Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo: hard choices

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The Neo is a great phone, but with falling prices and so many similar Sony handsets, which do you pick?

On paper, the Xperia Neo is near-identical to the Xperia Arc.It packs in the Mobile BRAVIA Engine software to improve the colours and contrast on the screen, has the same resolution display and the same 8.1-megapixel autofocus camera with Sony’s Exmor R sensor technology.

For all intents and purposes, it’s the exact same phone in a different shell, save for the front-facing two-megapixel camera, which is the one bit of hardware the Arc lacks.

The Neo has reintroduced the styling of an older smartphone, the Sony Ericsson Vivaz.

The Xperia Neo shipped in some markets earlier in the year, but was delayed due to the Japanese earthquake, which affected the production of some key components.

Smaller and tougher

So why buy this over the Arc? Firstly, the Neo is cheaper, and secondly, it’s smaller and more pocketable. This may satisfy those who think the Arc is just a little too big.

It doesn’t feel like it will slip out of your hand, or break if you put it in your back pocket and sit down. Then there are the other details. The camera button on the side, for example, which was a nice inclusion on the Arc, is bigger on the Neo, and the volume keys are also larger. Above those is the power button that is equally easy to press.

But, at the same time, Sony Ericsson chose to place the micro-USB connector at the top, along with a cover that makes charging or hooking up to a PC a fiddly process.

I also dislike putting headphone sockets at the top of a phone, allowing water to get in if you use it in the rain.

In terms of connector positioning, the Arc definitely has the upper hand here. The HDMI output has a cover on both models, but isn’t something you’ll be using anywhere near as frequently as
the others.

The three physical keys below the display, for back, home and menu, are smaller than on the Arc, and angled inwards, making them a little hard to press.

If you’ve not used an Arc it won’t be an issue, but it does highlight the differences in the overall design. Like the Arc, there are two LEDs lighting up the gap between the three keys.

Although not as bright as the original Xperia X10, they’re still somewhat pointless on account of serving no purpose at night.

Screen performance

Another difference is with the screen. Although there’s the same resolution, its physical size is lower on the Neo, and even though you do get the clever Mobile BRAVIA Engine software to enhance the display, the screen on the Neo is more recessed and loses some of the brightness. The upside of the higher dot pitch is that photos and videos look even more crisp on the Neo.

In terms of performance, the Neo matches the Arc on account of having the exact same Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, clocked at 1GHz, with the same Adreno 205 graphics co-processor. It renders 3D at 60 frames per second, which should be more than ample for day-to-day operation.

If dual-core is a must, Sony Ericsson will have its own model announcement later in the year.

A key feature of the Neo is its eight-megapixel Exmor R camera that offers excellent low-light imagery, and 720p HD video recording.

It’s backed-up by an excellent camera interface, with all the usual features you’d expect from a digital camera and an automatic mode that will display the mode it has detected before you take a shot.

This even extends to switching to macro mode without having to change the focus settings.

Full article in Mobile News issue 496 (August 29, 2011).

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