Sony Ericsson staked a significant claim in the smartphone world with the Xperia Arc earlier this year, which managed the trick of creating a distinctive Android device with up-to-the-minute technology, all crammed into an extremely slim and attractive package.
This mid-range alternative isn’t quite in the same league, but the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo still has plenty going for it.
Design and build
It’s noticeably bigger than the Arc at 116 x 57 x 13mm and 126g, which is hardly huge, but there’s none of the wow factor you get from the credit card-esque proportions of the Arc, or indeed Samsung’s Galaxy S II.
It also has a bit of that ‘human curvature’ design that Sony Ericsson’s been including on its higher end handsets of late – there’s a bit of a curve to the body which lends it a head-turning look and is intended to make it sit a little more comfortably in the hand.
Around the sides are a slimline volume rocker along with power/sleep and camera shutter buttons, while on top there are microUSB and mini HDMI ports covered by sturdy little plastic grommets, as well as an uncovered 3.5mm headphone jack.
Beneath the screen on front are three out of four standard Android buttons (as with the Arc, the search button is missing) and the thick plastic back is lent a touch of class by its two-tone colouring – black at one end, merging into a sort of midnight blue at the other.
The 3.7in touch screen loses a few mls from the Arc’s 4.2in but it’s still a decent size for watching movies or browsing.
It looks beautifully sharp and vibrant too, which Sony Ericsson says is down to the Mobile Bravia Engine picture processing technology it’s borrowed from Sony’s fancier TVs.
Usefully, you can turn the engine off when you don’t really need it so you can save on battery power.
Interface and OS
Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread is the version of the operating system here – not the very latest, though there’s likely to be an update in the near future.
Aside from a few tweaks and bug fixes, the main things you’ll be missing out on are SIP VoIP calling and NFC (Near Field Communication) for phone-based payments, neither of which have really taken off yet in the UK as yet.
As with its other Androids, Sony Ericsson has given the interface its own look, with a different appearance for each of the short cuts and a few unique widgets, including Timescape which pulls together your social networking updates into an ever-scrolling string of tiles, complete with ID pics.
The processor is a single-core 1GHz Snapdragon and it does a good job of keeping things moving. It’s quick to switch between apps, even when you’ve got several running at once, and there was never any lag problems with browsing or watching films.
Like the Neo’s screen, the 8 megapixel camera has also benefited from Sony technology with the addition of an xmor R-CMOS sensor, which is normally more likely to be found on the company’s mid to high-end cameras.
It’s designed to process light more efficiently, helping you to take better pics in less than ideal lighting conditions. It seems to do an effective job too, giving an extra flexibility to your shooting options and generally delivering sharp, detailed pics with accurate colour balance.
Extra features include autofocus, LED flash and smile detection and it starts up quickly too, in about three seconds, which makes it ideal for quick snaps.
You can record video at up to 720p HD, and while it’s not quite as good as some of the recent dual-core handsets delivering the full 1080p monty, it’s still very good. The HDMI slot lets you transfer it straight to your HD TV too (very easily – you just plug and play), and it still looks pretty good on the big screen.
Apps and browser
There are plenty of apps to choose from the Android Market these days, and the Neo’s quality screen means you can enjoy some very high quality games at their best. The browser renders pages well for the most part and it supports Flash too, so streaming video isn’t a problem.
Media and connectivity
The screen with its Bravia Engine looks very good indeed when you’re viewing movies – you can check the effect by switching it off and switching it on.
The enhanced version looks brighter and sharper, but there’s no sign of it putting any noticeable strain on the processor – all looks smooth as can be.
The music player sounds decent enough using the supplied headphones – you’ll need a good quality replacement to get much of an improvement.
There’s also a ten-setting equaliser to help you find the sound you like plus the option to search the web for videos related to the tracks you’re playing.
Performance and battery life
There’s 1GB of memory on board and you can bump that up to 32GB via microSD card. Battery life wasn’t up to much but at least it didn’t disgrace itself – you’ll get around a day’s worth of steady use from it.
- Classy, curved casing
- Fast processor
- 8-megapixel camera
- 720p HD video recording and HDMI output
- Arc technology for less
- A little chubby
- Rear casing feels a little flimsy
Verdict: The Neo may not be as sleek looking as its big brother the Arc, but it features much of the same fancy screen and camera technology for a fraction of the price.
More info: Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo spec
Price: From free on contract; handset only £370