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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.

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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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