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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Review: Sony Xperia Ion shows off multimedia strengths

20

September

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Sony recently announced that it's expanding the Xperia line with its new flagship smartphone, the Xperia T, along with a waterproof Xperia V and a budget Xperia J. But until they become available in the United States, Xperia Ion sits at the top of the lineup. Ion is the first 4G LTE phone for Sony. Fast download capability is important here, since this smartphone emphasizes multimedia entertainment: photos, videos, music and games. 

Appearance: This phone has a unique feel. The back is slightly wider than the front, resulting in tapered sides with angular edges. I like that feel -- it seems to stay in my hand better compared with rounded edge which I tend to fumble more. Some don't like the edges, saying they dig into your hand and hurts after prolonged use. The gently curved back -- with black brushed aluminum finish -- sits comfortably in the palm of your hand, and it feels solid, not flimsy. The front is all glass with a frameless look, but unfortunately, printed logos break up what could have been clean black slate. The Ion is .4 inches thick and weighs 5.1 ounces.

Display: The 4.6-inch HD Reality super-wide display (1280x720) is extremely sharp. The scratch-proof mineral glass reduces glare. The sample video that came with the phone was incredibly vivid in HD. Photos are also crisp and the colors are saturated.

Controls: There are physical buttons for powering on/off, volume rocker, and a camera shutter button, all on the right side of the phone. The screen navigation buttons are soft-touch at the bottom of the display, but the four touch-key icons are teeny tiny.

Ports: This entertainment phone is ready for the big screen with a micro-HDMI port, so you can watch your videos and photos on TV. There's also a micro-USB. Both ports are covered with a plastic flap which pops open, but not far enough, so, for me, it's a fumbling mess trying to push the plug in. The lid also feels quite flimsy, tethered to the phone with just a narrow strip of plastic. At least the cover keeps the dirt out. 

Camera: The 12-megapixel fast-capture camera sits top center, instead of off to the side like many other phones. The shutter button is a physical button, not on the touchscreen. It's placed to act more like a regular camera -- top right in landscape mode. And because of this, shoots are more stable. Don't worry, if you prefer an onscreen button, that's still there. You can also set it so it snaps a photo by touching anywhere on the screen.
 
My favorite feature of this camera is the quick launch: It goes from sleep to first shot (using the camera button) in 1.5 seconds. Just point to the subject, hold the camera button, and it will wake for a quick shot.
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In the panorama mode, you slowing scan the scenery you want to shoot, and the camera creates a panoramic photo in 2D or 3D. It also can create a multi-angle photo by panning the camera from left to right, and the camera created a 3D image which slightly shifts depending on the tilt of the camera. It's like a 21st Century stereoscope. 
 
Another feature is the smile detection, where it snaps a photo when the camera sees the subject smiling. You can set the degree of a smile (big, small, average).

Other goodies: SmartTags uses NFC (Near Field Communication) to create shortcuts for common actions, like turning on the alarm or silencing a ringer, with one tap. Easy access to Sony Entertainment Network: Sony Music Unlimited for music catalog, and Sony Video Unlimited to rent or buy  movies. 

Operating system: The Ion has been running on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but an upgrade to the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is iimminent. (Updates to other phones started in August.)
 
If you want to get an Ion, prices are ideal: free with a two-year AT&T contract if you buy online at the Sony Store. ($99.99 when bought from AT&T) 

Specs
  • Display: 4.55 inches TFT 1280x720 HD Reality Display with Mobile Bravia engine, scratch-resistant shatter proof coating on mineral glass, capacitive touchscreen with on screen QWERTY keyboard.
  • Camera: 12 megapixel camera with Exmor R camera sensor, 1080p HD video recording main camera, 720p HD video for front-facing chat camera
  • HDMI and DLNA connectivity
  • 1.5 GHz dual core processor
  • 16 GB internal memory, expandable to 32GB with microSD expansion slot
  • 1 GB of RAM
  • Weighs 5.1 ounces
  • 5.2x2.7x.4 inches
  • Talk time: up to 10 hours
  • Standby time: up to 400 hours
  • Music listening time: 12 hours
  • Google Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) (update to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is imminent)
  • 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Dual Core processor
  • 12.1 megapixel camera with auto focus
  • 16x digital zoom, LED flash
  Photo of Ion: Sony

[Last modified: Thursday, September 20, 2012 12:05pm]

    

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