The Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo seemed like a pleasant enough mid-range mobile when we first clapped eyes and digits on it at Mobile World Congress back in February. As we dug deeper though, we started to wonder: what was the point of a smaller, fatter phone with all the same specs as the flagship Xperia Arc?
Honestly? We’re still not sure. Let’s take a look, in our full Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo review.
Sony Ericsson has never turned heads with its smartphone aesthetics. Smudgy black plastic does not an attractive mobile make, and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc’s only saving grace was its intervention-skinny profile. The Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo, while sporting a smaller screen, is not any less cumbersome. In fact, at 116x57x13mm and 126g, it’s actually substantially thicker and heavier than the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc.
Still, other than its rather fat profile, there’s nothing especially wrong with it. There’s a front facing camera, a dedicated camera shutter button on the right, and on the top, micro USB and HDMI ports hidden behind closed doors, with a centrally and sensibly placed 3.5mm audio port sitting in between them.
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The only real problem is the lack of a physical search button to go with the clicky back, home and menu keys below the screen. That, and it doesn’t sit flush when placed on a tablet due to its sloping back, a bit like the Sony Ericsson Vivaz. No biggies. But compared to other mid-range smartphones such as the HTC Salsa, this is not a looker.
Reality Display, really?
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo’s 3.7-inch capacitive touchscreen is exceedingly sharp, at 854×480. In fact, when it comes to pixel density, this is just about as crisp as Android phones get. Web pages, emails and text look sharp. Sony’s Mobile Bravia engine kicks in on videos, and we must admit, they look damn fine.
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Whether this LCD screen really deserves the title of “Reality Display”, as Sony Ericsson claims, is another matter entirely. It’s bright (Unlike the Xperia Play‘s panel), but the colours aren’t quite up to the vibrancy of Samsung’s smartphones with AMOLED screens, and viewing angles are surprisingly shallow. Still, it’s better than most of the competition.
Facebook and Android fused
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo, as you’d expect at this point, runs the latest version of Android for mobiles, 2.3 “Gingerbread”. We’ll skirt over the basics of this: fast performance, Flash support, mobile Wi-Fi hotspot skills. All awesome, but all available in many other phones.
Instead, we’ll look at how Sony Ericsson has modified Android. Our boxed, final retail unit was running Android 2.3.3, a version that just rolled out on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, and brings with it the same Facebook Inside Xperia integration.
Longtime readers will know that we’re rarely a fan of manufacturers trying to add their own Facebook contact syncing and integration to Android phones. LG and Motorola particularly try to emulate what the Android Facebook app already does, to no real purpose.
Sony Ericsson however, is being a bit more sensible about things, only trying to fill the (plenty of) feature gaps which Facebook itself has yet to fill. Some of these, such as the ability to share download links of tracks your listening to with your friends, are rather pointless. Sharing “Buy It” links with your friends is called spamming. Sony Ericsson’s Media Discovery app too hasn’t been entirely thought through: it will pick out friends’ Facebook updates where they link to videos that won’t load in the YouTube app (as they haven’t been optimised for mobile).
On the other hand, the ability to automatically cache your Facebook photos in the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo’s gallery is awesome, letting you see these at any time, even without a signal. You can also swipe through to friends’ interests and photos from your phonebook contact cards, similar to the way you can on HTC Sense Android phones.
You also get a few custom Sony Ericsson apps, including a DLNA Media server app that works pretty flawlessly, and TrackID for tune recognition, Shazam style. Our favourite flourish however is Sony Ericsson’s homescreen dock, which lets you place four different shortcuts or even folders into it – these remain persistent on every homescreen.
Of course, there’s no getting around the fact that these things are all good because it’s a similar experience to the Xperia Arc. In fact, it’s identical, leaving us wondering what the point of a slightly smaller Xperia Arc really is. It’s just as powerful under the hood, but more frustrating: Sony Ericsson’s custom touchscreen keyboard doesn’t work particularly well on a smaller 3.7-inch display.
Camera and HDMI
The Exmor R mobile sensor helped make the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc the best Android camera phone yet, and second only to the Nokia N8 when it comes to lowlight performance. That 8.1 megapixel shooter is no less impressive here, grabbing smooth stills with lots of detail, and a welcome lack of noise. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a physical camera button either.
As for video: it’s pretty smooth 720p footage, although this isn’t quite as impressive any more, with 1080p shooting dual-core phones on the block that can even edit video, such as the HTC Sensation. You can see some footage we grabbed in the clip below:
A quick note about the HDMI connection: it’s great for playing games like Angry Birds on the big screen, and even streaming video from the internet. You get the cable in the box, we’ve confirmed, so don’t have to buy it separately, but we had problems with the supposed HDMI-CEC support. It’s supposed to allow you to use your remote control to navigate the phone, but it just didn’t work (odd, since we have no problems using our TV’s remote to control a PS3).
Performance and call quality
For a phone of this size, the 1GHz Qualcomm processor humming away inside is zippy indeed, delivering watchable Flash video and 3D games. If this was a larger phone, we’d have reservations about how future proofed it was (As we do with the Xperia Play), but it’s not such an issue here – this will keep you in apps for a long time to come. We don’t have any real issues with the battery either, which delivered around a day’s heavy use, as on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc.
To our surprise though, sound quality through the speaker was rather poor. You don’t notice it on regular phone calls, but on speakerphone chats and playing music without headphones, you notice how raspy it gets, very quickly indeed.
“Original HTC Desire owners will prefer the raw power, potential and screen size of HTC’s larger phones, while the HTC Wildfire S handles things on the affordable end.”
We have to draw a similar conclusion with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo, except that this critter doesn’t have a beautiful aluminium chassis going for it either. We’re just not sure what the point of a smaller, fatter Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is.
If you’re after a mid-range smartphone, check out the HTC Salsa: otherwise, you’d be better off paying not-alot-more for the same experience on a larger screen.