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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray is a compact and stylish Android phone available at a competitive price. Does it offer enough to stand out in a crowded market? Find out in our full review.

Everything is cyclical. After a number of years in which smartphones have been getting larger and larger we can’t help but wonder if smaller isn’t due a comeback. We hope it is, and we wouldn’t mind at all if the Xperia Ray was the device to kickstart the trend. It is a lovely handset, one of the most immediately appealing that we’ve seen in some time.

It’s not a device for the power user, but is a mainstream phone for anyone who wants a quality piece of kit in their pocket.

The Ray’s instant appeal comes from its diminutive size and superior build quality. It isn’t small in the same way the Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Mini Pro is. That device is very deliberately designed and has had its software tweaked to fit the small screen.

The Ray feels natural rather than forced, harking back to the days when smallness was a compliment, and it runs Android 2.3 with the same skin Sony Ericsson packs into its 4-inch handsets. But its compactness does not mean fragile; the build is excellent.

The device has a stripped back design, with only one physical button and two capacitive ones below the display and the bare minimum of ports and buttons around the edges.

The screen measures 3.3” – a little smaller than we’d have ideally, although we suspect a 3.5” if not a 3.7” screen could be fitted into the same size chassis in future versions of the product. But it is spectacularly sharp: at this size the 480 x 854 pixel resolution equates to a pixel density of 297 pixels per inch. Only the iPhone’s famed Retina Display surpasses it.

Turning on the Ray reveals the Timescape UI that Sony Ericsson puts on all of its Android handsets. It’s one of the better custom skins. The social networking elements can be largely ignored if you’d rather use your own choice of apps, but some of the other tweaks are welcome. Dragging one app icon onto another on the home screen, for instance, will group them into their own folder. There are five home screens in total, with a good selection of pre-installed widgets you can place on them.

The Xperia Ray is powered by a 1GHz processor, backed up by 512MB RAM. It isn’t the fastest phone we’ve ever used but we had no issues at all with responsiveness. The software seemed well optimised, producing a lag-free experience, and was able to handle any task we threw at it.

These include video recording. As a single-core phone the device cannot manage full 1080p video, but is 720p-capable and was not class leading but generally good. Likewise the performance of the 8MP camera for stills, which took excellent shots in good light, though offered diminishing returns in poor light, especially with an underpowered LED flash.

For web browsing the Ray was fast and powerful, even handling Flash content with ease, while the display made reading text very easy on the eyes. It does, of course, use the standard Android browser, which is always pretty good. The multimedia apps are also stock Android and equally effective.

There’s little additional support for video formats so you may need a third party app for some of your files, and an app for the Qriocity service is also included if you want to buy or rent movies. It could prove useful in some circumstances, although we found the choice to be limited and pricey.

The phone’s main downsides, ironically, also relate to its size. The keyboard in particular is inevitable pokey and may cause problems for the large-fingered messaging addict.

But on the whole there is so much to like about the Xperia Ray, not just the styling but in the all-round package. Even the one area where smaller phones always fall down – battery life – significantly exceeded our expectations.


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