updated 05:20 pm EST, Sun February 13, 2011
Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo unveiled, hands-on
Sony Ericsson's third device introduction tonight in Barcelona brought the Xperia Neo. It drops the slider keyboards of the Play and Pro but is Sony Ericsson's first Android phone with a front camera. Android 2.3 gives users the option of snapping photos or video with the back and a quick toggle to flip between the two on the spot.
The insides are similar to its just-launched cousins and center on a 1GHz Snapdragon and an Adreno 205, the combination of which can record HD video or push it out over HDMI. An eight-megapixel camera uses the same back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor as the Xperia Arc and takes better shots in darker scenes. Sony Ericsson is pushing ergonomics with a comfortable fit in the hand and a design tailored to photography.
The Xperia Neo should be in stores as of March. Sony Ericsson hasn't named prices or carriers, but it should reach worldwide.
When we tried the Neo at Mobile World Congress on Sunday, we were generally happy but had a few reservations. Just as Sony Ericsson said, it feels very good in the hand. It's plastic, but it has a solid build and does feel good to hold; people who miss the firm, narrow grip of basic feature phones will be at home here.
Using the front camera is as easy as can be. Anyone who has used an iPhone 4 or a Nexus S will be at home: an onscreen button is all it takes. The camera image quality was difficult to judge in the scenario of the darkened Opium Mar night club, but we managed to get a stable, well-lit shot of a volunteering Sony Ericsson staffer despite the low light and slight jitters while pushing the shutter button.
Issues with the phone ironically center on ergonomics. The screen is bright and colorful, but it's just a bit too narrow for speed typing. We could type quickly enough, but it required conscious thought and was definitely slower than on the Xperia Pro or even the Xperia Play.
Ironically, we also thought that the shutter control was a weak point of what's supposed to be a camera-first phone. We didn't have much time to confirm it, but we found it harder to instinctively press. It's small and requires some pressure, so you may end up either not taking the shot or causing a slight wobble when you do. Some of this may have to do with self-training.
And as before, Timescape is mostly an improvement on the X10, and generally a big help for many users with extras like app folders, but does have its limits. It slows down in certain very visually intensive areas, such as the pinch to view all widgets on the home screen or when flipping through the contact or video carousels. We suspect they're demanding too much from the processor, although most of the interface is very fast.
Of the three Xperia phones we tried in Barcelona, the Neo ranks third, but that's not to say it's a bad phone. From a cursory glance, it's at least as capable as its peers. It's just that, apart from its front camera, there's nothing it does that might necessarily stand out from other phones with similar performance and displays. Consider it the camera bug's phone and you may well be happy.