Sony Xperia Ion

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 Good

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.

The Bad

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.

Conclusion

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

More info

Hands-on with the Sony Xperia Ion 

Sony Xperia Ion Hardware

Xperia Ion Hardware

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.

Xperia Ion Top  Xperia Ion Buttons

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.

Xperia Ion Top  Xperia Ion Bottom

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.

Xperia Ion Left Side  Xperia Ion Right Side

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.

Xperia Ion Camera  Xperia Ion Logo

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.

Sony Xperia Ion Software

Xperia Ion Screens

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.

Xperia Ion Lock Screen

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.

App Drawer  App Drawer Edits

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.

Xperia Ion Themes

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.

Bloat

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
  • Astro
  • AT&T Code Scanner
  • AT&T Family Map
  • AT&T Navigator
  • AT&T Ready2Go
  • Connected Devices
  • FM Radio
  • Live TV
  • LiveWare Manager
  • myAT&T
  • Office Suite
  • Power Saver
  • Timescape
  • Update Center
  • YPMobile

Sony Xperia Ion Camera

Xperia Ion Camera

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.

Macro Camera  Trees

Windchime  Thermometer

Sky

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.

Panoramic

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.

Front 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.

The wrap-up

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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There are 21 comments

Lomax says:

Based on the header, this should be a poll. Pointless, but a poll never-the-less.

I was going to read the review but chose not to (no disrespect to Jared), but with GB? Seriously? I agree with Jerry from the last podcast, $399 for the Galaxy Nexus from the Play Store was the best $399 I've ever spent.

Update:
Okay, so I decided to skim through it, so what. 16 pre-installed apps? Not only did I stop reading, but now I've stopped skimming.

CeluGeek says:

The important question is: How many of those preloaded apps can be uninstalled?

mhmmdy123 says:

Not many at all, may be few. I have the Galaxy Note from AT&T, which suppose to be running great, with 1.5GHz and 1 GB of ram, but, because of the AT&T keep running in the background, the device acting like 1GHz processor speed and it has 512GB of ram. And I have good coverage in my area better than VZW, for this I`ll never buy anymore device from AT&T. my wife she has Samsung Galaxy S2 4G Epic Touch on Sprint and her Galaxy run faster than mine which Sprint network good as AT&T in here, buy Sprint device has less Apps on their device.

Johnston212 says:

I believe you can uninstall pretty much all of them. The last update to the Atrix left me with the ability to remove every bloated piece of junk AT&T thought I might want, except QuickOffice.

Versed says:

Exactly, fine of the carriers place their bloat apps on the phone, as long as I can remove them without going to measures like rooting (which I will do in all likelyhood)

Versed says:

Exactly, fine if the carriers place their bloat apps on the phone, as long as I can remove them without going to measures like rooting. (which I will do in all likelyhood)

dtreo says:

I totally disagree. The important question is: How did the Xperia Ion climb that tree??

Lomax says:

It looks like the size of a tablet in the tree but the size of an i*hone in Jared's hand.

dphorgan2#AC says:

Holy cow. Looks thick to me.

galfert says:

It does look thick I agree. But it is only 10.8mm. So that isn't that bad. It definitely is a crappy phone though. I mean when you see S3 and then Gingerbread WTF....is this 2011? Also word to the manufacturers...I HATE FLIPPY DOORS!

Johnston212 says:

I wouldn't go as far as calling it crappy, but then again you are talking to the guy who can't use the One X and won't use the S3, so I'm reduced to Atrix or Ion.

Thanks for the quick review, Jared.(Though Alex deserved this one after all the boring Sony news he got stuck with.LOL) This seems like a nice device @ the $99 price point. Hopefully it won't be quickly forgotten by AT&T.This phone reminds me A LOT of the HTC Rezound. The video quality is disappointing but the sample pics in the review look much better when you click on them.

Droidbert says:

Looks like the Bloggie HD touch lol.. such a fat bezel ,i really would love to own a Sony Device but this has got to be one of their biggest epic fails for the fact they decided to stick with Gingerbread... really ?.. UGH! lol..
..

keithz says:

Gingerbread when Jelly Bean is days away?

This is what's going to kill Android and what gives credibility to the Macheads claims of fragmentation. What can we say, when an OEM releases a phone 5 months after an announcement with an OS that's one (soon two) versions behind?

Too Late To Market! No Ice Cream is a No. No. At this stage maybe the 12MP camera picks up the slack.

lightyear420 says:

This is extremely reminiscent of the xperia x10 launch....VERY late release, the version was old when it launched, the updates were terribly slow, and AT&T didn't make it any better....plus it never even got 2.3 in the US unless you bought it unlocked. I sure hope Sony doesn't go back to their old ways again....they've made a FULL 180 since the x10 debacle, and it'd be really sad to see a company who's so dedicated to open source development go doen that road again.

In all honesty the ARC series was better than this.

imjust4fun says:

just got the sony xperia ion lt28 after waiting for 6 mounths, what a disapointment sony.
1 batterrie got about a 6 hour charge if you do not use it much, other wise shorter.

2. the cover where you plug in HDMI and to charge it is held on with a pice of rubber almost like a rubber band and good luck trying to get the cover off in the dark you need something to stick in there to open it

do not waste your $$$ on this phone I'm taken it back on Thursday and getting the Samsung slll

andy957 says:

THIS IS A PHONE! NO COMMENT RE: CALL QUALITY? UNREAL

I ended up with this phone as a equal exchange for my Samsung Infuse. The repair center Best Buy deals with is pathetic and I went through 3 replacement phones in less then 2 months. The Xperia Ion was the only phone available in the store and I reluctantly took it because I was told that rapid exchange was not being offered and I'd have to wait 4-6 weeks for another Infuse. My temporary phone was not going to be a smartphone meaning I'd be paying for a data plan I couldn't use.

Out of the box the 4G did not work. Unfortunately I was at the store well after closing time and the associate opted to give me 2 extra SIM cards and told me to call ATT to see if they could resolve the issue. That was about 6 hours ago. While trying to make it through the phone message tree at ATT the battery became extremely hot and began to smell as if there was an electrical fire. I had to set the phone down and walk away it smelled so bad. I'm not terribly thrilled so far.

I really liked my Infuse. It took great photos - incredible photos actually, the icons on the screen were easy to see, the keyboards displayed larger keys, the volume range was excellent and you could actually crank the volume up so high a person standing next to me could hear the person on the other end. The volume on the Ion is unremarkable and i couldn't turn it up loud enough to make it through my first call to ATT while in my truck. Contrary to the article above the ION doesn't have the largest capacitive buttons, I didn't have to squint to see the ones on my Infuse and they would light up too. Not so on the Ion.

The home screen display for the size of the screen on the Ion is "cheap" looking. I downloaded Swiftkey 3 and Swype and the keys are still the same size as the stock keyboards, despite the fact that the screen is larger then the Infuse. Icons are small or faint, I'm not sure how best to describe the look. On the Infuse they are solid and vibrant. The font on the text message screen is tiny and narrow on the Ion. There's no way to change the color or size of the text bubble and most importantly, font size. Though I am being told I could download a different message app and a separate font app and hope it isn't buggy. Really? Why should I have to jump through hoops to make it so that I can actually see my messages? Sony can't make it possible for users to choose at least one larger font? At least on the Infuse I could tap on a text and it would convert to a full screen message that was extremely easy to read and it was even possible to scroll in this mode. I am so disappointed.

After getting this phone I went to feed my horses and prepare for tropical weather we have coming our way. It's pretty dark out where my horses are unless you are in the barn and I was there fairly late but trying to get stuff done while I waited in the phone que with ATT. The power button is so small and almost flush with the body that it is very difficult to tell where it is. Then when you find it you have to mash it to get the phone to light up. The volume is on the same side and also not terribly obvious or responsive and in my opinion in an awkward spot if you are holding it with your left hand. With your left hand to operate it you have to use your middle or ring finger or alter your grip on the phone. I like the idea of the camera button but it too is in a dumb spot. In a feed room that had no electricity or light source I measured out feed with one hand to make up a few days of feed for 5 horses, I held the phone in my other hand listening to the instructions from the call center and in attempting to adjust the volume I kept accidentally pressing the camera button with my pinky and the flash went off a few times. And again, the capacitive buttons don't light up, react to touch unless you touch the screen just right so it was fairly impossible in the dark to switch the screen from the camera mode back to the phone mode even using two hands. This is not a phone one can use in the dark or operate with one hand.

A few other things that I personally don't like is the rigid unlock button, you have to swipe it precisely. And the mute button opposite the lock button. I liked being able to push the power button on my Infuse to silence an incoming call while not having to worry that you've accidentally swiped 'mute' on and miss incoming calls all day long. I can't comment on how a jaunt on the internet using this phone is because....the 4G doesn't work. And I agree with a previous post, the cover for the ports is chinsy. Why bother?

I'm off to research the current Samsung smartphones. The Ion is going back tomorrow.

Recap: I decided to try to make the phone work shortly after my previous post despite my misgivings. The battery hadn't heated up again and after a 2 hour phone call with AT&T, they were able to get the 4G up and running.

This morning, 38 hours into this new phone the screen went blank after using the camera and getting an error message concerning the camera not responding. Unlike every other cell phone I have ever owned you can not remove the battery in the Xperia Ion to try to reboot the phone yourself if it freezes up. I drove right back to Best Buy and they attempted a soft reboot and informed me that the screen was shot, kaput, broken.

For my trouble I was offered an iphone or a Galaxy S3 in exchange. I chose the Galaxy S3 and was amazed at the difference between the two phones strictly from a tactile sense. Ion, clunky and square. Galaxy, streamlined and light weight. Display wise, there is no comparison. The Galaxy is more pleasing to the eye. I haven't had time to explore the features on the Galaxy yet for myself but I doubt seriously that I could be any more frustrated and disappointed then I was with the Ion.