Sony Xperia sola review: Light 'em up
5MP camera with a 3D twist
The Xperia sola boasts a 5 megapixel camera, complete with a single LED light. It's capable of producing images of 2592x1944 pixel resolution.
The camera controls on the Xperia sola are available on two taskbars on either side of the viewfinder. On the left you get four shortcuts to various settings, while the still camera/camcorder toggle, the virtual shutter key and a thumbnail of the last photo taken are on the right.
The menu key brings up two pages of extra settings - scenes, resolution, smile detection, geotagging, image stabilization and focus mode among others. You can customize three of the shortcuts on the left (the shooting mode shortcut is fixed).
There're five capture modes to choose from: Normal, Scene recognition, Sweep Panorama, Sweep Multi Angle and 3D Sweep Panorama. In Normal, you pick the Scene settings manually or you can enable Scene recognition and let the Xperia S take a guess (it's fairly good at it).
The 3D Sweep Panorama is business as usual - you press the shutter key and pan the phone across the scene. The resulting panoramic photo can be viewed in both 2D and 3D (on a compatible TV).
The Sweep Multi Angle is much more impressive - you take a photo in the exact same way, but the result is very different. It produces something like a lenticular card.
Tilting the phone lets you look at the object from different sides. A shot of a moving object looks like an animated GIF or creates interesting distortions, which can be pretty funny too.
There are some distortions visible even in a static scene, but it's still one of the coolest camera features we've seen in a while. Photos taken in Sweep Multi Angle mode are handled by a separate app called 3D album, and not listed in the regular gallery. And just to be clear, the Xperia sola doesn't have a 3D screen. It cleverly relies on its sensors to detect the handset movement and it changes the on-screen image accordingly.
The Xperia sola features a Quick launch option, which lets you customize the phone's behavior upon a press of the camera key when the phone is locked. The default option is Launch and capture - it unlocks the phone, starts the camera and instantly snaps a photo - a rather uncomfortable option because it's nearly impossible to correctly frame a picture before the screen is on. This resulted in a couple of images with motion blur. The other option is to just unlock the phone and start the camera, or you can disable the feature completely.
We didn't like the Xperia sola's shutter key. The half press for focusing works fine but once you attempt to push the shutter all the way down you run the risk of shaking the phone, the button just feels too tight towards the end.
The Xperia sola isn't a standard-setting cameraphone by any stretch but that doesn't mean that Sony has underestimated the importance of good imaging on the smartphone.
The image quality is good. The in-camera processing involves aggressive noise reduction and give some parts of the images a distinct watercolor look. There's a tendency towards overexposing resulting in overblown highlights. You're welcome to check out the results below.
Otherwise the quality is there - colors are accurate and there's still enough detail left after the noise suppression. In good lighting the Xperia sola can produce sharp images which are pretty nice to look at.
There is no dedicated macro mode but the autofocus still had no trouble at distances of 2-3 cm and above. Overall it managed decent macro samples.
Photo quality comparison
The Xperia sola joins a long list of tested devices in our photo comparison tool. The page of the tool has information on how to use it.
720p video recording
Even though the Sony Xperia sola pack a dual-core CPU, it only does 720p video at 30 fps. The camcorder has similar settings to the still camera, including focus mode, metering, exposure value, image stabilization and so on. The layout of the shortcuts can be customized here too.
The Xperia sola camcorder features continuous autofocus. It may take a few seconds to refocus after you re-frame but that's better than repeating attempts to lock focus that may ruin a video. In fast-paced videos the continuous focusing could get a little hectic and focus every second or two, but you can turn the setting off.
Switching to camcorder mode
Videos were nicely smooth and there was a reasonable amount of detail in them. The actual recorded frames per second hovered around the 29 fps mark while the bitrate was the pretty decent 6 to 7Mbps.
Check out the video sample we captured with the Xperia sola below.
If you want to look closer at the video quality, you can download this untouched sample 720p@30fps, taken straight off the device.
Video quality comparison
In our video comparison tool, the Xperia sola measures up against the likes of the HTC One V and Galaxy S Advance and does pretty well. The scenes play to the sola camcorder's strengths and it easily beats both of its direct rivals.