Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo

29th Jun 2011 | 13:25

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo

Mid-range Sony Ericsson Android phone packs a photographic punch

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

A good camera and media phone, but doesn't stand up against the high-end competition.

Like:

Navigation is swift and judderless; 8MP camera; Connectivity is fantastic and the browser loads quickly; Mini-HDMI port connection; Comfortable and easy to use one-handed;

Dislike:

The 3.7-inch screen somehow feels a little smaller than it should; Colours aren't as bright as expected and don't pop on screen; Sound quality is poor if not using the provided headset; Video capture isn't as high quality as expected; Aesthetics not to everyone's taste;

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Overview and design

Sitting pretty in the hand, the small Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo smartphone and its 8.1-megapixel camera offer photographic skills far beyond what you'd expect for its 125g weight.

The 3.7-inch screen with multi-touch Reality display is nice and sharp, and benefits colour-wise from Mobile Bravia technology. However it fares poorly in direct sunlight, with us having to pull the ol' hand-as-a-sun-blocker move.

The phone is small enough to use comfortably with one hand, so it's not a huge problem, but essentially, with smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S2 carrying AMOLED and the Apple iPhone 4 with its Retina display technology, should we really be having problems with direct sunlight any more?

You can check out our Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo video review too - it's like a written review but with moving pictures:

Sony ericsson xperia neo

But, moving on, the (blue for us) semi-anodised finish, curved posterior and well-distributed weighting means it sits nicely in the hand at least.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

The lock/power key, volume rocker, and – score! – a soft camera key all live on the silver right side of the 13mm-thick chassis. It's not the thinnest of phones, but the depth gives it a nice solid feel in the palm, and it's short enough (4.7 inches, or 116mm) to slip easily into pockets.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

On the front we have the Home, Menu and Back buttons, plus up top the Xperia Neo squeezes in a front-facing camera, and proximity and light sensors.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

On the back, of course, we have aforementioned 8.1-megapixel camera and a beast of a flash, with which we may have blinded some unsuspecting band members at gigs. Whoops.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Placed at the top are the mini-USB port, 3.5mm audio jack and – in keeping with the high megapixel camera – a mini-HDMI port.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

All in, we're not faced with yet another black slab of a smartphone, which is good, we suppose. It's neat and ergonomic, but it's not the sexiest design ever and doesn't really push our aesthetics buttons.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Coming in SIM-free at around £369, it's a mid-range smartphone that fits a lot into its small frame. Running on Gingerbread 2.3, there's also the 8MP camera, mini-HDMI out should you enjoy seeing your videos on a big screen, and a multi-touch 3.7-inch screen.

The Xperia Neo definitely leans on its media offering, but for what it's worth, that's some pretty good stuff, and great if your smartphone is more for play than it is for work.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Interface

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Interface

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo runs on Android Gingerbread 2.3, neatly aligning it with the Samsung Galaxy S2 and earmarking it as one of the few handsets to be launched with the updated OS.

It offers a smooth navigation experience, with little-to-no juddering – in fact, the only stuttering we found was with internet browsing, but we'll get to that in a little while.

For customisation fans, the little Xperia Neo offers a plethora of possibilities, with five Home screens, moveable widgets and shortcuts, and – hello to Apple's iOS – the ability to organise all of them into folders.

Sony ericsson xperia arc

Sony ericsson xperia arc

Diving into the menu delivers the apps, the ordering of which is easy. Click on the right-hand squares icon and it floats the apps, making it easy to sort into content panels. Or, click on the left-hand arrow icon and sort them alphabetically, by most used or by most recently installed.

Sony ericsson xperia arc

The Android pull-down notifications tab is still around, something we like as a handy way of viewing your most recent messages/notifications.

Sony ericsson xperia arc

And for your four key, most-used apps, there's a dock across the bottom of each screen to pin them on. By default these sit as media, messaging, contacts and phone dialer, but they too can be customised and changed around.

Sony ericsson xperia arc

Plus, holding the Home button momentarily will bring up a multitasking screen, which allows you to pick from the most recent apps you've had open.

Sony ericsson xperia arc

Altogether, a good operating system overlaid with a Sony Ericsson skin, making for an easy to navigate UI that you can make your own in many ways.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Contacts and calling

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Contacts and calling

Accessing the contacts is, as previously stated, easily done through the floating dock, which sits on every Home screen. They're, naturally, presented in the usual list, with a nice dash of social networking integration.

Syncing with your Twitter, Facebook and Google accounts will automatically populate your handset with imagery and the latest status update from whichever network your contacts happen to be connected to - a simple edit will also allow you to join Facebook, Twitter and Exchange contacts either manually or automatically if the names are similar.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Tapping a contact's name will bring up their profile page, displaying all their latest status updates, email addresses, and of course, phone number. From here you can make them a favourite, edit their info or shortcut to various messaging types (SMS, email, social networks etc).

Sony ericsson xperia neo

However, if you want to skip all that, simply tap the image to the side of the name in the list view and up pops a handy row of shortcuts, including phone dialler, email, SMS, Facebook and Twitter.

You have to be quite precise in your tapping, however, because the list view keeps each contact defined to a thin strip, so there's a lot of room for error and might get irritating if you're larger of finger.

Adding a contact is dead easy. Long-tap an incoming number, or just dive into the contacts list, and tap 'create new contact', or the + icon that sits at the top of the screen.

Calling-wise, the connection tends to be good and doesn't often drop, but one bugbear is the lack of smart dialling. Finding a number means either dipping into the contacts or going through the call log. All well and good, but it's nice to have that short cut of being able to tap in representative numbers and be presented with matching names.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

The handset sits comfortably against the ear thanks to the curved form, and call quality is loud and clear.

Knocking the volume up and down while talking can be a little difficult, since the volume rocker sits too close to the camera button to be able to feel the difference while talking. However, it's a minor fault. Having the call on speaker gives a decently loud sound.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Messaging

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Messaging

Tapping out messages on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo is adequate. The keypad itself is well spaced and should be easy to pick up speed on, however there are a couple of notable faults.

There's a possibility whoever designed it has a problem with contractions, because the apostrophe button is irritatingly located in the symbols page, and typing in predictive text doesn't help either.

For example, typing "where's" won't offer the amendment "where's"; instead you have to navigate out of the QWERTY pad and into the symbols, and only upon typing "where'" will you be offered the choice of "where's".

Same for "I'm" and "I'd", and while it sounds like such a simple thing, it gets incredibly irritating after a while and drastically slows down responses.

That said, everything else is set up in a good way. There's a portrait and a landscape QWERTY pad.

Sony ericsson xperia arc

And, standard Android, the choice to reply in portrait while seeing the message history and a shortened form of your message.

Sony ericsson xperia arc

Or to reply in landscape without the message view but with a full screen message.

Sony ericsson xperia arc

Converting the SMS to MMS is handy, with a shortcut sitting next to the text input box that, when pressed, offers the chance to add media or even dive into camera mode and add a new snap.

Sony ericsson xperia arc

The message history format is the now-standard bubble view, however, with both sides of the conversation displayed in the same colour of bubble, it can get a little difficult to tell who is who if the conversation goes on for a while.

Social networking isn't really integrated at all in the SMS inbox, and the choice has been made to keep email and SMS inboxes separate. Messages in the inbox are displayed in a list view, however, and contacts' pictures as synced with Facebook/Twitter are visible.

As for email, the phone comes pre-loaded with two different apps; Gmail, plus a generic email app. The standard app refuses to acknowledge the existence of inbox folders, so that's not particularly useful if you're a super-organised person. But if you're both organised and on Gmail, then you're absolutely set. It does, however, have a combined inbox, which lets you add several accounts at once.

Additionally, the screen feels a little crowded when in the email editor, especially in portrait QWERTY mode.

However, setting up your account is beautifully simple, as it always is these days: simply enter your details to the prompt screens and away you go.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Internet

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Internet

With a decent Wi-Fi or 3G (HSDPA, 7.2Mbps) signal, using the browser of internet-reliant apps is pretty fast, taking around a minute to send an image to a Twitter client such as PicPlz, for example.

Even image-heavy sites with Flash elements, such as TechRadar, were quick to load with a strong signal… otherwise, it's a couple of minutes wait to load a webpage or map.

The browser supports text reflow and colours are bright, though not always very sharp, with images becoming pixelated when zoomed in to read text.

sony ericsson xperia neo

The Sony Ericcson Xperia Neo supports Flash 10.1 and videos can be watched inside the browser without having to navigate out to say, the YouTube app, which is pretty sweet, though standard for Android (*cough*c'mon iPhone*cough*).

Navigating the browser is dead easy thanks to the usual Android Menu button, which means you can switch between open windows, going to the bookmarks page or add a bookmark with ease. It's also simple to share the page you're reading with your social networks.

Sony ericsson xperia arc

Bookmarking is as easy as navigating; just click the menu key, dip into Bookmarks and you'll find all your favourite sites ordered by thumbnail, most visited and the general browser history.

sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Camera

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Camera

Sony ericsson xperia neo

The cherry on the decently-specced cake of the Xperia Neo has to be the camera. It packs an eight-megapixel Exmor R sensor to help brighten low-light images (which it genuinely does).

There's a Camera button to shortcut into the camera mode or to take images with. You already know how much these please us. You can, if you prefer, use touchscreen capture, but we think a physical button reduces shaking, so we're always pleased to see one.

There are precious few modes to play with on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo, and only one shooting mode that will allow you to zoom (2MP, 16:9), which is pretty poor. Post-shot editing is limited too to a simple crop or rotate.

Sony ericsson xperia arc

But if post processing is really your thing, there's usually an app for that, so head to the decently stocked Market.

Sony ericsson xperia neoClick here for full-size image

OUTDOORS:This snap of Brighton beach on a cloudy day is fairly true-to-life for colour, with a little saturation. The colour washes out slightly on the right towards the light source but is overall a great quality picture (taken at the highest resolution)

Sony ericsson xperia neoClick here for full-size image

LOW LIGHT:This picture of Brighton pier lit up at dusk is significantly helped by the Exmor R sensor technology, because the sky was much, much darker than it appears in the image. Colours keep a beautiful tone. Snapped at dusk without flash

Sony ericsson xperia neoClick here for full-size image

BLINDING:This image was taken in bright sunshine, and the camera doesn't fare very well when faced with a strong light source directly in front of it. The resulting image is almost black and white, drastically washed of colour and producing a silhouette effect

Sony ericsson xperia neoClick here for full-size image

DETAIL:This pic of the London Eye in strong daylight is much better, with no saturation and true colours. The detailing is excellent

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Video

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Video

With the Neo video options, oddly enough, there's a little more to tweak than there is with the camera mode. You can play with the exposure, pick different scenes such as Sports or Night mode and choose from three focus settings.

It seems a little odd not to have these available for the camera too, but hey ho. A mini-HDMI port lets you connect to a big screen, but even watching the video playback on a laptop screen didn't wow us.

The footage is detailed to be sure, but it's not as sharp as the Nokia E7 and one of our examples shows that the microphone is susceptible to a noisy background. Shooting without the image stabiliser on also produces a somewhat jerky playback.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Media

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Media

With the HDMI port, 8MP camera and 3.7-inch screen with Bravia technology, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo is especially media and entertainment heavy for a mid-price handset.

With an 8GB external memory card, it can hold a decent amount of media at a time and is easily swapped for a larger card without having to remove the battery. Supported file types are as standard: MP4, WMV, MP3, WMA, WAV and so on.

The music player widget can be placed on any Home screen, making it easy to reach. Any music playing will also leave a notification in the drop-down menu, which will take you to the full player.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

There's no cool Cover Flow-esque display here either, with a simple list layout of tunes, whether in portrait or landscape.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

The speaker slotted into the back cover towards the bottom is powerfully loud and impressively clear, but badly located and easy to cover with your fingers.

The sound quality is decent on the supplied earphones, but woe betide you if you think you're going to swap them for a different brand, more comfortable pair with a handsfree element, which many mid- and high-end options have these days.

Vocals are lost to the background, and even on the 'normal' setting, the sound seems to float towards you as if you're underwater, something the minimalistic equaliser presets do nothing to help.

A similar fate awaits you when watching videos – dialogue is completely lost to the ether. The only way to fix this issue is to either use 'normal' cans (ie those without a handsfree microphone or controls) or get an adaptor for your buds... and neither is ideal.

Given HTC, Motorola and Samsung models are all OK with third party hands-free kits, we're a little unhappy that Sony Ericsson aren't able to as well.

The video player is easy to access from a Home screen gallery widget, and thanks to the curved form of the chassis, is nice and comfortable to hold while you watch.

The colours, despite the 'Bravia technology' touted by Sony Ericsson, are a little muted on the screen and somewhat grainy, occasionally even a little pixellated, which is disappointing when imagery taken with the camera itself displays so nicely.

The photo gallery is accessed by the same widget, displaying thumbnails to scroll through, with handy controls floating at the bottom of the screen. There's precious little you can do with them, however, in gallery mode. You can't organise into folders and you can't edit past a quick rotate or crop.

A little average in terms of cool functionality really - although it's more Android's, than Sony Ericsson's, fault. But you can share any which way you like, from YouTube to Twitter to Facebook to email.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

There's a vanilla FM radio – no interesting additions to the standard plug-in-and-listen format here, and the station tracking is only average, especially indoors. Oh, and of course the headphones are necessary at all times, which we're still desperate for a manufacturer to fix.

Perhaps with an extendable aerial. That would look ace.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Battery life

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Battery life

Battery performance is pretty basic. It'll last you about 8-10 hours with heavy usage (media playing, constant internet use, phone calls) and about 12-15 hours with more standard use.

We definitely had to charge it every night however intensively we used the phone, so it doesn't stand up too well. If you're looking for a handset that doesn't need constant charger juice, then this isn't it.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Connectivity

The Xperia Neo gives good connectivity with HSDPA (7.2 Mbps), HSUPA (5.76 Mbps), WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, DLNA and Wi-Fi hotspot capability.

We found connecting by Mac a bit of a pain in the rhetorical, with the Mac refusing to recognize the connected phone. But after a little fussing and unplugging we were eventually offered the option to connect the memory card, which enabled both drag-and-drop and the Sony Ericsson Media Sync software to recognize the Neo.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Media Sync is an easy-to-use desktop client that allows you to search through the music/poscasts/video sitting in iTunes and add to the phone.

Still, simple as it is, drag-and-drop seemed the easier way to get to all the files on our hard drive that we wanted to transfer (ie films that were stored in other folders). Conversely, connecting by PC was a breeze, switching things around using drag-and-drop method.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Oddly the Xperia Neo didn't seem to enjoy connecting by Bluetooth, getting to the pairing stage but not actually connecting with the Mac and not even managing to find the PC to connect to at all.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Maps and apps

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Maps and apps

Google Maps software is obviously included, and there's nothing new here beyond what you usually get: directions, satellite view, Street View, and new 3D building hotness. The Xperia Neo GPS is quick to lock onto a location and the compass calibrates quickly. It definitely got us out of a lost spot or two.

Neo review

The layers can be pretty useful, detailing transit lines and 'Buzz'. Though, Google Buzz never seems to cache anything useful, so you're probably better off sticking with your own social networks to tell you what's happening round and about.

Google's Maps app is easily the most impressive mapping and navigation tool out there. As well as access to classic Maps, full voice navigation across most of Europe (although you can't pre-cache routes, so be prepared with a decent data plans.

Simply accessing the Directions tab lets you specify a start and end point, with Google computing a route for you. Clicking on the Maps Navigation arrow then opens the sat-nav part of the app, prompting you to download and install a voice pack for spoken directions – if you want to hear some amusing American mis-translations of UK place names.

The route is calculated in advance, so it's simple to punch it in while at home on Wi-Fi, then head off and let the GPS do the rest of the job - in our opinion it easily beats a standalone sat-nav, and obviously is nice and free to boot.

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Apps

The Xperia Neo doesn't come pre-loaded with any stand-out apps, but that's okay given the extent of the Android Market app store.

For social networkers, the Timescape app is fun and pretty but unless all you want to do is scan status updates, it's really rather pointless.

Clicking on Facebook or Twitter updates will simply open the mobile site, and profile pictures are pixelated in the extreme, meaning it can be difficult to tell who's who. Stick with the original Android versions of networking apps. You can't flick through them like a Vegas dealer flipping cards, but you sure get better usability.

Viewing and organising apps in the menu is intuitively easy, as previously mentioned, with the options to order them in your favourite pages view, or by alphabetical list, most used or recently installed.

You can also arrange the apps into organised folders, if you so wish, on the Home screen, giving you tidy and easy access to your favourite apps.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Hands-on gallery

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Hands-on gallery

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Official gallery

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Official gallery

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Verdict

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: Verdict

Sony ericsson xperia neo

Overall, this mid-range Android offering from Sony Ericsson is actually pretty decent, and the specs are impressive. On closer inspection they didn't blow us away, but if you're looking for a reasonably priced, media-heavy phone with a screen size to rival the Apple iPhone 4, then this will stand you in good stead.

We liked

It was nice to see the lightly skinned Gingerbread 2.3 working swiftly without any juddering, and it copes admirably with battery-sucking apps.

The eight-megapixel camera turns out gorgeous photos, and all this is light enough to fit in your pocket. It's also got strong connectivity, and fast internet access.

We disliked

The design aesthetic wasn't to our tastes. Sorry Sony Ericsson, but the blue, slightly plasticky chassis doesn't really do it for us; kudos for trying to break the 'black slab' mentality of smartphones, though.

The fact that we couldn't really use it with our own hands-free (and better quality) headphones grated hugely. There's really no good reason this should be the case.

Verdict

With a slightly lbetter-lit screen, the media features of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo might have wowed us a little more. As it is, it's a functional little mite, with high usability and simple, one-handed navigation and operation.

The cost is still a little higher than we'd have liked to see for a phone of this caliber, with £30-£35 per month on a contract quite a lot for some retailers. However, at £300 on PAYG this a much better buy, so we'd recommend you look at it if you're willing to pay a bit more to lose the hassle of a contract.

Sony Ericsson Android 2.3 Gingerbread mobile phone smartphone touchscreen phone
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