Review by Michael Oryl on Friday April 20, 2012.
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The messaging and email apps on the Xperia S are subdued looking, but still attractive. They lack a lot of customization settings for things like font sizes and message previews, but still prove to be completely usable. A dedicated Gmail app is available, should you choose to use it, but the Sony email client handles pretty much any type of email server - including Gmail. Pre-installed instant messaging is limited to Google Talk, but at least video calling support is enabled for Talk users.
Sony decided to keep the Xperia S fairly bloat-free when it comes to apps. A few Sony apps are pre-installed, but nothing too heinous. OfficeSuite is available for dealing with MS Office compatible documents, and you'll find a bar-code reader and Wisepilot for navigation, but many of those can be uninstalled, which is great. Of course there's a large assortment of official Google apps like Google+, Maps, and Navigation. The Google Play Store offers access to hundreds of thousands of apps, and Sony includes its own PlayNow store, too. PlayNow offers access to games, apps, sounds for ringers and notifications, and images for use as wallpapers.
The Xperia S is equipped with a capable, if somewhat simple, web browser. While it could certainly use an interface update to make dealing with multiple windows more convenient, the browser still renders and loads pages well, which is most important thing. There is both Adobe Flash and HTML5 video support, and zooming and panning around pages is smooth and speedy. The Sony display also makes it easy to read small text, as its 720p resolution means that even tiny text is rendered smoothly.
My favorite part of the Sony Xperia S is, by far, the 12.1 megapixel camera. And my favorite camera feature is, by far, the quick start mode. Even when your phone's display is powered down, you can have the camera loaded and taking a picture in a matter of seconds just by long-pressing the shutter button. You can even configure it to take a picture right away, to make it as fast as possible. I love that, and used it often. It's faster than a regular point and shoot camera in that regard.
Otherwise, the camera takes nice 12.1 megapixel photos, though the extra resolution isn't really needed, in my opinion. The flash does a good job of illuminating the subject, and the versatile smile mode and face detection features are quite cool - though often fooled. The focus system, in general, is also often fooled when recording 1080p HD video. It is simply too slow to adapt to subjects that move, and your videos stay out of focus far too long. In some instances you may never regain focus once it has been lost. The audio recorded with the video is also low in volume. While the still camera excels, the video camcorder function largely fails.
Sony includes a nice music player on its Xperia S that differs from the stock Android player. It can automatically download and update album art and track info for your music, and it also features Sony's xLOUD sound enhancement system. The music player is controllable from the phone's lock screen and from home screen widgets, but there are no controls embedded into the notification area. An FM radio is also included on the Xperia S, for those that like to pick up their music for free over the air. A pair of wired headphones (included) have to be connected to the phone's 3.5mm port in order for the FM radio to function.
The Sony Xperia S features a 1750mAh battery that is rated for up to 7.5 hours of talk time or 14.5 days of standby time. My experience is that the phone's battery is good for a day of normal use, but will require daily charging. Sony does include some battery saving software on the phone that can help by turning off certain services when battery levels get low or when the user is sleeping at night, and that can be quite helpful.
The Sony Xperia S is a device I expected more from. I liked the look of it from the very start, but found that the fit and finish, and the display, just come up lacking. There was potential, as Sony showed with its fine software, but in the end the execution just wasn't there to give the Xperia S an edge over its competitors. There are many that will like, or even love, the Xperia S, but there are much better phones on the market today.
And, once again, thanks to Negri Electronics for loaning us the Sony Xperia S used in this review.