The Sony Xperia Neo L is an extension of Sony’s well-known Xperia Neo series, and is positioned as a middle-tier smartphone – but does it stand out in an already crowded market?
Like the other handsets in the Xperia Neo series, the Neo L is a bar-shaped phone; but it has a few distinctive features that are evidence of a rethink by Sony’s design team. There’s no HDMI port or hardware shutter key, and there are now four physical buttons – Back, Home, Search, and Menu -- beneath the screen. The 4-inch TFT capacitive screen runs at a resolution of 854x480 pixels and 245PPI, enhanced by the Sony BRAVIA engine, and the display is very sharp, vivid and clear, although it has relatively poor viewing angles. Available in black only, the phone feels slim and sleek, with a thickness of just 12.2mm. It’s curved sides make it fit comfortably in the hand, although it’s heavier than the average smartphone at 131.5g. It features a Proximity sensor, which prevents accidental button-pressing when the phone is held to the ear, and an Ambient Light sensor which alters the display’s brightness according to light levels in the surrounding environment, helping to conserve battery power and make the phone more user-friendly. All in all, it’s a pleasing – if conservative – design.
The Xperia Neo L runs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and Sony has chosen to stack the Android Timescape UI on top, an interface designed to be clear, simple and user-friendly. The usual 5 home screens are present, with 4 configurable shortcuts in the dock. On the home screen, pinching zooms out to Overview mode, allowing a full view of the home screens and active widgets. In addition to the customary widgets, Sony has included its own set, including Timescape and Photos/Videos.The phone’s 1Ghz Adreno 205 Qualcomm processor and its performance is generally smooth, with capacity for multi-tasking.
Sony is proud of its social phonebook feature, and rightly so. The phone is bundled with native Facebook and Twitter apps, enabling full social media integration through a tabbed interface. You can sync info across multiple accounts (e.g. Facebook, Exchange), and there’s a good level of customization, including show/hide options. Making and receiving calls is effortless on the Neo L, and benefits from noise cancellation on the in-built secondary mic, providing clear audio even in noisy surroundings. Smart dialing is a welcome feature, and you can even use voice dialing. The 0.3MP secondary camera on the front of the phone makes it video-calling capable.
The Xperia Neo L offers a standard layout of threaded messages, with a powerful Search function. It includes support for SMS, IM, MMS and more. For email, users are encouraged to use the Gmail app, which includes batch operations and multiple account support, although the native app can handle IMAP/POP accounts with ease. The customized on-screen keyboard is comfortably spacious, and even better in landscape; or you can use the clever Gesture input.
The phone’s internal memory is just 301MB, which means that users who want to store any kind of media on the handset will want to make use of the micro-SD slot. The phone is packaged with a 2GB card, but the slot allows cards up to a capacity of 32GB. Users can choose from the ICS gallery or Xperia gallery, and both are clear and well laid out, with full social media integration. The phone doesn’t include a native video playing app, a major omission for a new smartphone. The screen is large and detailed enough to make media-viewing a pleasing experience. One major downside, however, is that the phone’s video codec support is very limited, so HD video is out of reach; and Sony has certainly missed a trick by removing the HDMI port.
Being a Sony phone, the Xperia Neo L includes a solid, albeit old, music player. Quality is good but quiet, thanks to the included xLoud Audio technology, and it supports a wide variety of file formats. Track ID recognition is a handy feature, and with the music player widget you can control your tracks without unlocking the phone. Unlike older models, the phone does not feature a FM radio, a feature that will be missed by a minority of users.
The phone features a rear-facing 5MP camera with an LED flash, and a front-facing 0.3MP secondary camera, and can produce 2592x1944 stills. There are plenty of modes and effects to play with, including an easy-to-use panorama mode. Image quality is very good for a phone of this kind, with good colors and contrast.
The Neo L is capable of recording video at a resolution of 720x1280 and 30 frames per second, with continuous auto-focus and surround sound. Rendering is fairly good and overall quality is pleasing, although videos often appear over-sharpened.
The standard connectivity options are all included: Wi-Fi, 2G, 3G, and Bluetooth 3.0 support. It includes HSUPA and HSDPA technologies, which optimize data transfers over 3G connections; and with the latest version of Android users can make the phone into a tethered Wi-Fi hotspot. The Bluetooth connectivity works well, enabling fast transfer of documents and media files. The phone also supports DNLA connections, and a dedicated Media Remote app controls compatible Sony devices.
The phone includes an Alarm Clock, Calendar, Calculator, Sound Recorder and Live Wallpaper, as well as a Document Viewer and Document Editor app, enabling users to manage and edit documents on the go.
The standard Android 4.0 browser is present, and performs very well; but users will find a better experience with Chrome. Pages load quickly, with good support for video, and the interface is intuitive with plenty of great features such as incognito browsing. It includes full Flash 11 support. The phone comes bundled with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter apps, as well as Skype and Google Talk video. Like all other Android phones, the Neo L allows users to connect to Android Market and browse the thousands of available apps.
The Neo L includes A-GPS support to enhance quick location using the Google Maps app. The data-efficient vector maps load quickly and renders smoothly, and its directions are clear.
Users can also make use of 50GB additional Cloud Storage for free.
Although a good mid-range smartphone, the Sony’s additional features don’t justify its price when there are many comparable competitors at a lower cost. Sony’s Xperia Neo L is pitched at a market already saturated with affordable smartphones that offer plenty of features. It’s a likeable phone with a good camera, browser and memory, and ideal for users who don’t demand too much from their phone.
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