the screen, despite its 4.3” size. Even if your hands are not as large, you’ll still be able to navigate fairly comfortably the interface with one hand, compared to most other big-screen phones that come wider.

Speaking of one-handed operation, the Xperia S offers good weight distribution, without the most of it concentrated in the upper part around the camera module, as is so often the case. Thus we weren’t worried that it might tip over when we push it up a bit to press the three capacitive Android buttons under the display. 

We had a ho-hum experience with these buttons - the transparent strip that is a trademark of the new Xperia line lights up with the Android navigation symbols like a back arrow or home, but the keys are three teeny-tiny dots above the respective icon lit up in the strip, and are very easy to miss. You have to tap precisely on the miniature dot, and they are not very responsive to boot, making us tap two or three times to register an action very often.

The camera and speaker on the Back             The touch Keys Below the Screen

The illuminated strip
There is no arguing that the transparent illuminated strip is a thing of beauty, though, and the contrast with the edgy black slab when it lights up leaves a very futuristic impression, which Sony has been aiming for with the “Iconic Identity” design. The firm says that this strip, which also houses the antenna parts for improved reception, is meant to emphasize the screen part above it, which deserves separate attention.

Looking around the sides we barely notice any buttons and ports, since they are in the color of the chassis, and the microUSB and microHDMI ports are covered with protective flaps with the same paint too. These flaps were another small gripe we had with the design - they are pretty hard to pry open, especially if you are the nail-biting type, and even harder to push back in, but they should break in with time.

The volume rocker and the two-stage camera key on the right, as well as the lock/power button at the top are distinct to find and tactile. We wish that Sony placed the volume rocker top right under our thumb, instead of putting the HDMI port there, which is not used as often. The rocker in the middle of the right side now tends to be operated with the thumb joint instead of the tip.
The USB port on the left                        The right side 
The 3.5mm jack and power button are on the top 

Sony Xperia S Review
 We have the largest display Sony has every placed in a phoneon the Xperia S as another “first”. It is 4.3”, and will be beat only by AT&T’s Xperia Ion as far as the Sony stable is concerned. As a sign of the times, the HD display is of 720x1280 pixels of resolution, and is worth every penny the company paid for it to be made. 

The LCD screen is bright, with popping colors, and viewing angles that barely degrade the image all the way up to 10/170 degrees. Sony has included its Mobile BRAVIA engine that boosts colors and contrast while watching media, which can be turned off. The touch layer is very responsive and registers even the slightest finger tap.

Brightness is above average, so outside visibility will only be an issue if the sun shines directly onto it. We are still taken aback by such a high pixel density, despite already reviewing a few phones with HD displays - the amount of detail still manages to wow us. Maybe it’s because in the Sony Xperia S we have 342 ppi pixel density, one of the highest of all HD mobile screens, since most others are bigger. Crisp small text, no icon jaggies, great readability even for zoomed-out websites - HD displays are definitely the way to go, and the Xperia S has a good one.
Interface and functionality:

The UXP NXT interface (from “next user experience”) boasts some visual and functionality changes from its predecessor. The home screens now have a new “colorful flow background”, which is basically a live wallpaper that takes advantage of the HD screen and the powerful processor. The coloring scheme is not utterly blue by default anymore, as there is a nice grey canvass background when you enter default apps, settings, or pull the notification bar, contrasting with the neon blue font used there, which can almost fool you the handset is running ICS. 

The widgets are also now with transparent grey for a background, but there are hardly any additional ones compared with the previous UX interface. The biggest novelty is the Recommender app which has its own default widget, listing curated apps to check out, as well as what your social networking buddies are listening to, watching, or downloading. 
The UXP NXT interface of the Xperia S
The connectivity switch widget has been slightly overhauled to rotate and become bigger when you tap on it, allowing you to easily select which radio to turn on/off. There is a new Power Saver widget as well, for easy access to tweak the saving mode that automatically kicks in when your battery falls below 25%. You can time it now as well, telling it to come on when you go to bed, and exit Power Saver when you wake up, for instance.

Nothing new in the main menu - the same nice transparent page backgrounds and pretty app icons that can be arranged alphabetically, by the most used and so on. The dialer is more compact now, and the numbers contrast nicely to its grey background. 
There is nothing new in the main menu

The default apps like messaging or calendar haven’t changed much except for the grey/neon blue coloring scheme we mentioned. The on-screen keyboard that pops up when you are trying to write a message is well-spaced, but in portrait mode our fat fingers kept pressing the wrong key, so we usually turned it in landscape, but we guess you get better with time.

Overall UXP NXT looks more streamlined, less flashy, runs smooth as silk and bets on nice gradients and transitional animations. 

The default apps haven't changed much

The Xperia S, which sports 1GB of RAM, certainly takes a good advantage of the 1.5GHz Snapdragon S3with Adreno 220 GPU to pretty up the interface. You can see its benchmark performance in the video below, if framerates and Browsermark scores are your thing. 

Sony Xperia S benchmark tests

The handset scored a bit over 3000 on the new Quadrant, which now accounts for multicore chipsets, north of 6400 on AnTuTu, and the GPU eked about 38fps on NenaMark 2 - all in all, decent results, and about what we expected from this chipset. On Browsermark, which is a synthetic online browsing test, the Xperia S favored pretty well, too, at slightly over the 75, 000 points mark, meaning that browsing will be smooth sailing, except for the heaviest or some unoptimized sites.  

Internet and Connectivity:

The browser on the Xperia S is a delight to use, not only because of the dual-core processor that renders scripts and pages quite fast, but also because of the stunning pixel density of the display. Even when fully zoomed out, you still recognize article titles, and can choose what to read next without pinching in. Adobe Flash is, naturally, supported, and works fine, with the latest Flash Player 11 version installed out of the box.

The Xperia S sports a 14.4Mbps HSPA+ radio and takes microSIM cards only. It also sports the usual Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, A-GPS, FM Radio, NFC, DLNA and has an HDMI-out port for hooking up a TV. The DLNA wireless streaming function is managed by the Connected devices app, as usual. The LiveWare app that allows you to program which application to launch when you insert various accessories to the phone is also here - you can tell it to start the music player when you plug headphones in, for example.


The greatest thing about the 12MP Exmor R sensor on the Xperia S is how quickly it can be accessed. The camera interface is the same rich in camera functions UI as in the Xperia arc S, down to the 3D Sweep Panorama mode, whose results can only be watched on Sony's 3D HDTVs via the HDMI port. 

There is also a 3D Sweep Multi Angle panorama mode now, taken directly from the Sony Cybershot camera series, which has a narrower frame range, but can be previewed directly on the phone by tilting the screen left and right for a nice stereoscopic effect
The camera interface of the Xperia S is rich on features
We were amazed by the new Quick Launch mode which is on by default - the phone goes from a locked state with the screen off to taking a picture in a little over a second, claims Sony, and it is indeed so. Well, maybe two seconds if it is darker, but this is as fast as it can get, and a wonderful achievement by Sony’s camera engineers. The iPhone 4S, for example, is very fast to focus and take a photo or video too, but you still have to unlock the screen first to reach the camera. The Xperia S is the fastest smartphone snapper out there, period, and this was confirmed in a cowboy shootout.

Moreover, the pictures themselves are nothing to sniff at - sharp, with true colors, a very good amount of detail and accurate white balance. We only had trouble when trying to shoot during the night by frantically pressing on the camera key - it often locked focus unusually slow and then just froze on us, taking at least ten seconds to register the captured frame, hopefully a glitch with our unit. Also, the night pics from the Galaxy S II we carried with us turned up with a little less blown up highlights like street lamps, neon signs or car headlights in automatic shooting mode.
Outdoor samples
Outdoor panorama shots

Indoors the Xperia S shots tend to turn a bit softer and yellowish when the light dwindles, and add some noise in low light situations, but nothing out of the ordinary for such conditions happened. When the light was enough, indoor photos turned sharp, with good colors and enough detail. The LED flash does a decent job from about 5 feet distance.
Strong light            Medium
Low                       Darkness 
Indoor samples
The 1080p video capture is very smooth with 30fps average, and the videos exhibit a lot of detail, accurate colors and clear sound. The nighttime videos were rather noisy and with blown highlights, which tends to be the problem with most phone camera sensors.   

Sony Xperia S Sample Video with image stabilizer ON:

Sony Xperia S Sample Video without image stabilizer:

The music player has a more minimalistic interface now, with Metro-style “tiles” under the My Music tabthat categorize your songs by artists, albums, playlists and so on. Even the back button in the player’s interface has an uncanny resemblance to the back button in Windows Phone. There is a “Sense Me” category that can pick tracks based on your mood, and the Music widget appears on the lock screen so you can control your playback faster from there.

We report with delight that the trademark powerful loudspeaker we are accustomed to in most Xperias is here, capitalizing on Sony’s years of experience in building musical gadgets. It is strong, clean and doesn’t sound tinny like most smartphone loudspeakers. 
The music player has a more minimalistic interface

The phone played all MPEG-4 files we threw at it, up to 1080p definition, but the default video player is pretty bland - no loop function, subtitle support, battery life indicator, or any other additional eye-candy for that matter, only basic playback. The player does DivX/Xvid files, but with only software rendering, so they look pixelated, and we ended up downloading a player off Android Market. 

It does allow you to lock the screen while playing, though, and you can access the video editor quickly from its settings for some basic trimming and inserting, which, however, works only with 720p footage and below. 

Call quality with the Xperia S is very good, with loud and clear voices in the earpiece on our end, while the other side said we sounded very clean, with strong volume, and the noise-canceling mics managed to weed out the ambient sounds while we were talking.

The loudspeaker is very strong, as we mentioned, meaning that it will be unlikely you’ll miss a call. As long as the sound is turned on.

Sony Xperia S Review
 Another feature in the Sony Xperia S is the improved lithium-polymer technology that allows the device to charge in half the time of a regular battery. Just 10 minutes of charging time will get the Xperia S up and running for 1 hour. Even when we just plugged it in our wimpy computer USB port, the battery went from 65% to 90% in about half an hour.

The 1750mAh battery is rated for the commendable8 hours and 30 minutes talk time and 25 hours of music playback. Standby is also very good, but if the screen is on a lot, the phone drains the battery like a typical Android high-end for a day, day and a half, depending how you stress it.

We looped an HD clip at ⅔ brightness and the phone’s battery went from hero to zero 10 minutes before it reached the 5-hour playback mark with Wi-Fi off, but connected to the HSPA+ network. If we had placed the brightness on 50%, the Xperia S would probably hit the six hours and thirty minutes video playback threshold it quotes for itself, which is about the norm for most high-ends.


What can we say in the end, but to acknowledge that Sony has hit the nail on the head with the Xperia S. From the characteristic design decisions, like a transparent illuminated strip, through an amazing HD display, to the ultra-fast camera, the first Sony-only handset is a delight.

Given the above advantages, beefs that we’d consider a nuisance in other handsets, like the fussy capacitive buttons or the sealed battery, here seem minor. You can tap the capacitive key one more time if you can’t dot the i the first time, and the battery holds well, so no need to swap often, but you can’t get such a fast and capable camera or a display as detailed in most other phones.

We are curious what will the quad-core Androids offer in terms of speed and camera shenanigans, like theHTC ImageChip, but for now the Xperia S alternatives with such a fast and quality camera plus a high-density display aren’t many.

Actually, only the iPhone 4S can measure up to the camera speed and no-hassle great results of the 12MP Exmor R sensor in the Xperia S, but Sony’s phone offers that sweet Quick Launch camera mode. Apple’s Retina Display also has pixel density close to the one on the Xperia S, but the 4.3-incher dwarfs it and would be preferable for Android’s big screen lovers; or not so, if you have smaller hands, or if you prefer the App Store.

On the Android front, you can check out the LG Nitro HD/LG Optimus LTE, which also has a great HD display and 8MP camera, or the HTC Rezound with Beats Audio. The Galaxy S II with its Super AMOLED display has a slower to react camera, but its night shots actually measured the light better than Sony's phone.

We only wish the Xperia S shipped with Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box, otherwise it proves that you can come late to the multicore party, and still be more capable than most.

Software version of the reviewed unit: 6.0.A.1.249


  • Very good photo and video quality
  • One second from sleep to snap
  • Quality HD display with ultra-high pixel density
  • Distinguished design with a transparent illuminated strip
  • Hearty 32GB of internal storage
  • Strong loudspeaker with clean sound
  • Good call quality
  • Rapid battery charging


  • The capacitive button dots are hard to spot and not very responsive
  • Sealed battery compartment
  • No memory expansion slot
From :

GENERAL2G NetworkGSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
3G NetworkHSDPA 900 / 2100 - LT26i
HSDPA 850 / 1900 / 2100 - LT26a
Announced2012, January
StatusComing soon. Exp. release 2012, Q1
BODYDimensions128 x 64 x 10.6 mm
Weight144 g
- Touch-sensitive controls
DISPLAYTypeLED-backlit LCD, capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size720 x 1280 pixels, 4.3 inches (~342 ppi pixel density)
MultitouchYes, up to 10 fingers
ProtectionScratch-resistant glass
- Sony Mobile BRAVIA Engine
- Timescape UI
SOUNDAlert typesVibration; MP3 ringtones
3.5mm jackYes
MEMORYCard slotNo
Internal32 GB, 1 GB RAM
DATAGPRSUp to 86 kbps
EDGEUp to 237 kbps
SpeedHSDPA, 14.4 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.8 Mbps
WLANWi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot
BluetoothYes, v2.1 with A2DP, EDR
USBYes, microUSB v2.0, HS
CAMERAPrimary12 MP, 4000x3000 pixels, autofocus, LED flash
FeaturesGeo-tagging, touch focus, face and smile detection, 3D sweep panorama, image stabilization
VideoYes, 1080p@30fps, continuous autofocus, video light, video stabilizer
SecondaryYes, 1.3 MP, 720p@30fps
FEATURESOSAndroid OS, v2.3 (Gingerbread), planned upgrade to v4.0
ChipsetQualcomm MSM8260 Snapdragon
CPUDual-core 1.5 GHz
GPUAdreno 220
SensorsAccelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
MessagingSMS (threaded view), MMS, Email, IM, Push Email
BrowserHTML5, Adobe Flash
RadioStereo FM radio with RDS
GPSYes, with A-GPS support and GLONASS
JavaYes, via Java MIDP emulator
ColorsWhite, Black
- MicroSIM card support only
- TV launcher
- SNS integration
- HDMI port
- Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
- MP4/H.263/H.264/WMV player
- MP3/eAAC+/WMA/WAV player
- TrackID music recognition
- Google Search, Maps, Gmail,
YouTube, Calendar, Google Talk
- Document viewer
- Voice memo/dial/commands
- Predictive text input
BATTERYStandard battery, Li-Ion 1750 mAh
Stand-byUp to 450 h (2G) / Up to 420 h (3G)
Talk timeUp to 7 h 30 min (2G) / Up to 8 h 30 min (3G)
Music playUp to 25 h
MISCPrice group


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