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Its high-gloss plastic chassis is gently curved and feels nicely solid in the hand. It's compact but a tad chunky, and its 3.7-inch display looks and feels smaller than it is, perhaps due to some fiddly widgets and icons
General navigation is fluid thanks to a responsive touch-screen, but we occasionally experienced serious lags and freeze. There is no setup screen to sync your email and social networks
The Neo is an impressive media device, with an eight-megapixel camera packing Sony's Exmor R sensor and HD video capabilities, along with HDMI out and DLNA wireless sharing. The Retina display is clear and vibrant
The camera took stunning photos and the video camera is one of the best around. However, the 1GHz processor didn't manage to keep things at the pace we expected, and opening or switching programs sometimes lagged
Standard for smartphones, we just managed to get through a 15 hour day with Wi-Fi, 3G and push notifications on
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,6/20/2011 4:40:44 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Excellent camera with good lowlight performance, sleek design, responsive touch-screen, deep Facebook integration, HDMI out
Occasional lags when switching or opening programs, touch-screen keyboard difficult to use, making a call is long-winded, Timescape widget is fiddly and only good for Facebook users
The Xperia Arc was cool and all but I wish it could be chunkier and have a smaller screen... is not a sentence you'd expect anyone to say. Sony Ericsson has released the mid-range Xperia Neo anyway, which actually packs a very similar hardware list to the high-end Arc, including Sony's HDTV graphics tech. It's cheaper and just as good for media and games - but is the price enough to overcome its other shortcomings?
The Xperia Neo is an Android Gingerbread phone skinned with Sony Ericsson's own interface. In classic Sony E style, it looks the business, with a high-gloss, elegant chassis. It's made of plastic with metal sides that gently curve at the ends, but despite a 3.7-inch display to the Arc's 4.2-inch one, it manages to weigh in at 126g versus 117g. At 116x57x13mm, it's compact but chunky. Still, if you fancy something a little more pocketable, you might conceivably pick the Neo, which does pack the same Reality Display and Sony's Bravia Engine as used in its HDTVs.
Button-wise, it is a mightily adorned phone with three for back, home, and menu on the front face, while the right side sports the camera shutter button, volume rocker that doubles as a zoom, on/off button and the LED to indicate waiting events. An HDMI port and miniUSB charging port sit up top, covered by fiddly little doors that keep dust out but are a bit of devil to open. There's a front-facing camera for video calls and self portraits, and an eight-megapixel main snapper at the back that also records 720p video at 30fps.
The display has a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels and for comparison's sake, is the same size as the iPhone 4's, but looks smaller - and indeed, feels smaller when you're navigating the phone, perhaps due to the fiddly nature of some Sony Ericsson widgets.
Despite a 1GHz processor, the Neo can go pretty slow. Compared to the Arc, which boasted 1GB of RAM, the Neo and its 512MHz feels about half a second behind. Swiping between the five customisable homescreens is no problem, but we occasionally encountered major lags opening programs, particularly Messages. Sometimes the screen would freeze so that the message inbox would display behind homescreen icons. The only way to fix it was to open a new program.
Like most smartphones, virtual socialising is pretty important here. Sony Ericsson's proprietary Timescape program now sports deeper Facebook integration, syncing contacts from Facebook to your phone list. The Timescape widget aggregates updates from Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, as well as text messages, though you can choose to show only one or some.
Frustratingly for anyone who had the crazy idea of using the Neo to make phone calls, the dialer is one of the less intuitive sort, where you can't directly type a name to call its number. You either have to type the number, or go into contacts, tap the first letter of the desired friend's name, select their profile, then hit the number you want to call, even if there's only one.
Texting, that other basic feature, works fine, but then the issue of the touch-screen keyboard rears its glitchy head. Though the touch-screen itself is responsive, it's quite inaccurate and the autocorrect does not help, perversely turning words into other words whose letters are nowhere near the first word's.
In portrait, the keyboard is also very cramped, even for our small hands, and we constantly hit the full stop instead of space. Aside from that and the comma, all symbols are on a second screen, which is particularly annoying because autocorrect doesn't insert apostrophes for contractions.
What we do love is that when you fire up a new message, you can easily make it an email or a text just by selecting the address or number you want to send it to. Texts and emails are still kept separate though, and as with any Android phone, Gmail messages are separated again from other email. You get used to it.
The increased Facebook integration is great as well – it syncs your Facebook albums to the phone, provides push notifications of Facebook events on the lock screen, and links to the Media Discovery app to show you what videos and music Facebook friends are linking to.
We just wish Timescape was better designed. It's a horrendously fiddly widget with a Rolodex of status updates that require the most careful of touches to flip forward just one card. It's also not great for Twitter users, as tapping on a Twitter update takes you to the mobile site instead of deeper within the app. A needlessly complicated interface and we ended up just deleting the widget from the home screen, and using the separate apps instead.
We get that manufacturers want (and need) to differentiate their Android phones from the dozens of other Android phones, but many of the tweaks Sony Ericsson has made actually make the phone fiddlier to use. It's a world away from the slick, streamlined HTC Sense interface.
The Neo shines in most things media though. Its eight-megapixel camera takes excellent photos in almost any situation, and the LED flash lit most low light settings quite well, with far less over-exposure than many phone-cameras. The Exmor R sensor is larger and more sensitive than other mobile snappers, letting in more light that it "interprets" more accurately. Colour reproduction is good when viewed on a monitor and there was barely any noise even when we zoomed in.
Closeup in lowlight, with flash
Lowlight, no flash
Daylight, auto setting
The dedicated camera button can be recalcitrant and we often needed a few attempts to get it working, but when it did, the shutter speed was incredibly fast and even when our subject was moving, we didn't get much blur.
The video camera theoretically supports 720p capture at a DVD-quality frame rate but the footage isn't quite as clear and vibrant as the still images. The frame rate seems lower than the stated 30fps though colours are again quite true to life.
A Media Server app lets you connect the Neo to a Windows 7 PC to wirelessly transfer files. You'll have to hook up your devices with an HDMI cable in order to watch video from one device on another, and Sony Ericsson hasn't bundled one.
The native video player only supports MP4, H.264 and WMV video, and many of our videos weren't able to play. For example, it doesn't support Xvid, DivX or MKV, three popular formats you'll find online video in.
The web browser is as you'd expect of a smartphone - pinch-to-zoom, double-tap for 100% page view and copy-paste. Copy-paste is a little different to other Android phones, with a long press bringing up two arrows you can manipulate to select required text, then a single press to copy it. You can then paste the text in any text field, and numbers in the dialer too.
It's very hard to run the rule on the Neo because its performance is so wildly erratic. We were blown away by the quality of the camera but its more basic features of calling and texting weren't well executed. The Facebook integration is excellent but the social networking widget Timescape is clumsily designed. The 1GHz processor is impressive for a midrange phone, yet we often experienced serious glitches and freezes. If you're after a proper camera phone, this is one of your best options at the price, but if you want a more rounded device, the Neo's prowess at the basics will probably turn you off.