We have acquired another one of Sony Ericsson’s 2011 Android phones, in the slimline form factor of the Xperia Ray . It’s a small, skinny little phone, with a 3.3″ Reality Display, 1GHz processor, 8.1megapixel camera and 720p video recording abilities.
The immediate star of the show here is Sony Ericsson’s Mobile BRAVIA Engine Reality Display, which runs at 480×854 resolution. And when this is squeezed into a modest 3.3″ screen, it means you get a level of sharpness and clarity that’s pretty much as good as it gets.
Text is absolutely pin sharp, with web copy, home screen icons and all your apps superbly legible and bright. It’s hard to get the clarity across in a photograph, but it really is a joy to see the screen with your actual eyes.
You get two nice and responsive capacitive buttons for Back and Menu beneath the display, with a big, backlit, physical Home key between those, which pulses in different colours when the phone’s trying to notify you of something. This feels very solid and is more impressively built than the lightweight silvery plastic buttons SE put on its 2010 phones and the original Arc.
The Ray is very thin, with a standard rubbery back, plus a chunky power button and 3.5mm headphone jack along the top. What you don’t get is any form of HDMI output or a physical camera button.
There’s a 1500mAh battery inside. There it is. It’s silver with black writing on it etc etc.
The Xperia Ray is a slightly unusual piece of hardware, angular and interesting looking. It’s certainly more of a boutique mobile than some of the bland plastic lumps out there today. No wonder Daisy Lowe likes it so much.
The OS on here, when it arrived, was Android 2.3.3. but during the (lengthy, strung-out) reviewing process, the Ray updated itself to Android 2.3.4 and all the fancy software enhancement that brings, like Sony Ericsson’s Sweep Panorama photo stitch tool, the line-drawing Swype clone keyboard, Facebook app sharing and more.
It’s a great take on Android. Sony Ericsson’s user interface here is identical to that found on the Xperia Neo, the Arc and, well, all of its 2011 Android phones, apart from the even more customised Xperia Mini and Mini Pro.
You get five home screens, with a simplistic colour scheme you can alter slightly through a collection of pre-loaded themes. Icons animate and jiggle when you pull up the editing menu, plus you can uninstall apps direct from the app drawer, with the removable ones popping up a little red “X” beside them when you hit the edit button on the bottom-right of the screen.
You can also edit the four shortcuts in the dock, even sticking a folder in there full of more app shortcuts if you’d like MAXIMUM easy app access potential. And that’s the Facebook app-sharing tool to the right – long-pressing any app’s icon brings up a Share tab along the top of the screen, generating a Facebook post about the app.
The line-drawing keyboard is a great addition to Android. If you’ve used Swype you’ll know what to expect – this is identical. You trace a line from the first letter of the word through to the last, then hope the auto-predict guesses it right. It usually does, although you will get hung up on the odd occasion.
There’s a phone keypad option if you prefer to live in the past, plus the usual basic QWERTY. You can have the Ray select these dependent on screen rotation, using the keypad in portrait and a QWERTY landscape. But the line writing thing’s so good you may as well stick with that and the QWERTY.
The 8.1megapixel camera with Sony Ericsson’s Exmor R sensor is excellent, producing results on a par with those managed by the high-end Xperia Arc.
The camera app has been altered by Sony Ericsson, giving it a slide-out options menu to the left and a live preview of your last few shots to the right.
You can leave it to automatically detect scenes, or set it to Normal and choose them yourself, bringing up the usual presets like Portrait, Landscape, Night scene, Sports and Party. If you want the maximum resolution you’ll have to take your shots in 4:3 ratio, with widescreen images dropped to 6MP res.
Colours are bright and bold, it manages skin tones well, plus it can handle scenes that combine light and dark areas.
Indoors it does a good job too, managing to boost brightness a little without introducing too much noise. And the macro mode is great. There’s hours of fun to be had taking big photos of small things.
What a lovely day out this was.
The Scottish tourist board owes me a few quid for putting these photos on the internet.
Here’s a still from a 720p video clip. The Ray manages to keep the frame rate at a rock-solid 29fps throughout, which is nice, with the auto-focus reacting quickly to movement. It also switches smoothly between light and dark scenes, although detail is a little patchy and mushy in places.
We’ve put an unedited 720p sample clip online here [34MB] so you can form your own conclusions. Good but not great, we’d suggest your opinion will be.
Overall, the Xperia Ray’s still camera is one of the best out there today, matching that of the high-end Sony Ericsson smartphones and therefore beaten only by the amazing sensor found within the Galaxy S II as far as we’re concerned. Video could be a bit better, but for stills it’s a superb performer. We weren’t expecting such great results from a tiny phone.
Web use is good. The Xperia Ray supports multitouch zooming and double-tap text reflowing, although the bookmarking and history system is untouched by Sony Ericsson – meaning it’s rather bland. But the high-res screen is again the star, making text lovely and sharp, and very legible.
Flash support is in. Good to see. It works well with embedded content and doesn’t impact too much on web page performance.
That’s the music app. There’s an internet look-up option that performs searches for the currently playing artist, playlist support is the usual boring-yet-functional stuff, plus you get a graphic equaliser that works even without having headphones plugged in.
That’s the music player widget. It’s OK. There are no lock screen player controls, nor any controls within the pull-down Notifications window. The onboard speaker is very loud and clear, both for music playing and calls.
Oh yes, and it’s also a telephone. The dialer has all the popular numbers, like one, six, eight and nine, and lets you piece them together into peoples’ phone numbers. Finding the number five can be a bit difficult, as it’s hidden away right in the middle of the keypad.
Yes, we have reached that point in the review where we can’t be bothered to take it seriously any more
The gallery is the usual Android gallery, enhanced with Facebook integration which pulls in all the pics you’ve uploaded to Facebook over the years, seamlessly dropping them into their own folders – complete with any comments people you used to know may have left beneath them.
What else is there?
GPS! The Xperia Ray is very quick to get a satellite lock, managing to hook us into the amazing sky grid and compute a Navigate satnav route in around ten seconds.
And here’s a benchmark for the benchmark massive. We’re trying to make up for that joke about the phone numbers.
Apps. You get Sony Ericsson’s Connected Devices DLNA streaming app which makes it dead easy to access your phone’s content on a networked PC or other device, a Data monitor to keep track of your mobile internet consumption…
…Sony Ericsson’s rather awful “Get Apps” and “Get Games” alternate app stores, which simply link to the Android Market and are therefore staggeringly pointless…
…although fans of legally and responsibly purchasing music may get some use out of the PlayNow music store, which will sell you, direct through your phone, a wide range of modern music from artists like Rihanna and… Rihanna. But at £1.50 per track, we’ll stick with our legacy MP3 collection, thanks.
Email. The Android app supports POP3/IMAP and Exchange ActiveSync, with Sony Ericsson giving it a lovely reskin, complete with resizable preview pane. It supports multiple accounts, plus there’s a combined inbox you can access to have all your accounts viewable in the same place. And there’s the Gmail app, of course.
That’s what Google’s Calendar looks like in the Sony Ericsson reskin world to the left, plus the pre-loaded TrackID app to the right – which is a free song recognition system linked with the PlayNow shop. TrackID is also able to ID tracks playing on the FM radio.
And you get all those. And all those. It is definitely time to wrap this thing up.
So. We like this phone very much indeed. The Xperia Ray is a stylish little thing with a great display and camera, that performs well enough to keep even the most demanding Android enthusiast happy. No, it is not dual-core and you can’t land an aeroplane on its screen…
…but if you’re in the market for something small and a little different from the bland crowd, and aren’t hung up on size and processor benchmark performance, this could be it. We’d use it. People will be jealous of how good the screen is. Here’s an easily digestible summary:
It’s small, it’s thin, it has one of the sharpest and most impressive screens we’ve seen on any mobile phone. The 8megapixel camera is about as good a phone sensors get as well, plus there’s a front-facing video chat camera, it produces adequate 720p video and feels like a solid and well made little thing. No complaints.
We’re big fans of Sony Ericsson’s pared down user interface. It’s simple, clean, user friendly and responsive, with stacks of Facebook integration, nice little app shortcut editing features, folder support and loads more. And the 2.3.4 update adds even more nice stuff. Again, no complaints.
It’s “only” running on a 1GHz processor, but for 99% of Android tasks that’s more then enough power. It supports Flash, runs games well, scrolls web pages nicely and the camera’s fast and responsive, too. Again, we can’t find any holes to pick.
It’s a dainty little phone that packs an astonishing number of features into its stylish case. Good camera, fast to use, loads of added features from the Sony Ericsson software lab and a display that’s sharp, bright and ultra-clear. There’s nothing wrong with this one at all.