|Review: Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo|
Monday, 06 February 2012 11:00
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo is the middle child of Sony Ericsson's Xperia range of Android smart phones. It's not as flashy as its younger siblings, yet its mightier than its predecessors.
A few years ago we may well have been bowled over by its a 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 processor and 8-megapixel camera. Now, it's the standard mid-range Android smartphone.
That's not to say that there isn't anything to be excited about. Sure, it's a sexy phone and the multimedia capabilities are fantastic. It also has a great social networking interface called a "Timescape", which is a widget that collates all your messages across networks and gives them to you in one neat timeline, complete with profile pics and reply options. If you're not concerned about the bandwidth and battery use that this widget will no doubt cost you over time, it's great.
Look and feel
The Neo is available in three colours: a conservative blue gradient, a suave silver, and a seductive red. It has a sleek, albeit boxy, design and what really impressed us was how well it sat in the hand. No matter how you hold it, the Neo fits comfortably with just enough weight to feel solid (125g).
Most of the real estate is the 3.7-inch multi-touch display, which is bright and clear unless you're in direct sunlight. Other than that the standard Android buttons – menu, home and back, and a front-facing camera and speaker take up the rest of the front of the phone. A power switch and volume rocker, along with 3.5mm earphone jack, HDMI and USB cable sockets and dedicated camera button line the sides.
The phone has a very plastic-like feel, but for once it's not entirely unpleasant. It keeps the device light and gives it a slightly retro look. It still manages to feel sturdy – almost too sturdy if you're trying to take off the back to change the SIM card or replace the SD card (it comes standard with 8GB, but can take up to 32GB).
Interface, performance and usability
The Neo runs Android's Gingerbread 2.3 operating system which makes it adequately responsive, and the LED-backlit LCD Reality display is bright and clear, except when you're in direct sunlight. The smartphone hails Sony Ericsson's "Bravia" Engine, which automatically adjusts colours, contrast, noise reduction and sharpness of the screen to improve the quality of photos and videos on the device.
The small screen makes the on-screen keyboard a challenge to use, even in landscape orientation. Ideally, the phone should come with a stylus. Another note about the keyboard, considering the thought that went into making the phone social media savvy, it was frustrating that while the @ sign was easily accessible, one has to scroll through 3 different screens to find the #. Another oversight – when posting pictures from the phone directly to social media, Twitter is not given as an option (though a whole range of other services are).
The Neo has the standard Android Gingerbread interface for the most part, with multiple screens and the similar controls, making it a breeze to use for those familiar with Android. The power switch can also lock the screen, which is then unlocked with an on-screen slider that can also put the phone on silent. Interestingly, a similar slider is used for answering calls – making that process a little more complicated than necessary. But then, are we kidding ourselves imagining anyone uses phones to take calls any more?
This is where the Neo shines – it can take 720p video (30fps), high quality photographs, and supports video chat. It can also be connected to an HD TV with an included cable and the user can scroll through pictures and video using the TV's remote control.
The camera performs surprisingly well in low light conditions due to Sony's Exmor R™ for mobile CMOS sensor. Of course, the better the lighting, the better the quality of the pics. The Neo has a built-in flash, but it is incredibly bright and like most phone flashes, tends to wash out the scene it lights. It does, however, have a fill in flash setting which is great to have on a phone and makes the pictures less bleached.
The video camera comes complete with different modes and face-detection, also impressive for a phone video camera. While one can't zoom in video recording mode, the face-detection helps keep the subject in focus if you need to get a close-up. While the video camera quality was not as impressive as the stills in low lighting, it still fared better than many other phones in its class. Audio quality for video is fantastic considering it's using a built-in microphone.
If you're heavy on apps, you'll need to charge the Neo every day. While we didn't test this, it claims to have a 400h stand-by time and 7h talk time.
In a nutshell
It's a great little smartphone for multi-media and games with its crisp display, processor power and RAM. It's also great for social media (if you're not a fan of Twitter). You wouldn't want to use it as a work phone, though, with its fiddly keyboard – this middle child is all about play.
Software platform: Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
Dimensions: 116 x 57 x 13 mm
Connectivity: GPRS, Edge, 2G, 3G, Wi-Fi 802.11, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot, has Bluetooth v2.1 with A2DP and microUSB v2.0.
Sensor: Accelerometer, proximity, compassy
Camera: Rear-facing 8.1MP
Processor: 1 GHz
Battery: Standard battery, Li-on 1 500 mAh, talk time: 7 h (3G), standby time: 400 hours (3G)
Storage and memory: 320MB internal memory, 8GB microSD (up to 32GB) RAM: 512mb
Pros: Great camera (stills and video), intuitive display and ergonomic design
Cons: On screen keyboard is fiddly, social media support is there, but feels incomplete.
Price: R3 680
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