Sony Xperia ion for AT&T review: US Xperiance

GSMArena team, 10 July 2012.
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Plain vanilla gallery

The Xperia ion uses the traditional droid Gallery, which hasn't really seen much change in Gingerbread. It has good functionality, cool 3D looks and nice transition effects, and shows full resolution images.

The different albums and folders appear as piles of photos, which fall in neat grids once selected. If you have online albums over at Picasa those show up as separate stacks as well.

You should have noticed the two switches at the top by now. The first opens a different gallery section that stores your 3D panorama sshots, while the second opens the Sweep Multi Angle sshots section.

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The standard Android gallery

To view the 3D panoramas in 3D, you need to connect your phone to a compatible 3DTV. Multi Angle sshots are harder to view outside the device as you need something with an accelerometer and the proper app - you best bet is another Xperia.

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3D Panorama and Multi Angle shooting modes are available

Facebook and Picasa albums are distinguished by the small logo of the corresponding service. Facebook pictures can be "liked" with the thumbs up button in the upper right corner.

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Liking photos is enabled for Facebook albums

Photos can be sorted by date with the help of a button in the top right corner, which switches between grid and timeline view.

You can use pinch zoom or the old-fashioned +/- buttons. If you pan past the edge of a photo, the gallery will load up the next (or previous) image.

Images can be cropped or rotated directly in the gallery. Quick sharing via Picasa, Email apps, Facebook, Bluetooth or MMS is also enabled.

The BRAVIA engine enhances contrast and colors by sharpening the image and reducing noise. These steps would normally lead to artefacts, but you'll have to look from really up close to notice. You can switch BRAVIA off, but we recommend keeping it on - it really improves the image quality.

Basic video player with good codec support

There is no dedicated video player app on the Xperia ion as in most of the droids out there. DivX, XviD and MKV videos are supported but the Xperia ion has a rather selective filtering and not all videos got through.

The Xperia ion managed to play every MP4 file we threw at it, even the 1080p videos. Most of the high-res DivX/XviD/MKV files did run too. Unfortunately, the Xperia ion has rather patchy audio codec support, most notably AC-3 is not on the list. So, some videos played without audio and some with unsupported bitrate didn't pass at all.

There is no subtitle support and there is no way you can see video information (file name, codec, size, etc.).

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Watching a video on the Xperia ion

Rich music experience

The Xperia ion has the same music player that we liked on the Xperia S. You're welcomed to a Cover Flow-like interface and you can swipe left and right to skip tracks (complete with a smooth 3D effect).

This is the Playing tab, the second tab available is called My Music and it's where your music library is organized. Tracks are sorted by album, artist, playlist, all tracks, SensMe channel, and favorites. There's also a link to Sony's Music Unlimited service.

In the Now playing interface, there's the familiar Infinite button - it gives you quick options to find the music or karaoke videos on YouTube for the current song, look for more tracks on PlayNow, search Wikipedia for info on the artist or look for lyrics on Google. New features can be added to this menu with extensions available in the Play Store.

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The music player • Music library

SensMe should be familiar from those old Sony Ericsson Walkman phones. In case you've missed it, SensMe filters songs by mood. By default, there are nine "channels" - daytime, energetic, relax, upbeat, mellow, lounge, emotional, dance and extreme.

You need to download SensMe data before you can use this feature. Luckily, you no longer have to use a PC Suite to tag songs - you just need an Internet connection, the phone will handle the rest.

Audiophiles will appreciate the rich selection of equalizer presets. There's a custom preset too - it lets you adjust five frequency bands and there's a Clear Bass slider too.

The More tab offers a Headphone surround option, which can be set to Studio, Club or Concert hall. If you're not using the headphones, you can turn the xLOUD feature on, which optimizes the sound for the Xperia ion loudspeaker.

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The equalizer

A new feature is the track info and playback controls available on the lockscreen, which let you control the player without having to unlock the phone. The music controls replace the clock, which might be annoying if you just want to check the time. Still, the clock slides out of view, so you have about a second to see what time it is (or just look at the small clock in the upper right corner).

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Music player controls on the lockscreen

FM radio with RDS

The Sony Xperia ion is equipped with an FM radio, which has a really neat and simple interface. It automatically scans the area for the available stations and places "notches" on the frequency dial for easier scrolling to the next station. There's a Force mono option to use in case of poor reception.

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The FM radio app • TrackID

The TrackID service is also available and works within the radio app. You can even like a song on Facebook.

Poor stereo crosstalk damages the audio output

The Sony Xperia ion LTE audio quality turned out decent for the most part, but its high stereo crosstalk reading came as a huge surprise to us.

The new Sony flagship has faultless frequency response and very good signal-to-noise ration and dynamic range, but there seems to be a lot of leakage between the two channels. The distortion levels are kept well under control, too. Still, we wouldn't expect anything but faultless output from a flagship smartphone like this and the Xperia ion LTE falls a bit short of the mark.

Here go the results so you can see for yourselves.

TestFrequency responseNoise levelDynamic rangeTHDIMD + NoiseStereo crosstalk
Sony Xperia ion LTE+0.10, -0.09-81.781.90.0120.023-38.5
Sony Xperia S+0.10, -0.09-86.686.80.0110.018-86.9
Samsung Galaxy S III (US)+0.02, -0.07-82.382.30.0096 0.022-78.4
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III+0.03, -0.05-90.390.30.012 0.018-92.6
Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II+0.04, -0.09-91.491.90.0042 0.066-89.7
Samsung Galaxy Nexus+0.11, -0.69-90.690.60.0085 0.014-91.8
Apple iPhone 4S+0.02, -0.11-91.291.20.00200.012-93.0

Sony Xperia ion LTE frequency response
Sony Xperia ion LTE frequency response

You can learn more about the whole testing process here.

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