Sony Xperia neo L review: Blast from the past

GSMArena team, 11 August 2012.
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The usual retail package

The Sony Xperia neo L comes in a compact box accommodating the handset itself and the usual set of accessories. Those include a USB charger, a microUSB-to-USB cable (used for both charging and data connections) and a headset.

Sony Xperia neo L Sony Xperia neo L
The XPERIA neo L box

Finally, there are a couple of user guides in the box and a 2GB microSD card already in the phone.

Sony Xperia neo L 360-degree spin

The all-plastic Sony Xperia neo L has grown larger compared to the previous two neos to accommodate the bigger screen. The Xperia neo L measures 121 x 61.1 x 12.2 mm and weighs 131.5g.

Design and build quality

The Xperia neo L looks like the first phone Sony made after the split with Ericsson. You know, for old times' sake. And while a certain charm is hard to deny, it's pretty obvious that the good-looking phones are in the NXT line. The Sony Xperia neo L is a cure for nostalgia.

Most of the phone's front is taken by a 4" 16M-color LCD screen of FWVGA resolution (854 x 480 pixels). The neo L uses a similar spec'd display to many of its recent Xperia line siblings, but unlike them lacks the Sony Bravia Mobile Engine.

The LED-backlit LCD has pleasing colors and contrast. The questionable feature is viewing angles: contrast quickly deteriorates and the colors get washed out when viewing the screen at an angle.

The maximum brightness of the screen isn't very high and the sunlight legibility falls somewhat short too.

Sony Xperia neo L
The Reality display has its ups and downs

Our proprietary display test confirmed that the Sony Xperia neo L has good contrast, though it's not very bright. Notably, it's dimmer than the neo V screen. Black levels are great though even when you consider higher end phones.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
HTC Desire C 0.23 186 814 0.5 360 723
Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 I8160 0.24 225 921 0.59 500 843
LG Optimus Black 0.27 332 1228 0.65 749 1161
Sony Xperia U 0.35 287 831 0.55 515 930
Sony Xperia neo L 0.18 214 1202 0.29 321 1097
Sony Xperia neo V - - - 0.35 548 1578

Contrast ratio

  • Nokia 808 PureView
    4.698
  • Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III
    3.419
  • Samsung Omnia W
    3.301
  • Samsung Galaxy S
    3.155
  • Nokia N9
    3.069
  • Samsung Galaxy Note
    2.970
  • HTC One S
    2.901
  • Samsung Galaxy S II
    2.832
  • Huawei Ascend P1
    2.655
  • Nokia Lumia 900
    2.562
  • Apple iPhone 4S
    2.269
  • HTC One X
    2.158
  • Nokia N8
    2.144
  • Apple iPhone 4
    2.016
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia ray
    1.955
  • Sony Xperia U
    1.758
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    1.691
  • HTC One V
    1.685
  • LG Optimus Vu
    1.680
  • Sony Xperia go
    1.577
  • LG Optimus 3D
    1.542
  • Nokia Asha 302
    1.537
  • Nokia Lumia 610
    1.432
  • Gigabyte GSmart G1355
    1.361
  • HTC Desire C
    1.300
  • LG Optimus L7
    1.269
  • Meizu MX
    1.221
  • Samsung Galaxy Pocket
    1.180
  • Nokia Asha 305
    1.178
  • Sony Xperia neo L
    1.169
  • Samsung Galaxy Ace Duos S6802
    1.148
  • Samsung Galaxy mini 2
    1.114

Above the screen we find the usual earpiece, proximity and ambient light sensors and the VGA front-facing camera. The front cam is a lot less prominent than on the previous Sony Ericsson neos.

Below the screen is an old-school set of hardware controls: Back, Home, Menu and Search buttons. The buttons are thin and small, and not all that easy to use. You'll sometimes hit the Menu key when you really wanted the Home key. We have another complaint too - the keys are quite wobbly, giving them a cheap feel.

Sony Xperia neo L Sony Xperia neo L
The typical controls below the display • the front-facing camera and its companions above the display

The left hand side of the Xperia neo L features the microUSB port, which handles charging and PC connections.

On the right are the Power/Lock key and the volume rocker, both of which are placed on the sloping side and have a shallow press, which is quite uncomfortable. The lanyard eyelet on this side too. There used to be a hardware shutter key as well, but Sony has decided to go virtual-only with the neo L.

Sony Xperia neo L Sony Xperia neo L Sony Xperia neo L
The left side houses the microUSB port • Power/Lock key and volume rocker on the right

The top side of the phone features a 3.5mm audio jack that juts out from the curved top side of the handset. A tiny notification/charger light is off to the side.

The mic pinhole is at the bottom of the phone along with a small groove you can use to lift the back cover open.

Sony Xperia neo L Sony Xperia neo L
The 3.5mm audio jack is topside • mic pinhole at the bottom

The back of the Sony Xperia neo L breaks from the tradition of placing the camera near the center. The 5MP shooter and its LED flash companion are positioned closer to the top, near the loudspeaker grill. The creaky back panel (especially the lower end) makes a terrible impression.

Sony Xperia neo L Sony Xperia neo L
The camera as a more traditional position • The loudspeaker is also here.

Below the glossy plastic back cover is the 1500mAh Li-Po battery. It blocks access to the SIM card and microSD slots, which are stacked one above the other. We can't help but think that rotating the microSD slot 90 degrees so that it isn't blocked by the battery would have enabled hot-swapping and couldn't have been a major redesign issue.

Sony Xperia neo L
The microSD and the SIM card slots are blocked by the 1500mAh battery

We couldn't run our usual battery test as the video codec support was poor and we couldn't use our usual test videos. We did do a talk time and browsing time tests though, the results from which you can find in telephony and web browser sections of this review.

While it isn't the most compact phone, the Sony Xperia neo L is still pocketable and the curved sides improve the feel in hand.

Sony Xperia neo L Sony Xperia neo L
Sony Xperia neo L held in hand

The exterior of the phone is mostly built from glossy plastic (black or white), which is an instant fingerprint magnet. The metallic silver strip that runs around the circumference of the phone does class up the place a bit and the metal mesh of the loudspeaker on the back looks kind of cool.

Don't get us wrong - it's a nice piece of hardware, but the Xperia neo L feels like a lower-end device compared to the neo V.

That's it for the hardware, it's time to look at the software. We had to triple check, but the Sony Xperia neo L is the first Xperia that's running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich at the time we're reviewing it (as opposed to getting the ICS treatment as an update). About time, Sony.

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