AT&T Xperia Ion review and hands on video

There’s no question Sony (and previous Sony Ericsson) has some of the most well designed and sexy devices around. The only problem is that we don’t get to see much of them here in the U.S. We had a chance to see the Xperia Ion back in January at CES, and it’s actually the first Sony branded (sans Ericsson) phone to make it’s way to North America. With a plethora of high end specs and a price of $99, what could be wrong with this phone? I guess the fact that Gingerbread is on board is a major negative, but is the Xperia Ion good enough for you to look past that? Hit the break to get started.


The Xperia Ion isn’t the thinnest phone in the world nor the lightest. It comes in at 11.7mm thick and weighs 139 grams. What makes the Ion unique is the design and materials. The back is brushed aluminum and something you won’t find in other brands. The back is also rounded which makes it a little uncomfortable in the hand, but this might also be due to the fact that the face of the phone has zero curves. In a world where the majority of phones are simple plastic, the Xperia Ion is refreshing.

You will find the power button on the right side top along with the volume rocker below that. At the bottom of the right side is the camera shutter button. On the left side you will find the microUSB and microHDMI under a pull out cover. Although these covers seem like a good thing, they usually get in the way. I particularly don’t care for them, but I wouldn’t make it the top reason for not buying a paticular phone. The top has a microphone jack and the bottom has no ports or buttons. As for the microSD slot and micro SIM slot, it’s at the back top under a small cover that slides out revealing both ports. That is the only access into the phone as the battery is non removable.


The Xperia Ion has a 4.6-inch 720p (1280 x 720) Reality Display with the Mobile Bravia Engine, a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, microSD for an additional 32GB of storage, 12MP rear camera with Exmor R for Mobile, 1.3MP front facing camera, 1900mAh battery, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, and NFC. It’s also PlayStation certified.


The Xperia Ion sports last year’s Snapdragon S3 as opposed to the S4 that’s in most newer phones now. It’s clocked at 1.5GHz so is does have a healthy dose of power. At $99, this phone is marketed towards the economical crowd and I really can’t see anyone complaining. I found it to be fairly smooth with transitions and playing games. As for benchmarks, you guys all know I don’t believe in them, but I always run the AnTuTu just because. It came in at 6458, which isn’t bad at all. It bested the DROID Incredible 4G LTE, which has the S4, but clocked at 1.2GHz. It’s also just under the HTC One X and One S, which both sport the S4 clocked at 1.5GHz.

The display is pretty good, but not as jaw dropping as the likes of the HTC One X. I would say that viewing angles are pretty good, but the colors get lost as you angle the phone.


I did my usual video rundown test in which I run continuous video while the screen is turned up to about 2/3’s brightness. I was connected to 4G HSPA+ during the test and I was able to get just about 6 hours. It’s a little disappointing as it came out much lower than the HTC One X and even the DROID Incredible 4G LTE. On the flip side, it’s way better than the Motorola Atrix HD.


Sony has a fairly light UI called Timescape. Most of it deals with the launcher, but they have include their own social widget and various other widgets like weather. You will also find their Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited apps on board. Music Unlimited gives you access to millions of songs starting at $3.99 per month, but new users get 30 days for free. Video Unlimited lets you rent or buy various movies.

The biggest disappointment is the fact this phone is running Gingerbread, which makes it 2 versions behind the current Jelly Bean. Whether the Ion will ever see Ice Cream Sandwich, let alone Jelly Bean, remains to be seen. For a closer look at the software (as well as the hardware) check out the video below.


The Xperia Ion sports a 12MP lens in the rear, which is the highest I’ve personally seen on a phone. Picture quality is pretty good, but surprisingly it’s not on par with the likes of the HTC One X (and One S) or the Samsung Galaxy S III. It just doesn’t perform as well in lower light situations. I love the shutter button as it’s so rare to find on phones nowadays. Speaking of the shutter button, you can open the camera app by just depressing it even while the screen is off. You can set it to either take a picture right away or just open to the app. It takes about 1 to 1 1/2 seconds, and I really like this feature. As far as shutter speed, it’s not quite zero lag, as it’s about 1 1/2 seconds. Here are some example shots. The last two required flash.


The Xperia Ion is a lot of phone for $99, but hardcore fans will dismiss it because of Gingerbread. I tend to agree, but let’s be honest. There are a lot of consumers walking into a store not all that familiar with Android and the different versions. I can see a lot of people being satisfied with the Xperia Ion for this very reason. The real question is if $100 is your budget, should you go with the Motorola Atrix HD instead? I personally think the Atrix HD is the better phone overall, but the battery life is very poor as compared to the Ion. As to other areas of performance, both phones are similar, so it really comes down to styling, the software (Gingerbread vs Ice Cream Sandwich), and how important battery life is to you. I can honestly say that I can see why some consumers may choose one or the other, so when I tell you that I would rather have the Atrix HD, I would still recommend for you to go into the store and look at both phones. Compare the styles, look at the software, and take the one that feels the most comfortable to you. You had a chance to see the software for this phone from the video above, but if you want to see the Atrix HD, check it out here. Hardcore fans may flame me for not denouncing the Xperia Ion, but again, this phone isn’t for hardcores.


About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.

  • Tenkely

    +1 for the Zamboni … unless it’s an Olympia, which may be the case in Canada. ;)