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TMCNet:  Review: Sony Xperia ion -- behind the times [Gadgets Special] [Times of India]

[November 12, 2012]

Review: Sony Xperia ion -- behind the times [Gadgets Special] [Times of India]

(Times of India Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) NEW DELHI: Recently, Sony launched its new flagship phone in India, the Xperia ion at Rs 36,999. Though a good handset by all means, it was behind the times even at the time of its launch - both in India, as well as globally. Sony Xperia ion competes with the likes of Apple iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X. Check out how it performs as a flagship smartphone in an increasingly competitive market.

Look and feel Sony Xperia ion is a decent looking phone that is easy to hold and seems sturdy enough to survive a fall without much damage. The Japanese manufacturer has used a combination of plastic and red (YES!) metal back cover to construct the body of the new phone. Notably, it has done away with the silly fluorescent coloured stripe to mark the three buttons that it used in earlier devices like Xperia S.

Xperia ion measures 133x68x10.8mm and weighs 144 gram, not much considering it has a 4.6-inch screen. It feels good in the hand and holding it is never an issue, despite its dimensions and all hardware keys are easy to access and press.

Located on the right side of the phone are three hardware keys - power on/off, volume rocker and camera. On the left are HDMI and microUSB ports, which are covered by a common flap which is quite troublesome to close once oipened. The headphone jack is located in top-centre which again is a very inconvenient location. The bottom plays home to the mic and nothing else. The front panel has a video calling camera, ambient light sensor, indicator light and proximity sensor. Now, we were flummoxed why the company put an ambient light sensor in the phone since it does not support automatic brightness feature.

Overall the build quality feels good, but the red metal back is prone to fingerprints, which is simply weird, considering that the much cheaper devices like Samsung Wave III never get any fingerprints.

The four keys below the capacitive touchscreen of the Xperia ion gave us a lot of trouble, just like the Xperia S. When we tried to press any of the keys, the touch did not register and we had to often press more than once in order to execute a command or see options. None of the keys light up when the screen is on; rather, each key has a bar underneath it that lights up. You would think of either tapping on the bar or the key itself in order to go back or see options. But you would be wrong, since you actually need to tap on the space between the keys and the touchscreen. It means Sony has repeated the same design idiocy that it had in Xperia S. So be prepared to make accidental presses on the screen, as we learnt the hard way.

Such an issue - and a continuing one - on the hardware front is major gaffe on Sony's part and needs to be rectified with immediate effect if it wants to be a serious player in the smartphone reckoning.

While buying the Xperia ion, bear in mind that the device only accepts a micro-sim card. Though obtaining a micro-sim card is a simple process, it can still be an inconvenience for some.

When you insert the micro-sim and microSD card in the Xperia ion, remember to keep the manual with you. Otherwise you will be hard-pressed to find the two slots. You need to take off the plastic cover from the top - and not bottom - to insert the two cards in the phone. It took us a while to figure this out and we never really felt a manual could be needed.

Hardware Sony Xperia ion runs on a dual-core 1.5GHz processor that is snappy and executes all applications and graphics fluidly. However, it lags behind quad-core touting devices like Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X in benchmark tests, pushing it just a step back. 1GB of RAM in the Xperia ion helps the phone handle all the apps seamlessly, never giving any lag. Yet, upon using for a few days, we discovered the phone would suddenly reboot once or twice a week, all on its own.

The 4.6-inch touchscreen with Mobile Bravia Engine is a pleasure to look at and colours seem only slightly washed out when you step out in full daylight. This device could have been able to render better colours in daylight if automatic brightness function worked, but sadly that is not the case.

With 13GB of internal memory and support for up to 32GB memory card, you would never feel short of storage which is quite pleasing.

Ice Cream Sandwich with Timescape UI Xperia ion now runs on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) layered with Sony's Timescape UI, which focusses heavily on social integration with everyday usage. The new menu/app drawer interface of ICS (where widgets are accessed from the menu) can be seen here as well. But Sony does not refrain from giving access to widgets from the home screen itself, as you simply need to tap the home screen itself to get options for themes, wallpapers and widgets. Those not in favour can remove the widgets.

Navigating the Sony Xperia ion with ICS and Timescape is simple and easy, with the standard five panel home screen. Those who have used Sony smartphones previously will be familiar with most of the aspects of the Timescape UI, including Facebook Friends, Facebook Feeds etc. A new feature is Recommender, which will recommend games, apps and music used by friends to you, featured as well as popular.

Some of the helpful widgets in the phone are Contact, Google Photos, Top Contacts and (power control) Tools, which make everyday tasks like turning on Wi-Fi and calling your best friend easier.

Facebook remains a key ingredient of Xperia ion's social experience as the device integrates your Facebook account with its Calendar, Contacts, Photos and Music apps. Thus, you can link all your Facebook friends' birthdays and anniversaries in your calendar and can link their accounts with phone numbers in your device's address book. Friends' Music is an app that shows all the music and videos your friends have posted on Facebook.

Telephony and messaging The phonebook is simple and neat, with four tabs - Contacts, Dialer, Starred and Groups. You simply need to star those whom you frequently contact in order to cut the time you take to call, or club them together to send group messages etc. The phonebook of Xperia ion also features Smart Dialling after the ICS update.

Sending a SMS is easy, with three keyboard options. The keys are easy to tap and you can insert images, notes and add attachments and location to an SMS in order to convert it into a MMS. You can take a photo even if you are in the middle of typing a message as the device has a dedicated key for that on the keyboard.

Making life easier for heavy texters is the Swype-like intuitive typing feature, where you just slide your finger over the requisite keywords in order to type it. Another cool feature is starring your SMS, incoming as well as outgoing, which will be highlighted when you are searching for a SMS.

The Messaging and Calls apps show the number of unread SMSs and missed calls on the home screen and even the menu.

Poor call quality For a top-end phone, Sony Xperia ion gave a surprisingly poor performance in our call test. If you wish to buy this phone, then keep in mind that you will be able to attend calls only when you are inside.We found the calling experience outdoors surprisingly poor. We sincerely hope that this was a defect in the piece we had, but if not, Sony needs to pull its socks up and correct the issue.

A good feature of Sony Xperia ion is that you can end an incoming call by sending a SMS even as the phone is ringing. Connectivity Sony Xperia ion is the Japanese manufacturer's first 4G LTE enabled smartphone and can transfer data at up to 100Mbps. However, the best you will get in India right now is 3G speeds or Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n). The phone is also compatible with 2G networks and can transfer data over Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) and EDR (Enhanced Data Rate).

Another nifty connectivity option is Near Fields Communication (NFC), which will enable you to transfer data with just one bump. Other connectivity features include Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot and microUSB 2.0.

You can also make SIP-based calls over the internet using this phone.

Music and videos Sony has long been known for its prowess in the field of audio technology and this can be seen in Xperia ion as well. The phone comes pre-installed with Walkman-branded music player, which is simple to use and allows users to access all common functions like repeat, play and en queue. But that's not all, since you can also find the video of the currently playing song on YouTube, search the artists' information on Wikipedia, check out lyrics via Google Search, find karaoke versions of the song on YouTube and find more extensions, all without leaving the Walkman. The FM radio is quick to start and find the stations, while TrackID will easily give you the lyrics of the songs you play.

Video player of the Sony Xperia ion is good and can handle heavy movies in various formats quite easily. The 4.6-inch touchscreen with Mobile Bravia engine technology plays its role quite well in making the movie viewing experience enjoyable.

The sound quality of the Sony Xperia is also good, but considering Sony's legacy in terms of music and audio, there is still room for improvement.

Camera Xperia ion boasts of a 12MP camera with LED flash, while competitors like iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X are content with 8MP snappers. However, this does not translate into better performance as the phone's camera produces images expected of a lower resolution camera, rather than the beautiful rendition that a 12MP sensor should give.

The phone's 12MP camera comes with five capture modes, namely scene recognition, normal, 3D sweep panorama, 3D sweep multi-angle and sweep panorama, along with front camera capturing. Panorama, scene recognition, sweep panorama are commonly used camera features, but 3D sweep panorama and 3D sweep multi-angle modes may find a niche audience for themselves.

Sony Xperia ion's camera comes with the regular options that most other Android phones have, so it's business as usual in that regard. However, the presence of a hardware camera key on the right helps a lot.

Videos taken from the Xperia ion are recorded at full HD (1080p@30fps) are smooth, but there is nothing exceptional in them to give them the look and feel of a 12MP camera.

The 1.3MP front camera is decent and can take videos at 720p@30fps. Nothing much to talk about there.

Gaming Sony Xperia ion comes pre-installed with an EA Sports app that offers free games, such as Need For Speed Shift and Plants Vs Zombies. The phone handles these games, as well as other heavy games from Google Play quite well and the 1.5GHz dual core processor ensures there is never any lag.

Battery Sony Xperia ion is powered by a 1,900mAh Li-ion battery that performed well in our test. The phone did not turn off for approximately one day on a single charge after medium usage. This included 1-2 hours of internet browsing, 2-3 hours of calling, around one hour of calls and 6-7 hours of music playback. Pretty decent.

The last words Sony Xperia ion is a great smartphone and would have squashed all the competition had it been launched a year ago. But despite all the advancements, it does not measure up to market leader Samsung Galaxy S III and the other contender HTC One X.

With a price tag of Rs 36,999, it is simply too expensive and you would be better off buying a rival phone. Moreover, its overall performance is marred by the unresponsive haptic keys on the screen and the poor call quality. Neither does it come with innovations like S Voice, S Beam Smart Stay that come with Samsung Galaxy S III, nor does it offer free DropBox storage that HTC One X offers. It's best not to compare it with Apple iPhone 5, the new kid on the block that has the potential to blow the competition away.

In the end, all we can say is that the phone itself is good if taken from the hardware and software perspective, but is beaten by the competition on various other grounds.

(c) 2012 Bennett, Coleman & Company Limited

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