Xperia Ion Review – $100 4G LTE Android smartphone with 12 megapixel camera on AT&T
Aug 3, 2012 7:01 AM –
Xperia Ion comes exclusively to AT&T’s 4G LTE network and is Sony’s first LTE smartphone. For $100 bucks on contract, you get a software and hardware feature-packed phone; including the highest 12.1 megapixel camera, 1.5 Ghz dual core processor, HDMI-out and media galore, but it ships with an older version of Android. Is that caveat enough to bypass or look past and buy this HD powerhouse? Learn more in our in-depth Android smartphone review!
Price: $99.99 with 2 year contract
Carrier: AT&T (Exclusive)
Pros & Cons:
- Really good HD cameras on both front and rear, plus dedicated shutter button for camera!
- Super fast 4G LTE Internet browsing & download speeds!
- Fast under the hood, operating the phone and running graphic intense apps & games are speedy!
- Has HDMI to project the phone screen onto an HDTV!
- Pre-loaded with features plus some interesting & cool apps!
- Ships with older version of Android (version 2.3.7, Gingerbread).
- Haptic feedback main navigation buttons along the bottom are not as responsive as I would expect.
I have to admit I have a love/hate relationship with the Xperia Ion’s design. In photos, it’s oh so sleek, mysterious and sexy. It has a curved back, which ergonomically grips your hand well, however, and minor, on the side where the power/sleep wake button resides- it is an adjustment to wrap your index finger around and press when in the left hand (easier for right hand folks as you can access with your thumb easier.) The greater gripe I have with the phone is the bottom row main navigation is not as responsive as I would like.
These quibbles aside, it is a sturdy & masculine build, made of black polycarbonate on the back side top and bottom (thrusting the top portion off reveals the micro SD and mini SIM card slot), wrapped around contoured brushed metallic back and covered by edge-to-edge scratch-resistant glass on the front. Speaking of the screen, a portion of it is a 4.55 inch 1280×720 pixel resolution LCD screen, plus 720p HD camera on the front. The 3.5mm headphone jack lives at the top, flipping open the left side door reveals the microUSB for charging & data transfer and mini HDMI ports for mirroring phone content to an HD or 3D television. The right side has the power button, volume rockers and dedicated camera shutter button that is a unique feature to the 12.1 megapixel camera on this phone. Holding down the shutter button quickly launches the camera app and snaps a flick even when the phone is sleep. The back side has the 1080p HD camera/camcorder with LED flash followed by speaker beneath.
Stuck on Gingerbread
One of the glaring defects the Xperia Ion has is that it shipped with an older version of Android, version 2.3.7 Gingerbread, when it at least should have shipped with Android 4, Ice Cream Sandwich. Sony states the phone will upgrade to this version. However, Google moves so rapidly and sporadic with OS updates, we’ll see this as a challenge to get the phone’s custom experience on, now, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
Xperia Ion Rear Camera Picture Sample
The specs on the rear camera is the unique stand-out for this phone. To date, it has the highest resolution camera, 12.1 megapixels, for any Android smartphone. As seen in the flick above (click it) you can notice vivid- high contrast photos in good lighting, however, I cannot say that the boost in megapixels are a dramatic difference over other 8 megapixel devices we’ve seen. It’s also capable of recording and displaying 1080p full HD content.
Once in the camera app there are some cool photo presets: Scene recognition (based on your lighting situation the phone determines the best settings), 3D Sweep Panorama (create a 3D panoramic image that you can view on a 3D TV via HDMI), Sweep Multi Angle, Sweep Panorama and Normal modes.
Just like the camera, the camcorder has several scenes like shooting in portrait, night & sports modes, toggle photo light, set self timer, configure White Balance & metering, set focus mode (auto-focus, face detection, etc.), set exposure values, and more.
The front camera is 1.3 megapixels, better than the VGA spec we’ve seen on some phones but you do notice some grain as you view the picture in full screen.
Xperia Ion Front Camera Picture Sample
4G Speedtest for Xperia Ion
Now that Sony has re-entered the smartphone arena as just “Sony” and shelved the “Sony Ericsson” brand with its acquisition, the Xperia Ion launches as its first LTE smartphone. It’s no doubt AT&T’s 4G LTE network is fast. We’ve been testing the device in Chicago and saw an average of about 19 Mbps download and 8 Mbps upload. [Tech pundits insert your usual arguments about speeds and performance here, or chime in on the chatter here.] Bottomline, for non-technical consumers this means the phone will browse the web fast, download music fast and stream videos fast… without wasted seconds of buffering. For myself, it was awesome to download The Dark Knight Rises game (review coming soon), which is a huge 1.8 gigabytes in under ten minutes! 😯
Display & Control your Phone on your TV
The Xperia Ion hides a micro HDMI port along side the micro USB port. When you connect to an HD television you get an enhanced experience while projecting your visuals plus audio directly to the TV. It automatically formats to a landscape format and I really appreciate the TV Manager app, which acts as a nifty app launch-pad carousel, providing quick access to your photo/video gallery, music, YouTube or Sony’s Video Unlimited app, web browser, email apps and more.
Timescape is Sony’s aggregation of social experiences all in one place. If you sign into your Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and LinkedIn accounts, you can flip through a set of slick looking social contact cards; tap to open and engage more. This feature is pleasant on the eyes, but I felt it could be a bit more slicker, especially with the powerful guts in the phone.
NFC, tap two devices together to share
The Ion has NFC, near field communications technology, once enabled, will allow you to tap another NFC device to share webpages, pictures, Google maps, etc. It comes pre-installed with the Xperia SmartTags app, and if you have some tags, you can program your own actions to make things a bit more easy with one tap. For example, frequent and common tasks like turning off Wi-Fi and turning on GPS & Bluetooth when you get into your car can be pre-programmed with these NFC tags.
Music & Videos Unlimited
Since this is a Sony phone, you cannot help but notice the integration of its Music Unlimited & Video Unlimited services. The former gives you access to more than 12 million songs and the latter offers access to buy & rent movies and TV shows.
Loaded with Features
If the awesome list of major features above have not impressed you, the Xperia Ion comes with an option I personal require in any phone I buy… Mobile Hotspot. Of course for an additional monthly fee to AT&T you can activate this. 😡 Here a few more impressive apps that are preloaded:
- AT&T Ready2Go, once activated online, you and setup up and manage your your phone’s contacts, pics and more from the Internet.
- Connected devices is something advanced users will appreciate, as you can connect to other phones or devices to playback photos and music on the same Wi-Fi network. We were able to connect the Ion to a Galalxy S3 via Wi-Fi Direct and stream pics, music and videos from phone to phone. A better use case would be streaming your media collection on your computer or laptop to your phone without cables!
- FM Radio, just plug in your earbuds and retrieve old-fashion radio airwaves.
- LiveWare manager is an app to help you configure which app or action happens when you plug a cable into the phone (i.e. open TV Manager app when you plug in an HDMI cord.)
I was disappointed with the call volume and clarity quality. It reminded me of my Nexus One, which I had to mash the phone in my head often during conversations just to hear the other party.
Performance and Battery life
Quandrant and Antutu Benchmarks for Xperia Ion
The Xperia Ion has a dual core 1.5 Ghz processor under the hood, but you can clearly tell it was not as buttery fast as the Galaxy S3 or HTC One X, which crown benchmark tests for Android smartphones thus far.
Under heavy use I was able to get an average of 8-11 hours of battery life before charging (13-15 under moderate), I would have preferred more but at least this gets you through the average work day.
Xperia Ion Rear Camera
Xperia Ion Front
Xperia Ion Rear Camera 2
Xperia Ion Power Volume and Camera Shutter Buttons
Xperia Ion HDMI and Micro USB Ports
Xperia Ion Audio Jack on Top
Xperia Ion Stacked Up Against Galaxy S3
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