S is for Sony and Solo – Juniper Reviews Sony’s Xperia S

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Sony Mobile has been kind enough to lend us its first smartphone the Xperia S to try out this week. With the transition from Sony Ericsson to Sony Mobile, the global media empire has been keen to leverage its vast content catalogue – including music and movies. Buyers of the Xperia S can download the Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited apps from Android Market.

Film buffs may scoff at the idea of watching movies on a 4.3-inch screen – even if it is a “Reality Display with Mobile BRAVIA Engine with HD Resolution (1280x720)", but the video and sound quality – even via internal speakers – is impressive. But by connecting the device via the included HDMI cable to an HDTV – or over WiFi (if the TV is on the same network) – the phone becomes an entertainment hub in the home. This is by no means a unique feature of Sony’s devices, but the company’s experience in the entertainment industry may give it an advantage.

Music Unlimited is a music streaming service. One our of first reservations was whether the catalogue would be limited to Sony’s own record labels, but a quick search for EMI’s Radiohead brought up a large back catalogue, including a number of rare EPs. Sadly it couldn’t find “Mouldy Old Dough” by Lieutenant Pigeon as requested by our Research Director, Windsor Holden – but you can’t please everyone!

At MWC in Barcelona last month, 2012 was once again heralded as the year in which NFC would take off. With handsets like the Xperia S arriving by the dozen with NFC capability though, this really must be the year when it does so. Included in the box we were sent were two NFC tags. If you’re not familiar with NFC, and many consumers won’t be – lest we in the industry forget – the addition of features such as those enabled by the NFC tags could be a good PR exercise for the technology.

When the handset is tapped on the NFC tags – which come with adhesive labels, enabling them to be strategically placed – settings programmed as appropriate to that location are adjusted. For example, when the phone is tapped on the tag stuck to your bed-side table the alarm application pops up. This is not as sophisticated as Motorola’s Smart Actions, which utilises sensors to change settings based on programmable rules, but the concept of tapping in a relaxed environment will ready consumers for the driving force behind NFC: mobile payments.

Sony Mobile’s first smartphone ticks all the boxes hardware-wise – HD display, 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, 32GB flash storage, 12MP camera, NFC – but so do handsets from many other brands. Even as HTC, Motorola, Nokia, RIM and Sony try to catch the ever-distant Apple and Samsung, brands newer to North America and Western Europe like Huawei and ZTE are upping their game. This is why it’s more than just a hardware race: it’s about ecosystems, as Eric Schmidt of Google has said. Sony will be hoping that as it starts to go solo in the smartphone race, its strength in the content space will be mirrored in the smartphone stakes.