Sony wasn't kidding around when they said they would only make smartphones and abandon feature phones completely. But we feel they’ve reached a point where it’s a little ridiculous now and they seem to be getting really sloppy with their launches. A case in point is the Xperia ion, a phone that shouldn’t exist, but still does, only because Sony was too lazy to think things through when designing their high-end model the first time around. On paper, it’s nothing more than the Xperia S wrapped in a metal chassis with a microSD card slot. Is it really just this or is there anything more to justify the huge price premium? Let’s find out.
Design and Build
Sony has ditched the plastic chassis and gone with a more sophisticated look with the ion. The phone is encased in metal with plastic bits on the top and bottom for the radios to function. The curved back and smooth finish add some flair to an otherwise blocky design. Dimensions and weight wise, it’s nearly identical to the Xperia S so you won’t notice much of a difference. Sony has fitted a slightly larger 4.6-inch screen on the ion as compared to the 4.3-inch one on the Xperia S. It still has the same HD resolution and is an LED-backlit LCD with scratch-resistant glass.
Sleek and stylish
On the front, we have the 1.3MP front facing camera along with the proximity sensor, notification LED and ambient light sensor. Speaking of the latter, Sony hasn’t included an auto-brightness option in the settings so even though this sensor is present, it’s pretty much useless. We don’t know what possessed Sony to make this decision, but yes, their brand new flagship does not have auto-brightness! This is also the only high-end Xperia to have four capacitive buttons instead of three, and none of them work well. First of all, the labels don’t light up themselves; instead we have four horizontal dashes that do, which is useless, since in the dark you don’t know which label you’re actually hitting till you're quite familiar with the phone. That’s not all; the sensitivity of the capacitive buttons is very weak, just like the Xperia S. You’ll find yourself pressing each one a couple of times before your touch is registered, which is extremely frustrating.
The microUSB and HDMI ports are covered with a flap on the left while the power button, volume rocker and camera button sit on the right with the 3.5mm headphone jack sitting on the top. We came across another annoying design flaw with the power button: it’s a little bit too recessed for you to access it comfortably. Also, the extra piece of metal just above the button with the ‘Power’ symbol on it actually feels like the power button. The rest of the buttons work just fine though. The phone's grip doesn’t feel reassuring in your hands and if you’re not careful, if will slip out. We do like the fact that the chassis is metal so it’s a lot more durable.
This is Sony’s first high-end smartphone to ship with Android Ice Cream Sandwich out-of-the-box but due to their own skin, there are plenty of hiccups in overall performance. You’ll notice slight lags when browsing through home screens or apps right from the get go. And it’s not like the phone is a slouch; it’s powered by the same Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8260 SoC used in the Xperia S.
Same as before
At 1.5GHz, the UI should be absolutely fluid but sadly it’s far from it. Nothing has changed with the interface and it’s the same one we've come across on all Xperia phones of late so we won’t get into that too much. Since this is ICS, they have changed the way you add widgets to the home screen slightly. Long pressing on the home screen brings up a little icon on the upper left hand corner, from where you can change the theme or wallpaper.
The media player is the new revamped one we’ve seen on the new NXT line of Xperia phones but once again, since this is ICS, Sony has changed the graphics and layout slightly. The music player widget now also displays album art and Sony has added a lock screen widget as well, allowing you to skip songs without having to unlock the screen. You get a 5-band graphic equalizer along with a bunch of presets and some other audio enhancements. The sound quality is very good though and the bundled headset provides good ambient noise isolation. The speaker on the other hand is just plain horrible for anything other than notification tones. Even with XLoud on, the sound is flat and very weak and the EQ is no help here.
Speakers are not very good
The video player is a little disappointing since you only get the stock Android player, which only plays MP4 and WMV. You do have options to stream video via DLNA though. The Xperia ion handles 1080p videos like a champ without skipping a frame. HD videos look especially good due to the densely packed screen. Colour reproduction is accurate and colours are rich and well saturated, without going overboard. Format support can be expanded via third party players from the Play store.
The Xperia ion is a quad-band GSM and quad-band 3G phone with support for advanced 42Mbps HSDPA and 5.8Mbps HSUPA speeds. We also have the usual assortment of Wi-Fi ‘n’, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, NFC and Bluetooth v2.1. Just like the Xperia S, we have support for the new GLONASS navigation system, along with GPS. Sony has cut the internal storage down to 16GB but has thrown in a microSD card slot. There are plenty of Internet and social apps bundled along with the phone.
Good connectivity options
TrackID lets you identify songs, which works well but is not as feature rich as SoundHound. Music & Videos aggregates all the videos that your friends have ‘Liked’ on YouTube and even new videos that you have subscribed to. AppXtra is a little app store created by Sony and Recommender is something similar that shows you apps that have been rated highly by other users of Xperia phones. Tags lets you manage NFC data picked up by the Xperia S, which can be shared to other phones with NFC as well.
Sony bundles extra apps like OfficeSuite (only for viewing of Office documents), Media Remote (which lets you use your phone as a remote control with Wi-Fi enabled Sony TVs), WisePilot, NeoReader, Stopwatch, World Clock, Notes, etc.
Sony has used the same camera sensor as it did with the Xperia S so you get a 12MP shooter with an LED flash along with other features like geo-tagging, touch focus, face and smile detection, 3D sweep panorama, image stabilization and more. The camera is great for outdoor photography and macro shots are really good as well but just like before, indoor pictures are not really the best. There’s a lot of colouration and noise visible in dark areas, even if you use the flash.
Camera UI is simple to use
The Xperia ion can record video in 1080p with continuous auto-focus. While captured video has a solid framerate, it takes time for the auto-focus to kick in and re-adjust. We wished it was a bit quicker as you have to wait for a few seconds till your subject is in focus if you’re moving. The video can be viewed directly on an HDTV via the HDMI port.
Very good at macros
Sony has bumped the battery capacity up to 1900mAh, which seemed like a good move, but doesn’t really help a lot. While we managed to get a decent 6 hours and 40 minutes in our video drain test, in real world usage, the phone will just about last you a day or perhaps even less if you’re on 3G.
Verdict and Price in India
I guess ‘old wine in a new bottle’ is how I would describe the Xperia ion. The phone is essentially an Xperia S with new overalls, a larger battery, slightly larger screen and a microSD card card slot. And for just this, Sony is asking for Rs. 36,000! That’s a good six grand more than the current price of the Xperia S. Like I said in the beginning, the ion just doesn’t have any place in the market right now, it’s a phone that should not exist. Sony is trying to flood the market with variants of essentially one phone and in doing so, is just causing chaos and confusion. Very soon, they will be launching the Xperia SL which is essentially an Xperia S running at 1.7GHz instead of 1.5GHz.
Sony’s Xperia ion is a big disappointment and I would not recommend it. At this price, the HTC One X is a much better choice, and even the LG Optimus 4X HD makes a very compelling buy if you want to save a little. The ion just seems like a stop-gap offering till Sony can launch the Xperia T, the true successor to the Xperia S.
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