Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sony Xperia Neo V - A simple review

I have been using my Smartphone "Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V" since about a year and now I would like to write a review on it. This review idea was actually provoked by one of my friend, Karthikeyan S, founder and CEO, JOB SHELLS (http://www.jobshells.com/) as he would like to buy one despite having a BB. :)

I will not be discussing about the features and specifications as I'm not the one to change any of those. This review will be a pure user review, a user who is using the phone for almost a year. I'll be presenting my views in the "as is" basis and it might not resemble any of the other "Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V". For full features and specifications, please visit http://www.sonymobile.com/global-en/products/phones/xperia-neo-v


Being a Green heart phone, the phone body is entirely made of recycled plastics. The phone has a 3.7 inch scratch-resistant TFT touch screen 16 million colors, 854 x 480 pixels. The neo V uses the Reality display based on the Sony Bravia Mobile Engine which means we have a better, brighter and clear display.
Hardware buttons are found in the bottom end (Home button stands in the center with back and menu keys at the left and right). Just above the screen we can find earpiece, ambient light sensor, the secondary VGA camera and a proximity sensor. On the right side you have the volume controls and two small knobs (the power/lock button and the camera key). We also have a tiny status LED next to the power/lock key whereas we don’t have any of the keys at the left.
At the top portion we find the micro USB and micro HDMI ports on each side of a 3.5mm audio jack. Both the USB and HDMI ports are covered by small plastic lids. We have the 5MP lens placed almost in the middle at the back with LED flash near it. This design is useful as we don’t accidentally place the fingers over the lens when taking pictures or videos.
If we open the back cover of the phone, we can find the battery which covers half the portion of the phone. The memory card can be hot swapped as there is no necessity for the battery to be removed before removing memory card. The SIM can slot is anyways not hot swappable and it requires the battery to be removed before removing the SIM card.
The phone is comfortable to hold on the palm to text or operate with applications.

Operating system and UI

The box piece of the Neo V at the time I bought the phone came with Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread). Now I have upgraded it to Android 4.0.4 (Ice cream Sandwich). Sony Ericsson blended the Android to work with its Timescape UI which is good looking and pretty decent. Cool stuffs like Screen capture, Facebook integration, Swipe text input, etc., works like a charm.
We can have the five pane home screen and it also does a neat trick called Overview mode. Pinch to zoom out on any of the 5 home screen panes and a new screen opens up with a cool transition. All our widgets gather there and we can click the one we want and go to its screen. We can either go for the automatic options (alphabetical, most used or recently installed) or we can manually shuffle the icons of the apps when applications explored. The lock screen is Xperia fare where we get notifications for Facebook events too. Android ICS has face recognition unlock and I'm using this as the lock screen but this face unlock needs a bit improvement in terms of security and Android is working on the same on the future release Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Also we have pattern unlock and password unlock which gives us more security for the phone from bad hands.

About the phone system

The phone book that missed quick dials when on Android Gingerbread (instead it has a search field alone), now has the quick dial options which is really useful if you have a large number of contacts. Each contact is presented in side-swipable interface that holds contact info, recent calls and more info from social networking services like Facebook. We have a handful of options to sync the contacts with our accounts, including Exchange and Facebook, and you can selectively show or hide contacts from some accounts, or set the phonebook to display only contacts with phone numbers or even to display only the contacts that are saved in SIM card. The phonebook, call log and dialer are all part of the same application.

The phone comes with the proximity sensor, where it automatically disables the touch screen when you hold it next to your ear during a call. The phone conversations (audio) with the Neo V was good enough when it operated on Gingerbread but the audio during the call decreased to 70 ~ 80% after upgrade to ICS. I have tested the audio even at a silent environment where it lacks better audibility.

Messaging is threaded which looks like an IM chat where the recent message comes in the bottom. We can add photos, videos, pictures to the messages which automatically convert into MMS. Gmail app is integrated for the mailing which is good as it can hold multiple accounts. POP and IMAP both are supported by Gmail. We have Google Talk for Instant Messaging. Key board is very comfortable, keys are large enough and well spaced even in the horizontal position and when rotated to landscape mode we get a more spacious keyboard. I felt a little bit trouble placing the cursor at the exact position where I need it to be while correcting mistakes in the vertical position but that can be over come by flipping the phone to horizontal position. The one which impressed me was the swipe to input mode which can be activated in settings where the user don’t have to tap the keys instead can just swipe across to input texts. It comes with T9 prediction and also includes spaces automatically in between the words which make typing easier.

Music and Videos

Gallery app which contains all the music files and video files is pretty good with functionality, cool 3D looks and nice transition effects. Gallery will also contain Facebook albums which we can distinguish with the Facebook symbol and we can "like" them with the thumbs up button in the upper right corner when viewing them individually. ICS contains Xperia Gallery in addition to the Gallery app to resemble Sony take over of the Ericsson.
While viewing images, we can use the pinch zoom to zoom in/out which makes viewing easier rather using the +/- button. Bravia engine really works well when it is on with full brightness where your videos and photos look more vivid and clear and hence it enhances the quality.
We have a pathetic video codec that it can't even play 1080p MP4 videos but played 720P MP4 videos and the other formats such as DivX, Xvid, Mkv, etc., files are not able to be played on the device. No worries, we have a lot of video apps in the Google play which uses Hardware and software decoding techniques which lets us play any kind of video we through on the app. I'm using BS player Free and you can too use the app as it gives good output.
While coming to music, we have xLoud technology to enhance the sound. The differences can be well distinguished when enable/disable the xLoud option in settings. The Now Playing screen offers nothing but the standard music controls, shortcuts to the library and the Infinite key. The Infinite key is very useful to look up a song on YouTube or browse for the lyrics. I used to click on it very often to get the lyrics of the song playing to sing along. Like images, we can also "like" music with the thumbs up button which we are listening to. FM Radio is quite good with auto search and save according to the region we are in. We can use the track id app to get information on what we are currently listening to when on Radio or recording to an external music.


A 5 megapixel camera with LED flash. We have short cuts to the settings in the left and thumb nails of recent photos are shown in the right side of the view finder. The short cuts can be rearranged or replaced by the settings you would require often. For taking still photos, we have many settings to get the clearer image such as Focus mode,  exposure value, white metering, image stabilizer, etc., which can give you best of the 5MP camera. The photos whiles taken at low light are not as clear as they were clear in the phone screen but when seen on bigger screens, the images looks a bit blurred and filled with grains. Mind, this is not a SLR camera and the camera does perfect what one expects from a phone camera.
The 3D camera is good to produce 3D images but can only be seen 3D with compatible 3D TV's or 3D screens.
The panorama view is really good if we have a large crowd to shoot or a beautiful view of a beach for example. The pictures are with good color and contrasts except when the climate is worse with clouds and low lights.
The presence of front camera makes us take self shots easier but the problem being the front camera is just a VGA one, the photos not being so good.

The video camera option on the right side from the view finder is just a slide down button which flips the still camera mode to video camera mode but this option is present only after the upgrade to ICS else we have to choose from the settings. The LED back light is useful when recording videos at low light. The settings are pretty same as with the still camera settings and are easy to use. The continuous auto focus mode is good and it can also be clearly seen when we record videos which will be recorded in 720p, 30fps (HD) and MP4 format. This can also be adjusted to reduce the quality according to our needs such as if the video is to be attached with MMS as a clip. In short, camera is really good for a 5MP group.

Connectivity and others

I would say the connectivity is covered from all the aspects from quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and tri-band HSPA with download rates of up to 7.2 Mbps and upload at 5.76 Mbps. When testing the 3G connectivity in India with Vodafone network, it worked amazing with buffering free YouTube videos and loading Google maps in seconds. We have Wi-Fi (b/g/n) and Bluetooth 2.1 for wireless connectivity and DLNA is used to view the contents in DLNA certified gadgets like TV's and Play station but I have not tested yet. The LiveWare manager app lets you assign specific apps to be launched when a given accessory is connected in the Gingerbread version of the OS which was replaced by Smart Connect app in the ICS version of the OS. A 3.5 mm jack audio output is excellent and the HDMI output which gives the ultimate viewing of the contents of the phone. I have tested the micro USB HDMI port to output the contents to my TOSHIBA 24PS10 LED TV to play NFS shift which I felt amazing.

Web browser is excellent and I prefer to use Opera browser till I upgraded the phone to ICS as Gingerbread doesn't have Chrome browser as the default browser. Flash 11 is supported to view flash contents and play flash games.

Organizers such as alarms, calculator, calendar, etc., looks really good with the UI and everything are ease of use. The calendar can be synced with all the accounts such as Facebook, exchange server and Gmail accounts. For document viewing the phone contains OfficeSuite app and we can download other apps from Google market (Gingerbread) or Google Play (ICS) for free or as a paid app. Google Play consists millions of apps for the phone and we can choose automatic update of apps if we have a unlimited data connection or restrict the update to manual if we have a limited data connection which makes our life trouble free.

Performance and Battery life

A 1GHz processor seems really good for a Smartphone but this when in combination with 512mb RAM gives a bit of lagging performance especially when multitasking with apps that may require more space like Facebook and Instagram. This also impacts the gaming experience when done in parallel with sending texts, etc., I can see a lag when switching between apps and when I receive calls when working on any app. This problem was quite high when the phone is operating on Gingerbread and decreased once updated to ICS. We can still expect performance boost in the future updates.
Battery (1500 mAh) mainly drains because of the screen size. It's 3.7" and utilizes most of the battery. So reducing the brightness of the screen is very useful in increasing the phone battery life. As per the specification the phone may give 7 hrs of talk time. In reality we can use it for more than a day if used professionally and up to a day if used for browsing/gaming every 2 ~ 3 hrs in half hour sessions like I do. The battery stand very good for listening music, I would say it stands for more than 10 hrs if played continuously when the phone is on and around 15 hrs when on flight mode.

Finally, The Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V is a 1GHz-powered Smartphone with a 3.7" screen, 5MP still camera and HD video. Plenty of competitions for this rnage of smartphones with companies like Samsung, Motorola and Nokia. I'm satisfied with the phone till date and would recommend one if you gotta go for it.