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Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray review: Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray

Perhaps we're suckers for big screens, but the small display on the Xperia Ray makes everyday smartphone tasks an eye strain. Make sure you compare it with larger phones before committing.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
5 min read


Sony Ericsson has spent the year designing phones the way a kid's party entertainer reshapes balloons. Starting with the same basic hardware, Sony Ericsson has now made four different Xperia-branded handsets, the latest of which is the Ray. At 111mm in height and 53mm wide, it makes the Ray the smallest of the Xperia family by quite a margin, with its screen shrunk to a petite 3.3 inches diagonally.


Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray

The Good

Compact size will appeal to some. Good hardware under the hood. Video Unlimited service installed.

The Bad

Screen is too small for everyday smartphone use. Some performance lag noticeable. Camera could still be better.

The Bottom Line

Perhaps we're suckers for big screens, but the small display on the Xperia Ray makes everyday smartphone tasks an eye strain. Make sure you compare it with larger phones before committing.

Despite its size, the screen is gorgeous to look at, using the same Reality tech and no air-gap construction that we saw on the Xperia Arc, this display is sharp with excellent colour and contrast. It's a shame then that it is so small compared with other phones in this price range. Typing using the virtual keyboard is especially difficult, with the tiny keys disappearing under our thumbs with every keystroke. Sony Ericsson does have the foresight to replace the keyboard with a T9-style keypad when the phone is held in a portrait orientation, which is a minor bonus.

The physical design of the Ray is strongly reminiscent of last year's X10, only smaller. It has the same monolithic squareness about it, with a nice feel in the hand. We like the large physical Home button below the screen, and we're impressed with how attractive Sony Ericsson continues to make its handsets this year.

User experience

On the surface, the user interface (UI) used in the Ray seems to be the same one used in other Xperia releases in 2011, but on closer inspection it reveals a few neat new tricks. Sony Ericsson has enhanced the software's Facebook integration, giving users more places around the phone to update their statuses with relevant information, like which music track they are listening to, for example. There is also the Facebook-powered "Friends Music and Video" app, which aggregates all the music tracks and YouTube videos that have been linked to you by friends using Facebook.

There are also some quirky new animations that give the UI a lift and help it to feel more alive. If you use a pinching gesture on the home screen you'll enter an Overview mode, showing all of your active home-screen widgets. In this latest version, the icons in Overview mode swim slowly across the screen, giving this simple tool a fun, cartoony feel. You can see an example of this in the review video above.

Movie magic

One of the features that sets the Xperia Ray apart from all the other phones on the market at this time, including its Xperia brethren, is that the Ray is the first handset to include Sony's Video Unlimited video streaming service, offering 9000 movies to buy and download, or rent and stream over the web.

The layout of this service on the phone is superb, with clear image-centric menus and good filtering options to help with the discovery of new titles. Combined with Sony's Music Unlimited music streaming service, the Ray delivers a lot of media to your fingertips.


This is where it gets controversial, again. All year we've heard about the many benefits of Sony Ericsson's new Exmor-R image sensors, with its focus on low-light image capture, but we've yet to see this translate into images we could be proud of. The Ray's camera is slightly better than those in the other Xperias, with some great colour captured, but still falling short of the high bar set by competitors Samsung and HTC, in our opinion. You'll find that the photos you take look fantastic on the phone's screen but appear soft in focus and full of image artefacts when viewed on a PC screen or uploaded to a favourite social network. But why is this?


I can't believe he drank the whole thing.
(Credit: CBSi)

The secret to this peculiar phenomenon is in another of Sony's proprietary technologies: the Bravia Engine-powering gallery content. Basically, whenever you open a photo or video on the Xperia Ray the Bravia Engine kicks in and "cleans" the image up, removing graininess and noise, attempting to correct poor focus, and boosting the vibrancy and sharpness of the image. The result is extremely impressive, but is ultimately an illusion to trick any casual camera phone photographer.


(Credit: CBSi)

At the end of the day, you're likely to only ever view the photos you take with the Xperia Ray on the phone itself, so the user experience from this perspective is quite good. But anyone who regularly uploads pics to Facebook, Twitter, Picasa or any number of other online destinations will be disappointed with the photos this camera produces.


As with all smartphones, and computers for that matter, the performance of the system will always be judged by the types of tasks you use the system for. However, in our suite of tests, the Xperia Ray came up a little short, which displayed regular lag spikes during our use. This surprised us somewhat, given that the Ray has the same hardware in it that the other Xperia handsets we've seen this year have, so we can only put this down to a need for some performance tweaking in the latest version of the Sony Ericsson Android overlay.

This dip in performance isn't the sort of thing that will bother most users, we think, but it is a departure for the experience you can expect if you use the Samsung Galaxy S II, for example. This may sound like an unfair comparison given the vast difference in hardware, but when the Xperia Ray costs the same as the Galaxy S II — and it does on a contract at the time of writing — then you really have to wonder if the convenience of size really outweighs a silky, smooth user experience.

Battery life is decent, with about three hours of screen time over a day and a half of use before it required a recharge.


The Xperia Ray offers a nice alternative to the increasing size of today's smartphones, but for us, the 3.3-inch display is a little too small to remain entirely usable. The virtual keyboard experience suffers and you'll find yourself pinch-zooming more than with most other phones. The Ray carries a lovely design and will make an envious fashion accessory for some, but anyone looking for a complete smartphone experience should test out a few larger handsets to be sure they can make do with the smaller-sized Ray.