The Sony Xperia Ion is launching today on AT&T, more than 5 months after being announced - and with last year's version of Android. So is it still worth your time?
The hunt for an Android device is one that is never ending, and it ultimately comes down to an internal battle of when "enough is enough" and one device is good enough to last you for the term of your contract. Is there ever a perfect device for everyone? No.
The beauty of Android is that there is a ton of devices to chose from, some big and some small, some powerful and others just spec'd for the entry level consumers. Back at CES 2012 we first caught wind of the Sony Xperia Ion, and until recently the device was in a sort of black hole. Sony is finally ready to put this device in consumer hands and that means it's time for you to begin wondering if this could be your next device. There is no definite yes or no for everyone, but let's hit the break together and go through some of the good and bad and see just how this device stacks up.
The 4.6-inch display is gorgeous, and they have packed a whole lot into a small package. The 12MP camera performs great, and overall the device runs rather smoothly.
Launching a device at this point with Gingerbread may not be the best of ideas, especially when it's released five months after initial announcement. Video could use some improvement as well.
Sony has done a great job with this device, while they still have customized the UI, they haven't gone overboard and they have kept the AOSP speed that we have grown to love. The small additions like the quick launch for the camera and built in panoramic are greatly appreciated, but we could do without some of the bloat.
Inside this review
We have seen slate Android devices before, and we will continue to see them, so what makes the Xperia ion stand out? Sony has added some great design extras to the device to give it some unique characteristics, and they have done a great job designing an amazing device.
On the front of the device you won’t see anything you haven’t seen before. The front is covered by a single piece of glass over the 4.6-inch display with four capacitive buttons down the bottom.
At the top you have the speaker, the front facing camera, as well as a multi-colored LED. Down the bottom are the capacitive buttons, and the Sony logo, nothing overly fancy here. While most of the time capacitive buttons are no big deal, on this device they are the biggest pain I have experienced. Unfortunately it does not appear as though the illuminated buttons and the actual touch sensitive area match up, therefore the buttons are far more difficult to use than they should be. You need to go above the buttons, and since there isn’t much room before the display itself it leads to accidental screen presses as well.
Starting up at the top of the device you will find the 3.5mm headphone jack sitting in the center, all by itself. Down the bottom you have a microphone opening, and that is it.
Moving down the left side of the device there is a covered opening, removing the cover will expose both the micro-HDMI as well as micro-USB ports. Usually I am not a fan of these covered openings as the covers appear to look cheap and hurt the overall look of the device, but Sony has done a great job designing these to match the look and feel of the device.
Over on the right hand side you have a bunch of goodies. Starting at the top you have the power button, directly below this is a volume rocker. Down the bottom is the physical camera button, which is probably one of my favorite buttons. The physical camera button is one that is overlooked by many, but Sony has taken it to the next level, and if you hold the camera button from a locked position on the device it will launch and be ready to take a picture in under two seconds, that is awesome. No need to unlock the device and launch the camera, do it all with one press and you can even have it snap the picture instantly as well.
Flipping over to the back you will immediately see the beautiful design job Sony has done with this device. The first thing you will likely notice is the majority of the back is covered with a dark brushed aluminum piece which adds great style to the device. To the top and bottom are two plastic pieces, the one on the top slides up with some effort to reveal the micro-SD and SIM card slot.
Below this you will notice the camera sits centered with the flash just below that.
The rest of the back is pretty empty with the exception of the XPERIA logo down towards the bottom of the device.
Sony Xperia Ion Under the Hood
Processors. RAM. Gigahertz. Megabytes. Gigabytes. Oh the confusion for so many around what is inside of their Android device, what it means, and how it affects them.With a 1.5 GHz dual core processor inside the device moves fluently and there is little hesitation or lag when moving about the screens. On board you will find 16GB of memory which can be expanded with the use of a micro-SD card.
This device is amongst the first of AT&T’s 4G LTE devices, and while they are still building up their network, the areas in which it is live currently are great. Luckily for me, my area gets coverage from their LTE network, and the speeds which I have been seeing are great.
Battery life. Ugh. Packing a 1900 mAh battery into this thin device is quite a feat from Sony, but battery life just doesn't life up to what you'd expect from one with that capacity. Of course each person's battery use will bring different results, but I will say that I was able to get through the day with moderate / heavy (at times) usage on the device. It should come as no surprise at this point the LTE devices are a bit more power hungry than those that we are used to, and for now this is just the way it is.
This is where things get touchy, and many people usually bicker and complain. Let’s get this out of the way real quick and then move into what people care about, the phone runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Yes, that’s right, no Ice Cream Sandwich here. Sony assures us it'll get ICS just as soon as possible, yet but is that enough to sway the decision? I have tested and used many different devices running Gingerbread in the past, and I would definitely have to say that by far the Xperia ion is the fastest and most fluent device that I have tried.
Sony has made some customizations to the interface of the OS that it runs, nothing surprising as many of the OEM’s currently are skinning their device, and for me this is one of the nicer skins I have used.
Starting off with the lockscreen you almost get a Motoblur-type feel from it with the way the unlock slider is designed, but that is where the feeling ends. Unfortunately there are no custom shortcuts to applications from the lock screen, but they do allow you to jump into applications from certain notifications on the lock screen.
Once unlocked you will notice that Sony has given us five home screens, many of which come preloaded with various widgets and icons placed throughout. The dock contains four icons as well as the app drawer launcher, nothing overly new and exciting here. Once nice feature about this dock is that it does allow for folders to be in the dock, so if you are looking for a minimal approach to your home screen but still want to have quick and easy access to various icons, this can easily be achieved.
The app drawer is set by default as a grid which is organized alphabetically, though this can be changed to your own order, most used first or having the recently installed applications pop in on the first page. To move through the pages you simply flick left or right and the pages seamlessly scroll.
Themes. People love the ability to ever so slightly change the way their device looks, it’s part of what makes it your own and makes owning these things that much more fun. Sony has included eight different themes with this device, but unfortunately they are not all vastly different. The main thing that you will achieve by changing these themes is the splash color throughout the menus and the wallpaper will change. Depending on your mood that day you can change the color, or you can change it to match your outfit, however you see fit.
Pre-installed applications. Woah. I thought Verizon was bad with this, but this bad boy is loaded with pre-installed applications (bloatware), and knowing how many folks feel about that stuff this laundry list is sure to bother many.
- Amazon Kindle
- AT&T Code Scanner
- AT&T Family Map
- AT&T Navigator
- AT&T Ready2Go
- Connected Devices
- FM Radio
- Live TV
- LiveWare Manager
- Office Suite
- Power Saver
- Update Center
Sony devices have been known to have great cameras, Alex has showed us that plenty of times with Sony smartphones in the past, and I would have to say they were able to pack a serious camera on board with this device as well. Featuring an 12MP camera on the device I knew the quality of the pictures were going to be impressive, but that doesn’t mean that the overall functionality of the camera left me with the same feeling.
A rather large feature that many of us use on a daily basis was left out of the camera functionality, and that is tap to focus. With the camera running you can not tap an area of the screen in order to better focus in on the subject, instead you can only use the physical or on screen button to gain focus of the subjects. This may seem minor to some, and major to others, and with such a powerful camera that captures such great shots, this is something that definitely should have been included. They do offer the ability to take the picture you are looking at by pressing the screen, but this is not the same as tap to focus functionality, instead it is just tap to capture.
That all said the quality of the photos that are captured by the Ion are great. Colors, detail, depth of field, all of it works very well and the shutter lag is quite minimal so you will be able to capture those in the moment memories with ease. There are quite a few camera modes that you can use, and the built in panoramic feature is quite a nice one, though it does take a bit of patience to get the great shots.
As for the front-facing camera, well, we all know how those work. Much like the rest of the devices you have probably used the front facing camera is no amazing creation, it captures pictures, allows for video chat, but doesn’t give you anything above and beyond. The quality is ok, but not quite what you would expect from something that says it is a 1.3MP camera.
While the still images that were captured were great, the video that is captured leaves a lot to be desired. Granted it’s not everyday that you will be using the video portion, but when you do you will likely want a little more than what the Ion will deliver. I found it to have some troubles while focusing during any movement, and the overall quality to be subpar for such a nice device. Depending what you are recording, and where your results are likely to be different, some better and some worse.
So, what’s the final word? Well this is a tough one, but I think the price point will sell it. On contract with AT&T for only $99 with a new two year agreement it is tough to dismiss this 4.6-inch 4G LTE device.
While the overall experience with the device was a rather positive one, it did what it was expected to, there were still quite a few flaws that need to be addressed in my opinion. One of the biggest ones is the touch panel on the front for the capacitive buttons, that is a huge downfall and quickly becomes annoying. The second is the camera not having a touch to focus. While the camera has a touch to capture option that still doesn’t allow you to easily focus on a particular object that you want while snapping the picture.
If you live in an area that currently has AT&T’s 4G network live then this is quite a value, Ice Cream Sandwich will be coming to the device, and as stated above the display is beautiful and battery life is sufficient to get you through. The decision is your own ultimately, but don’t pass up the phone just because of some specs on a piece of paper, give it a try for yourself.
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