Aug 08 AT 2:22 PM Nick Gray 32 Comments

For decades, the Sony brand has stood above the competition in consumer electronics. Sony was considered the gold standard by which everyone else was judged. While the company has fallen from its glory days and its market share has suffered significantly due to competition from Samsung and LG, Sony products still have a unique style which set them apart. Sony’s late entry into the Android game put the company at a huge disadvantage, but it seems its new Xperia ion may hold that unique spark which could allow it to compete head-to-head with some of the best phones of 2012.

1. Internal Hardware

Everyone buys a phone for a different reason, but we know that most of you focus mainly on the specs. Fortunately, Sony did everything it could to help the ion hang with the big boys. The handset features a 4.65-inch 1280×720 HD Reality display, a dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S3 processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, microSD card slot (up to 32GB), 12 megapixel Exmor-R rear-facing camera capable of capturing video at 1080p, and a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera with 720p video capture. Radio chips include Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, HSDPA 21.1 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.8 Mbps; LTE, FM radio, NFC and Bluetooth 2.1.

When the Sony Xperia ion was unveiled, it was at the top of its game. Yes, Sony took its time actually getting the phone to market, but it’s still one of the highest spec’d handsets currently available.

2. Hardware Design

While Samsung and Apple battle things about over design patents, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would confuse the Sony Xperia ion with any iOS device. The Xperia ion is graced with a bold and unique styling which features subtle cues of other Sony products.

The outside of the device is constructed of plastic and brushed aluminum which give the ion a solid feel. The choice of materials do make the phone quite heavy (4.9 ounces), but it’s not far off from its closest competitors. The front of the Xperia ion is dominated by the 4.65-inch display, four capacitive buttons, a small speaker grill and the front-facing camera. The left side of the device houses the microUSB and HDMI connections (tucked away behind a plastic flap) and the right side holds the power, volume and camera shutter buttons. The 3.5mm headphone jack is placed on the top edge of the phone with a slight bezel since the top and bottom edges of the device are set at a slight angle. The curved back panel of the device is covered mainly in brushed black aluminum with the camera, flash and logos all aligned in the center.

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The Sony Xperia ion is pleasing to the eyes, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own issues. The straight edges of the phone create a stunning profile, but they also force you to hold the device differently since the bottom corners tend to dig into the palm of your hand.

3. Built Quality

The design of the Xperia ion may be top notch, but that doesn’t always translate into impeccable build quality. In the two short weeks we had with the device, I noticed that both the front and back of the device were extremely susceptible to scratches. The scratch-resistant mineral coating used by Sony does a great job of minimizing smudges and fingerprints, but the review unit we were sent has more than a dozen visible scratches on the glass and we managed to add a few more of our own when placing the handset in a pocket with our car keys (not that that is advisable). We also found that the capacitive buttons below the display are extremely capricious – reacting only when touched in the space between the button image and the edge of the screen.

The brushed aluminum along the back of the phone is also scratch and scuff prone, but it does bear battle scars with a little more dignity than the glass protecting the phone’s display. If you like a device with a little character, it’s not a big deal. But we’d suggest a protective case if you want to keep your phone looking new for more than a week or two.

4. Display

If you like brands, the display on the Sony Xperia ion will certainly impress you. The 1280×720 4.65-inch Super LCD2 HD Reality Display is powered by Sony’s Mobile BRAVIA Engine. We’re not exactly sure what that all means, but we can say that it is one of the more beautiful screens we’re ever laid eyes on. Compared to the Super AMOLED Plus display on the Samsung Galaxy S III, the Xperia ion is a clear winner, but we’re pretty sure that the Super LCD2 from the HTC One X has a slight edge.

The colors on the ion’s display are vivid and text is extremely sharp. The only complaint we could muster is that the contrast ratio washes the pixels out when displaying whites and grays.

5. Software

All of us here agree that custom skins are the devil. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I can say that Sony’s custom software actually makes the Xperia ion a much better phone. The reason for this? The Xperia ion is still running on Android 2.3. That’s right, more than six months after Google released Ice Cream Sandwich, Sony went ahead and launched a flagship phone running on software that’s as outdated as the HTC EVO 4G.

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To Sony’s credit, they have created a minimalistic UI which enhances the stock Android experience in almost every way. The UI is quick with snappy widget animations which make interacting with the device more enjoyable. Android purists may scoff at the idea that an OEM could produce a refined UI, but I’d encourage you to spend some quality time with the device (that means more than 15 minutes playing with it at your local Best Buy) before passing judgment on it.

6. Performance

How powerful does a phone need to be? As long as you can browse the web, play a few games and watch your HD movies, most consumers will be happy. The Sony Xperia ion does exactly that. We used the device to tear through games like Temple Run, Dead Space, Shadowgun and NBA Jam, but don’t expect the Snapdragon S3 processor to keep the frame rates running at 60 frames per second when you purchase that new 3D shooter in 3-6 months. In day-to-day usage, the Xperia ion can keep up with most other high-end phones, but benchmark scores show that the device simply isn’t capable of running with the elite when pushed to the limit.

Sony Xperia ion benchmark scores

Vellamo: 1,271
Quadrant: 3,162
AnTuTu: 6,466
GLB 2.1 Egyps (720):  30fps

The ion may not stand a chance when competing against the HTC One X, One S or the Samsung Galaxy S III, but it’s a half step ahead of last year’s Samsung Galaxy S II and the HTC Vivid.

7. Call Quality

Though the Sony Xperia ion can do some amazing things, at its roots, it’s still a phone. Call quality on the device isn’t as remarkable as the crystal clear HD Voice feature on the HTC EVO 4G LTE, but it is on par with other Android phones currently on the market. Calls come through loud and clear for both callers and the speakerphone on the back of the ion is actually better than most devices we have tested recently.

8. Camera


Taking pictures on the Sony Xperia ion was probably the most enjoyable aspect of this review. We’ve all used our Android phones to take pictures, but the Xperia ion takes things to the next level by delivering a 12 megapixel imaging sensor with Sony’s new Fast Capture technology.

So what does that mean for consumers? Simple. Pull the phone out of your pocked, hold down the camera shutter button and the Xperia ion automagically turns the device on and snaps a picture in 1.5 seconds. The features can be turned off or changed to only launch the camera app without taking a picture.

If you’re not in a hurry to snap a picture, you can play around with a variety of features like 3D Sweep Panorama, Sweep Multi Angle and Sweep Panorama along with pre-set scenes which help improve the quality of your pictures.

  • 3D Sweep Panorama: Panoramic image sweep which converts the captured image into 3D. Unfortunately, a 3D-enabled TV is required to view the images in their full glory.
  • Sweep Multi Angle: Panoramic setting which recreated a 3D representation which can be viewed on the phone by rotating the device left and right.
  • Sweep Panorama: Your traditional panoramic setting which captures sweeping wide angle images.

Sony has done a great job of making the camera on the Xperia ion extremely simple to use, but the one issue we have is that the 12 megapixel sensor is overshadowed by the extremely high IOS which is visible even when pictures are captured in direct sunlight. We’re not sure if this is an issue with the chip or something that’s caused by software compression, but we hope Sony can find a way to improve the image quality with a future software update.

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9. Battery

A big phone with a big HD display should come with a big battery. The non-removable 1900 mAh lithium ion battery in the Xperia ion isn’t going to win any award for size or longevity, but it does hold enough power to keep most users powered up for a typical work day. Since the phone is powered by an S3 chip which is typically not known to have great power consumption numbers, we were actually shocked when we made it through multiple 10-12 hour days without the need for a mid-day charge. Power users will still be able to drain the batter in less than 5 hours with constant gaming, video watching and browsing, but the Motorola RAZR MAXX is the phone that can take that kind of abuse without putting up too much of a fuss.

10. NFC & Smart Tags

NFC has been around for a while, but Sony was the first OEM to present a meaningful reason for consumers to care about the feature. Sony’s NFC Smart Tags are paired with a system app on the Xperia ion which allow them to control actions when activated by specific NFC chips. S

If you’re constantly changing your handset’s settings or launching specific applications for certain events, Sony’s Smart Tags can make your life a whole lot easier. Simply set up an action and you’re ready to go. While using the Xperia ion, I set up a Smart Tag for my bike (which I have been using to commute to work). Tapping the tag I have connected to my bike turns off my WiFi, turns on GPS, opens Play Music and Endomondo Pro - all settings and apps which I would normally have to configure manually every time I get on my bike.

The configuration options are limited, but with a little creativity you could set up a half dozen Smart Tag actions based on different events throughout your day. The Sony Xperia ion comes with one Smart Tag in the box, but you can find an assortment of NFC tag sets on Amazon for around $15.

Sony Xperia ion7 / 10

The Sony Xperia ion was one of the best devices we saw at CES. It had an inspired design, amazing display and a camera which was ahead of its competition. The big issues we have with the Xperia ion don’t really have anything to do with the device, but with the amount of time it took Sony and AT&T to bring it to market. To put things into perspective, the HTC One S and One X were announced 6 weeks after the Xperia ion, but HTC somehow managed to get them both to market 1-2 months ahead of the ion. To compensate for this long delay, the price of the ion was set at $99.99 with a new two-year contract. It is really affordable ($29.99) if you buy through Best Buy, however, (thanks for the tip, Wolf0491). Despite that price, we’re still more enthusiastic to recommend the HTC One X.

Nick is a tech enthusiast who has a soft spot for HTC and its devices. He started HTCsource.com (the first HTC blog) back in 2007 and later joined the Android and Me family in the summer of 2010.

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  • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

    Design looks nice, but I’m disappointed with Android 2.3 and the older Snapdragon S3 chip. Either the Galaxy S III or HTC One X are better buys for AT&T customers.

    • iamXiV92a

      Looks like a great phone, but the non-removable battery and Android 2.3 (like you mentioned) are deal breakers.

      • zerosix

        Sony will probably update it soon and probably to JB. And, of course, some people buy phones just because they like it’s look.
        If I weren’t in love with Motorola, I would call it the most beautiful Android-device of 2012.

        • tottyrice

          i want to see a SONY nexus!!!

      • awundrin

        I concur- two solid reasons not to buy it. The fact that it scratches easily is also a big turn-off.

  • Kimberly86

    It looks like a brick. No thanks. im rather waiting for the new shiny iPhone 5 folks!

    • Bpear96

      IMO the iPhone, looks just as much as a brick as this phone to me..

    • zerosix

      Keep us posted!

  • Bpear96

    Thought id point out, that you seem to use “NCF” repeatly when it should be NFC, other wise great review :)

    • Bpear96

      i made a type on a post, about reporting a typo.. #fail.. repeatedly* lol

    • http://htcsource.com Nick Gray

      Thanks for catching that.

  • Nathan D.

    That a nice phone but the One X is a much better buy especially when it costs only $100.

  • KennyL

    I like Sony’s design style. I just wish that they would be available to more carriers, less proprietary, and be able to compete spec-wise with the like of the GSIII and OneX. I like that they look different, without being gaudy (cough, cough Motorola) something that far too few manufacturers are doing (I’m looking at you Sammy and HTC).

    • CTown

      Sony’s builds of Android are probably the least proprietary of them all. They send a lot of code upstream to Google, making their Android builds the closest to stock out of the bigger OEMs. But you’re right when it comes to the specs. Sony is always one Snapdragon generation behind HTC!

  • Tangent

    “Unfortunately, a 3D enabled 3D is required to view the images in their full glory.”

    Where can I get a 3D enabled 3D? Is it expensive?

    • zerosix

      You can upgrade your 3D enabled 2D at XDA.

  • Wolf0491

    I have a few problems with this review. First off phone came out over a month ago and now the review is posted? Second the phone can be bought for $30 at best buy which makes the price amazing. Third 2.3 being on the phone is all ATT fault. The Ion every where else had ICS. I’m using Android 4.0.4 on my Ion currently and typing this from it. The phone is fantastic for the price I got it for. I don’t really care for the Gs3 or one X.

    • http://htcsource.com Nick Gray

      We can only review phone we actually get our hands on. we would have loved to put out a review on launch day, but Sony and AT&T decided not to send us a review unit until now.

      • Wolf0491

        Well my complaint is all to ATT. The review was pretty good otherwise.

  • Thomas Biard

    I have always enjoyed Sony’s devices, esp this one, but they never do CDMA so I can’t partake. It could be spec’d up to keep up with the likes of One X and SIII but still a solid phone. I would consider it if it were for VZW

  • Jeb Johnston

    When did the Ion start coming with a Smart Tag? I got mine from BB on the first week and all I got was an existing memory card, no Smart Tag.

  • MoSDeeb

    A good looking device, but as stated above a bit poor in the performance and to be running Android 2.3…

    I would like to see a Sony Nexus Device

  • http://gplus.to/winkx droidguyuk

    Joke phone from what once was a great company ! They used top quality materials when they made their own products but now its all done at foxcom. @Sony you are losing money and your flagship phone is on gingerbread ? All the time you put into making your scab sorry I mean skin was WASTED ! Here is an idea go to stock jellybean to save money on R&D and your designs already distinguish you from other OEM’s plus no one is doing just stock android, people want this now ICS and jellybean have made android simple , powerful and most importantly … beautiful.

  • http://gplus.to/winkx droidguyuk

    Sony for nexus ! Big battery SD card slot and quad core now that would be a great phone because I do like Sony .. I have the mini pro sk17i now and its a nice phone.

  • AnonGuy

    Well, I did get the Ion like 4 days after release. It was one of the worst devices I’ve ever owned.

    1. Battery Life: Attrocious. < 5 hours on HSPA+ and the device went from over 85% to something like 16% of a charge. There is a clear reason why Sony ships this with a Rapid Charger. Unfortunately, not many people will be plugging that thing in in a car or at work. The battery life was a huge issue.

    P.S. If you leave TimeScape on Auto-Sync for FB/Twitter you may even get WORSE battery life than I got. It was truly incredible when I tried that out.

    2. No Ambient Light Sensor. Sorry, but that was a deal-breaker for me. Having to manually adjust my display brightness… This is something I never have and never will do on a smartphone – ever. Never, ever. I require an ALS and Auto-Brightness setting.

    3. Bloatware: The App that starts everytime you go into the Contacts app, for example, and takes forever to finish before you can actually even view your contacts. Sony left a Japanese and Chinese keyboard to clutter up that on a US flagship device. What's with that.

    4. Their skinning job is terrible. Have to long press power and select an option to create a screen shot. Other phones have implemented a two button press for that. The bastardized the contacts app. The Gallery is untouched (Stock GB Gallery looks like crap, I prefer HTC's gallery personally). No quick shortcuts in Notification bar a-la TouchWiz. The skinning job just seems a bit inconsistent and not very well done, to me.

    However, their Music Player is Gorgeous. I give them that.

    5. WiFi signal strength. 2-3 bars sitting 5 feet from router. Never had a device with such a weak WiFi radio. Every once in a while it would hold a full signal, but it flunctuated a lot (possible cause of battery issues?).

    6. Screen scratches too easily. The damn thing got a small scratch on day 1 which is unacceptable. I haven't used a screen protector on any phone since 2008 and this is the first phone that got a scratch on teh screen – trust me, I've owned quite a few since then (Samsung Jack, HTC Aria, HTC HD2, Curve 9300, Bold 9780, T-Mo Vibrant, HD7, HTC Vivid, Ion, Skyrocket – plus I had an iPod Touch 4th Gen). Give #7 and #8, once I seen that scratch I made the instant decision to return it cause there's no way I'm going to stare at that for 2 years. The glass on the screen is of the poorest quality.

    7. Capacitive buttons. So annoying that I'd probably break tons of rules if I went into it. Just take my word for it, they're dreadful to use.

    8. Camera. Produces some of the noisiest images from a flagship device I've seen in years. Full of noise in many instances, and borderline useless in low light. The GS2, GS3, One X, iPhone 4/4S, Vivid, Nitro HD all take better Low Light images (i.e. they're at least passable). This camera is junk in low lighting.

    The camera software is terrible. Image Stabilization has an option but doesn't seem to work at all (similar to the Stereo Sound Recording in the HTC Vivid). The Auto Focus on this camera is the slowest I've ever seen. Sometimes it took upwards of 5-8 seconds to focus, which made some video footage utterly worthless as a result. The only saving grace is the double-stage camera button and ability to launch from lock screen. Other than that, this camera is nothing to write home about…

    Well… It actually does take exceptional macro shots, if you don't fall asleep before it focuses. I gotta give it that.

    Pictures are too compressed from the camera as well, which doesn't help its image quality.

    If the device had an ALS/Auto-Brightness, better glass on the screen, working capacitive buttons (not just works, but works as you'd expect them), and a better camera/camera software (don't they make the iPhone 4S camera, how can they make such good sensors for Apple yet fail so badly in their own phones? cutting costs I guess… … …) I'd have kept it.

    Unfortunately, contracts are two years and I'm tired of upgrading often. So I took it back 20 hours later and got the Skyrocket. This will hold me over at least for a year or so, I think.

  • luckykrrish

    Nexus 4 FTW

  • Ezy03

    nexus 4 is better and the best!

  • sbala

    Its like a iphone

  • kmdolce15

    I have given up on the thought that Sony could possibly make a good phone.

  • amit kumar

    They are very slick and fantastic device. Honest I have belief in your review both device may make Sony the best in the market. I checked full features of those phone this website as well. http://www.gadtecho.com

  • Clifton

    I got the ion at Best Buy in January as a FREE upgrade. The capacitive buttons can be a pain sometimes. Otherwise, the display, camera and OS (4.0 ICS via Sony update) are fantastic. Battery life is not good, but using the charger that came with the phone will get you a FULL charge in about an hour.
    Also: The ion will get the Jellybean up date by the end of April. I love my Sony Experia ion.

    • Clifton

      NOTE: This review influenced my decision. It was spot on.

      And finally -I carry my phone in my pocket and I don’t use a case. I’ve dropped it a couple of times and the screen is still good as new.