Sony Xperia S Review

Introduction and Design

Sony is starting fresh after 10 years of marriage with Ericsson, and thus the Xperia S marks a whole lot of firsts for it. It is the first handset branded simply “Sony”, as well as the first with the new “Iconic Identity” design of the renamed Xperia NXT line.

That’s the big picture, but the device itself also consists of elements that have never been in a Sony smartphone, like an HD display, multicore chipset and microSIM card slot.
Most would be satisfied with so many firsts, but not Sony - it also gave the handset a very capable 12MP Exmor R sensor on the back, and hopefully started a trend by shipping it with the generous 32GB of internal memory.

Did the company succeed to raise the bar with its first Sony phone, something that it badly needs to drum up excitement around the new Xperia line, or is the Xperia S plagued by the typical for such initial efforts teething problems? Read on to find out...

In the box:

  • Wall charger
  • microUSB cable
  • Warranty and information leaflets
  • Sony in-ear headset


The phone looks like a boxy slab, especially our black review version, yet it weighs close to the iPhone 4S, and when picked provides a firm grip precisely because of the sharp edges. It still offers the slightly curved back of the former Xperias for added grip comfort, but its matte plastic is a bit slippery, so the phone not being overly thin as some other anorexic handsets helps to grip it tight.

You can compare the Sony Xperia S with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Sony says it has covered the Xperia S in dirt-repellent nanocoating, but the back actually gets blotched really quickly with skin grease even if you don’t peruse it along with chicken fingers. The stains tend to stubbornly stay even if you wipe it afterwards, until they dry out, and the back is also prone to microscopic scratches from everything but a mirror surface. The boxy phone has this rugged good looks, though, so no biggy.

Sony has gone with the narrower but more elongated design that first appeared in the Xperia arc, and which we very much appreciate, as it allows your thumb to reach almost everywhere on the screen, despite its 4.3” size. Even if your hands are not as large, you’ll still be able to navigate fairly comfortably the interface with one hand, compared to most other big-screen phones that come wider.

Speaking of one-handed operation, the Xperia S offers good weight distribution, without the most of it concentrated in the upper part around the camera module, as is so often the case. Thus we weren’t worried that it might tip over when we push it up a bit to press the three capacitive Android buttons under the display.

We had a ho-hum experience with these buttons - the transparent strip that is a trademark of the new Xperia line lights up with the Android navigation symbols like a back arrow or home, but the keys are three teeny-tiny dots above the respective icon lit up in the strip, and are very easy to miss. You have to tap precisely on the miniature dot, and they are not very responsive to boot, making us tap two or three times to register an action very often.

There is no arguing that the transparent illuminated strip is a thing of beauty, though, and the contrast with the edgy black slab when it lights up leaves a very futuristic impression, which Sony has been aiming for with the “Iconic Identity” design. The firm says that this strip, which also houses the antenna parts for improved reception, is meant to emphasize the screen part above it, which deserves separate attention.

Looking around the sides we barely notice any buttons and ports, since they are in the color of the chassis, and the microUSB and microHDMI ports are covered with protective flaps with the same paint too. These flaps were another small gripe we had with the design - they are pretty hard to pry open, especially if you are the nail-biting type, and even harder to push back in, but they should break in with time.

The volume rocker and the two-stage camera key on the right, as well as the lock/power button at the top are distinct to find and tactile. We wish that Sony placed the volume rocker top right under our thumb, instead of putting the HDMI port there, which is not used as often. The rocker in the middle of the right side now tends to be operated with the thumb joint instead of the tip.


 We have the largest display Sony has every placed in a phone on the Xperia S as another “first”. It is 4.3”, and will be beat only by AT&T’s Xperia Ion as far as the Sony stable is concerned. As a sign of the times, the HD display is of 720x1280 pixels of resolution, and is worth every penny the company paid for it to be made.

The LCD screen is bright, with popping colors, and viewing angles that barely degrade the image all the way up to 10/170 degrees. Sony has included its Mobile BRAVIA engine that boosts colors and contrast while watching media, which can be turned off. The touch layer is very responsive and registers even the slightest finger tap.

Brightness is above average, so outside visibility will only be an issue if the sun shines directly onto it. We are still taken aback by such a high pixel density, despite already reviewing a few phones with HD displays - the amount of detail still manages to wow us. Maybe it’s because in the Sony Xperia S we have 342 ppi pixel density, one of the highest of all HD mobile screens, since most others are bigger. Crisp small text, no icon jaggies, great readability even for zoomed-out websites - HD displays are definitely the way to go, and the Xperia S has a good one.

Sony Xperia S 360-degrees View:

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