When the Apple iPhone 5 was launched last month, there were many who complained that the upgrades included in smartphone over its predecessor weren’t impressive enough. A company that launches just one major smartphone every year ought to have done better. You see, releasing a stream of devices into the market to retain a strong foothold is important. But equally important is packing in more and better features with every upgrade of a model that already exists in the market. Sony has done something similar with the new Xperia SL, an upgrade to the Xperia S launched in April this year.

Design

When it comes to aesthetics, there is barely any difference between the Xperia S and its predecessor. That’s unless you pick up a baby pink or a smart grey one - colours available only for the Xperia SL. The massive 4.3-inch display spans most of the fascia on the smartphone. The bottom houses the barely-functional transparent panel with corresponding touch-sensitive buttons right above. Half a year ago, the design of the Xperia S seemed appealing, but with absolutely no tweaks whatsoever in the build of the Xperia SL it’s difficult to be too excited by the overall design.

Software

The Xperia SL runs on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) but this too doesn’t give it too much of an edge over the Xperia S as the latter can be upgraded over-the-air.

To take care of your productivity needs, the device comes pre-installed with OfficeSuite 6 which you can upgrade to support a couple of new features printing documents, converting text documents to PDF and an in-built spell check. Timescape remains the same ol' interface, integrating your Facebook updates as well as Tweets. It'd have been nice if this had seen a facelift. You also have NeoReader to readily scan barcodes or QR codes. Your mobile GPS elf is Wisepilot, and letting you recognise a music track is Sony's proprietary TrackID.

Camera

In April, we were really impressed with the 12 megapixel clicker on the Xperia S. At that point in time, it was one of the best we had tried out on a handset. The colours were rich and well-saturated with barely a blur on any of the pictures we shot. While the quality of pictures was the same, a lot of the shots were grainy when zoomed in.

The flash however, was nice to use – it always lit up the frame evenly resulting in pics that didn’t look like someone set fire to them!

The clicker comes with Sony's proprietary Exmor R sensor which is claimed to be twice as sensitive as a conventional CMOS sensor. One of the more high-megapixel cameras in the market, the one on the Sony Xperia SL gave us pretty decent results overall.

Users who always tend to customise will be happy to know that they can change the default picture capture method. They can choose to take a quick snap by clicking on the camera icon once you've framed your shot, or enable the touch-to-click option. The modes also remain the same – you can take pictures in the Sweep Panorama, 3D Sweep Panorama and Multi-Angle mode. While the camera can capture 3D shots on the phone itself you’ll need to hook it up via HDMI to a 3D display to be able to view the pictures in 3D. The panoramas taken with the ‘3D Camera', however, were far from being razor sharp and had a fair share of noise.

Performance

The back panel houses a 1,750 mAh battery, the same as the one in the Xperia S. The only significant upgrade that the Xperia SL sees is in the processor – a 1.7 GHz dual-core processor. On the Quadrant Standard benchmarking test the Xperia SL scored about 3,273 points scoring more than Motorola Atrix 4G and the HTC Desire X.

The new Sony smartphone also supports NFC communication and comes with an inbuilt app ‘Tags' to support this feature. Although this concept is yet to gain momentum in the country, it's never too early to be clued in to a technology as promising. In case, you come by an NFC tag – which could be a picture, a web link, or even text – you can scan it just by turning the NFC feature on and placing the Xperia S next to the tag.

Verdict

Although a pretty decent smartphone in itself, the Sony Xperia SL is not the most exciting upgrade we've seen for a company’s flagship smartphone. The Xperia SL would have been more alluring if it had more to offer than just a better processor!

Love – Decent display, multimedia capabilities

Hate – No significant upgrades

Rs 32,549

mahananda.bohidar@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 14, 2012)
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