Android Central

It's been just days since we wrapped up Mobile World Congress, but we're already seeing the first flagship phone launch of the year. The Sony Xperia S was released unexpectedly at the Sony Store in Barcelona last Sunday, and it'll go on sale across Europe over the next couple of weeks. For 2012, Sony -- formerly Sony Ericsson -- has made a clean break with the appearance of earlier models, adopting a new design language based around the trademark clear bar below the screen. Sony's also introduced some impressive new hardware in its latest high-end device, which includes the new 720p HD Reality Display and a 12-megapixel EXMOR R camera.

We'll have a full review written up in the next week or so, but in the meantime you can click past the break for our hands-on video, along with more photos and some first impressions.


YouTube link for mobile viewing

With its chunky, angular style and soft touch matte finish, the Xperia S represents a clear departure from last year's Sony Ericsson designs. It's still constructed of plastic, but the difference in build quality is dramatic -- the curved back means it sits easily in the hand, and the finish of the plastic feels great. The buttons (power up top, volume and camera on the right side) have a firm action, which makes the Xperia S feel like a premium device. Visually, the main thing that sets the Xperia S apart from other smartphones is the transparent bar under the screen. It's easy to dismiss this as a gimmick, and many have done so since the first photos of the phone leaked out. But the rest of the design is so minimalist and functional (that's a good thing, by the way), that a little extra visual finery is appreciated.

The clear area is marked with the three Android buttons -- back, home and menu -- though the actual buttons​ themselves are located above the icons. They're the three dots you see in the close-up photos. The bar also contains radio antennae, and if you look closely though, you'll be able to make out the grid pattern running through it. Finally, bar lights up briefly when one of the buttons is pressed, though contrary to early reports it doesn't double up as a notification light -- that's located in the top left corner.

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Under the hood there's a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 chip running the show. That's the same chip found in the HTC Sensation XE and Samsung Galaxy Note LTE, so while it's not quite cutting edge, it's still a fast performer. Sony's fitted a top-notch screen in the Xperia S, and the 720p HD Reality Display looks at least as good as Samsung's HD SuperAMOLED.

On the software side, you've got Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread behind Sony's shiny new UXP NXT software. The manufacturer's done a good job of building additional functionality on top of Android, particularly with the new music player and the latest iteration of Timescape. But in certain areas the hardware's still hamstrung by the older version of the OS. We're eagerly awaiting the ICS update for this device, and we're sure anyone who picks one up will be just as impatient.

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Another notable feature is NFC smart tag support, with the ability to program the device to respond in certain ways to different tags. A few manufacturers are now jumping on the NFC bandwagon, and we're curious to see how Sony expands upon this technology in the future.

Unfortunately, the much-advertised PlayStation certification has yet to arrive on our review unit -- selecting the PlayStation Store from the app drawer results in a message that PS support for the device isn't available yet.

Finally, there's that 12-megapixel camera, and it's seriously impressive. We've yet to test it thoroughly, but we've been blown away by the early sample shots we've captured using the Xperia S. You'll find a selection below -- click to expand to the full 4000x3000 image.

Be sure to check back in the next week for our full review of the Sony Xperia S.

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Reader comments

Sony Xperia S hands-on video and initial review

44 Comments

Great looking phone, and best of all is not for giants!

After checking the new HTC offerings (One X is too big and One S use Pentile display) and with the SGSIII rumors saying is going to be +4.6" or something like that definitely Sony gained my business with this offering.

The only other interesting options for me are the Xperia U (aluminum body, more portable and better speaker placement, but lower res display and camera) and the Huawei Ascend Quad (still months away from release and given the brand I would have to read many reviews before considering paying for it).

It has a 1280x720 (that's 720p, not qHD) backlit LED display. Only Amoleds are usually pentile, so obviously this one isn't.

In one word, the Reality Display is THE BEST display in any phone today.

qHD has nothing to do with type of screen but yes, the One S has a pentile screen as its a Super AMOLED and not Super AMOLED Plus. But, its not as bad as many would think when you say "Pentile" .. its a lot better than the older Pentiles and definitely not a deal breaker.

Did you mean the iPhone "Retina" display? It may arguably be the best 3.5" display but its a crappy 4.3" display (or 4.0", or 3.7", or 4.7", or ...) :) Sometimes the "best" is choice.

There's no way I'd be buying an expensive phone in 2012 with low quality plastics or poor low PPI screen or Pentile screen. But hey everybody should get whatever makes them happy!

Sure, I wouldn't be buying a SGS2 in 2012 either. Doesn't change the fact that releasing new phones that are slower than phones released a year ago is a joke. The S3 was fine to fill a gap until Krait was ready but it was outdated before it was released. It will really struggle 12 months from now, especially the GPU.

"Key personnel" at Sony (formerly Sony Ericsson) have come out and said that they won't offer a quad-core device due to power-constraints... They're waiting for the battery technology to catch-up (and let's be honest, battery technology hasn't really made any big advances in a long, LONG time!).

My understanding is that there are some new processors coming towards the end of the year that are quad core AND a LOT more power-friendly than current processors... Rumor on the grapevine is this is what Sony's waiting on.

I'm guessing I'll never see this on Sprint? Can anyone tell me if they ever have or might ever get Sony phones?

I think that the only CDMA phone produced by the former SonyEricsson (at least for the last years) was the Xperia Play, so I wouldn't hold my breath for it.

SE produced a few Xperia CDMA phones for the Japanese market, as well as many non-Android phones before that... Xperia Acro (the Arc + CDMA + oneseg/infrared/mobile wallet) being the most recent one, and the Xperia NX (aka Xperia S) and Acro HD are coming soon too to AU, meaning CDMA. Whether they intended to go to other markets with the NX, I can't say.

Can you tell us what is the actual internal memory available for apps? Sony has been not very forthcoming on this.
Also, what is the model number lt26i or lt26a - lot of confusion on whether the S will carry AT&T frequencies or not. Even the well known retailer, Negri could not give me a clear answer.

I am glad that transparent thing is not a notification light. Imagine that blinking away all night or in your office when your colleagues are talking to you.

Sexy phone, I could hope for T-Mobile US support that I am doubting that considering it seems Sony hates Tmo since they havent had a phone with AWS yet.

Why does the first Sony-nonEricsson phone have the Sony Ericsson logo. Sony's not keeping that around, is it?

They said they're going to keep it in the short term (probably for phones that were already in development before the takeover)

The Xperia S was announced whilst Sony were still waiting on regulatory approval of the Ericsson/Sony separation... Presumably they had already manufacturered "x" number smartphones with the "Sony Ericsson" branding - and it would be confusing to have half of the Xperia S handsets branded as "Sony Ericsson" and the other half branded as "Sony" (particularly when you take into consideration, packaging and manuals).

Once Sony got the "all clear" from the relevant Government bodies, they pointed out that the Xperis S will be the last smartphone to be branded as "Sony Ericsson"... The Xperia S and Xperia U will "technically" be the first "Sony" smartphones.

The Xperia S was announced whilst Sony were still waiting on regulatory approval of the Ericsson/Sony separation... Presumably they had already manufacturered "x" number smartphones with the "Sony Ericsson" branding - and it would be confusing to have half of the Xperia S handsets branded as "Sony Ericsson" and the other half branded as "Sony" (particularly when you take into consideration, packaging and manuals).

Once Sony got the "all clear" from the relevant Government bodies, they pointed out that the Xperis S will be the last smartphone to be branded as "Sony Ericsson"... The Xperia S and Xperia U will "technically" be the first "Sony" smartphones.

The design is great but I see a lot of 'issues' primarily phone ships with gingerbread which is a huge deal breaker, most if not all of the highend phones that is shipping in 2012 comes with 4.0.3, I doubt sony can provide updates in a timely manner. No microSD card slot is also a deal breaker, theres no real logic on why this feature has to be removed. Battery is pathetic..1750mAH?? There are phones that ship with 2,000mAH already.. razr ships with 3300mAH and the Galaxy Note comes with 2,500mAH. Though the screen quality might actually be decent if sony can reduce the backlight bleeding.

I like this it's very nice. Specs are okay, for me it would be a toss up between this and the lumia. I hope they release the white one

How can Alex say "Finally, there's that 12-megapixel camera, and it's seriously impressive."

Did you even look at the pics? They are BAD!

Noise, noise, and more noise!

This cam is not even near the levels of GS2, Note, Sensation or I4S.

So - we have a slow phone, still with Gingerbread, and a bad camera.

This phone is pure marketing (we are the first selling a phone after MWC - we have 12MP) and NO substance!

SHAME ON YOU SONY!

Lightbar aside the Xperia ARC S was a nicer designed phone. The hardware specs are fine if you accept the fact that the S is a mid-tier device. I know ARC took better pictures than whats shown here for the S.Maybe these are just poor examples.

Glad I'm not the only one, I found these very disappointing.

I was seriously considering this, accepting less potential performance (fewer cores) and older OS but with a better camera as it's very important to me, maybe 50% of a decision. These photos are not nice.

Will maybe shift to One X performance and take a chance on camera as those samples look miles better than these.

It's very "X10". And not in a negative way.
The soft plastic backing, the squarish shape.

I rather like it.

Really disappointed the light bar along the bottom doesn't function as a notification bar. That is a seriously missed opportunity.

Love the design overall. Being on Sprint, I'm not even keeping my fingers crossed that it comes our way. I know the Xperia Play made it to Verizon, but I won't jump carriers for a phone. Looks like I'll be getting the Galaxy Nexus this summer.

It looks fantastic. The three capacitive buttons indicate that this device will get an ICS update. Even as a gingerbread based out of the box, its UI seems very refined. I wish all gingerbread ROMs look as awesome as this. A nice finishing touch on the bottom as well.

Will get the Ion for AT&T, though, for access to a removable battery. Or the GS3, whichever has the better Dev support on XDA ;)