Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo 3 Stars

« Back to reviews Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo

So how does the Xperio Neo differ from its predecessor the Xperia Arc? Well, it’s chunkier for a start, and has a smaller screen. Hardware is pretty much the same – right down to the Sony HDTV graphics technology – but where it does differ is in price. So is a cheaper price enough to convince you to buy the Neo over the Arc?

 

Style

We now expect Sony Ericsson’s handsets to boast good looks, and the Xperia Neo is no exception. It oozes style, with a glossy plastic chassis and metal sides, and gentle curves surrounding a 3.7in display. The Arc, in comparison has a 4.2in screen, and yet is 9g lighter. Vodaphone has a red version available exclusively.

The phone runs on Android Gingerbread, but is skinned with Sony’s own interface, and while the handset is a nice size, at 116x57x13mm, it’s not exactly tiny. However, it is still very pocket friendly and still boasts Sony’s Bravia Engine and its Reality Display – treats you’re more likely to see on one of Sony’s HDTV’s.

The screen is actually on a par with the on the iPhone 4 when it comes to size, although it actually appears smaller, which we think is down to the fussy icons and widgets. It has a resolution of 480x854 pixels.

On the button

On the top of the phone you’ll find an HDMI port and a miniUSB charging port, both of which sit behind rather fiddly little covers that have been made to keep out dust and dirt, but which are actually really hard to open.

The Neo has a pair of snappers – the one on the back boasts an eight-megapixel sensor and is also capable of recording 720p video  at 30fps. The front-facing camera can be used for taking self-portraits and making video calls.

You’ve a good choice of buttons – there are three on the front for back, menu and home, while on the right there’s a zoom/volume rocker, dedicated camera key, on/off button and LED for letting you know when you have events waiting.

We found the onscreen keyboard rather cramped in portrait mode – even with small hands you’ll be hitting the full stop rather than the space key. Another feature we don’t like is that the symbols have to be accessed on a second screen, which is just plain fiddly – and even more galling because autocorrect doesn’t include apostrophes.

Processor

Surprisingly, despite a 1GHz processor hiding under the hood, the Neo proved rather sluggish. We put it down to the fact that it only carries 512MHz RAM (as compared with the Arc’s 1GB). Switching between the five customisable home screens wasn’t an issue, but switching or opening programs saw a lag of a good second. And using Messages was even worse – we suffered screen freeze and could only resolve it by opening a new program.

 

Being social

Many of us now expect to access social networks using a mobile phone – so Sony has gone one step further by increasing the level of integration available using its Timescape program. This lets you sync Facebook contacts with the phone book, and also aggregates Twitter, Flickr and Facebook feeds – plus you can choose to see only one or some of these.

So that’s social networking, but how about basic functions such as texting? That’s okay – but we did find that the onscreen keyboard lacks accuracy – and nor is autocorrect much help. And so to another basic facility – making a phone call. Well, it is a phone, so you would expect this to be pretty easy – but no. It suffers from an unintuitive dialler, which does not pop up a contact’s name once you start typing. Instead, you have to head to your contacts list or type in the number yourself.

Web browsing is what we expected – you can pinch to zoom, double tap to get a 100% view, and copy and paste – for the latter, just hold down a finger on the display, then move the pair of arrows to highlight the desired piece of copy, and then tap to copy.

 

Picture perfect

Where the Neo does exceed is in multimedia. Not least because it boasts an excellent 8-megapixel camera that comes up trumps in most conditions – and the LED flash does a good job in low light. Flashes on phones are notorious for bleaching out detail, but Sony has got round this by incorporating its  Exmor R sensor, which is capable of letting in more light and allowing the camera to work out its light levels more accurately. We were also really pleased to see a dedicated shutter key – often missing from smartphones – but we were disappointed that it didn’t always work straight away. When it did, we found the shutter speedy and capable of avoiding blur, even on moving objects.

Sony Ericsson claims the 720p video is at 30fps, and while we didn’t think it lived up to the 30fps claim, it still looked pretty good with decent colours.

 

What we love

We love that Sony has gone into more depth with its Facebook integration. The Neo allows you to sync FB albums, see what films and music your contacts are linking to, and get FB push notifications on the lock screen. This is all done using Media Discovery.

We also like that you can start a new message and then choose whether you will send it as email or text, just be choosing a number or address to send it to. Texts and emails are held separately – and as with other Android devices, Gmail is accessed separately.

But we don’t love Timescape – it’s awkward to use, with its Rolodex format, which leaves you having to carefully push forward each card. Nor does it do a good job for Twitter users – try hitting a Twitter update and you’ll be sent off to the mobile site – it’s just clunky and complicated. We eventually decided to delete it.

File transfers and formats 

Need to transfer files from PC to handset and vice versa? Then you can use the Media Server app, which will enable a wireless connection between the phone and a Windows 7 PC. If you want to watch video on the larger screen that is being played on the handset, you’ll need to connect them using an HDMI cable. That will be extra as one is not included in the box.

Playing video was a bit of a bind because the handset’s native video player only plays WMV, MP4 and H.264, rather than popular format such as DivX, MKV and Xvid.

Our conclusion

We found the Neo was rather hit and miss when it came to performance – yes its Facebook integration is excellent, but its Timescape widget for social networks is not. We loved the camera, but making calls and sending texts was not straightforward. We understand that phone makers want to differentiate their handsets from other Android devices, but Sony has made changes that don’t add to the user experience in a positive manner.

We love that a midrange handset manages to carry a 1GHz chip, and yet it is hampered by glitches and freezes. If a decent camera is a real must-have for you, you might well choose the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo, otherwise we think there are better all-rounders available.

Pros:
Fabulous camera that works even in low light; stylish design; responsive touch-screen, top Facebook functions: HDMI out.
Cons:
Freezes and lags when opening or switching apps; disappointing onscreen keyboard; disappointing Timescape widget only of use for Facebook users.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 3 Stars
  • Ease of use 4 Stars
  • Features 5 Stars
  • Performance 3 Stars
  • Battery life 3 Stars

Final verdict: 3 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice