While we've got our hearts firmly planted in the Xperia PLAY camp, what with its lovely selection of PLAY-specific applications we love so very much to review, its tough not to see the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Neo as simply the non-slider version of the legendary PlayStation phone. That said, the Neo does have its uniqueness, and it's certainly aimed at the mid-tier group looking for that top-tier excellence without quite hitting the Xperia ARC level of coolness. WIll the XPERIA Neo find its place in our hearts, or will we keep attempting to push out the bottom to play Tony Hawk? We shall see!
While the outside of this device may look very much like the PLAY or even the Symbian-based Sony Ericsson Vivaz from early last year, this device replicates the insides of the Neo almost exactly. It's got Android 2.3.3 on a 1GHz single-core Qualcomm MSM8255 processor with 512MB of RAM and 1GB of ROM inside, a plastic and lightweight exterior weighing in at 126g and sized at 116 x 57 x 13 mm. The back, again, is very similar to the PLAY with a series of clicks and pops holding this extremely thin cover over the battery.
This device features a relatively small 3.7-inch 854 x 480 “Reality Display”, with just as large a resolution but not quite the quality in the color. AKA the display isn't fantastic, especially by today's Super AMOLED competitor standards. This first version of the device includes UMTS/HSPA, quadband GSM/EDGE, WiFi b/g/n and Bluetooth, microUSB, headphone jack, and microHDMI output. That's a pretty nice collection there, and as Davies notes, we're glad to see a dedicated HDMI port rather than the USB/HDMI combos we've seen recently. Although they at first seemed to be a space saver and a rather cool bit of technology to boot, we've come to realize that the additional converter you need to make it work just isn't worth the hassle. In other words - good job Sony Ericsson.
There's a bit of a bonus feature here that most devices aren't offering quite yet, that being color options in the casing: you'll be able to choose from metallic blue, silver, or red - match your outfit!
Software and Performance
The software you're going to see in this device is custom made by Sony Ericsson to sit on top of Android 2.3.3 to play well with the hardware as well as offer you additional Facebook Inside XPERIA functionality as well as Sony Ericsson's basic cool color scheme. Xperia Arc users have been able to download this newest version of the Sony Ericsson software for a few weeks now, by the way, so don't think for a moment you new buyers are going to outdo your early adopter friends. That said, it's all good to have as Xperia's previous iterations haven't been quite as excellent as this newest bit of evolution, Timescape and all.
Timescape is a social networking widget that's now working with Facbook Inside XPERIA. This is what we expect Sony Ericsson has created to break down the Facebook button competition we've seen come out of HTC of late, and it's running through more apps than one. The Facebook "like" button appears in several applications, allowing you to show love for your favorite music track, photos able to be posted instantly, videos as well. HTC pulls Facebook friends down to your device instantly, integrating them into your contacts list just as HTC has done of late, this all coming to what we'd consider a well placed point in Media Discovery. What Media Discovery does is work sort of like Apple's iTunes "genius" function in which tracks you've liked in the past are tabulated and new tracks are suggested for you - unfortunately this is done with YouTube and you'll have to head back to the Media Discovery app to find each new track.
Xperia Neo features the Exmor R sensor, a lovely modified camera app allowing you to work in a fully customizable landscape for all your photo oddities. Touch-to-focus, both in photo and video, red-eye reduction, and geo-tagging are amongst the special features, basic photos and video working quite well under it all. Have a look at a couple of example bits of media here:
Phone and Battery
Thus far we've gotten to test this device in its Euro configuration, it seeming to work perfectly well over voice calls, with a speakerphone that appears to be loud and hissy at most volumes. The battery, on the other hand, lasts a solid day with medium to heavy use. Charging nightly is a must, as with the majority of modern smartphones that've come across our desk in the past few months.
The Sony Ericsson XPERIA Neo is the less impressive version of the XPERIA Arc. The Neo is fatter, has a smaller display that doesn't show off colors as well, and the chassis on the HTC Desire S is nicer, but therein lies the dilemma: which device is available to you? All that you've got to take into account with the fact that the Xperia PLAY is going to offer you basically the same experience with the additional excellence of the gaming controller.
So it'll come down to cost, yes? Your key strength here is the camera, and if you're a blogger all day every day like yours truly, this matters a whole heck of a lot. Do you go for the slightly more impressive Arc, or the slightly more game-tastic Xperia PLAY? Or do you stick with the perfectly legit top-of-mid-range Xperia Neo? The power is yours - and it really depends on the deal you're being offered. Sony Ericsson is coming up, no matter which way you look at the situation, that's for sure.
See a separate account of this review over on SlashGear as presented by our man in England, Chris Davies.