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Thread: Sony returns home: Our Xperia ION review

  1. #1
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    Sony returns home: Our Xperia ION review

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    With the exception of the Xperia x10, Sony hasn’t really released any phones in the past 2 years that were really aimed at the high end of the market. The Arc and Xperia S were both upper-midrange phones while the rest of Sony’s portfolio (Ray, Pro, Play) where aimed at the middle of the market.

    The Sony Xperia ION marks Sony’s return to the higher end of the market. Probably the best thing about the ION is it’s metal unibody. It’s a huge step up from everything else Sony has released in the past 2 years. It’s very solid plus it looks and feels great.

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    Inside, you’ll find a dual-core 1.5Ghz processor, 1GB RAM and 16GB storage of expandable storage. On the wireless side, you get LTE support, which, given how congested HSPA networks are getting, is a must-have for any high end phone (at least till the iPhone gets LTE).

    On the front is a razor-sharp, 4.6” 1280x720 display. The screen brightness measures a blinding 500nits. For whatever reason, Sony removed the auto brightness setting from the ION’s menus (they do this with all their Android phones). An auto-brightness would have been great for when I wake up and want to check the time in the middle of the night.

    Straight-on, the ION’s display is very pleasing to the eye. It’s really bright though the brightness causes the black levels to suffer. The viewing angle isn’t that great. There’s noticeable colour shift once you move about 20 degrees off-center. While not perfect, overall, it’s a pretty nice display.

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    There is a non-removable 1900mAh battery. Size-wise 1900mAh isn’t bad. It’s bigger than what you get on the HTC One X though the Galaxy S III has a 2100mAh.

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    Like I mentioned earlier, the ION has a slick metal body. The screen bezel along with part of the sides are plastic while most of the back is metal. The only parts of the back which aren’t metal are the plastic covers over the top (presumably where the antennas are housed) and on the removable bottom which is where the SIM and microSD card slots are.

    Speaking of microSD, the ION has 16GB of built-in storage while the microSD slot can accept cards as big as 32GB.

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    Size-wise it's similar to other high end phones that have 4.6"+ displays.

    There are 4 softkeys, menu, home, back and search.

    Besides the missing auto-brightness settings, I’ve always disliked how the keys on Sony phones don’t usually light up. While there is a thin line below each buttons that lights up, the buttons themselves don’t. So, when it’s dark it’s impossible to see what the buttons do. I also found that the buttons require a little more pressure than I’m used to though I got used to it quickly.

    The HDMI and microUSB ports are hidden behind a port cover. Sony users must love port covers because Sony keeps using them. I hate them personally. On my x10, I just pulled the port cover out and used it like that.

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    HDMI and microUSB jack cover.

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    Power, volume and camera buttons.

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    Headphone jack.

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    12MP autofocus camera with LED flash, speaker. The bottom part of the back comes off revealing the SIM and MicroSD card slots. Interestingly, the ION takes a micro SIM yet the slot is more than wide enough to accommodate a full-sized SIM. I tried a full-sized SIM but the slot is too wide.

    While most high-end Android phones sport a 8MP camera, the ION’s camera captures images at 12 megapixels.

    There’s a dedicated camera shutter button on the side. Pressing and holding it will launch the camera - even if the screen is off. It’s pretty convenient.

    Focus speeds are slower than what I’m used to. I also found that you have to hold the ION very still because a lot of the pictures I took turned out blurry. Shot-to-shot speeds are also on the slow side. So, aside from being easy to launch I found the camera speed a little relaxed for my tastes.

    Pictures have a lot of resolution, more than what you’d get from a 8mp cameras - the problem is that the ION’s sensor is noisier than I’m used to. There’s even some noise in shadows when outdoors when it’s very sunny.

    Indoors, the ION is very noisy. Personally, I’m not bothered by the noise but like I said, it’s very noticeable. It struggles if there is a bright background (like a window) or you use it indoors without the flash; the window turn purple. It also struggles with focus. If you do use the flash indoors then it does a fine job.

    While not a speed demo, the ION does a great job of exposing photos. It doesn’t have the HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S III’s raw speed.

    Included are a sweep panorama, 3D sweep panorama and 3D sweep multi-angle modes. If you’re not interested in the 3D features you’re probably better with a 3rd party panorama program from Google Play.

    As far as the camera goes you do gain some (more resolution) but you give some up too (noisier photos, slower camera).

    Outdoors, captured video looks fine with good audio capture. Indoors, I found that the image stabilization sometimes goes a little crazy. In low light video can get really jerky.

    Despite the xLOUD logo on the box, the built-in speaker’s maximum volume and sound quality are both average. The iPhone 4s and Lumia 900 are both miles better in this regard.

    If you’re a fan of Sony’s multimedia products, you’ll be happy to know that the ION has a micro HDMI connector so that you can connect it to your TV without having to use a MHL cable. I also got a chance to play with the TV docking station for the ION. It will allows you to connect a TV along with a mouse and keyboard to the ION. When you connect it, it launches a special interface on your TV.

    What’s really cool about the TV docking station is that it’s HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) compatible. When you connect it, you can control it with your TV’s remote control provided the TV is also HDMI-CEC compatible. That would be most TV’s sold after 2010.


    While the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III both ship with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) the ION comes with a customized version of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).

    The some of the customizations are actually similar to what you get with Ice Cream Sandwich. For example each side of the app launcher is flanked by 2 shortcuts. The shortcuts can be folders with more shortcuts in them. Folders can be created by by dragging shortcuts on top of each other.

    Included is Sony’s Timescape widget. It’s a social media aggregator that supports Facebook, Foursquare, Linkedin and Twitter. It supports 3rd party extensions. There are actually quite a few including extensions for SMS, Gmail, NFL, RSS feeds, YouTube, etc

    Track ID is a music identification service. You let it listen to some music and it will get information about it.

    Connected Devices is a DLNA program. It allows you to view media that’s stored on a DLNA server. You can also use it to send media to compatible devices like many newer TV’s, XBox 360’s, PS3’s, WDTV’s etc.

    The ION doesn’t seem to support any additional video codecs over what you get from stock Android so it’s a poor choice if you use it to watch anything other than what you’ve recorded with the camera.

    You can use Office Suite to view as well as edit and create MS Office documents.

    LiveWare Manager automatically launches certain programs when you connect accessories. For example, you can have it launch the music player when you connect headphones. LiveWare Manager can also be used to control and send apps to Sony’s live view watch accessory and with Sony’s NFC smart tags (reviews for both are coming). I should point out that while LiveWare Manager comes pre-installed on the ION it also works with other Android devices and can be downloaded from Google Play.

    Other extra programs include Music & Videos (a social media app), McAfee Security (anti-virus), PSM (just a link that tells you PlayStation Store will be available for the ION later), NeoReader (a barcode/QR code scanner) and Power Saver.


    SunSpider (lower is better):

    Sony Xperia ION: 2490.2
    HTC One X (LTE): 1550.9
    Samsung Galaxy S III (LTE): 1781.5

    While all 3 phones are powered by dual-core 1.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, the ION’s is a S3 model which has Qualcomm’s older scorpion cores. The One X and S III are S4 models which have newer Krait cores. You can see what a huge difference a generation makes. The One X outscores the ION by more than 60%.

    Vellamo (higher is better):

    Sony Xperia ION: 1271.12
    HTC One X (LTE): 2455.52
    Samsung Galaxy S III (LTE): 2364.96

    Here, the difference is even greater. The S III’s score is over 86% higher.

    Of course, there are lies, damn lies and benchmark scores. Is the ION’s browser really 60-86% slower? To test this, I used the ION and my S III side-by-side. I loaded up a large webpage with lots of graphics (the specials page on a local computer store) and compared them. While both phones load the page at approximately the same speed, there’s a big difference when I scroll around. The S III stutters a lot less when I’m scrolling. However, the S III cheats - while the scrolling is nice and smooth, the parts of the webpage that are being scrolled are actually rendered in a lower resolution and don’t become clear until you stop scrolling. The ION stays sharp though it’s quite choppy.

    When you zoom in, however the difference is much more noticeable. Scrolling, the ION is like watching a slide-show, whereas the S III, low resolution and all is smooth. So, while the S III is more usable, it’s victory isn’t as clear cut. A large part of the usability probably comes from its newer browser. It will be interesting to see what the ION is like when it gets its Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade.

    GL Benchmark 2.1.5 (higher is betteR):

    Egypt Standard:

    Sony Xperia ION: 3342
    HTC One X (LTE): 5571
    Samsung Galaxy S III (LTE): 5423

    Besides a faster processor, the ION has an Adreno 220 graphics processor while the One X and S III are powered by Adreno faster 225 GPU’s. Again the ION gets creamed with the One X scoring over 66% higher.


    Sony Xperia ION: 18.1
    HTC One X (LTE): 31.95
    Samsung Galaxy S III (LTE): 29.8

    The difference is even bigger here with the One X outscoring the ION by over 75% this time. Clearly, Qualcomm did a lot of work between each generation.

    Battery life:

    To test the battery, I charged the battery, enabled airplane mode and then played back a video at maximum brightness until the phone shut off.

    Sony Xperia ION: 264
    HTC One X (LTE): 267
    Samsung Galaxy S III (LTE): 368

    Battery life is in line with what you’d get from the HTC One X.

    AnTuTu tester:

    Sony Xperia ION: 495
    HTC One X (LTE): NA
    Samsung Galaxy S III (LTE): 756

    For some reason I can't get AnTuTu tester to run on the HTC One X. I've tried both versions (dual and quad core) plus I've tried it on multiple units of the same configuration. At first I thought it was overheating so I tossed it in my freezer (in a zip-loc bag) but even then the test wouldn't finish.

    As a Phone:

    RF performance and sound quality are average. The earpiece's maximum volume could be louder.


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    While I love the Xperia ION’s body, it has 2 weaknesses: the slower S3 processor and it currently ships with Gingerbread.

    You could make the argument that while the S3 processor scores lower on benchmarks, the difference it makes in the real world isn’t easily noticed. To be honest, I wouldn’t argue with that too much. I compared the browser and downloaded some games like Riptide GP, Demolition Inc HD and GTA and they all run fine.

    The thing is, when it comes to a high-end phone you want to minimize the number of compromises. The phone may be adequate now but what about in a year? Will it be as fast as it’s S4 powered competitors?

    Buying a phone that’s ‘just powerful enough’ is more of a decision you have to make when you’re choosing a mid range offering. On the other hand, developers usually have to weigh the trade offs between making a really awesome looking game and one that runs on as many phones as possible. So I doubt there will be many programs that won’t run on the ION because it’s not powerful enough.

    From a compatibility standpoint, it’s true that Gingerbread phones usually run everything. You rarely see programs being updated so that they run properly on Gingerbread. I like to use Grand Theft Auto III as an example. When it first came out on Android, it wouldn’t run on any of my high-end phones. I was stuck using it on my older stuff.

    It’s also true that there are some performance differences between Gingerbread and Jellybean. Jellybean runs more smoothly and generally speaking runs programs a little faster.

    The problem is that when you buy a high end phone you want one that feels future-proof and frankly, Sony releasing their flagship phone with Gingerbread in Q3 2012 is questionable. One of the Galaxy S III and HTC One X’s main features are that they run Ice Cream Sandwich. Ice Cream Sandwich is one of the reasons why those phones were released. If you wanted to buy a high-end computer, would you want Windows XP or Windows 7 on it?

    Still, the Xperia ION is an intriguing choice. It’s much more satisfying to hold than the Galaxy S III/HTC One X. While not perfect, the screen’s outdoor performance makes it an interesting alternative.

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    When you think of Sony’s brand you think of expensive televisions and fancy portable electronics. However, lately the Sony’s brand has been taking a beating. The high-end of the market used to be their territory. Now, with the release of the ION they’re returning home.

    Metal unibody
    screen works great outdoors

    No Android 4.0 at launch
    Graphics performance
    port covers
    no auto brightness
    speaker not loud enough

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Samsung Galaxy Note 3
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    Agreed. I expected this to ship with ICS. We all know how long it take for manufacturers to provide an update to the next Android iteration. Hence, I always look to purchase phones that have the latest O/S in it already.

  3. #3
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    Mar 2007
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    12MP camera with Dedicated shutter Button. Great! (Why does almost no one have shutter buttons anymore?)

    ...and then I read about camera quality and speed. Oh well I definitely won't be getting an Ion.

  4. #4
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    Mar 2004
    New York
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    Does Rogers Ion LT28i have 1700 mhz for 3G?
    Generic LT28i has 1700, but it's not listed in the specs at
    So perhaps Rogers disabled it?
    Someone is selling an unlocked Rogers Ion LT28i and I was wondering if it works T-mobile's 3G 1700.
    I searched the info but got more confused.
    I asked the seller to check it in Configuration screen, but the seller said the phone is new and it would require
    the initial set up so he can't check.
    Someone on T-mobile forum flashed AT&T version of Ion to the generic LT28i and he is using 3G 1700.
    So even if 1700 is disabled on Rogers Ion, we should be able to get 1700 if we flash the firmware to the
    generic LT28i.

    But I'm not techy and I was wondering if someone who actually has Rogers Ion could tell me if it has 1700 for 3G (not 1700 for LTE).

    Thank you in advance.

  5. #5
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    Freedom Mobile
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    I don't know if it works on T-Mobile, but the Rogers version works on Wind here, so that should work on TMo.

  6. #6
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    Mar 2004
    New York
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    Thank you so much for your reply.
    I figured Wind has AWS like T-Mobile so it sounds promising.

  7. #7
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    Nov 2006
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    Quote Originally Posted by n75 View Post
    Does Rogers Ion LT28i have 1700 mhz for 3G?

    But I'm not techy and I was wondering if someone who actually has Rogers Ion could tell me if it has 1700 for 3G (not 1700 for LTE).
    It has it for both, 100% for sure. 1700MHz HSPA is not disabled and works right out the box. The phone would need to be first unlocked to accept a non-Rogers/Fido sim card.

  8. #8
    Join Date
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    Re: Sony returns home: Our Xperia ION review

    Anothers confirmation here the rogers unsimlocked work on tmobile aws (1700) and 1900 band

    Sent from my XT886 using HowardForums

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