There are a few phone companies that unfortunately only put a few phones out a year, and Sony Ericsson was previously one of them. At least in the US, anyhow. Now Sony has taken full control of the Ericsson brand, that isn’t necessarily likely to change, but Sony did reveal at CES two new handsets, the Xperia S and Xperia Ion. Both are very similar in specs, but the S is the bigger (or rather, slimmer) model to look at.

A 1.5GHz dual core CPU powers both phones, along with 1GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and a 720p display utilizing Sony’s “Bravia Engine”. They also have not one, but two f/2.2 lenses (front and back), which isn’t the fastest in the industry but on par with the best that you can get on high-end smartphones today. The rear shooter is a 12.1MP beast, and on the Xperia S it’ll be the first 12.1MP camera available on a smartphone, the highest resolution available (at least until the HTC Titan II releases very shortly after).

What makes the Xperia S interesting is the design. It’s a 4.3″ display with, from what I’ve seen in my brief hands-on, a stunning display, but more importantly a very sleek, chic design. It’s almost like a mix between the iPhone 4, the Nokia Lumia 900, and the more rounded Samsung Galaxy S II phones, but not quite like any of them at the same time. The touch-sensitive buttons are clearly highlighted by a thin layer of clear, light-shaded plastic. It looks very, very slick. Just look at the image above.

The only difference between the S and Ion is that the Ion is exclusive to AT&T and will release in June, while the S is not exclusive to any company (nor does it have any contracts planned, though it will be a GSM only phone), and will release in March or early April. The screen size is also slightly different; the Ion is 4.5″, while the S is 4.3″, so the S can stand for smaller.

Or perhaps sadly. Like, sadly, both phones will release with Android 2.3.7 installed, and will “eventually” be upgraded to Android 4.0. I spoke with several Sony representatives about the devices, and there are two intrinsically important differentiators about both devices, both of which have to do with the camera. In typical Sony fashion, of course.

The first is how fast the cameras shoot. Shot-to-shot timing is 0.9 seconds. That means you can take a shot, press to take another, and in less than a second the phone will take another picture. In phone photography, that’s the fastest on any phone. What I don’t know, and am looking into, is whether or not bumping up to Android 4.0 will actually speed that up (because Android 4.0 seriously speeds up the camera on the software side). The second is going from standby to shooting, which is an incredible 1.5 seconds. It may not sound important, but as we all know, when there’s something to take a picture of, the moment is now. There’s no time to wait and fiddle about. With these new Xperias, hold down the shutter release and 1.5 seconds later it’ll take the shot. No other phone in the world offers anything quite like that. Some, like WP7 phones, can activate to the camera, but they’ll need to be pressed again to actually take the shot. So it’s very impressive.

Xperia models (excluding the Xperia Play) have in the past been very solid devices, so I’m looking forward to both, though specifically the Xperia S. Both will also be Playstation Certified, so the Play won’t be the only phone capable of playing PS1 games.

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.