Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 Cell Phone Review: Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo (network unlock, google, android repair, Auckland)

Do we cancel the show if the star is not available? This one must've crossed some minds over at Sony Ericsson when the Xperia Neo had to be discontinued. But no, they didn't cancel it. The crew was told to take five instead while they skimmed the B-list for a possible substitute.

The Xperia neo V is not an upgrade of the original Neo. It’s actually a downgrade forced by circumstances. The only difference is the camera sensor - down from 8 to 5 megapixels - and the more recent Android version. Sounds so little, doesn't it? That's the price for saving the Neo.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V 
Sony Ericsson Xperia neo V official pictures

The deadly Japan earthquake took lives and brought the local electronics industry to a halt. Sony was affected too and, with a shortage of 8 megapixel camera sensors looming, someone had to take the hit. That someone was the Xperia neo. This is the story told by a company insider, who we have no reason to doubt.

It's the same phone, different camera and the lower price makes sense. And it should be clear by now the V is the Roman numeral for five, not a letter. Could there be a victory sign anywhere in the picture?

Key features

  • Quad-band GSM /GPRS/EDGE support
  • 3G with 7.2 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
  • 3.7" 16M-color capacitive LED-backlit LCD touchscreen of FWVGA resolution (480 x 854 pixels) on Sony Mobile BRAVIA engine
  • Android OS v2.3.4 Gingerbread
  • 1 GHz Scorpion CPU, Adreno 205 GPU, Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255 chipset
  • 512 MB RAM
  • 5 MP autofocus camera, LED flash, geo-tagging, 3D Sweep Panorama
  • 720p video @ 30fps, continuous autofocus with continuous autofocus and stereo sound
  • Front facing VGA camera, video chat (Google, Skype)
  • Wi-Fi b/g/n and DLNA
  • GPS with A-GPS
  • microSD slot (32GB supported, 2GB card included)
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • microUSB port (charging) and stereo Bluetooth v2.1
  • Voice dialing
  • Adobe Flash 11 support
  • microHDMI port
  • Deep Xperia Facebook integration

Main disadvantages

  • Forced camera downgrade to 5MP
  • Display has poor viewing angles
  • The competition has dual-core CPUs, 1080p video
  • No smart dialing
  • Loudspeaker has below average performance
  • Very limited video codec support
  • Memory card slot under the battery cover

So, the Xperia Neo lives inside the Neo V. Patched up with band aid and mildly myopic but sill. The potential deal-breakers are identical, so if you had second thoughts about the original, you'll probably pass on this one too.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V 
Sony Ericsson Xperia neo V live pictures

If you meet the Neo for the first time you are welcome to join us as we explore the hardware and build. Let's see if Sony Ericsson play a bad card poorly or make the most out of a situation they never meant to be in.

The usual retail package

The Sony Ericsson Xperia neo V comes in a compact box accommodating the handset itself and the usual set of accessories. Those include a USB charger, a microUSB-to-USB cable (used for both charging and data connections) and a headset.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V 
The XPERIA Neo box

Finally, there are a couple of user guides and a 2GB microSD card in the box. The original Neo came with 8GB worth of extra storage. Someone at Sony Ericsson must've thought 5-megapixel photos didn't take so much space. Or they just pressed the downgrade button all the way down.

An HDMI cable is missing – the microHDMI to HDMI kind isn't so widespread and you might not have one at hand. At least, the original Neo didn't have one either.

Sony Ericsson Xperia neo V 360-degree spin

The all-plastic Sony Ericsson Xperia neo V is a complete clone of the original. It stands at 116 x 57 x 13 mm and weighs 126 grams. Thanks to the "human curvature" design the phone looks slimmer than the numbers will tell you. We like the digicam-inspired design, the slightly raised shutter key and the centrally placed lens at the back.

Design and build quality

The Sony Ericsson Xperia neo V makes no changes to the original design. With the assembly line on standby, the goal was obviously to resume production ASAP. The styling keeps much of the Vivaz - we hope you remember the old Symbian bloke. The Neo is the spiritual heir of the HD cameraphone and now the legacy is handed down to the next generation.

The body of the neo V is entirely made of plastic but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The shape and weight are just right and the phone is well put together. The obvious downside is the glossy plastic gets covered with smudges in no time and they are hard to clean up.

Most of the phone’s front is taken by a 3.7" 16M-color LCD screen with resolution of 854 x 480 pixels. The neo V uses the same Reality display as many of its Xperia line siblings, based on the Sony Bravia Mobile Engine. The high-quality LED-backlit LCD has pleasing colors; contrast and sunlight legibility are good too. The questionable feature is viewing angles: contrast quickly deteriorates and the colors get washed out when looking at the screen at an angle. This won’t be a problem though for those who would trade comfort for privacy.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V 
The Reality display has its ups and downs

Although the Reality display is no match for the Samsung’s SuperAMOLED or even IPS LCDs, we still think it’s on the better side of LCDs.

Here's our proprietary display test. On the Xperia neo V, we were only able to do our display test with the screen brightness set to the maximum, as once you select anything other the maximum setting the light sensor kicks in and starts automatically controlling the screen brightness. And since we conduct our test in a completely dark room that would lead to inaccurate results.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
HTC Sensation XL 0.22 231 1045 0.52 559 1085
HTC Titan 0.26 233 891 0.56 567 1007
HTC Sensation 0.21 173 809 0.61 438 720
Motorola Atrix 4G 0.48 314 652 0.60 598 991
LG Optimus 2X 0.23 228 982 0.35 347 1001
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc 0.03 34 1078 0.33 394 1207
Sony Ericsson Xperia neo V - - - 0.35 548 1578
Sony Ericsson Xperia pro - - - 0.6 557 928
Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II 0 231 0 362
HTC Incredible S 0.18 162 908 0.31 275 880
Apple iPhone 4 0.14 189 1341 0.39 483 1242

Below the screen we find the usual set of controls: hardware Back and Menu buttons, each side of a Home key. The controls are thin but with good solid press press and, being placed on a subtle chin, they are quite comfortable to use.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V 
The typical controls below the display • the video-call camera and its companions above the display

It’s pretty crowded above the display: there’s an earpiece, ambient light sensor, the secondary VGA camera and a proximity sensor.

The left hand side of the Xperia neo V is completely bare, while the right gets all the action. That’s where you have the volume controls and two small knobs: the power/lock button and the shutter key. The camera button is tiny but pleasingly tactile. It's placed on a subtle bulge whose raised rims are easy to locate by touch. Not a big deal but quite thoughtful of Sony Ericsson. There’s a tiny status LED next to the power/lock key.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V 
The left side is bare • the camera key, the volume rocker and the lock/power combo on the right

It’s busy at the top too – there we find the microUSB and microHDMI ports on each side of a 3.5mm audio jack. Both the USB and HDMI ports are covered by small plastic lids.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V 
The Neo’s top side is busy with connectivity ports • the bottom side

The back of the Sony Ericsson neo V is rather interesting - just like on the Vivaz and the neo, the 5MP lens is unusually placed almost in the middle. It makes sense though – the lens is nearly impossible to accidentally cover with a finger. The lens is recessed to ensure protection against scratches and smudges. Next to it, there is a LED flash, which is mostly useful as a video light.

The loudspeaker is all the way at the bottom.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V 
The camera lens, LED flash and loudspeaker grill at the beautiful back

The microSD card slot is under the battery cover, though not beneath the battery itself and is therefore hot-swappable. The Neo supports 32GB cards and comes with a complimentary 2GB card.

The SIM card compartment is under the 1500mAh battery.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V 
The microSD card slot and the SIM bed

The Sony Ericsson Xperia neo V is quite reasonably sized and no hassle to carry around or put into pockets. The 3.7” reality display is on the better part of LCDs. The Neo V is well-built and there is nothing to complain about other than the fingerprint issues. The handset feels solid and is quite comfortable to hold and operate. A few months late to the show and a forced substitution at that, the neo V falls in a lower price bracket. It doesn't look or feel cheap though. The only compromise for users to consider is the lower-spec'd still camera.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V 

Sony Ericsson Xperia neo held in hand 

This post sponsored by:
Dr Mobiles Limited
1 Huron Street, Takapuna, North Shore 0622
Tel: (09) 551-5344 and Mob: (021) 264-0000
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