Sony Xperia S review

Sony’s first smartphone since its split with Ericsson has an impressive screen and makes clever use of NFC technology, but are these features enough to make up for its year-old version of Android and a few other shortcomings? Julian Prokaza goes hands on with the Xperia S to find out.

Rather than put the radio antennae inside the case or wrap it around the outline like Apple's iPhone, Sony has instead put the Xperia S's in a small pod that fits flush to the bottom end of its case.

This is separated from the main smartphone body by a slice of clear plastic that, at first glance, seems to completely separate the two parts. Sony has just pulled a clever design trick here though, and close examination reveals an extremely fine mesh of wires that provides the necessary connections.

Sony Xperia S clear plastic

That clear slice of plastic also has three labels sandwiched inside for the standard Android Back, Home and Menu functions. These are tiny and printed in white, which makes them difficult to see when the smartphone isn't held against a dark surface, although they do light up when the Xperia S in use.

However, the labels are nothing more than that, and the buttons they represent actually sit on the screen bezel above. Sadly, these are no more distinct and the minuscule silver dots that show where to press are difficult to make out in dim light.

The touch-sensitive buttons also take a very firm press to activate and the whole label/button arrangement makes the Xperia S a bit of a chore to use as a result.

The use of physical buttons on a brand-new Android smartphone is also questionable, given that Google has dropped them for the latest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich' version of the operating system.

Sony Xperia S UI

The latest Android smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus now display the buttons on-screen whenever they're required, which means Sony will have to rework Android a little when it rolls out the upgrade in a month or two.

In the meantime, all three Xperia smartphones are stuck with Android 2.3 Gingerbread'. The year-old version of Android does at least look lovely on the Xperia S, thanks to Sony's tastefully restrained modifications to the interface and the screen its displayed on.