It’s taken Sony Ericsson a while to launch something that occupies the middle of the road, with its 2010 Android efforts concentrating on the massive X10 and the teeny X10 Mini and Mini Pro. Then 2011 was all shiny and innovative with the scorching Xperia Arc and innovative Xperia PLAY.
Now we have something that hits the 3.7″ sweetspot. The Xperia Neo runs the exact same Android 2.3.3 software as the Arc, also squeezing in an 8megapixel Exmor R image sensor capable of recording HD video.
Physically, the Xperia Neo is fatter than the skinny Xperia Arc, but it has the same three physical button layout – Back, Home and Menu – beneath its screen. The display runs at 480×854 resolution, and is bright, perfectly readable outdoors if you stick it up to maximum brightness, fast & responsive in use.
There’s a physical camera button on the bottom-left edge, which can be held down to quickly launch the camera. You also get a centred volume rocker, which makes a lot of sense when watching media, with the power button above it. It’s a nice, big power button, of the sort you can find by touch alone. Very important, that.
Round the back it’s all curved, shiny and reflective, with the “HD” logo there to remind people you’re recording them at 720p resolution so they’d better smile properly.
Sony Ericsson’s Android 2.3.3 upgrade incorporates the company’s Facebook Inside Xperia software tweaks, which are very useful and quite subtle. You get Facebook notifications on the lock screen, a “Like” button built into the music player…
…plus all the photos you’ve uploaded to Facebook over the years are synced and downloaded to the phone, appearing – with their comments – inside the Android photo gallery. It’s really well done and fantastic for hardcore Facebook users.
You get five Home screens here, with the pinch-zoom pulling up an “overview” that separates all the widgets and whizzes them around onto one page for easy access.
Sony Ericsson’s Android skin is perfectly pleasant. It’s not as fancy as HTC Sense, but the sharp, animating icons look good and it’s all smooth in operation. Sony Ericsson really needs a better selection of clock widgets, though. That big digital thing’s a right mess.
The Notifications menu is standard Android, with Sony Ericsson not adding anything here. Even clicking the track name when you’re playing music doesn’t do anything, it just opens the music app.
The widget to the right is another Facebook feature, one Sony Ericsson calls Media Discovery, which is a list of links your Facebook friends have shared. You’ve probably seen them all before. It’ll just be your old school friends who never moved out of the village finally discovering that Masterchef video.
The music app features a few Sony Ericsson additions, too. The “infinite” button performs a YouTube search that looks for videos featuring the artist currently playing, plus there’s a nice little widget for the Home screen with play/pause buttons and a weird fizzing timeline thing.
A surprisingly awesome benchmark performance. The Xperia Neo runs on a 1GHz single-core Qualcomm processor, which works perfectly well for us and the phone is solid and glitch-free in use. You can’t ask for more than that.
Web use is great, with the Neo managing embedded YouTube videos easily, plus the BBC’s iPlayer app comes pre-loaded – and works well. Scrolling’s good, multitouch zooming is in, text can be copied from pages via a long-press on the screen which pops up the start/end tabs (right) then copies text to the clipboard when you touch the selected area. A decent way of pasting content from one blog to another, if that’s how you spend your day.
Bookmarking is the standard Android system, with your links accessed and added to through the tab beside the URL bar. We can’t find any RSS feed support, though. Clicking a feed link just opens the raw data in the browser or prompts you to open an external news reading app if you have one. We may, as ever, be doing something wrong.
What else? Sony Ericsson has put its Media Server DLNA app on here for sharing stuff through your home network, there’s an HDMI output along the top beside the USB connector for doing it through wires, while Sony Ericsson’s old Timescape social media aggregator is on here too.
Video codec support is a bit lacking. It’s MP4 or nothing. However, if you install Sony Ericsson’s PC Companion tool it’ll offer to convert files for you when copying them over. Which is a good, if slow, compromise.
The keyboard is slightly boring. Just the standard Android option with special characters and numbers hidden away on another page. And that’s the SMS interface to the right. Pretty swish.
Battery life is a slight disappointment. We were hoping the leaner Android 2.3 on a modest (for 2011!) 3.7″ screen might make the Xperia Neo a “two-dayer” of a phone, but we didn’t make it last any longer than the super-powered Galaxy S II or HTC Sensation.
App memory space is OK – we’ve packed it with out usual favourites and still have over 100MB free. Not amazing, but better than many phones out there today.
SO ANYWAY. The Xperia Neo is a great, fast and useful smartphone. Excellent for web use, fast and smooth in action, powerful enough to handle complex browsing and every game and app we threw at it.
If the Xperia Neo had launched 12 months ago it would’ve been a class leader. But even now, in the amazingly competitive Android scene of 2011, it’s an excellent 3.7″ smartphone that deserves a place on anyone’s Possible Next Upgrade list.
The Neo is a shiny, silvery, shimmering thing, with an excellent, sharp screen. The camera produces great pics and 720p videos, while the single-core processor is surprisingly fast. It’s perhaps a little light in the hand and the three main buttons would benefit from being slightly more solid and slightly less plasticky, but overall there are no glaring weaknesses.
Sony Ericsson’s simple approach to skinning Android is rather nice, with excellent Facebook integration for those who spend half their days on the social site. It’s slightly lacking on the fancy features, though. There’s no image editor – just crop & rotate tools – and no video clip trimmer, plus a very standard keyboard.
Home screens fly, apps install quickly. This may only be a single-core phone, but it all moves and responds as well as the best phones out there. The camera’s quick, it wakes up from standby promptly and kept a reliable wi-fi connection for us constantly. Battery life isn’t amazing, though – it doesn’t last any longer than the 4″ dual-core monsters, which is a bit of a shame.
A great phone for those not yet ready to take the step up to the enormous 4″ handsets, the Xperia Neo is solid, glitch-free in use, with a very good camera that won’t embarrass you when you upload the results to your desktop. It’s not an exciting dual-core beast, just a reliable, usable, everyday smartphone.