Sony Xperia S £429.99
13th Jun 2012 | 17:00
Goodbye Ericsson. Can the Japanese powerhouse go it alone?
Overview, design and feel
Update: We've taken a better look at the NFC capabilities of the Xperia S and played with the SmartWatch in a bit more depth - check out our findings.
So Sony has paid Ericsson off with a nice little divorce settlement and is now single and ready to rock - and the result is the 12MP-camera, HD screen-toting Sony Xperia S.
Obviously, it's a line carried over from the Sony Ericsson era which saw the maker release an Xperia handset on what felt like a weekly basis. But we get the feeling that this is something a little more special.
Specs wise, it's pretty high end so should give us a great experience if we're judging it on paper. A fantastic 4.3" screen with Sony's Bravia HD technology, 12MP Exmor R camera, DLNA, Android Gingerbread 2.3 and so forth.
And it looks pretty hot too. A slab made out of glossy piano black glass with a transparent strip across the front that also acts as an antenna, this could quite easily be a swish remote for some posh Sony toy rather than a phone.
It's pretty substantial in the hand at 128 x 64 x 10.6mm, creating an impression similar to the Samsung Galaxy S2, albeit a little heavier at 144g. And also a fair bit fatter with a curved back that makes the phone feel a lot fatter than we'd have liked.
Up top, you'll find a power/unlock button and the 3.5mm headphone jack whilst the right hand side gives you volume buttons, a HDMI out socket (the cable came in our box) and a dedicated camera button.
The bottom has little of interest whilst the right side guards the charging/sync port. It's behind a fiddly cap that you have to pop off which irritated us very quickly and we can't see it being too long before that ends up snapped off. It's not that it's hard to open – but you need the physical prowess of a ninja to get it back on again.
The rear holds the camera lens and LED light and interestingly, although the front of the Xperia S shows off the world famous Sony logo, the rear holds the old Sony Ericsson logo which bizarrely, Sony has elected to keep.
It's made of plastic and this is one of the downsides of the Xperia S because the top heavy weight – and the fact that the keyboard is at the bottom of the screen – means it doesn't balance well in the hand. Several times we came close to dropping it and we can see a lot of these landing on the floor.
The front of the phone is one large dark panel with a small indentation for the earpiece and the front facing 1.3MP camera. That antenna strip at the bottom which looks like three light up buttons is actually just a piece of pretty glass with the user forced to press just above them on the actual body of the screen to get any sense out of them.
They're not particularly responsive and we found ourselves quickly tiring of their prettiness and grumpy at their rubbish responsiveness.
Still, having said that, this does feel like a very premium device and one you'll pay through the nose for. Whilst Sony and the networks won't be able to command Apple like prices, you'll still expect to part with a good chunk of your savings to get one.
Although not on general release yet, pre-order sim free prices are estimated at around the £450 mark which pits the Xperia directly against premium Androids like the Samsung Galaxy S2 and LG Prada 3.
Expect to pay at least £30 a month on a 24 month deal if you want this new pretender gratis. Black is the order of the day but there will also be a white variant. Unfortunately, that's exclusive to Phones4U so will be harder to get.
The Sony Xperia S comes with Android 2.3 Gingerbread preloaded. That's not a massive surprise since the majority of Android handsets at the moment come with that, though it is a disappointment since Android Ice Cream Sandwich is the one that everyone is going for right now.
It's been out a little while and we're sad that Sony couldn't come up with the goods here. Yes, there is a promised upgrade later this year so it's not all bad, but we'd be lying if we said we didn't feel it took a little of the gloss off the whole experience.
Sitting atop Gingerbread is Sony's Timescape skin which has been around on the Xperia handsets for a while. We've never been overly impressed with Timescape but it seems to work well here.
Sony has given us some nice new widgets to play with – just the usual type of things like toggles, photo frames, music control and the like – but with the Xperia wallpaper now being live, we must admit to being completely shallow and in love with the look.
That Bravia screen really adds to the experience and everything just looks crisp and fresh. Definitely a plus for Sony here and we would go so far as to say that this is as good as Apple's Retina display. This has to be seen to be believed.
You get five homescreens and we couldn't see a way to add any more but fret not since this is Android which means that you can easily do so if you change to another launcher with many free alternatives available.
The only real complaint we had here – and it is minor – is that coming from a Samsung Galaxy S2, we'd grown used to the fact that we could pull down the Android notification bar and toggle things like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off here which Sony doesn't subscribe to. It's not a big issue as there is a toggle widget on another homescreen but we are fans of the HTC Sense/Samsung Galaxy way of doing it.
The app drawer itself is pretty standard fare – the icons are stored in a standard 4 x 5 grid though Sony does give you the opportunity to rearrange them in a number of different ways. You can fire up as many apps as you care to on this baby and it doesn't seem to faze it. The 1GB of RAM and 1.5Ghz dual-core processor put in a stellar effort and we couldn't seem to tire it out no matter what we threw at it.
Contacts and calling
Some thought has gone into how contacts are handled too. Yes, it's the standard Android address book, but you can see Sony hasn't just thrown it in as it normally looks and has decided to work on how to make it better.
First of all, we were expecting it to just do the standard Google contacts sync as most Android phones do. But we were actually presented with three options: Sync with computer, Sync with online sources or import from sim. We chose the online route and were pleasantly surprised with the amount of options given: including (though not limited to) Facebook. WhatsApp (preinstalled), Exchange Active Sync, SyncML and Google. Bizarrely, Twitter was missing from this list – at least out of the box. All fields are synced including the likes of a contact's address, workplace and website plus anything else you have on them.
The Facebook integration works well. You're given two options: the standard integration one gets with the Android Facebook app where you can import all contacts or just sync with those that exist already. Or what Sony calls 'Facebook Inside Xperia' which takes it to the next level and starts matching Facebooking bits and bobs to your Calendar and Gallery as well as Contacts.
It promises 'seamless integration' when you activate it and it does work well, allowing you to access various things from within contacts themselves, though we have to be honest and tell you it's an add-on rather than a deeply integrated experience on a level of, say Windows Phone.
We like the fact that Facebook integration goes a little further than just the address book though –with a widget that even shows you what videos and media your friends have shared.
You can access your contacts one of three ways: firstly, through the contacts app (which is in the app drawer by default), via the phone icon (which is there in a dock shortcut) or our personal favourite – just starting to type the name in the Google search bar at the top of the screen which not only looks through the internet for 'Bob' or 'Tom' but also your phone's address book, apps, media and more. Adding a contact is as simple as it is on every Android handset.
They're presented nicely within the address book section on the Xperia S with a nice greyish-black skin. Again, it's aesthetic but it looks really premium and classy. There are three tabs within the app: contacts, phone and favourites which all do what they say on the tin.
Making a call was a pleasure. We expected good things from a Sony branded handset and we weren't disappointed. This is a quality device in more than just looks. The bass on our calls was nice and accurate and the caller reported being able to hear us just fine with the noise reduction obviously working well.
We managed to hold onto a signal without it dropping once as we travelled in the car though we did notice the battery go down a lot when the signal was anything other than perfect.
It shouldn't be a surprise that a handset guzzles juice when it can't get a full signal but we couldn't help noticing it a lot more on the Xperia S which was a shame.
Android handsets really do lead the way when it comes to messaging with the push benefits we've come to expect from BlackBerry mixed in with Exchange support and, indeed, deep integration for more messaging solutions than you can shake a stick at.
As mentioned earlier, the excellent WhatsApp comes preinstalled but you can add so many more from LinkedIn to Twitter, from Skype to Windows Live Messenger to ICQ to whatever the heck you want. In this area, Android is unmatched and the Sony Xperia S can take full advantage of this attribute.
Although there's no universal inbox, there is universal consolidation in the form of the excellent Android status bar (so good, even Apple copied it) where all your notifications will be grouped together for you to work through.
For Gmail users, there is the inbuilt Gmail app which allows you the benefit of being able to use things like labels and full search. For all other types, Sony includes its own email app. Aside from being given a lick of paint to make it look black and grey like the address book, it's the same as far (as we could tell) as the one included in older Sony Ericsson Xperia handsets. Which is no bad thing because it does the job well.
Writing an SMS or MMS (or indeed an email) can be done by firing up the app or by going through the contact of the person you want to message. It's highly intuitive and will become second nature to even the most novice of users.
A special mention has to be made for the keyboard though which we found to be, frankly, excellent. Not only is it a standard QWERTY but also works in the same way as Swype and does this extremely well.
Until now, we'd have said that the best keyboard out there was the one provided by good old HTC and it was unmatched. Although the Sony Xperia S can't topple it from the top of our chart, we're pleased to say that it is definitely on a par. HTC, watch out – Sony's coming for you!
Perhaps the best aspect of owning an Android handset is the internet. Android's browser has been consistently excellent (even in the days of the T-Mobile G1 by the standards of the day) and ever since Android Froyo 2.2 was released, we also had the luxury of flash which continues here on Gingerbread.
Ok, so flash is becoming less and less relevant thanks to the influence of the late Steve Jobs who had no time for it and Adobe itself has recognised this by saying it will soon no longer support the mobile flash player so we'll not get too excited. But still, it's always nice to have something than not and we're pleased to see it here on the Xperia S.
This is perhaps one of the areas where the screen really comes into its own. Pages look amazing on that large, bright, vivid 4.3" screen and even zoomed out, thanks to the resolution, they looks razor sharp with you really not able to spot individual pixels unless you have eyes like Superman (we don't.)
Not only that, but loading pages is lightning fast thanks to that 1.5Ghz dual-core brain and either Wi-Fi or HSDPA. It took 12 seconds to load the TechRadar classic (i.e. Not the mobile version) homepage. Which sounds a lot. But the actual page looked fully loaded and ready for navigation within four seconds which is incredible. The remaining time, it must have been loading stuff in the background. HSDPA only added an extra two seconds in our testing which we thought was phenomenal.
Text reflow is included and once you zoom in and then tap, it all plays nicely. Of course, tap to zoom is also present since it's a feature we've all come to expect these days.
Even when zoomed right in, you can't see the individual pixels on text. Yes, we know we're banging on about it but you really do have to see it to believe it.
If, for some unknown and unfathomable reason, you don't like what you see, there are a multitude of other browsers available. Our personal faves include Dolphin HD and Maxthon which are excellent alternatives but you'll also find other big names on the Market like Firefox and Opera (both Mobile and Mini).
Plus, once that crucial Android 4.0 update arrives later in the year, you can also take advantage of that BETA Google Chrome browser too. Sweet. That will let you sync your Chrome bookmarks to your phone but in the meantime, you're stuck with Android's still excellent default bookmarks service.
Bookmarks are accessed via a shortcut next to the address bar and displayed in thumbnails. This is also where you access your history. And of course, you can have bookmarks on your homescreen as a widget. It all just works. And works well.
Many high-end handsets are coming out with 8MP cameras at the moment – even though that's a resolution that's been around quite some time now. So we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Xperia S ships with a 12MP snapper on board rocking an Exmor sensor.
There's also a 1.3MP snapper on the front for video calling (or, if you're like our friend, Chris – for taking endless self shots for Twitter and checking the barnet is still in pristine condition) which does a good job.
One thing that puzzled us is that the 12MP option only shoots photos in the 4:3 format yet the 16:9 display can be taken of in 9MP mode. It is set to this by default. In reality, we shot a few photos and found very little difference between the two other than that physical shapes of the pics and the file size obviously being larger in the 12MP format. It just goes to show that the quality of a photo is down to so much more than just megapixels.
Shots, frankly, look amazing on that screen which gives real HD clarity. And when transferred to a computer, they're just as sharp and beautiful. Tim Cook described the iPhone 4S as being an ideal replacement for a dedicated point-and-shoot and we'd venture that the Xperia S outdoes that.
There's no flash in the traditional sense of the word – but you do get a very strong LED light instead. We took photos using it in both pitch black and fairly dim situations and were pleasantly surprised with the results.
Whilst some phones will give you a white tint, this seems to bathe photos in a warm, natural, golden glow. It's obviously also down to the software because the actual light is bright white when called on for use. Shutter speed is fairly snappy. Obviously, you'll encounter a little blur when trying to photograph a fast moving subject in the dark but this was much less than we'd seen with other camera phones.
Another plus point is found in the settings. You can set the Xperia S up to start the camera when you depress the button like every other phone under the sun. Or you can choose for it to start up and take the photo straight away in one step.
This is really handy if you're at an event where you're taking a lot of snaps and with the photos being processed immediately thanks to the sheer grunt of that processor, you're ready to snap again within seconds.
Plus, you can start the camera without having to go via the lock screen if you hold down the camera button. That's a nice touch which saves time.
As for scene modes, you won't find dozens in here with Sony deeming itself competent enough to decide which to use automatically. There is a Panorama Sweep mode in there though we got very agitated with it as it asked us to take the photo three times and saved without telling us, leading us to waste time. It was at this point, the Sony Xperia S very nearly ended up in a lake on Hampstead Heath.
Smile detection is a nice inclusion though we were slightly disturbed to see Sony ignore tap-to-focus mode which is nowhere to be seen. Yes, the auto focus is there and it does a good job but is a little short sighted considering how arty some of us are
In fact, the SCN menu is also where you'll find the 3D capabilities. We use the term loosely here as the Xperia S has a single lens so when you take a 3D panorama shot, it does it a few times to overlay the subjects and create a 3D illusion. You can't view it on your phone – you have to have a compatible TV set so we weren't able to test it fully – though the technology has been around since the Sony Xperia Arc S and was met with limited results.
We also noticed that when in 3D panorama shooting mode, the lens doesn't adjust to the light as you move around which seems like a rookie's mistake. And we must stress that this is not a 3D phone like, say, the LG Optimus 3D and, as a result, you won't be viewing any 3D pics on that Bravia screen, beautiful as it may be.
One final thing that confused us is why Sony has deliberately omitted the Cybershot branding here. It's one of the manufacturer's strengths and has been used before on handsets even as far back as the Sony Ericsson K800i back in 2006. Seems a bit odd and a wasted opportunity for Sony though we're sure there is a reason for this.
Taken with flash in dull conditions gives a warm glow.
In cloudy daylight, you get a good representation of colour.
The camera holds its own without the flash in a well lit room.
And it manages to illuminate subjects even in pitch black conditions.
Fast moving subjects are prone to a little blurring – even in full daylight.
Auto focus include a good macro mode.
Panorama mode does the job, despite the camera not indicating the photo has taken.
Want a full HD camera? You got it. In fact, we'd go so far as to venture that Sony has put more effort into the video capabilities of the Xperia S than the stills camera.
First of all, there's none of this paltry scene mode rubbish that we saw in the last section – there are loads on offer here from landscape to beach to party and so on.
As you'd expect, you can choose what size video you want from a list of options though HD won't be easy to send to others because of the sheer file size. But if you want to keep them on the phone, you're sorted and as we keep on saying, that screen is amazing for watching footage.
Face detection extends to the video camera as does the ability to adjust things like exposure levels, white balance and metering. By default, the image stabiliser is turned on though we must admit that we weren't massively impressed with our footage feeling like it suffered a certain Titanic-esque choppiness.
Sound is reproduced well and we had no issues with audio at all. And shot in broad daylight, the video camera held its own well. Even in the dark, we were impressed.
We put it to the test by firing it up in a dark room and then whacking on a 12-light chandelier at full pelt to see how it coped. After the initial second where it looks like a nuclear explosion, the camera was focussed and metering was spot on. Definitely one of the better ones we've tested.
It's plain to see this is a media focussed phone – why else would Sony fit it with a Bravia HD display? Let's just say that consuming media is a key aspect of the Sony Xperia S.
Which makes it slightly odd then that the Xperia S ships without a memory card slot, so you can't add extra space. To be fair, the internal memory is pretty vast at 32GB so we'll not moan about it too much as lots of us wouldn't manage to fill that anyway.
Whilst we do think the 32GB of storage is a little paltry (it's actually only 25GB available to the user and watch that disappear when you load on HD movies), Sony has pointed out to us that it is expandable.. sort of.
No, you can't add a MicroSD card which we still have issues with. But you do get 50GB of free cloud storage to help you on your way. This is a benefit to all Xperia users and requires you to download the Box app. It may at least go some way to sweetening the pill for you (as long as you have a good data allowance!)
But we will moan about Sony's attitude towards non-Windows owners. We were utterly dismayed to find that when we connected our Xperia S to our Mac, it didn't recognise it.
The software included on the phone which it helpfully offered to transfer to the computer and install was nothing more than a Windows file. Which meant we couldn't figure out a way to even get the Xperia S to show up as an external drive for drag and drop purposes. Nada.
In the end, we downloaded Sony's Bridge software for an older Sony Ericsson Xperia handset but even that was flaky and we never managed a perfect sync.
We think it's disgraceful for Sony to not acknowledge Mac owners in this way as they are no longer the niche computers they were and more and more people now own them.
Having said that, once on, our media displayed well and we were really happy with it. The music app looks great and we love the extra little touches like the menu which provides you with links to do things with your track like search for the music video on YouTube, find info about the artist on Wikipedia, get the lyrics or even (and this is our personal favourite), find a karaoke version of the tune on YouTube.
There's also an option to download missing album art via Gracenote which impressed us a lot. And of course, it's all accompanied by a widget.
We found that every single file type we threw at it played without issue (the obvious ones) but even if you have some obscure format, the beauty of Android is that you can download a replacement or extension which always helps.
Audio is excellent using the headphones but we couldn't recommend using the inbuilt speaker as it just ended up sounding tinny. If you don't fancy music, an FM radio is included (something consistently provided by Sony Ericsson over the years) which we're always pleased to see.
Watching video is, as you'd expect, a real treat. Yes, it'll munch through your battery quicker than a fat lass in a cake shop but it's almost worth it when you see just how beautiful that screen looks.
Sony included a trailer of 'Cloudy With A Hint of Meatballs' on the device we had and it looked beautiful. But our own files looked fantastic too – even if we did have limited success with getting them on thanks to the rubbish syncing solution.
The beauty is that this is a widescreen phone – it's made for watching films and therefore holding it in the hand is second nature and never a chore. Again, we tried a number of formats and all the big ones seemed to work without issue.
You can also watch videos courtesy of YouTube. The standard (excellent) YouTube app comes preinstalled and we were able to watch HD videos on that Bravia screen with smiles all round thanks to the processor and data speeds working just as hard for us.
Viewing photos is done through the Android Gallery app and little has been changed from Google's default offering. In fact, it's exactly the same. But there is one nice addition in that we got even more albums in there because of the integration we mentioned earlier with social networks.
All of our Facebook albums showed up in the Gallery as if the pics were already on the phone. A nice touch. And there is a widget included out of the box on the Xperia S to get to your most recently shot photos.
SmartTags and Smart Watch
NFC has been around for a while and, a bit like social media in big companies, lots of manufacturers have been looking at it, scratching their heads with an attitude of: "We know it's good, we know it'll help, but how exactly do we use it?"
Rather than pushing the using-your-phone-to-pay-for-goods line, Sony has actually come up with something pretty darn useful here. We're not sure if it's their invention as we also saw LG use a similar idea recently – but top marks for being one of the first to introduce the world to SmartTags.
You get four tags thrown in if you sign up with o2, two with '3' and you can also buy them for about £10 for a bundle of four from various online stores. They look like little tags that you'd find on a dog's collar. But don't be deceived - they're actually hiding superpowers.
The idea is that as soon as your phone goes near a particular tag, it'll complete a function you've determined. Which came in really handy in our testing. You have to have some contact – it's not like a wifi range where you have to be within x-many feet – but it's just literally, a quick swipe against the rear of the phone to the tag that takes all of a nanosecond.
We put one in the kitchen where we never have a wifi signal and told the Xperia S to turn off wifi when in the vicinity of that particular tag and open twitter (this is because we tend to go in and browse as the kettle boils.) It did it perfectly.
We put another in the car and told it to turn Bluetooth on and start up the music player. Which meant as soon as we got in, it connected to the radio and One Direction was blaring out within seconds with the minimum of effort.
When we say One Direction, we don't really mean that – honest!) One example we also saw which we can confirm works is the ability to have one by your bed and have your Xperia S then automatically send a text message to your girlfriend when you go to bed at night (probably to the detriment of your wife!)
The tags can be tied to something or stuck on with a bit of adhesive. And they come in different colours. There are some limitations.
For example, when we got out of the car having gone through the above, we had to then disable Bluetooth manually and turn the music player off. The only other way would be to have a smart tag somewhere else on the car to reverse the actions of your first tag but then that becomes a little bit of a waste.
It would be nice if you could swipe a tag once to complete its functions and then again to revert. But maybe this could be fixed with a software update by Sony at some point.
It's not perfect, but for the majority of users, it's a bit of extra help, a bit of fun and, more importantly, an exciting sign of things to come. And with the dedicated widget and software that Sony chucks in to help us come to terms with it, we give them a big Smart thumbs up!
The SmartWatch doesn't come in the box and is very much an optional accessory that you'll pay around £75 for. This isn't a new idea and is something that we've seen in various guises from Sony Ericsson and other manufacturers over the years.
The principle is that you connect your phone to the watch via Bluetooth and can then navigate through certain phone functions from your wrist like messages, missed calls, Facebook, Twitter etc.
In practise, we're not convinced it's anything other than a gimmick. In our testing, the battery coped well as we got through three days without so much as a warning; though the same couldn't be said for our Xperia S which was feeling the strain of maintaining a constant Bluetooth connection.
The thing about the SmartWatch is that it looks nice, definitely. It's a bit like an iPod Shuffle in that it's actually something that you can clip onto your lapel or a strap, so you don't necessarily have to wear it as a watch. But when you turn it on, the experience goes downhill.
The screen is off by default so you have to press a standby button to wake it to tell you the time. While there's no delay in it doing so, it's a pain if you have your hands full.
On top of that, the resolution and colours are not brilliant – looking more like something you'd find on an old Sagem and a trillion miles away from the Xperia S' Bravia brilliance. Browsing things like Facebook status updates is just cumbersome and every single time, we lost our patience and ended up just grabbing the phone.
Tapping the clock brings up a list of the apps you can use (you have to install a supporting app to your Xperia S from PlayShop for each of them) and you can swipe across pages. But again, if you want to go back to the main menu, it's fiddly because you have to use your other hand to do a pinch-to-close method on the screen with two fingers.
The SmartWatch will suit some people – but it's not an addition that will get you running to buy one at £75. Having said that, if the screen was a lot better, you'd pay more for it so there is a trade off. And at least you can pretend to be Dick Tracy for a bit.
Battery Life and Connectivity
Now here's where we think Sony has done something really stupid. It's fitted the Xperia S with a 1750mAh battery. That's not stupid in itself. But what is, is the fact that it has sealed it in.
Yup. Maybe they've taken lessons from Apple but if there's one way to raise the heckles of phone users, it's to put an irremovable battery which can then not be replaced when the power runs down. Which it will because the Xperia doesn't half guzzle juice.
We expected nothing else really as that Bravia screen isn't going to give you such beauty with no payoff. And if you do a lot of stuff with that screen on, you'll soon feel the pinch.
We managed to get a full day of usage out of the Xperia S when frugal but we weren't able to enjoy it as much as we could have done for that reason. It came off charge at 8am and we spent a good hour taking photos, browsing Twitter and listening to the FM radio.
By 10am, it was down to 69%. We moderated the use a lot after that panic inducing reading and got to 8pm before the battery conked out completely. Talk time is estimated as up to 8:30 hrs and 420hrs standby by Sony itself but this always has to be taken with a pinch of salt as that will be under optimum conditions and based on you using the Xperia S for little else than speaking. Who does that these days?
When it comes to connectivity, this phone has it all. The Xperia S ships with all the obvious bits and bobs like Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth but also includes the latest big thing: NFC. Although we had little use for it, we are assured over the coming year that this will transform our lives.
HSDPA is fast. And we mean really fast. Which is good because it means that we can take advantage of Android's brilliant ability to use the phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. One thing we did notice is that it doesn't automatically find your Wi-Fi network.
We're not sure if that was just a bug with our handset but we had to go through the settings to locate our network and join it rather than a pop up appearing when we first came into range. It only happened the once but it struck us as odd.
You can also tether the phone using the USB cable but remember, if you're on a Mac, using (or trying to use) said cable may put you into an early grave.
For those of us who just love to bore our friends/neighbours with our holiday snaps, DLNA is present and supported. We're told it works like a charm for those with Sony TV's (we're not lucky enough to have one) but we can confirm it is spot on if you try to use it with a PS3. Or you can go down the old fashioned route and use a cable.
Our review unit helpfully had a HDMI cable enclosed and the Xperia S has a HDMI out socket at the side so all should be hunky dory if you'd rather do it that way - and content did indeed look great even when chucked onto a large 50-inch screen.
Maps and apps
Getting apps onto the phone is a cinch thanks to Android's setup. Having said that, we had a minor heart attack when we realised the Market wasn't there which was only calmed on reading that Google had renamed it to Google Playshop.
It's arguable the best app store there is (he says, inviting the wrath of iOS fans) because whilst it lacks the security (and polish, some would say) of Apple's AppStore, it makes up with the sheer creativity (and randomness) of the developers who don't have the same restrictions. If you are going to go wild though, we'd definitely recommend a good virus checker like Lookout Pro which has never let us down.
Having said that, the Xperia S does come with desktop favourite McAfee preinstalled so you can try that out. And that's not all. Whilst some Android devices come with the bare bones, we were majorly impressed with Sony's generosity on the Xperia S as it obviously splashes the cash following the divorce.
In fact, even in the Sony Ericsson days, the manufacturer was pretty generous with the Xperia range. Firstly, you get all the standard bits and bobs – calculator, clock etc – as well as the Google stuff like Gmail and Navigation.
The latter is a brilliant piece of software – all the more exciting because it is free – giving full turn by turn satnav and taking advantage of Google Maps. Using it was a pleasure – not least, because the GPS chip included in the Xperia S is highly sensitive and achieved a lock within seconds.
We're talking Samsung Galaxy S2 territory here which is pretty high up there. If you'd prefer to use something else, there's a version of Wisepilot preinstalled.
Taking advantage of its corporate tie-ins, Sony includes a link to the free Xperia Football Downloads app (Sony is a partner of the UEFA Champions League) and we found it to be a fairly OK app though the user comments on Android Play unanimously implied that it sucks.
We liked the inclusion of extra bits like the Media Remote which allows you to control a Sony-connected TV and 'Lets Start PS Store' which got us all excited until we opened it to be greeted with a message saying it doesn't work. This is down to the fact that the handset is so new and we're assured that it will be up and running by mid-March which is great news as the handset is Playstation certified.
Sony also helpfully includes links to its own portals like Music/Video Unlimited which allows you to buy a subscription to get more media. For Office types, there's a version of OfficeSuite preinstalled but it's only the viewer version. If you want a full word processor, you'll have to reach into your pockets.
They're all laid out in the app drawer in a standard grid format as is the way with Android handsets and you can reorder them with several options. Our only gripe was that it all looks a little cluttered and untidy. This is because of the way Android works where developers can make their icons all shapes and sizes and you see the lack of control compared to iOS which is all neat and tidy. However, a replacement launcher like GoLauncher Ex - which we're big fans of - can sort this out.
Hands on gallery
Although the majority of non-geeks won't even notice the lack of an Ericsson logo (especially when they hear the familiar Xperia name), there is no doubt that the Sony Xperia S is a big deal for Sony. Forgetting its toe-dipping efforts of the early 2000's, Sony has to get this right for it to cement itself as a credible new solo player in the mobile world – and we're pleased to say that we think it has scored a blinder.
There are a few niggles here – the Xperia S is by no means a perfect phone – but we're yet to encounter one handset that leaves no room for criticism. And it is our belief that the positives on the Xperia S far outweigh the negatives.
As you may have gathered from reading through our review of the Sony Xperia S, the screen is amazing and really has to be seen to be believed.
The 1.5GHz dual-core processor keeps everything zipping along, helping us to browse the internet at speed and run multiple apps without a hint of slow down.
Sony has very kindly bundled lots of software with the Xperia S out of the box, which saves you having to dash to Google Play as soon as you turn on to grab vital apps.
The Sony Xperia S isn't perfect though, as it has several small niggles which can frustrate over time.
The unnecessarily fiddly flap over the charge port will grind some gears and thanks to the slippery back cover and top-heavy design there is a high drop risk with the Xperia S.
You do get 32GB of internal storage, but this will not be enough for some people and Sony has failed to provide a microSD slot on the Xperia S, which means you can't expand the memory.
We found the soft keys below the screen lacking in response and thanks to the top-notch screen battery life takes a serious beating.
We were also disappointed with the lack of Mac support and we hope this will be ironed out before the Xperia S is available for sale.
There are still some niggles but we think it says a lot that when writing the pros and cons above, we really struggled with the cons section. This handset may not be cheap – and it may feel like a Sony Ericsson without the Ericsson bit printed on the front – but we are really impressed with what Sony has done for its first solo foray.
Is it worth buying? At £450 sim-free, it's not cheap but it is one of the better handsets out there and one that we found encouraged a few "What is that?" questions from iPhone owning friends.
But of course, that is before the Samsung Galaxy S3 is announced and we've a feeling that when that happens, this may just end up looking like another Xperia handset. But for now at least, we'd definitely urge you to consider it.