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Sony Xperia Neo Review: In Depth

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The Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo is the latest phone to emerge from Sony Ericsson’s Xperia range of Android phones.

It’s something of a younger sibling to the very nice Xperia Arc – it has the exact same megapixel camera – 8.1 – with the same Exmor R light sensor and f/2.4 aperture. The light sensor and aperture are intended for taking pictures at night/in dark locations without solely relying on the flash. So it’s essentially a nicely-priced mid-range phone with a great camera. But what other treats does this mid-range Gingerbread phone have to offer us? Read on to find out…


What we like

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo’s got a great camera packed into its little frame – an 8.1-megapixeler that features an LED flash, and the same Exmor R light sensor that comes in the Xperia Arc.

We like that the shutter key has a ‘click to focus’ feature; you hold the key down and wait for the focus to do it’s thing. It’ll beep at you when it’s ready, you release the key and hey presto, a perfectly focused picture every time.

Many phones with great cameras are let down by the fact that their physical shutter keys are stiff or unresponsive, sometimes resulting in blurry pictures. So we’re pleased to say that Sony Ericsson has really thought the imaging capabilities of the Neo through.

Alternatively, there’s touch to focus and the ability to take pictures simply by tapping on the touchscreen – always good to have another option. For these reason alone, we’d go so far as to say that the Neo is probably best mid-range camera phone on the market right now.

Videos can be recorded at 720p which is pretty impressive. Admittedly not as impressive as the Full HD 1080p capabilities of a phone like HTC’s Sensation. But the Xperia Neo isn’t trying to be a high-end, world-destroying iPhone killer, so who cares. We like that you get an HDMI connection so that you can watch your HD videos on a big screen, watch YouTube videos, play games and the rest.

We should also point out that we enjoyed the novelty of watching programmes on the BBC iPlayer Android app on our TV via HDMI. Come on BBC, roll the iPlayer out to Freeview already.

The UI refinements that Sony Ericsson has brought to its Xperia phones are welcome changes. We love that we can create miniature folders on our homescreens for things like games, utilities apps, camera apps, whatever we want. We also liked the neat little tombola of your taken pictures that takes centre stage in the Mediascape widget.

One of the features of the Neo is Facebook Inside Xperia. Announced a little while ago by Sony Ericsson, this saves Facebook photos that you’re tagged in and pictures you’ve uploaded to the Neo’s gallery. This is great because you don’t need to be online to have a look at all of your Facebook pics on your phone.

It takes a little while for all your photos to sync properly, and obviously each time you upload a new pic to Facebook or someone tags you in it, it has to update with this new information. But when it’s working it’s great.

Your Facebook friends’ profile info (interests, recently tagged photos, general info) will also be synced to any contact information you have for them as well, which is another nice touch.

Finally, we also think that it’s worth noting that the Xperia Neo is part of Sony Ericsson’s eco-friendly GreenHeart range.

Normally, phones that have borne the GreenHeart tag have been phones from the lower end of the price and specification spectrum. But the Xperia Neo is without a doubt the most advanced phone to appear in the GreenHeart range to date.

Depending on how you feel about reducing your carbon footprint this may be a moot point. But if you’re keen on doing your part for the environment, however small, and want a decent smartphone that can pick up emails, browse the web comfortably and has a great camera then the Xperia Neo ticks every box. Just don’t ask how many factories China opened last week.

 

What we don’t like

If you’ve reasd our review of Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc, then you might have noticed that a lot of what we like about that phone (great camera, UI, Android 2.3 features etc) we like about the Xperia Neo.

For this reason we can’t but help that feel that the Neo is a bit like an ugly sister to the Xperia Arc’s Cinderella. Where the Arc has a large, wide screen and boasts that famous concave waistline, the Neo is a comparatively bulky thing.

We’re really not keen on Sony Ericsson’s design aesthetic that sees shiny reflective plastic being used for the covers of all of its phones. While it certainly does look nice, it’s less appealing to the touch.

On the Arc this wasn’t a big deal as due to its thinness, you didn’t notice it so much. But on the Neo, you really feel it. The back cover, after a good few hours of web browsing, game playing, feels sticky, sweaty and uncomfortable. We has a similar beef with the Xperia Play as well.

The 3.7-inch touchscreen sometimes feels a little narrow, which can lead to a cramped browsing and texting experience.

The default virtual Qwerty doesn’t seem to work that well on the Neo, leading to more than a few typos when we tried it out. Then again, you can just download a more suitable keyboard from the Android Market – Thick Buttons, SwiftKey, Swype, take your pick – so this isn’t the end of the world.

Lastly, call quality was a little suspect in some situations, which could be a problem in noisy bars or during rush hour.

 

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for an inexpensive phone with a good camera then Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Neo does the job and then some. We like the integration of Facebook, particularly the tagged picture syncing feature and how you can organise your apps into handy folders on the touchscreen.

We’re less keen on the overall feel of the phone; the build quality just isn’t as inspiring as the much nicer Xperia Arc – which has the exact same camera, but is a few quid pricier per month on contracts. If you can afford the extra pennies we’d advise you to go for the Arc. But if money’s a factor and you want a decent cameraphone for not a massive amount, then the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo will do just fine.

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