Tag Archives: Sony

Review: Sony SRS-XB3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker


The Sony XB3 is a new series of Portable Bluetooth speakers from Sony that has been geared to take on the JBL Charge/UE Boom market. Sony past models X33 and the X3 were very good speakers that focused as more affordable alternatives to the the Bose SoundLink Mini market, rather than the outdoor friendly market. Sony seems to have made a decision that the outdoor oriented market was a better space, and the new XB series is geared towards this.

The hardware

The XB3 product replaces the X33 (and X3) speakers, but by the likes of it, it might be a viable option for the very good X55 as well if you want similar audio volume but in a more outdoor oriented packaging.

The XB3 audio hardware layout is pretty much standard for the class, with dual woofers and dual passive radiators. The key factor Sony shouts about is the larger 48mm full range woofers it uses, the audio processing engine to boost bass (megabass) and Sony’s LDAC Bluetooth technology for high-resolution audio streaming.

I have extracted why the LDAC can be important by the following quote from Sony,

“LDAC™ audio coding technology developed by Sony, which allows transmission of up to around three times the data volume of existing technologies, and was the first in the world to offer audio quality in the Hi-Res class using Bluetooth Audio”.

While LDAC is offered by Sony on other more expensive models, the XB3 and XB2 were the first models to feature this in the lower price bracket.

The range 2015/16 range of speakers from Sony maxed out at 20W output for models which operated similar on battery and when on charge, while models that offered higher outputs the X55/X77 etc offered lower outputs on battery but the amp got into full power only when it was being charged. The XB3 is the first Sony where the output is 30W (all models in the past range were max 20W) and works i201606200911583902n the same manner on battery or when charged.

EXTRABASS is the new thing with the XB3 and Sony claims the BASS boost has been achieved by a combination of specially tuned woofers and radiators coupled with the Sony DSP processing. Sony also goes on to add that this is particular tuned for modern dance floor and EDM tracks, more about this on the sound test section.

This effectively now pitches the XB3 directly in line with the JBL Charge 3 and the UE Boom 2 on loudness. I did a quick table to compare the XB3 with the JBL and UE speakers (and the older X33 model) and you will how similar the XB3 is now to the competitors, clearly showing Sony targeting the JBL Charge 3 and UE BOOM 2 speakers, as in the past most of the comparisons of the X33/X3 was with the Bose SoundLink Mini I/II. The driver sizes are now pretty similar, and based on RMS output the XB3 seems to have the more powerful amplifier.

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Wit4836815cv19dh the XB3, Sony also brought in some outdoor protection into its speaker,and its now IPX5 certified (Water resistant).
While it cannot be immersed compared to the rivals which are IP7 and IP67 certified, it can now withstand splashes of rain and drips of water (essentially making it shower, kitchen and pool friendly). Notice the rain in the Sony marketing photos 🙂

The XB3 design is primarily meant to be placed horizontally, the XB3 is also capable of being kept vertically due to its non slip rubber exterior. While this is not going to make it provide 360 degree sound like the UE Boom speakers, you can now use it in smaller places which is a useful design feature.

The speaker also has the NFC pairing, an 3.5mm aux in stereo port and the USB chargeout. Importantly Sony has upgraded the Bluetooth spec to version 4.1 which means lower battery consumption. Range wise the Bluetooth range is still 30ft, and Sony works well even with thick walls without any sound artifacts (unlike my Bose Soundlink III which has issues with big cement walls!).  The UE Boom and Anker speakers have a greater Bluetooth range and they say 60-100ft.

A new feature for Sony is the ability to pair two speakers (aka dual pairing) with the speaker ADD button. The pairing is similar to the JBL implementation where you can pair speakers of the same type (two XB3) but you cannot pair different models (e.g. and XB3 with an XB2) as is possible with UE speakers. When paired you can decide if you want the speakers to Double (both play full range) or Stereo (left and right channels play on different speakers).

Like all Sony Bluetooth only speakers, the XB3 does not work with the SongPal application.

Design and Quality

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Gone is the Xperia Z phone like smooth external feel we saw with the older X3/X33 models, and we now have a rubbery non-slip exterior. The design still is very conservative its no longer the premium desktop feel speaker, but feels more rugged and outdoor friendly. The shape to me is more pleasing than the JBL Charge and UE Boom which are the two direct competitors.

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The water resistant feature means that the aux in, usb charge out, and power are now protected by a flap cover. If you going to using the speaker a lot with the aux in or on charge this can be annoying, but with a very good battery life and outdoor use being the market, i assume most users are not going to be complaining too much about this. It would have been better if each of the ports had their own protective covers rather than one huge flap is my opinion, which is the case with competitors such as the UE Boom. Since my use is mainly indoors, i found this rather annoying compared with the exposed connectors on the older models.

Only the POWER, EXTRABASS and BLUETOOTH buttons have tiny LED lights to illuminate it when using thexb3buttons speaker in a dark location. The volume UP and SPEAKER MUTE buttons have tiny bumps which is useful to identify the buttons, but why there are no LED for the volume button baffles me (same criticism i had with with the X5). Seriously why don’t manufacturers use different colored LED for buttons, specially to differentiate the volume up and volume down buttons at least (red and blue maybe)?

Since the speaker allows pairing two, a nice design touch is the indicators to show if the speaker is the left or right when you pair two speakers and set it up for Stereo mode.

Sound Quality

To start of with yes, the XB3 with MegaBASS on is loud, very loud and can easily fill a big room, or be heard outdoors, no question about that. Since i also had the Sony X5 with me (which is a higher up model but older) on battery the XB3 is significantly louder, and when connected it still much louder than the X5. One might say it should be because the X5 when powered is 20W while the XB3 is 30W. But being loud is one thing, the question is how is the quality of the sound and the manner in which it handles highs, mids and lows.

The next point to clear is that without MegaBASS on the volume is significantly lower, and selecting MegaBASS does not simply increase the BASS but also has a profound impact on the mids and highs as well.

Without MegaBASS the speaker lacks the oomph and that also explains why Sony has MegaBASS on by default.

Sony models in the past had a button to enable ClearAudio processing, which enabled more cleaner sound but it also meant lower battery times as this required additional processing. While the XB3 does support ClearAudio, there is on way to disable or enable it, and i assume it is always on which is a good thing, since on the X5 the sound was definitely richer than with ClearAudio on.

BASS (Lows)

Well with MegaBASS being the feature, let me start with the Lows. The XB3 with MegaBASS on handles bass quite well for a speaker of this size, but it also seems to be bass dominant, which is very different compared to the older models which had a more balanced playback. Further while it handles some forms of music well, the bass did sound a bit muddy with certain songs i tried. In many ways the bass for more akin to the type of bass you see with the Bose speakers.

The Sony X5 which has a special woofer to handle bass provides a more richer bass that can handle thumps better than the XB3.

However the XB3 is still a small speaker, and the bass does not have the thump you will get from a larger speaker.

Mids

Without MegaBASS on the Mids are well handled, and with MegaBASS on while they are still handled the bass tends to drown the mids.

Compared i found the Sony X5 handled the Mids better even when for songs with heavy bass.

Highs (Treble)

The highs are handled well both with MegaBASS on and off, and sound very clear.  The bass does not overwhelm  the treble in most songs i listened.

Stereo separation

Though the speakers are placed a part, the distance is not that great and you are not going to notice the stereo separation which is also how all other speakers of this type work. However if you want true stereo separation you can pair two XB3 and select stereo mode. I did not have a second unit to try this and provide feedback if it does work as stated.

Battery Life

The XB3 bring a big improvement on battery capacity compared to the older models and essentially doubles the on battery use time compared with the X33. Battery times quoted by manufacturers cannot be taken as fact since they don’t mention the volume. In most cases the volume is at 50% and this maybe rather too low for our usage.

Online reviews and forums are the place to go for this information.  I had the XB3 with me for over a week and i used it for 12+ hours without charging, and the volume was usually at 80-90%.

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Tips when buying a wireless portable speaker


Compiled a few tips / best practices when buying a wireless portable speaker.  If you have any more please do comment on this post!

  1. Don’t go by reviews, audio is a personal taste, and speakers are designed to play certain genre’s better than others. So take a collection of your music and try out how it sounds before investing.
  2. When trying out speakers, try it out in environments that you will want to use the speaker. Testing in an enclosed sound room, or big showroom may sometimes make the speaker feel better or worse than what it is. Smaller speakers perform better in smaller rooms, and the bass performance improves when you place the speaker closer to a wall. Some speakers have issues with balance (tend to rock or vibrate) depending on the surface you keep it or with high volumes, and take this into consideration
  3. Be vary careful of fakes of popular affordable products. You will find loads of fakes for speakers made by Bose, JBL, Beats, Sony simply because many buyers want this, and some A-Grade fakes are very well made that its hard to distinguish it from the original unless you playback and listen carefully. In some cases the fakes can even perform better acoustically but may have durability issues in the long run !!!If the Bluetooth speakers voice prompts are Chinese like for well known brands its most likely a fake 🙂
  4. If you intended to use it on Bluetooth and wireless, try it out with over the preferred wireless medium.
  5. Most wireless speakers will sound better when you connect it to the traditional mini stereo (aux) jack.  There are some speakers where the aux in may not have any amplification while the Bluetooth will amplify.  With Apple dropping the 3.5mm port, the aux in is becoming an option rather than a mandatory requirement.
  6. Understand your speaker and see how it works, some speaker amps are designed to run at lower power in battery mode, and sound much better when they are connected to the power line. If you hope to use the speaker mainly on battery mode make sure its not connected to the power line when testing to see how it performs on battery.
  7. Some speakers will not playback when they are being charged!! So test this or read and check if it does.
  8. Don’t assume that speakers having dedicated treble, bass controls (E.g. Marshall Stanmore) are professional models.  In most cases these for the design, or to compensate for limitations in the quality of tuning implemented.  A speaker that can handle different music genres without you having to fiddle with controls is more desirable, indicating it has been designed and tuned well.  If the speaker comes with an app that has a software EQ maybe useful but again not mandatory.
  9. If you can’t find the speaker in your local market, you use YouTube and listen to videos by reviewer who have used high definition mics to records sample sounds.  You need to listen with a good headset to get the best of these reviews, but since the sample music and environment is not going to be same you may not get the same outcome as testing it personally.  One such popular reviewer i listen to is https://www.youtube.com/user/clavinetjunkie
  10. For everyday use some of the larger OEM brands that sell equipment worldwide produce very good speakers as they may use the same drivers and other related hardware as big brands.  Notable brands i have come across include Anker and Divoom who actually make products that compete and outperform leading brands.  Another recent example is the Xiaomi  MI bluetooth speaker which offers far better sound quality, build and features than the much pricier Jawbone JamBox mini which it has been designed to look like (however make sure you are buying from a reliable source, as many online sites sell replica’s of the Xiaomi MI)
  11. The quoted battery time by manufactures are usually for 50-60% volume, cranking the speaker to 90-100% is going to reduce that quote time significantly.  Many speakers with 10hrs quoted time can go down to 2-3hrs when cranked full.  Read forums and reviews to get an idea of the actual battery of of the device you are planning to buy.
  12. For WiFi speakers firmware versions are very important. Make sure you update the firmware but also read forums if the new firmware has introduced any issues before updating.
  13. When buying wireless speakers with the intention of using wireless capabilities and the ability to combine multi-room and multi-device capabilities, the mobile app provided by the vendor is going to be a very deciding factor.  Here again online feedback is going to be a very useful information source (more than reviews, unless the review is a long term variety) since only long term users will be able to discuss the challenges and limitations they find.
  14. Size is not the sole indicator.  Smaller sized speakers may perform better than larger sized speakers because they may actually cram in better hardware and optimized tuning.  Checkout reviews of the Bang & Olufsen A1, a pricey premium palm sized portable speaker that actually has audio quality superior to much larger Bose SoundLink III (Thanks to an unusually large 90mm woofer at the bottom that handles bass and mids coupled to a tweeter for the highs!).  However small speakers may come with other issues.  Amazon reviews for the A1 indicate that it heats up and shuts down, and the all aluminium body becomes hard to hold when it gets warm under use.  In some cases specially with OEM speakers the external case maybe large, but the internals feature very low end hardware. Rather than buying such OEM speakers you can buy a small speaker from a tested brand and get better audio and battery performance.
  15. Bose is NOT the nirvana of speakers in the portable world (though most of us may only hear a lot about the SoundLink and SoundTouch series).  There are many niche brands that offer great audio performance but they also come at a steep price. One such brand making great speakers in the portable market is the a nordic brand called vifa (https://www.vifa.dk)
  16. Most speakers with Bluetooth will work from 20-30feet away from the music source, though that will depend a lot on the construction materials used for walls and area interference.  However there are some speakers that boost Bluetooth for over 50feet making them ideal for outdoor use, or for large areas.  Depending on your need this might also be a key selling point when buying speakers that you want to connect via Bluetooth.
  17. Most leading brands don’t state the output of the speakers in watts, since this number cannot be verified easily and also will depend on the manner the calculation was done.  However some brands do share the output such as Sony, Harman Kardon, JBL, and some even indicate the frequency band to give you an idea of the way the total speaker drivers will handle music.  When calculating the total watts, big brands only consider the powered drivers, and radiators are not considered into this calculation.  However i have noted that OEM speakers add an output for radiators to falsely increase the output of the speakers!  But don’t go by the watt count, as that’s not a true measure of a quality of the speaker, and neither is it a way to decide the loudness.
  18. When buying OEM brands, try out the speaker since most reviews are by authors who are provided the device free (same applies to amazon in some cases) and they will not write any negatives or problems since they will only get free equipment for favorable reviews.

Introduction to Wireless Portable Speakers


We live in a generation where the mobile devices are a central part of our life.  The importance of the mobile has brought an explosion in portable companion devices such as the portable chargers, Bluetooth headsets, speakers, etc.  Portable speakers are not a new concept for folks who would have been used to boom boxes and battery equipped radios in the 1970s.  These speakers were part of a major cultural change when it came to street music.

The popularity of the IPOD brought a new wave of portable audio devices in the likes of sound docks.  However for Android which joined the party a bit later found only limited options for sound docks  due to the change in the connector (mini USB to Micro USB), and the variety of device types.  The emergence of Bluetooth as a medium for playback, and combined with music apps on smart devices truly made universal portable audio devices to come into the market.

The portable wireless audio market since then has been growing fast, and these devices are offering continue to improve on the quality audio in a smaller foot print.  In order to achieve these portable wireless speaker manufacturers have designed in extensive concepts that allow maximum use of the small space of the speaker cabinet.

For anyone who has used audio equipment will know that size of the speakers, no of speakers, type of speakers, power of the amplifier, etc are not pure indicators for good quality sound.  The speaker designers have to tune the speakers to ensure it can handle a full range of frequencies, and the circuitry and software must also be designed to ensure compressed audio is processed, amplified to make use of the speaker hardware.

Unlike home theater systems or mini hi-fi systems, which feature dedicated sub woofers or speaker units for bass, the portable speakers with the size limitation are challenged in handling playback of the full spectrum of frequencies.   Hence if your expectation is that the portable wireless speakers are going to give the same quality and loudness of GOOD home theater systems or mini hi-fi systems, you will have to tone your expectations 🙂 , but things keep improving so some of these portable speakers can provide far better output than the largish computer speakers we used in the past.

So here is a few useful notes on the basics of a portable wireless speaker that can help you buy like a pro!

SPEAKER DRIVERS

Since we refer to the complete unit as the “SPEAKER”, i will refer to the individual speakers in this unit as “DRIVERS”

Modern good quality portable wireless speakers will feature some of the following drivers.

internals-of-a-bluetooth-speaker

  1. Full range drivers – These are all purpose speakers, which will TRY to handle all frequencies with on speaker.
  2. Mid Range drivers – These speakers will usually handle most of the vocals in the music (300-5Khz)
  3. Woofers – These are used to handle low frequencies (40 – 1kHz)
  4. Tweeters – These are used to produce high frequencies (2kHz – 20Khz)
  5. Passive Radiators (also called drone cones) – The air forced by the main woofers and speakers are “re-used” and pushed through the radiators (a piece of audio equipment that specially useful for bass frequency), which add to improved bass response. Most radiators are passive in nature, as in they do no use any electrical power (they are not connected to the amplifier), but are entirely powered by the pass through airflow.
  6. Bass Reflex port – This is more common approach to improve bass responses on speakers. Many small PC computers feature this technology, which allowed superior bass outputs from standard speakers. Here again there are variation, but seemingly with smaller footprints the passive radiators seem to offer better bass responses than a reflex port, as bass reflex ports are harder to design (but cheaper to implement)

A good read for passive radiators – http://www.centerpointaudio.com/passiveradiators.aspx

If you buy a speaker and it only has two same size drivers, then its mostly likely having full range speakers, where both drivers will try to play all frequencies.  The quality of the full range driver will decide how well the total speaker system plays different genres of music, but most often such speaker will be bass limited (bass will be muffled and lacking the thump), or if the manufacturer tunes it it may lack the mids (which will effect the vocals).

Many knock offs (copies/fakes) of branded products or cheap speakers will usually feature full range speakers, and possibly a simple bass port.

Some higher quality speakers may bring in a more balanced set of drivers that combine the different types (mid range drivers, woofers, radiators, tweeters) to provide good quality audio which can also handle different music genre’s.

SPEAKER AMPLIFIER and AUDIO PROCESSOR

The drivers/woofers/tweeters/radiators are one part of the speaker, but another essential part is the sound processing hardware and amplifiers.  The speakers also consist of the DSP (Digital Signal Processor), the DAC (Digital Audio Converter), and codecs.  The quality of the hardware and software used here, along with the tuning of these to match with the drivers/woofers will be key for the overall performance of the speaker.

This is why you will find that some speakers touting very powerful speakers may not sound so great for different music genre’s, as lack of software optimization and poor sound processing can completely cause the speaker drivers to be useless. Some vendors may add buttons for controlling treble, bass but you may find  when playing wireless you will hardly use these buttons and also need to change them from song to song making them useless.

A speaker that is optimized to handle different types of audio without such perks, and not distorting will be a happier purchase !

Another important aspect is how the manufacturer has designed the speaker to perform under battery mode.   Some speaker amps throttle the output of the speaker if its running on battery to reduce the drain on the battery, hence the speaker may not sound as great on battery compared to when its connected to the power and is charging.

Bluetooth version and features

The key enhancement in newer Bluetooth versions is the reduction in interference from other devices and frequencies.  One has to understand that frequencies used for other devices vary from country to country, and hence the interference can differ.

In most cases Bluetooth 2.1 would be adequate in handling playback of HD audio, but Bluetooth 4.0 with LE support can be help improve the power consumption of Bluetooth equipment.

A good read : https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-Bluetooth-4-0-3-0-and-2-0

Some Bluetooth speakers allow you combine speakers and provide you better stereo isolation.  Though the portable speakers have multiple drivers, they are located to close to each other to really differentiate left and right channels.  By adding two devices, the speakers split left and right enabling better stereo isolation (which will also depend on how you place the speakers)

WiFi features

Newer wireless speakers may support WiFi, and this will bring a heavy dependency on the quality of the mobile application provided by the vendor to harness the speaker capabilities.  The mobile app will allow you to combine many speakers and stream audio from your mobile device to the speakers that can be located across your house.  The app will also help integrate with popular audio streaming sites, the support sites would depend on the application.

Each speaker will use separate bandwidth, and hence your network quality and bandwidth become key factors for the quality of audio that the speakers can provide when playing over WiFi.

Purchasing speaker to harness the WiFi capabilities will need lengthy research as many products have very grave issues such as regularly failing to connect to a wireless hotspot, breaks in streaming, lack of support for popular audio streaming sites, etc.  WiFi in portable speakers still seem to be in maturing state and here its led by a fairly new company called Sonos who create good audio devices that also feature robust WiFi connectivity supported by a good app for key mobile platforms.

Most WiFi speakers will also have Bluetooth connectivity, but if you fallback to Bluetooth you won’t have the ability to connect all the speakers as one, a key selling point for WiFi speakers.

Environmental Protection

A popular demand these days if for speakers to be very outdoor friendly including the ability of the speaker to handle a dip in the swimming pool.  New speakers come with different IPX ratings, and one has to understand making a speaker soundproof also bring in various forms protection for the equipment within, and the use of different materials for speaker drivers.  These can result in reduced audio quality in some instances.

Note from Author 🙂

This is a shift in interested towards mobile speakers, since Mobile Phones have become boring in recent times !!  With evolutionary improvements being harder to even notice (slightly better camera, faster processor, better battery life, better display, etc), and some features that to me are downgrades such as the lack of a 3.5mm speaker Jack (= no high quality DAC for audio), i decided a slight change on interest was required.. and the area i have now picked is portable audio. If you have any such gadgets and are willing to loan it for me for a week or two for review, i would be most delighted!

Related Posts

Some tips when buying a portable wireless speaker – https://rayazmuthalif.wordpress.com/2017/01/29/tips-when-buying-a-wireless-portable-speaker/

Portable audio equipment owned or used

Bose Soundlink Color, Sony SRS X5, Sony SRS XB3, Harman Kardon Onyx Mini, Divoom Solo, Bose Soundlink III, JBL Charge, Bose Soundlink Mini

Sony Xperia Z, the 2013 flagship with a design to kill, and backed with the hardware to match


Sony has had a reputation from the time it entered the Android market that its phones had the design element, but were always a step behind in hardware, and so so on the software side.

The Xperia Z (and its sister phone) the flagship for 2013 heralded a first for Sony that the hardware was at the time of the launch the top most specification among the available droid phones, and was backed up with awesome 5” Full HD Bravia display that was only beaten to the market by the HTC Butterfly (a limited production model) and a cool design that had buyers and reviewers drooling over.

However Sony’s rule as the topmost spec in the market was short lived, as the launch of the flagship phones by the two other giants in the android space, first by HTC with their one, and then followed by Samsung with their Galaxy S IV so the specs eclipsed (marginally as the difference in performance is marginal, as the new flagship only users a slightly newer version of the Snapdragon chipset).  But still these competitors (specially the once again all plastic Galaxy S IV) trail on the design element.  If this can help Sony rebuild and grow in the Android space is to be seen, but the Xperia Z is a clear indication that Sony wants to get a bigger piece of the smart phone market, and that bodes well for its follow up launch of smaller models that should also feature top of the line hardware.

HARDWARE

The Xperia Z featured a 1.5Ghz  Krait configuration, consisting of a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064) chipset (this chipset has since been increased in speeds and called Snapdragon 600), backed by the Adreno 320 graphics core, 2GB of RAM.  The combination at the time of the launch was the hottest, and matched the Nexus 4 and HTC Butterfly that featured identical hardware.

The processor and graphics offered performance that left the Nvidia Tegra 3 standing, and many say that even the Tegra 4 would be hard pressed to match this performance.  The story seems to hold true, as for this year there is no Tegra 4 based releases yet indicated by any manufacturers, and all the leading manufacturers have used Qualcomm units, a bad sign for Nvidia indeed.

Design

Sony continues to do what its good at, which is the design.  IMG_20130319_190537The Xperia Z features a slim sleek profile with a scratch resistant tempered glass front and like the Nexus 4, a glass back.  It also features a cool Z sticker, which adds a touch of class.

The beautiful full HD display only has a very small bezel around it, which makes the phone quite easy to handle for it size, and the overall weight is also minimal.

Since the phone is a water proof and dust proof unit, Sony has omitted the usual camera button that one finds with its phone, but in case you do not want the water resistant feature, the much cheaper and near identical Xperia ZL features the camera button along with a simple plastic back.  For many though the glass back design alone will make their purchase decision.

Display

The year 2013 is all about Full HD screens and the move up in size.  The Xperia Z is among the first few to feature a full HD screen.  The large 5” screen resolution is actually 1776×1080, as the bottom pixels are taken for the soft key buttons similar to the Google Nexus 4.

The display when compared to the phones of 2012 such as the HTC One X, Galaxy S 4 and Nexus 4 show how much more sharper the higher resolution has made things.  However users will have to be be vary that apps will still be targeting the 1280×800 resolution that is still the common resolution, and until the Galaxy S IV with a similar resolution enters the market in big numbers, the application compatibility and the fact that applications harness this extra pixels will not be truly applicable.

Sony like HTC has stuck on to TFT type screens, and to me that is a good thing. TFT screens tend to be sharper than the AMOLED screens, and also offer much better visibility when used outdoors.  The Xperia Z screen continues on the sharpness that you appreciate, and has great colors.

The problem for Sony is going to be HTC, who with their HTC J/Butterfly/Droid DNA already showed that the could offer a better LCD type screen than the Xperia Z, and the new HTC One is definitely going to do better, so why Sony could not put out a better display for their flagship is going to hurt them.

A common complain that you will see on the Xperia Z is that the color fade based on the viewing angle.  To me if i was the user of the phone, i am not going to see that much, unless you want to use it as a group video player (do we do that a lot?).  So don’t go by reviews and take this as a bad thing, for me the fact that the neighbor cannot clearly see my screen is a  good thing.

Sony also applies it video and picture optimization called Bravia 2, which to many is simply a contrast boost but it works fine, as it pops the colors out.

Camera and Video

Sony though a camera giant, tends to play safe on the camera phone market, and this to me is a sad thing.  The Xperia Z has the same size sensor as the 8MP units but this time it features 13.1MP, which may mean sharper photos in good light but in most conditions the pictures are going to look grainy with all those pixels cramped into a such a small sensor.  The lens maybe a F2.2, a larger aperture than the traditional F2.4 lenses we have seen with Sony cameras in the past, but the boost is marginal and to me the increase in mega pixels is going to be negative on the photo quality.

The Xperia Z for a phone so large also features are rather small LED flash and i felt the high mega pixel, small sensor and the small flash could only mean that the Z was in no way going to be the best camera phone.

The photo samples confirmed this, as other than in good light the camera struggled to focus and provide anything called good photos.  The photos to me looked much worse than what got from my One X, S 3 and the Xperia S unless it was under very good light.  Even with the flash indoors under lower light conditions the photos were nothing great.

The focus performance under good light was good but not lighting fast as i had come to see with the HTC One X, and under poor light it struggled.

The camera also features something called a Superior Auto, which does a lot more optimizations than the standard auto mode, and yes this feature does seem to do well but it also means the photos are limited to 12MP (a good thing!)

The other feature that would prove to be an irritating one, and something that Sony users will be puzzled is that the the camera app takes about 5 seconds to load.  Why this is remains a mystery, as camera app loaded much faster on the Xperia S, and with so much hardware its a sad story for the 2013 flagship on the still photo arena.

The video of course is capable of 1080p, at 30fps and so it should be with the kind of hardware the Xperia Z is running on.  Sony also is heavily marketing that the Xperia Z is capable of doing HDR in video mode as well.  On the video department the Xperia Z performs better, but still under low light the crammed sensor will struggle.

The Xperia S also featured one of highest megapixel cameras with a 12MP unit when all the competition were doing 8MP.  However based on the pictures i have taken and reviews read, my feeling is that Sony tried to win customers by marketing higher mega pixels than true better picture quality/video.

The unit features the same F2.4 type lens that all are familiar with the Sony Arc S launch, and for some the Arc S remains the better shooter.  The extra mega pixels have further highlighted the lower quality of Sony camera images, and this is an area Sony still has work to do.

What is crazy is that Sony has such a pedigree when it comes to compact cameras with small sensors, and that their camera units and processing is being thrashed by Samsung, HTC and Apple is something that Sony should be ashamed.

The video like HTC features constant auto focusing which is great for slow moving footage, but remember to disable this when doing fast moving footage if not you are going to feel sad.  The video is also capable of 1080p HD, and the quality is good enough and the camera performs decently even in poor light.

A feature increasingly common with most flagship phones is the ability to take still photos while recording video, the Z can do that, but the still photos are limited to 1MP!, this is rather poor when the HTC and Samsung implementations in 2012 with lesser hardware could already do full resolution stills while video recording.

Video playback and sound

The stock video player is good supporting most formats including MKV and Div X.  The video playback is awesome on such a large high resolution screen, and in case you are into videos this phone is excellent.

The audio quality on voice calls are good, but for a phone of this size the loudspeaker performance is nothing great, and it seems this maybe due to Sony trying to make this phone water resistant, and had to sacrifice on the size and design of the speaker.  The fact that the phone only has one speaker is also going to hurt it with the HTC One coming out with large stereo speakers on a smaller foot print.

Sony as followed Apple on its new design for the ear phones with the flat type, sadly i could not test these out as I only had the phone for a short while.  However the ear phones to me looked a bit budget in the quality of finish, and i felt Sony cold have done better on the quality of finish compared the Apple ear phones.

Storage

The phone only comes with 16GB on-board, a strange decision when Sony always went with 32GB for their flagship phones, and the trend this year is that its 32GB or higher.  With the base OS taking a fair amount out of the 16GB, the decision for Sony to reduce the flagship internal storage seems crazy, specially since the phone is not cheap!

However Sony has made up for its miss in the past by including a microSD card slot that is capable of taking cards upto 64GB, providing the expansion capability.

Battery

With a more powerful chipset and graphics, larger screen ,and higher resolution the battery drain is going to be a question on everyone’s mind.  Sony has boosted the battery of the Xperia Z with a fairly large 2330mAh unit, and the phone needs it.

Gsmarena showed the phone standby performance is great (it should with such a large battery) but once you start using that display things don’t last that long.  Under normal use the phone will struggle to last a day if the display is used a lot, as the display is the key battery consumer.

The battery is not a removable type, which is not a big problem unless your battery dies on you.  With so many portable external battery chargers available the removable nature of the battery is not a big concern anymore, but how many recharge cycles can this battery hold with the continuous drain on this unit will only be proven on a long term tests.

Software and Customization

The Xperia Z launched with Jelly Bean but not the latest version, opting to go with the 4.1.2 version rather than the 4.2.1 version that may have improved performance.  The update for 4.2.1 is due but with competing flagships launching shortly with 4.2.x version, Sony needs to move fast, but it seems that is not going to happen.

Sony in recent times has not attempted to include any heavy customizations, which has also enabled the phones to  provide good performances. The Xperia Z does have some level of customization, but compared to the Samsung and HTC implementations, the Sony implementation is light but also lacking in features.

There is now a permanent pop up feature that you can use for some apps, which is a bit like the multi-view feature by Samsung.  Sony wall papers look great and add to the finish of the phone.

Screenshot_2013-03-16-19-51-47Screenshot_2013-03-16-15-13-15Screenshot_2013-03-17-16-54-25Screenshot_2013-03-16-15-43-04 Screenshot_2013-03-15-09-43-34Screenshot_2013-03-16-15-41-28Screenshot_2013-03-16-15-40-49

The extra resolution means split screen implementation for the calendar and email are not cramped and easily viewed.   However some of the widgets like the calendar widget still have too much white space and don’t take benefit of the higher resolution.

Screenshot_2013-03-16-17-42-10

Usage issues and problems from known from forums

  • The phone when used for browsing in particular tends to get very warm at the top bottom. The glass back does not help here, as it amplifies the heat.  The heat is easily  noticeable even after a short period of browsing.
  • The screen though supposedly rugged has several examples that have cracked under light use, indicating their maybe a design issue rather than a quality of material problem.
  • There is also a reported issue of the phones dying if the battery charge goes very low, and the phone sometimes can be brought alive using a recovery process but not always.  Sony has confirmed this issue, which is a big minus point for the phone.
  • The loudspeaker if immersed in water will be low until the water clears out, again a poor design issue
  • The camera interface does not rotate and seems to have been designed to work with the ZL hardware camera button

Performance

I have compared the performances of last year flagships and the Nexus 4, along with the Xperia S to give an indication of the improvement in performance.

One has to note that the graphics and internet rendering performance cannot be compared apples to apples since the Xperia Z has to render on much greater pixels, so in case the performance matches that alone is a major achievement.

Screenshot_2013-03-15-09-41-48Screenshot_2013-03-15-10-01-39Screenshot_2013-03-15-10-11-01

Compared to LG Google Nexus which has a lower resolution, the Xperia Z screams and also shows that Google does not optimize its phones much.

Compared to the 2012 flagships, the Xperia Z is able trounce them on all departments which indicates how much more powerful the Snapdragon S4 Pro processor is.  The slightly faster but near identical Snapdragon 600 on the HTC One and the international version of the Galaxy S IV will surpass this but not by much. Except the next update from Sony to make things even better.

The chart also shows that the quad core krait in the Xperia Z is able to offer a heavy improvement compared to the dual-core version that was featured in the HTC One S.

Chipset GPU Android Antutu 3.0.x Quadrant Nenamark Vellamo 2.x GeekBench 2.0
Sony Xperia Z 1.5Ghz Quad Snapdragon S4 Pro Adreno 320 4.1.2 20486 7871 59.9 2178 1991
Sony Xperia S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S3 Adreno 220 4.0.4 8219 3306 37.9 1393 996
HTC One S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S4 Adreno 225 4.0.3 10558 4707 61.0 1535 NA
HTC One X 1.5Ghz Quad Tegra-3 Nvidia Tegra 3 4.1.2 14781 6805 57.1 1578 1359
Samsung Galaxy S III 1.4Ghz Quad Exynos 4412 Mali400MP Quadcore 4.0.4 14300 5343 58.9 1569 1824
LG Google Nexus 4 1.5Ghz Quad Snapdragon S4 Pro Adreno 320 4.2.1 17640 5014 57.8 1302 1302

Conclusion

The Xperia Z has many things going its way.  It definitely has a great design, and is maybe only second to the upcoming HTC One (the Galaxy S IV looks just like the Galaxy S 3, so Samsung yet again fails on the design element and quality of materials).

The design is backed by a a very good screen that is also large, and offers full HD resolution.  Sony has also gone to the extra length of making the phone water resistant and dust resistant.  Practical things since that means if the phone was to get wet in the rain or was in your pocket, this phone is going to come through fine, and that is one worry you don’t need to concern over.. nice.

The Xperia Z features a great processor and graphics, that means excellent performance in games, browsing, video, etc.  Add the microsd expansion slot it makes it an ideal multimedia device.  Well done Sony.

BUT the poor camera is a big negative for a camera of this price and status, and Sony’s decision to go ahead with a ridiculous 13MP sensor that is the same size as the 8MP sensor we have seen in 2012, and backed up with a smaller flash only made things harder for the Sony software guys working on the still photo area.  The performance of the camera to me is worse than most 2012 phones, including Sony’s own phones, sad.

The heating issue and the durability of the screen is also a concern, and adding a clunky screen protector is going to hurt, but here Sony has a solution, opt for the ZL version with the plastic back, but then you loose the water resistant feature, ouch.

However no phone is perfect, the Xperia Z ticks many good things and with a design so elegant, it must sell well.  But the world seems to buy phones based on marketing, and Apple and Samsung are very good here, and that is something Sony seems not capable of matching, and until that changes the Xperia will remain second or third to most.

Sony Xperia S, a worthy flagship in design but lacking in hardware


The Xperia S heralded a new design that definitely caught the eye of many, as Sony Ericsson moved out and became Sony.

The NXT series of phones was led by the S as its flagship, and the phone’s design stood out of the crop, but faced a stiff challenge when the HTC One Series also came with an outstanding design.

I got hold of this phone recently as i wanted to try it out, after trying out its lesser known but in some way more advanced Xperia P twice.

HARDWARE

Sadly this is the very area Sony continues to get battered even today, though the Xperia Z promises to change this for the first time for Sony.  The Xperia S packed a dual-core Qualcom 1.5Ghz unit backed by the Adreno 220 GPU.  The processor and GPU are quite capable but this combination is what you saw in 2011 phones from HTC and Samsung, which had moved on to quad core units by 2012.

The one place the Xperia S had matched with times was the memory, with the Xperia S featuring 1GB of RAM, though that was also changing with Samsung releasing the US Galaxy S3 with 2GB, and now in 2013 we are seeing all new phones coming with 2GB.

Design

The Xperia S definitely can be proud of one definite thing, which is that design.  The phone still looks good, and feels good.  The design was fresh and different but the design also meant a large bezel at the bottom which many of the users did not like, and the new 2013 models have dropped this design, which mean they don’t look very much different from others phones on this end.

The Xperia S sadly did not have touch enabled buttons for the lighting grid, unlike its cheaper Xperia P sibling, something that can be irritating if you have used the Xperia P before the S (as was my case!).  If not i am sure you won’t be too bothered about this.

Display

The Xperia S was also Sony’s first phone with the 1280×720 display, and it featured a very sharp LCD screen that was boosted by the Bravia software optimization that boosted contrast for video playback.

I have come to realize that i am a person who appreciate sharpness of the screen, which was one reason why i did not like the pentile AMOLED screens on the Galaxy S3 and HTC One S, which lacked the sharpness.

The Xperia S has a very sharp and solid display that to me is only second to the HTC One X, which features a screen that is superior to my eye, but that maybe a personal choice.

Sony has opted for a more narrow display compared phones offered by HTC and Samsung with its NXT Series phones, and the Xperia S may offer better single handed operations but i find the narrow size a bit restrictive when it comes to typing on the keyboard.

Camera and Video

The Xperia S also featured one of highest megapixel cameras with a 12MP unit when all the competition were doing 8MP.  However based on the pictures i have taken and reviews read, my feeling is that Sony tried to win customers by marketing higher mega pixels than true better picture quality/video.

The unit features the same F2.4 type lens that all are familiar with the Sony Arc S launch, and for some the Arc S remains the better shooter.  The extra mega pixels have further highlighted the lower quality of Sony camera images, and this is an area Sony still has work to do.

What is crazy is that Sony has such a pedigree when it comes to compact cameras with small sensors, and that their camera units and processing is being thrashed by Samsung, HTC and Apple is something that Sony should be ashamed.

The video like HTC features constant auto focusing which is great for slow moving footage, but remember to disable this when doing fast moving footage if not you are going to feel sad.  The video is also capable of 1080p HD, and the quality is good enough and the camera performs decently even in poor light.

Video playback and sound

The stock video player is decent, but does have limitation on the formats supported and you need to download a third party app to ensure you can play all types of media formats.

One area Sony has always been good is the sound quality on the headset and loudspeaker, and the Xperia S continues that tradition.

However the bundled in-ear type headset is average in quality, and also does not fit well into your ears.  I preferred the HTC bundled units the one series which offer better sound quality and fit.

Storage

The phone features 32GB on-board which is very much the standard for flagship phones bar the rare Galaxy s3 with 64GB available in some markets.  However Sony omitted the microSD card which meant no expansion on the storage and also took away the users ability to load content quickly by switching SD cards.

Considering the bulk of the phone, and the easily removable back cover Sony missing the microSD is a sad omission.  However seems Sony has now understood this and the recently launched Xperia T has a very easily accessible MicroSD slot.

Battery

The Xperia S was also the series that got Sony into the IPhone like non-removable battery space, which effected its sales, as many power uses tend to carry spare batteries as full use of these phones means less than a day of use.

The Xperia S with its largish 4.3” screen and older chipset meant it lost out in battery life to the more powerful Samsung phones, but it still was able to provide over 1 day use which was decent.

I tend not to have mobile data enabled unless i want it, with such use i could manage around 1.5-2 days of use.  Though it use an LCD type display which is supposed to do well with white background render, the phone drains battery quite rapidly when browsing, which is also reflected in the gsmarena battery tests.

Software Updates

Sony’s other areas of weakness has been that it has always got caught on the wrong end when releasing its phones that it was always one version down from Samsung and HTC.  The Xperia S suffered as it was launched with Gingerbread when the hot topic was ICS.  Sony provided the ICS update quickly but the initially version proved to be rather buggy, but subsequent updates improved the performance and stability, with the Xperia S getting the updates ahead of all the other NXT range phones.

However with the release of the Xperia SL, identical phone with a higher clocked processor, and the Acro S, the Xperia S updates were pushed into second priority, and then the recent release of the Xperia T has further slowed the much awaited Jelly Bean update.  Sony has informed that this update would rollout in Mar/April 2013, while the Xperia T got it late Jan 2013.

The good news is that the Xperia S code was shared with Google, and this means you may see one more major update for this phone which makes it one of the few phones (the Galaxy S2 is the other) to have received 3 major updates since the release of the phone when most have only got 2 updates at most.  The updates have also not been just base versions, and also featured new features that were available with newer releases, which means value for money for users who brought the phone.

Issues noted

The phone i had had was already running the most latest 4.0.4 update which was quite stable, and i did not notice any irritating or annoying behavior.

However the white version (which i had) definitely showed a weakness in build quality with the external paint work peeling off in some areas on the edges quite easily though the phone only had been used for a few months.

The micro USB has a cover, and this is also an area that has paint peeling happening, and Sony seems to have sorted this out in the Xperia T by omitting the cover just like most others have done.

Performance

I have only included tests of Android 4.0.4 for other devices, to provided a more apple to apple comparison, though several of the phones were tested by myself with Jelly Bean which boosted performance (bar the S3!) specially on the web browsing area.  I am sure similar or better improvements can be seen when the Jelly Bean update for the Xperia S rolls out.

The Samsung E110S Galaxy S2 features identical hardware to the Xperia S, but features a lower resolution screen, which is why you see far better performance on Quadrant, Nenamark and Antutu, all which take the 2D or 3D performance as well into play.

We also see how much faster the S4 Snapdragon featured in the One S, which was the chipset everybody hoped that Sony would have used or at least opted to use the Adreno 225 graphics, and we only see it appear now in 2013 with the Xperia T.

Also noticeable is that the Xperia S with an weaker CPU and GPU still holds well against the Galaxy S2, considered one of the best phones to be released in 2011 and its true competitor as all others were launched a year later.

  Chipset GPU Android Antutu 3.0.x Quadrant Nenamark Vellamo 2.x GeekBench 2.0
Sony Xperia S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S3 Adreno 220 4.0.4 8219 3306 37.9 1393 996
HTC One S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S4 Adreno 225 4.0.3 10558 4707 61.0 1535 NA
Samsung S2 E110S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S3 Adreno 220 4.0.4 8689 3531 53.8   716
HTC One X 1.5Ghz Quad Tegra-3 Nvidia Tegra 3 4.0.4   5700 54.1 1519 1369
Samsung Galaxy SII 1.2Ghz Dual Exynos Mali400MP, Dualcore 4.0.4 10279 3093 48.0 1133 727
Samsung Galaxy S III 1.4Ghz Quad Exynos 4412 Mali400MP Quadcore 4.0.4 14300 5343 58.9 1569 1824

Conclusion

The Xperia S design today stills remains fresh and cool, and the display great to look.  The processing may be lacking but for most this might still be more than good enough when budget and mid tier phones are still featuring single core units.  Packing 1GB memory this phone can still be a good buy for many, and with a decent camera to back it makes a good buy just like the S2, with the added benefit that you get a higher resolution screen that the S2 lacks.

Sony Xperia P – The classy "Iphone" like Droid


The Xperia P  was hidden behind its flagship sister phone the Xperia S, but unusually for a phone that is supposedly a mid tier phone it has many features that’s puts it higher model to shame. Sony seems to have tried some features that they want to feature in their next range of phones with the Xperia P. Matching all the features of its flagship phone including built-in NFC it ALSO features Sony’s next gen White Magic display and aluminum uni-body construction not found in the flagship phones of 2012!

The Xperia P  in many ways is like a budget IPhone 5, sharing the same 4″ screen size and similar material on construction and camera. However on the hardware side the CPU and GPU are no match for the ultra powerful IPhone 5.

Appearance

The aluminum uni-body construction is unique and very nice to touch. Unlike the feel of a plastic body phone you really feel you are holding something cool (and it feels cool under normal conditions). However the drawback is that the phone is heavier than most 4″ phones but in no way is it too heavy!  Practically all reviews will confirm that most wish the Xperia S had been designed like the Xperia P it would have simply blow the Samsung phones out purely on quality terms!.

xperia-p

The design has the Xperia 2012 look with the removable bottom strip, supposedly if you want to change the colors and the see touch buttons. However the removable bottom strip (you can change it with optional color units, not many would actually do that is my opinion)  impacts the handling of the phone and also makes the phone large than it should be, and it certainly would have been better without it. The phone also has a thick bezel which makes the phone larger than what it should be.

  Sony_Xperia_P_buttons

Hardware

Sony sadly continued its one step behind Samsung/LG/HTC on hardware with most of their line-up and the Xperia P shares the same issue. While it has a dual-core unit, and a Mali-400M GPU, sadly its not in the same league as the far older Galaxy S2 in both processing and graphics power. The processor the Nova-Thor 1Ghz unit definitely is superior to the single-core Sony models of 2011, but still slower than the 2011 Galaxy SII though featuring the same GPU, it seems the GPU is either clocked less, or has less cores as the graphics capability seems to be around 60% of what the S2 does.

However this does not mean the Xperia P is sloth! the Nova-Thor is still quite a powerful unit, and the Mali-400 fast enough for applications and gaming, but its not going to match the capabilities of most newer units such as the Tegra3, Snapdragon S3 and S4 units found on rival phones.

One important spec of the Xperia P compared to all other Xperia phones of 2012 bar the flagship units of 2012, is that it features 1GB of memory, while all the rest (Xperia U, Go, Sola, etc) all feature 512MB. The extra memory will definitely help in general use, gaming, and will surely be appreciated with ICS (and Jelly Bean hopefully!).

Screen

The Xperia P currently brags on being one the brightest in terms of whiteness, and industry tests have shown it is the case. Sony calls this the White Magic screen, and surprisingly this is not featured in the 2012 flagship the Xperia S, and nor with the newer Acro S and Ion phones. It is said the 2013 range coming soon will feature this screen as standard, so the Xperia P is thus the only 2012 phone to feature this screen. White Magic is also a leading technology that Sony, Hitachi and Toshiba are using for the high resolution screens of the future as a means to reduce power and increase brightness.

The screen is sharp and clear, and works quite well outdoors and is stunning indoors. You definitely don’t need to enable white magic or full brightness indoors, but will need this extra brightness outdoor.

The Xperia P features a resolution that is slightly above the usual 848×480 that most are familiar with Sony phones of 2011. While not quite the 1280×720 that the Xperia S boasts, the resolution of 960×540 (similar to the 2011 HTC phones) seems good enough for a 4″ screen with a pixel density of 275.

Sounds

The Xperia P has Sony’s software enhancement of the Xloud, but compared to the 2011 models the loudspeaker seems to be less powerful and the P is no match for the Sony Arc or Arc S on this area.

However the loudspeaker quality is good and compared many phones and loud enough. The quality of the audio on the speaker is very good and so is the output when connected via a headset. However even with Xloud enabled and phone set to club mode, the audio does not have the oomph to knock your ears out as is the case with the HTC One X that I use.

Storage

Sony sometimes puzzles me, the phone definitely by design should have been able to contain an Micro SD card since smaller phones in the range featuring the identical processor (hint the sony Sola) has one. However the designers skipped this, and decided to have fancy SIM insertion mechanism and the “highly useful” HDMI connection.

So while 16GB of faster than normal internal memory is included, the lack of a micro SD to me is serious omission by Sony. Its not just the expansion in storage, but the flexibility and freedom to transfer files offered additionally by the microSD slot is something many owners of Android devices are keen on, and something that the Apple iPhone community has always missed out on.

Interface

The Xperia P initially launched with Sony’s highly optimized 2.3.x gingerbread firmware, and though many shouted out for an ICS version, the ICS version only got released very recently, months after the flagship Xperia S received the update. However Sony owners of 2011 and 2012 phones will confirm the ICS build by Sony sadly is not very stable with issues ranging from phone restarts, call drops, poor performance, etc.

The Xperia P ICS build has seen many regular updates, and while it has got more stable the phone does have an occasional restart and the call drop issue is only visible on low signal areas, a remarkable improvement compared to the many other Sony phones with ICS.

The interface does not have much tweaks though has a few touches that make it not the same as native look and feel, but is not customized anywhere close Samsung, HTC or LG. This definitely helps keep the phone nippy in usage.

The latest ICS mild tweaks can make things a bit different for users, as pressing the options menu does not bring the menu but shows “Add to Home Screen” menu which allows you to add shortcuts, widgets, bookmarks, etc to the home screen.

Camera

The Xperia P boasts the same camera featuring Sony’s EXMOR R CMOS sensor as the Xperia S, with the only change being 8MP as opposed to the Xperia S 12MP, which I think is a good thing. Something tells me that Sony pulled the IPhone 5 camera trick with the 2012 Xperia higher end model cameras and that the Xperia P maybe having the same camera unit as the Arc S/Arc of 2011 with software tweaks doing any improvement on the picture quality.

The camera does well but just like the 2011 models pictures taken indoors under low light have a lot of noise even with the flash on. Pictures taken outdoors under good light of course are excellent.

The phone also has a physical hardware shutter key to launch the camera app, in addition to a fast menu option when unlocking the phone (which can be configured via the camera app to either launch or launch and shoot, etc), so Sony’s focus on camera tweaks are very much evident in this phone. The camera app loads quickly and is ready to shoot your photo.

The camera app has had a few tweaks and includes some cool features such as 3D sweep panorama and 3D sweep multi angle and sweep panorama which are Sony specific. In addition the app also have smile detection.

Battery

The phone comes with a 1305mAh battery but this has been one decision by Sony i can’t quite agree. Sony engineers were able to package in a 1500mAh battery into the smaller, leaner Sony Xperia Ray phone last year, and yet in a phone much larger, they packaged a smaller capacity battery.

This would have been “fine” if the device consumed less battery but with a large high resolution screen and a more powerful CPU and GPU. Though featuring the supposedly thrifty White Magic display, the phone for normal users who use the phone purely for telephony without much browsing, etc the phone can last 3+ days. However enable data (3G) or WIFI, and start using the screen as it should be, and you would struggle to see over a day of use in a single charge.

Benchmarks

I keep this for last since benchmarks are good to compare but the actual performances in real life varies from benchmarks. However benchmarks help identify the strong points and weak points of phones but should never be the only reason to buy a phone!

@todo

Conclusion

The Xperia P is what you call a phone you like to have, and so much so I sold the original unit I tried (with 2.3.x) and later on got another for my wife since the phone definitely is classy and cool to have.

The phone has many things going right, with a cool classy look, decent processing power, a good screen and good camera and audio.

However Sony could have given it micro SD slot, a more powerful GPU and specially a larger capacity battery that would have made this phone a sales hit specially with the classy silver and red versions.

Regardless of its shortcomings to me the Xperia P goes as a phone that should actually have got a lot more attention, but sadly shadowed by the far more heavily marked Xperia S. For most skimping on the $ and opting for the Xperia P would have been more than good enough since the build quality of the Xperia P alone is something that the flagship is lacking.

Sony Xperia Arc (s) ICS 4.0.3 initial impressions


[UPDATE: I have replaced the Arc S 4.0.3 firmware with the official 4.0.4 update for the Sony Arc, the difference between the two versions are immense, please see my new post on that to get the real ICS impressions for the Sony Arc]

Sony Ericsson, who are now simply Sony once again have worked very hard to rebuild their bad reputation over software updates issues they had with their 2009/2010 phones.  With the Sony Arc and the new models they have done a job that has been even better than Samsung, which has reflected well in the higher sales of they very cool looking mobile devices.

Sony for some reason has always been one step behind on the hardware side compared to leading competitors like Samsung, HTC, etc but have managed to counter with excellent design, great multimedia and most importantly well optimized software that ensured you did not feel the hardware was lacking.

However with ICS, they seem to have faced the challenge and they had to delay the original roll out plan.  The much awaited ICS updated for the Arc and newer phones were due in April was delayed, and now only the newer Arc S and the Neo V and Ray got the update, while the older models only getting June or later.

However the Arc and the Arc S are from a hardware point pretty much identical, with the key difference being the higher clock processor (overclocked possibly, since the processor definitely can be pushed beyond the 1Ghz speed) on the Arc S.  Even the battery is the same which is why the Arc S has less standby time than the Arc.

I did not want try a custom ROM on my phone, since i like my main phone to be “available” and hence experiments were controlled.  However I was keen to see if ICS would improve things , and thanks to Xperiablog.net (http://www.xperiablog.net/2012/04/15/install-official-android-4-0-ics-update-to-your-xperia-arc-guide/) i went and flashed it with the nordic ICS firmware for the Arc S which they had found works perfectly fine with the Arc 🙂

Tips when flashing

Word of warning if you look at that article in Xperiablog.net you will see a lot of people have bricked their phones, so follow the instructions carefully.

1. Backup your device using App Backup & Restore, do not that this App does not back all apps, so as a secondary option also use the Google backup option for apps.

2.  The update went smoothly but i had faced one twist when trying get the phone recognized.  This is what i did,

  • The flashtool continued to report that drivers were missing, though i had updated the PC companion to the latest and tested that the phone was being detected.
  • I then installed the drivers from the flash tool, and faced the same issue, but then found that you also have to check “Flashmode drivers” when installing the drivers in addition to the arc drivers.  Once i did this the detection when smooth and the update completed

Once i had flashed the application the only issue was i had a free upgrade.  In my about the device is now listed as an LT18i :), no sadly the processor does not get  overclocked to 1.4Ghz like the Arc for that you need to root and see how much you can push your CPU.  I am not trying that on my everyday phone!  I can live with that until the Arc specific firmware will come, by which time i am sure Sony would have optimized the ICS build further and fixed any defects.

I have now been using the phone for over a week, and these were some observations, some I believe will also be applicable for Arc S users since ICS is a bit of resource hog and seems to have been designed with higher memory, graphics and multi-core capabilities in mind.

  1. Interface is smooth, but can get laggy, the reason i found is that the memory usage is higher on ICS, so you have to keep an eye and close apps to ensure you have enough to keep the phone going smooth.  I have just 1-2 small widgets running, and just having these and the email, FB and gmail apps brings the memory down to just 36MB remaining.  Below is the memory usage with most apps closed and just the OS, and standard apps running.
  2. I sometime get the error saying the desktop (explorer) has stopped, or some app as stop, but if you select the wait option usually things get back into control.  I feel that the memory getting low also maybe a cause for this.
  3. Fluffy (angry) birds (what i just tested was Rio) game does not work, though it gets launched i can’t touch and select any options, not sure how many other games and apps will have this problem.  Since Rio worked fine on my MediaPad and Acer A500 devices, this is definitely an issue with the Sony ICS build.
  4. The camera takes ages to load compared to how it was with Gingerbread.  I have resorted to using CameraFX due to this, which works fine
  5. Overall app launch is a tad slower than what it was on gingerbread
  6. Benchmarks indicate no significant change in performance, though i was expecting much better performance :(
  7. Make sure the face book app is closed when not needed, as that can hog your system.
  8. Media Go sync seems to have problems and seems to freeze when sync’ing your photos and videos
  9. The standard Music app crashes

Key areas i saw improvements

1. The overall touch and swipe actions are lot smoother

2. The standard keyboard for the first time is actually pretty decent, even though its not as intelligent as SwiftKey X.

3. Browser seems more nippy

4. Video playback seems more smoother

5. The ICS feature on how you can close the app (swipe right after selecting the home button) is cool and easy (wish Windows 8 consumer edition had this feature)

I saw on a recent blog that a more newer firmware was already provided some regions, so will wait and see if these fix these issues.   One thing that has changed is that Sony has now removed the custom screen capture feature they had when you pressed the power button and now use the ICS screen capture feature.  This is done by pressing the power and volume down button for around 10+ secs which takes a screen shot, takes a while to get used to but once you do its fairly effective.

Benchmarks

Did not notice any great improvements, and overall its here and there on the overall “benchmarks”.  If i recall correct performances seems to have gone down!

Here are some screen shots, immediately noticeable is the new font which makes things look a bit nicer.  I have included things that have changed in ICS or look different.