THIS HAPLESS CONSUMER can’t quite get over how quickly cellphones have evolved from annoying, fiddly contraptions into genuinely intuitive entertainment vessels. Either I’m behind the times, or it happened almost overnight.
Less than two years ago, for example, I attended the launch of what was trumpeted as a fantastic Sony Ericsson smart phone. I forget the product name, because the product itself was so forgettable. This so-called wonderful device had a faux-touchscreen that, in the new world as defined by the iPhone, just seemed cranky and fussy and old. It was impossible just to pick it up and run with it, because the gadget had its own unique menu system (requiring a learning curve) and proprietary software. I mean, imagine if the same thing applied to cars? Yeah, the latest Honda’s engineers have decided the latest Accord will have its driver’s seat in the back, facing the rear with large reflector for easy backwards driving. Uh-huh.
Amazingly, in 2011 just about all the smart phones hitting the market have pretty much standardised their controls, which means you can just get stuck right into the heart of the matter, and it’s liberating. And Sony Ericsson is no exception to the rule. The company has always produced quality products, but sometimes they’ve just been a little misguided. With the latest Xperia Neo Smartphone, they’ve got it just right, as you can see from the star rating above.
I’ve heard criticisms of the Xperia’s aesthetics, but I love the way it looks. While the 3.7-inch screen is much smaller than all those iPhone-copying brands, it allows for a much better form factor, and the design boffins at Sony Ericsson have fashioned a real beaut. It feels just right in the palm of your hand; thin enough not to feel chunky, but avoids the plasticky feel of so many models with its nicely shapely edges and metallic sides.
I’ve also heard criticisms about the screen, which is LCD (as opposed to the AMOLED used on Samsung’s Galaxy II) and therefore more difficult to see in bright sunlight. To a degree, these criticisms are true, but if most of your use of the phone is likely to be indoors (or if you don’t mind shading it with your hand), then I can recommend this brilliant screen. Using Bravia technology from its sister company, the Xperia’s screen really shows its mettle on photographs or video, where the high definition kicks in with brilliant lustre and incredible clarity. And yes, it is a true touchscreen, which includes the ‘pinch-to-zoom’ action (similar to the new Sony e-reader). The screen, of course, allows for landscape viewing and photos, as with the application menus, scroll sideways rather than the more usual up-and-down.
The Xperia also boasts a Mac-like “desktop” folder system called Timescape that looks a little messy, but can be very useful, as it allows you instant access to any recent activities rather than foraging through various categories (web, email, text).
There’s been so much hype about dual core smart phones that I was surprised to learn that this wasn’t one, and even more surprised to find that it was incredibly fast, anyway. The only thing the Xperia did slowly was start up: when you press the ‘on’ button, it seems that nothing happens for ages, and you’re tempted to press the button over and over. While its lack of dual core abilities might rank it slightly lower in the pecking (and price) order than some smart phones, I could find no deficiencies in speed. Having said that, I’m not much of a multitasker, and that’s where dual core phones are supposed to show their true mettle. Certainly, all the websites we visited (including moving footage from YouTube and Flash sites like TV3) played flawlessly. Similarly, animated games applications downloaded quickly and seamlessly, and were fun and easy to play. The phone’s performance was practically lagless.
The clincher, for many, might be the 8 megapixel camera. It’s great. There’s a shutter button and a very strong flash, and it will also shoot video at 720p up to 30fps. With a camera this good, who needs a point and shoot?
Personally, I’m tempted to hang onto this one. While I prefer a bigger screen for serious browsing, unlike a Galaxy or an iPhone, this one still fits snugly in your pocket, making it much more discrete and less obvious to those damn thieves. GARY STEEL