Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Slim Is In: A Sony Ericsson xperia ray Initial Review

xperia ray
Are you tired of lugging around a huge phone?  I am.  I've been using touchscreen phones since 2003, (Sony Ericsson P800, P910i, and P1i) and they've just gotten bigger and bulkier over the years.  I've always found it inconvenient to always have to remove my phone from my back pocket when sitting down.  Bulky phones aren't quite nice to have in a shirt pocket either, as they do tend to tug on your shirt.  Which is why I was so happy when Sony Ericsson came out with the X10 Mini Pro last year.  It was, at the time, one of the smallest Android phones on the market (the smaller one being the X10 Mini w/o the keyboard) It suited my needs at the time, and I was willing to sacrifice screen size and performance for weight and portability.

It's been a little over a year since I've had my X10 Mini Pro and having been spoiled by the diminutive size, it's quite difficult to go back to the bulk of iPhone-sized (or larger) phones.  Since then, I've been waiting for a worthy replacement for my little Android.

Enter the xperia ray (yes, it's NOT capitalized).  Sony Ericsson's latest entry into the "Design and Style" smartphones.  I have to say I'm very impressed.

Beautiful aluminum frame
The Design - Not only do they break away from all the iPhone-esque styled smartphones, but they've actually gone back to the Scandinavian stylings of Ericsson which I've always loved!  The aluminum frame really makes a difference.  Much like the classic Ericsson models that used magnesium, the new xperia ray feels like a premium piece of equipment.  And although this is a purely aesthetic feature, this does make the ray look and feel more elegant than almost any plastic smartphone out on the market today.

No more labels! Yay!
Thankfully Adam-West-Batman-Style labels for features and buttons are no longer present, and external buttons are kept to an absolute minimum!  (Yes, I do know that's the camera, I don't need a permanent label to tell me it's 8.1 megapixels.  Nor do I need a label to tell me that it's a volume switch.  I also know that's the charging port, I don't need a label to tell me that either!)

Volume-wise it's 55.3 cm³ while the xperia mini is 73.2 cm³ which means it's actually SMALLER than the mini, even though sporting a much better screen (more than double the resolution).

iPod Touch 4 vs. xperia ray
It's quite thin, at 9.4mm, it's almost as thin as the iPhone4 (9.3mm), it's bigger brother the arc (8.7 mm) and the Galaxy S2 (8.5mm).  But because it's a lot slimmer than the usual smartphones, it's also a lot lighter.  At only 100g, it's 16g lighter than the Galaxy S2 and xperia arc (that's a tbsp of sugar lighter... quite a diet), despite being able to keep the same screen resolution as the bigger Android phones.

Jet black Bravia Screen
The Screen - The beautiful screen is jet black, and contrast is great.  It makes the phone look incredibly sleek.  Although the Bravia Engine only works with photos and video, the screen is excellent and does any media justice even with the Bravia turned off.  Viewing under sunlight is not a problem, and is comparable to the better screens out there.

8.1 - f2.4 - HD
The Camera - Quite decent.  It's 8.1 megapixels with an f/2.4 which makes macro shots quite nice, with decent bokeh.  But it has a tendency to over-expose shots.  The Exmor sensor does quite a decent job of low-light shots, albeit at the expense of noise... but it does keep the shutter speed down so you can take bloggable shots at your next drunken party without much blur.  This is not going to replace a DSLR or high-end point and shoot, but it can match a similarly sized PS camera.  The Exmor sensor will do much better than most PS cameras out there without a flash (I personally hate using a flash, so this is a big deal for me).  Video is in HD, and does a decent job for videos and audio.  Front camera is not as good as the front cam of the iPod Touch or iPhone 4 though.

The Audio - The external speaker is decently loud.  There's a function called xLoud that equalizes any audio played to sound louder, so this works well with ringtones and alerts.  It sounds clearer, but not as full, as the XMini2 speaker.  The included headset is nothing to blog about, it's included... that's about it.  Although it sounds better than the Apple earbuds that comes with all the iPods.  But with a decent pair of cans, the ray sounds great... no hiss, noise, or buzz. 

Gingerbread vs Skinned Ecla
The Interface - I'm quite happy with the stock interface.  I'd rather use native apps if possible.  And Sony Ericsson has done a good job of cleaning up their act.  TimeScape had a lot of promise with my X10 Mini Pro, but it bogged the already slow Android 2.1 that it was just fun to look at, but not fun to use.  I'm happy to report that TimeScape is now just an app, and no longer a burden to the phone when not in use.  It works smoothly and can actually be practical to use for either social networking, or RSS feeds.

The Preliminary Verdict - Sony Ericsson has made an excellent piece of lifestyle hardware with the xperia ray.  For those that want a great performing smartphone, that looks elegant and classy, and doesn't burn your wallet, it's an excellent all-around performer!  Stay tuned for the next few days to get an in-depth review of each feature!

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