Great things come in threes, or so the saying goes. Sony Ericsson will fill out its top-end range of handsets in 2011 with a trio of Xperia-branded phones sharing the same internal components but varying on their external design. Thecame first, the will come later in the year and in the middle is Neo, a blast from the past and an exclusive member of the Telstra Next G club in Australia.
Blast from the past? That's right, this isn't the first time that Sony Ericsson has used this particular handset design. Fans of the brand will spot it immediately, we imagine; how similar the curved battery cover of the Neo is to the chassis on the Sony Ericsson Vivaz; a phone we reviewed in April of last year.
Not that this is a bad thing; in fact, if there was one phone that deserved a re-release, it was the uniquely designed Vivaz, which was originally let down by its woeful Symbian software. With Android on-board, the Neo is already leagues ahead, and in some ways, this design has been further refined. Sony Ericsson breaks up the midnight-blue plastic of our review unit with a stainless steel trim running around the edge. This trim houses the volume rocker, power key and dedicated camera button. Its plastic build helps to keep the Neo lightweight, although it does feel somewhat cheaper than the plastic construction of the Xperia Arc.
One of the key elements dividing the Xperia trio is the size of the screens used in each handset. The Arc is the big daddy, with a 4.2-inch screen; the Ray is baby bear, with a 3.2-inch screen; and the Neo falls slap bang in the middle, with a 3.7-inch display. This screen benefits from the Sony Bravia Engine software that we saw in the Arc, helping to make photos and videos looks fantastic, and it looks great for everyday use, as well.
The strength of Sony Ericsson's Android offerings this year is its improved, lightweight user interface. The Xperia Neo runs on Android Gingerbread, which delivers all of the performance tweaks from Google's end, with the simplified Sony Ericsson UX over the top. The end result is an easy-to-use Android smartphone with smooth performance most of the time.
Those of you familiar with last year's Xperia Androids may be wondering where the Timescape and Mediascape elements that dominated the UI have gone. Both applications still remain in this year's Android builds, but they take a back seat to the simpler, faster user experience in place. Timescape is now a standalone app that you can choose to use or not, and has a widget that you can deploy on the home screen to help to stay in touch with your feeds. Mediascape has been broken down into its various pieces, with the music player and video gallery incorporating some of the social integration that Mediascape delivered.
After years of clear separation between Sony Ericsson and its parent company Sony, we're finally seeing Sony Ericsson's handset range benefit from the experience of the Sony PlayStation team, the Bravia TV team and the CyberShot photography team. The Xperia Neo uses a variation on Sony's back-side illuminated Exmor-R image sensor and should, in theory, deliver outstanding low-light photography, perfect for night clubs or trying to secretly photograph Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.