Hands-on: Sony Xperia S

Hands-on: Sony Xperia S

Hands-on: Sony Xperia S

Sony's CES 2012 press conference held at the Las Vegas Convention Center was anything but spectacular. Though its special guests such as Hollywood actor Will Smith and Grammy winner Kelly Clarkson were a nice treat, the focus falls squarely on the unveiling of its devices.

Sony is no stranger to the Android platform, given that it has launched the Sony Tablet S with Google Android Honeycomb last year. Its mobile portfolio is particularly important, given the acquisition and merger of the Sony Ericsson joint venture as a subsidiary of the Japanese company will be happening in 2012. Named as Sony Mobile Communications, this move will strengthen its existing portfolio of Android devices.

With this merger, the Xperia smartphone portfolio now falls under the Sony brand, and during the CES 2012 press conference, the Sony Xperia Ion and Sony Xperia S were unveiled. Along with these two smartphones, Sony also introduced its first Walkman running Google Android Gingerbread, the Sony Mobile Entertainment Player Z1000 series. Since the Sony Xperia Ion is an LTE-based smartphone and exclusive to AT&T in the US, we'll be focusing our hands-on experience with the Sony Xperia S.

Similar to Huawei's earlier Ascend P1 and P1 S announcement, the Sony Xperia S came in pretty late with a dual-core entry. Fortunately, it comes in with a big bang, presenting a Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core 1.5GHz processor. The Xperia S and its blockish design is a far departure from Sony Ericsson's arc design that has been prominent on its 2011 lineup. Admittedly, we were apprehensive on its handling with the angular design, but we were fortunately proven wrong once we held the Xperia S in our hands. It proved to be quite a natural fit, and we didn't really feel any strain from its 144g weight.

During its initial launch, the Xperia S will be pre-loaded with Google Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread. Nonetheless, Sony has stated that the Ice Cream Sandwich update is slated for the Xperia S, sometime in Q2 2012. As such, the Xperia S will still come with the three usual touch sensitive controls just below its display acting as the menu, home and back button. We were surprised that the thin plastic band wasn't the physical controls, instead acting as the indicator for the touch sensitive controls just above it. Considering that Google Android 4.0 eliminates the need for physical controls, the inconspicuous design will ready the Xperia S for a proper Ice Cream Sandwich experience.

What we really like about the device, is the matte chassis surrounding it. From a practical point of view, this will make it much easier to handle and have a firm grip on the Xperia S. Aesthetically speaking, we are looking at the elimination of fingerprint smudges on the device. Well, almost, since you'll see that happening on its 4.3-inch display. Flipping to the sides, we noticed that the camera and volume buttons are flushed into the body, which doesn't make it any easier for us to access it.

Speaking of which, you are looking at another device that comes with a screen resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. On a 4.3-inch display, we have to admit that it won't make a huge difference, but it's an option we love to have. As to whether the higher resolution will affect its overall battery mileage, we can only be the judge of it at a later date when we get our hands on a review unit to test its 1750mAh battery.

The Xperia S is also NFC-enabled, and we also spotted how the Android smartphone uses NFC tags to activate settings such as Bluetooth and profile switching with just a simple tap. Moreover, the Xperia SmartTags work with any NFC enabled smartphone, launching a pre-configured profile in the phone, such as the alarm clock for a SmartTag by your bed or a GPS application for the SmartTag in your car.

The Sony Xperia S will be available in black and silver at its launch. Global availability of the device is expected from Q1 2012,  though pricing details for the Sony smartphone has not been revealed as of now.