When Sony Ericsson Xperia neo first came to India, or anywhere else for that matter, it had an 8-megapixel camera and a higher price tag. Later on, Sony Ericsson launched the new Xperia neo V (pronounced ‘five’), that dropped the camera resolution down to 5-megapixel (hence the name) due to some camera shortage problems following the earthquake in Japan; but more importantly, had a lower price.
The Xperia neo now plays in the under-Rs 20,000 segment and the competition here is really heating up. For most people, Rs 20,000 is still the most they would spend on a mobile phone and hence it is also one of the most popular price points. The Xperia neo V already fulfills the price requirement but is it good enough to trump its rivals. Read on to find out.
Design and Build
The Xperia neo V has a stylish, curvaceous design that is highly reminiscent of the Sony Ericsson Vivaz. Everywhere you look, there are sweeping curves, and the only straight lines found on the phone frame the display. One might even say that perhaps it goes overboard with the curves, like one of those Hyundai cars. Still, you can’t deny that it is an attractive design, although personally I feel it looks better in the lighter colors.
Putting the design aside, I do have some issues with the build. I thought Sony Ericsson had finally learned how to make well-built phone it seems they forgot about it again with this one. The device I was using had major creaking issues that emanated every time the phone was squeezed even slightly in hand. The shiny plastic on the sides was the culprit here and I felt that the battery cover was contributing to it as well. Speaking of battery covers, when can we have covers that come out properly instead of ones that make you feel like you’re ripping off a Band-Aid?
All the shiny bits on the phone also make it look a tad cheap and plastic-y. You see your fingerprints everywhere making you constantly want to wipe the phone. The glossy plastic body also does not take well to wear and tear. The battery cover started picking up scratches when the phone was kept on a surface. Keeping it on its face made the keys, on the front, lose their shine.
There were also some ergonomic issues. The power button on the side was a bit too difficult to press easily, the volume buttons were slightly inconveniently located and your index finger always finds the camera lens on the back to rest upon, which means it will mostly be covered in fingerprints and smudges.
Having said that, the fairly compact design makes the phone easy to use and it is thin and light enough to slip into most pockets.
The Xperia neo V has a 3.7-inch, 854 x 480 resolution display. The extra 54 rows of pixels makes the aspect ratio a perfect 16:9, which means most of your videos and widescreen images will actually cover the entire display and not leave any black bars on the top and bottom. It also means you can see a bit more on the screen at a time. The 3.7-inch size also means you don’t need to have the hands of an orangutan to operate the touchscreen.
The quality of the display is pretty good. The colors are neutral, the color temperature seems normal, the contract and black levels are good and it’s also usable under bright light. The viewing angles, however, are quite poor.
Other problem with the display is the annoying automatic brightness control system. Unlike most phones, it cannot be disabled, which means the phone keeps changing the minimum brightness value and you can only adjust the maximum brightness level from the settings.
That’s not all. It also adjusts the brightness of the display according to the content being displayed. So if it is displaying a lighter colored image the brightness goes up and if the screen is showing something dark the brightness goes down. This is similar to what most LCD TVs do, except in this case it cannot be disabled. This often leads to the display being too dark at times and you hunt for a light source behind you to get good brightness levels.
This also highlights another problem of the display and it is the reflective coating on top. The Xperia neo V uses a Gorilla Glass but it is too reflective on this phone; almost like a mirror. This means you are always seeing what’s behind you as much as you see what’s on the screen.
There is a Mobile BRAVIA Engine feature in the display settings that promises to improve the image and video quality. It makes absolutely no difference to anything, at all. It would have been nicer and more useful if they had given the option to disable the automatic brightness adjustment feature.
Hardware and Software
The Xperia neo V runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255 with a 1GHz CPU and Adreno 205 GPU, which is the same as all the recent Sony Ericsson Android phones. Performance-wise it is a bit behind the Hummingbird processor in the Samsung Galaxy S and the Nexus S, which can be seen in benchmarks but in real-world performance they are all but identical. It’s definitely faster than the TI OMAP 3620 and 3630 found under the Motorola DEFY+ and Samsung Galaxy S LCD, Optimus Black respectively. There is also 512MB of RAM, which is sufficient for moderate multi-tasking.
Software-wise the Xperia neo V has a definite advantage over its rivals, whether they are from Motorola, Samsung or LG. The Sony Ericsson custom skin owns all the other custom skins out there in aesthetics, usability or features. It is definitely the smoothest, slickest UI I have used on an Android device and out of the box makes Sony Ericsson’s Android phones that much nicer to use.
There are also some nice features in there, such as the ability to take screenshots by pressing and holding the power button and selecting the screenshot option or TrackID, which tells you what song is playing around you so you don’t have to download apps like Shazam or SoundCloud. There is also folder support on the homescreen and you can make folders simply by dragging icons over one another and you can even put the folder on the dock, something that Google only added to Android recently in Ice Cream Sandwich. You also get the ‘Facebook inside Xperia’ function, which syncs all your Facebook information such as contact details and birthdays of your friends with your phone.
The Xperia neo V comes with all the standard Google apps such as Mail, Maps, YouTube and Android Market. There is also quite a lot of bloat ware, although most of it can be uninstalled. The browser is pretty much stock, except for the WebGL support, which is something unique. The browser performance is acceptable but it is never perfectly smooth unless you are browsing a site that mostly has text, such as the Reddit comments section.
Currently the phone is running on Android 2.3.4, however Sony Ericsson has promised Ice Cream Sandwich update to all of their 2011 phones. They have also released a custom ROM for the phone but it disables half of the features of the phones, including the ability to make calls and hence is not advisable to regular users unless you are a developer or only use your phone to mess around with it.
The Xperia neo may have had an 8 megapixel camera but the Xperia neo V comes with “only” a 5 megapixel sensor, but retains the auto-focus, LED flash an 720p video recording. The phone has a dedicated two-step shutter button on the side, a rare sight on phones these days.
The camera software is simple but has all the essential functions. It has multiple scene modes, self-timer, touch-to-focus, digital image stabilizer for stills and video, Smile detection, sweep panorama and 3D sweep panorama. The last one will be useless to you if, like me, you don’t have a 3D TV at home as that’s the only place where these images can be viewed.
The image quality was underwhelming for a Sony Ericsson phones. The detail level in the images was disappointing. They had a soft, slightly smudged look to them, no doubt due to the aggressive noise reduction algorithm. To make up, the camera tries to artificially sharpen the images but the effect is not impressive. In low light, things get even worse, with the noise reduction working overtime and further dropping the detail level in the images. The colors were fine though, although the images looked a bit cold most of the times.
The camera also seems to have a problem focusing on objects very close to the lens. Even in macro mode, you need to keep a healthy distance from the subject, which defeats the purpose of a macro mode.
The 720p videos were smooth and the camera would automatically focus if you move it around but like the still images the videos had a soft, smudged look to them.
Music and Videos
The music player on the Xperia neo V is quite good. Compared to the stock Gingerbread player, you get equalizer presets and a nice, large view of the album art. The player also adjusts the background color according to the album art. So if you have a green album art image the background would become green.
The audio quality through headphones was good and the phone also gets plenty loud. Unfortunately, we did not get the standard earphones with our review sample so we can’t say how good it will sound with those. The loudspeaker is also pretty good and gets quite loud but you can make it even louder using the xLOUD setting, which, unlike the
Mobile BRAVIA Engine, actually works.
The Xperia neo V also has a built-in FM radio. The FM sensitivity was quite good and the interface was very simple and easy to use.
The video player on the Xperia neo V is not very impressive. Actually, there isn’t one at all. You have to play all your videos through the Gallery app and it only supports videos in the MP4 format, that too only up to 720p resolution. For other formats, you will have to install third party apps such as Dice Player but you are still pretty much restricted to 720p as the maximum resolution that can be played on the phone.
For video playback the display is a bit small and the low brightness does not make things any better. Only consolation is the 16:9 aspect ratio, which means you will be using the entire display without any black bars.
The Xperia neo V has a 1,500 mAh Li-Po battery. In my regular use that mostly consisted of browsing over 3G, using third-party apps such as TweetDeck and watching videos, the battery lasted a full day on a single charge. While running the video playback test, the Xperia neo V managed to last for 6 and a half hours on a full charge before powering off.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia neo V is priced at Rs 18,000; although you can get it for a lot less if you look around. For that price it definitely makes for a good buy. Older phones like the Galaxy S and the Nexus S would have given it a run for its money but they aren’t around anymore and the neither of the Motorola DEFY+, LG Optimus Black or the Galaxy S LCD have much on the Xperia neo V. Moreover, the Sony Ericsson is the only one here that will be getting Ice Cream Sandwich update for sure, which is more than what one can say for the other three. Whether it is in hardware or software, the Xperia neo V outdoes its current competition.
Some of the more expensive phones like the Optimus 2x and the Samsung Galaxy R have already approached the Rs 20,000 price point. As such it makes more sense to spend a bit more and go for these phones as they have much more power under their hood. However, if you’re strapped for cash, the Xperia neo V makes for a fine purchase.