In some respects, designing a mid-range handset must be harder than designing the flagship models. A mid-tier mobile needs to maintain the same "feel" as other phones in its range, but also needs its own defining elements. You'd need to keep costs down and cut a few corners, but without obviously doing so. The Xperia Sola is a pretty good example of how this is done. Compared with the, the Sola has a smaller screen and lacks some of the features available on the flagship, but keeps enough of the Xperia offerings to hold its own.
Physically, the Sola shares many of the design cues we saw on the Xperia S; the same sharp-looking corners and the same three-button navigation panel below the screen. We like it's soft-touch plastic battery cover, which feels lovely to hold, and we like the alignment of its mechanical controls — including a dedicated camera button.
The Sola has a dedicated camera button, alongside the volume rocker and micro-USB port.
The Sola sports Sony's Reality branded LCD, like on the Xperia S, but in a smaller 3.7-inch size. With a WVGA resolution, you get far fewer pixels, per inch, on this screen than on the S, but you'd be pressed to spot the difference, in our opinion. It is, however, easier to spot the same colour banding issue we saw on the Xperia S. With colour banding, gradients of colour are represented as strips of distinct shades, rather than a smooth blend. This problem won't affect your ability to use this phone, but it does look unpleasant.
Sony also introduces an interesting new technology with the Sola, which it calls Floating touch technology. Most smartphone touchscreens use capacitive touch technology to signal where the user is pressing on a screen. The Sola uses Floating touch in unison with capacitive touch, so that the phone can also detect input when a finger hovers up to 22mm above the screen. However, this input isn't recognised as normal touch input and is only currently implemented in the web browser — even then, it can only highlight hyperlinks on pages. You can't make a selection with a hovering finger, and you can't swipe it to move around the page. It's an interesting idea, but completely useless without further application support.
Unlike some recent releases from competitor brands, Sony makes the battery of the Xperia Sola accessible and includes a micro-SD card slot for expanding the handset's 8GB of internal storage (of which only 5GB are usable for new apps and media). There is also a 3.5mm headphone socket and a micro-USB port for charging, but media-lovers will spot the absence of an HDMI port.
User experience and performance
In its various modes of downsizing to create this mid-sized Xperia phone, it is a relief that Sony has left the user experience as we saw it in the more expensive models. On the Sola, you get the Sony NXT user experience; a heavily customised software layered on top of Google's Android. We really like NXT; it's far less flashy than HTC's Sense UI, but it also seems to be more resource efficient. Despite the Sola being powered by a comparably slower dual-core 1GHz processor and 512MB RAM, the experience is slick and smooth, with pauses for processing infrequent.
Sony's NXT UI has a lot of nice inclusions, like the option to create folders.
The phone's specifications also mean that it has no difficulty running the majority of Android apps. We successfully ran some of the Google Play store's most graphics-intensive tasks and nothing phased the Xperia Sola.
It is disappointing that a phone released in the middle of 2012 is still running on the older Gingerbread version of Android. The newer Ice Cream Sandwich version does deliver some important enhancements to the platform, including performance enhancements, so hopefully Sony intends to release this update sooner, rather than later.
The Sola is both quad-band 2G and quad-band 3G, allowing you to connect to the 3G networks of Optus, Vodafone and Telstra. This includes the 850MHz frequency band used by Telstra and Vodafone for HSPA+ data speeds. It does not support the 1800MHz 4G frequency used by Telstra and Optus, though. The internet can also be accessed using Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), and the phone can share its 3G data using Android's personal hotspot feature.