After a patchy ICS update to other smartphones of the Xperia series which drew a lot of ire from its users, Sony is launching three new Android phones - neo L, Go and Ion - this quarter. All three are being launched in the Xperia series. Neo L expands the Xperia series in the mid-range and succeeds neo V, which was launched about a year ago.
Unlike its haloed siblings like Xperia S, Xperia U and Xperia Arc S, the neo L runs on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system straight out-of-the-box, which gives it a slight edge over others as most phones being sold in market are still based on Gingerbread. However, in an already flooded Android market, the question remains whether Sony Xperia neo L will stand out at a price of Rs 18,499, especially when HTC One V is available at Rs 18,599 and the similarly-priced dual core-powered Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 is scheduled to hit India in a few months.
We played around a bit with the phone and here's what we think of it:
Looks and dimensions
Sony seems to have deviated from the laws of genetics in case of neo L. Hence, its design doesn't bear much resemblance with the sleekness of its recent breed of Xperia S, Xperia U, Xperia P phones. Its shape, however, has glimpses of some older Xperia phones such as the Arc and neo V, but unlike the thin beauty of the Arc, neo L is fatter.
The phone measures 4.8x2.4x0.5 inches, which may seem to be sleek but once you hold the phone, it isn't really light. It weighs 131.5 grams against the Xperia neo V which weighs 126 grams, and Xperia Arc S which weighs 117 grams. Other contemporaries also weigh less, such as HTC One V, which weighs 115 grams and Samsung Galaxy S Advance, which weighs 120 grams.
Though the phone is good to look at, it is like a fingerprint-magnate and any user would be hard-pressed to keep it devoid of smudges for even a few minutes. It has a glossy and rather brittle seeming plastic casing for a back cover that has to be kept clean regularly, sometimes many times a day! The frame is lined with chrome, which certainly gives it a sleek look and makes it appear similar to the neo V, Arc and Arc S. A 3.5-mm audio jack is placed in the top-centre of the phone which gives it an avoidable ugly bulge. On the left is a mini USB port for charging and data transfer, and on the right panel are the buttons for power and volume and a small speaker.
Sony Xperia neo L sports a 4-inch HD TFT touchscreen with 854x480 pixel resolution, slightly larger than HTC One V's, but smaller than that of Motorola Atrix 2 and Samsung Galaxy S Advance. Below the screen are four physical buttons (in the same curved shape as the three buttons in the Arc) namely Back, Home, Menu and Search. These buttons are stiff, small and you may sometimes accidentally tread upon the on-screen controls while pressing the hard hardware buttons. Likewise, the buttons for power and volume are not well placed if the phone is held in one hand. Since, the glossy body of Xperia neo L is rather slippery, even not-so-clumsy users might end up dropping it a few times.
Ice Cream Sandwich integration
The phone runs on Android 4.0 out-of-the-box and that is an important selling point since users would not have to wait for an update, a la Motorola Atrix 2. However, the HTC One V, priced similar to the Xperia neo L, also offers a premium Android 4.0 straight from the box.
Users can choose between seven pre-installed neon-based Ice Cream Sandwich themes in the Sony Xperia neo L, which are seen in the background when the home screen and menu are open. The overall user experience is quite smooth and fluid. Sony's Timescape has made its way to this phone as well, so that users can see the recent updates, tweets, messages etc by all contacts on a single scrollable window from the home screen.
Sony has done well by adding a number of useful widgets in the Xperia neo L that add to its functionality, such as the Gallery View, which allows users to access pics, videos and music from the same widget. The dock/menu bar located at the bottom of the five home screens is also customisable and can hold a total of four applications. Users can create folders if they want to add more applications to this dock.
The phone comes loaded with all modern connectivity options available in a mid-range smartphone, such as Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot, 3G, GPRS, EDGE and Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP and EDR. It has GTalk, Gmail and a combined inbox for all emails. The social networking integration, including Facebook and Twitter, will make it a suitable choice for the youth.
Call clarity is decent, but only in a quite room. When we stepped out on a noisy street, the sound became muffled, which will be a dampener for those who travel a lot.
Music and videos
The stock music player in Sony Xperia neo L will be welcomed by any audiophile, as it features a host of features in addition to the standard music playing options.
In the music player, tapping on the on-screen button placed in the middle of the bottom row shows a pop-up with options like Find Music Video on YouTube, Get more@PlayNow, Search Artist Info on Wikipedia, Search for Lyrics on Google, Search Karaoke Videos on YouTube, along with the option to find more extensions. This will contribute towards a rich music experience for any user. The standard features of the music player include customisable playlists, folder view for music, including tabs named Artists, Albums, Tracks and Playlists.
TrackID is yet another add-on that will be favoured by audiophiles, as it shows all the details of the song being played based upon the title and artist info. It will track the data over an internet connection and show a host of details, such as artist info, lyrics etc. However, this feature proves to be rather redundant considering that Sony has already included such features in the stock music player.
Sony Xperia neo L's default video player can play videos at 720p easily, though we expect it to hang after other processes eat up more RAM. The stock video player has only three options, forward, back and start/pause.
In today's world, the camera plays an important role in any smartphone. The best part of Xperia neo L's camera is that this 5MP unit with autofocus is accompanied by an LED flash that clicks far better pictures than many. There's also a front-facing VGA camera for making video calls.
But then one notices the unexpected negative point on the camera front. The camera does not have any zoom. Considering that even the cheapest Android phones with least megapixel also feature zoom function, it's a strange miss for the Xperia neo L. Moreover, there is no way to lower or mute the shutter noise when the camera clicks a picture, which can be an irritant for many.
A feature we found to be redundant in the camera was the panel located on the right side of the on-screen interface. On the bottom, Sony has placed icons so that users can choose between video, audio and panorama mode, but tapping on either one expands the window and users need to select the camera mode once again, thus making it a lengthy process.
Its chief competitor, HTC One V, also features simultaneous HD and video recording in the camera, which helps it snake past Xperia neo L.
In an effort to lure gaming enthusiasts, Sony has included EA Games, Get Games and Games & Apps in the Xperia neo L. Both the apps offer a host of games that would prove to be addictive and enjoyable. The screen resolution makes the image clarity at par with the best in the phone, but we expect that the phone's 512MB RAM would prove to be insufficient for heavy gamers. Moreover, none of the games come pre-installed; users would have to download them over the internet.
The last word
If an Android phone carries a mid-range price tag of Rs 18,499 today, a fair bit is expected from it, such as bundle of applications, a fast processor, a good camera, light-weight, sleek design and more. As of the design, weight and camera, Sony Xperia neo L doesn't meet the expectations. But where Sony has really lost the bet is when it comes to the processor. The phone is powered by a single-core 1GHz processor coupled with 512MB RAM which is just not enough for those who use apps or are into gaming heavily, and not just make calls and send messages. On connectivity, the phone has standard features like Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), GPS (with A-GPS support), standard Android internet browser and the other connectivity options that come bundled with Android 4.0. The good part is that the phone is powered by a 1500mAh battery that can run up to 8-hours while on an active call.
HTC One V is the main competitor of Xperia neo L in terms of cost as well as features and will in all likelihood replace it. It is slightly better than this phone because of slightly lower price tag, better camera features, more internal memory, better user interface and lower weight. However, it loses out due the lack of a video-calling camera and a slightly smaller screen.
The other phones in the same price range like Intel Xolo X900 (around Rs 20,00 to 21,000), Sony Xperia sola, HTC EVO 3D and Motorola Atrix 2, are powered by dual-core processors. Moreover, the EVO 3D offers the unmatched 3D viewing experience and has 1GB of RAM, whereas the Xolo X900 has a 1.6GHz processor, 1080p video recording; Atrix 2 also has 1GB of RAM, a 4.3-inch screen and 8MP camera with 1080p recording, which put it ahead of the neo L. Only the Xperia sola has similar specifications, which made us wonder why Sony launched these two devices in the market as they would cannibalise each other's market share.
Overall, Xperia neo L is not a great phone and even though its native OS is ICS, it still doesn't make the cut. For a price tag of Rs 18,499, it's advisable that you look for a device that offers better value proposition before making the final pick. For camera minus zoom, single core processor and a not-so-sleek looking body, paying anywhere close to Rs 20,000 for an Android device cannot be justified.