For those that don’t want to get tied down to a contract for their new smartphone, there are only two choices: going to a prepaid carrier or paying full retail, which is usually $500 to $700. The unlocked Sony Xperia Ray is a great option, and it’s compatible with AT&T. No, its not a top level device as far as specs go, but for a little over $300 the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray gets the job done well. This is my full review, but you can also checkout my initial hands on video review.
The Xperia Ray is all about being compact. It’s not much bigger than the clamshell feature phones of five or six years ago. It’s 9.4mm thick and the dimensions are 111 x 53mm. It is very light in your hand as it comes in at 100 grams. The back plate is a matte finish so it isn’t as slippery in your hands as a lot of the smartphones being released today. It’s available in Black, Gold, White, or Pink. Overall the phone feels solid, but if you are used to 4-inch and larger phones, it’s going to feel really small.
The Xperia Ray sports a 3.3-inch (854 x 480) display, 1GHz Scorpion single-core processor, 512MB Ram, 1GB internal storage, 4GB included microSD storage (can be expanded to 32GB), 8.1MP rear camera with flash and auto focus, 720p video recording, VGA front camera, microUSB, Bluetooth 2.1, DLNA, and WiFi. The camera also features an Exmor R CMOS sensor that is supposed to capture high quality video in low light situations. More on that later.
I found the included 1500mAh battery to be more than adequate. Getting through the day with average use was never an issue. If you aren’t a heavy user, you can probably make it through 2 full days between charges. The battery is definitely one of the highlights of the Xperia Ray.
The AnTuTu Benchmark came in at 2945, just above Nexus S. Nothing too surprising there, but what about real world use? I would’ve like to have seen at least 768MB of RAM, but overall, the performance was adequate. This isn’t going to perform like a Galaxy S II or DROID RAZR, but the demographic for this device isn’t looking for that kind of performance. Most consumers aren’t using their phones for much more than playing the occasional game, Web browsing, updating their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and reading and sending email. If you fall into that category, then you won’t have a complaint.
The Xperia Ray features Android 2.3.4 and Sony Ericsson’s UI skin known as Timescape. This is my first experience with Timescape. The launcher looks more like stock Gingerbread than other manufacturer skins, but the app drawer flows horizontal, which is the new trend right now. The included widgets are nothing to brag about, but of course there are plenty of replacements in the Android Market. Surprisingly the keyboard wasn’t bad for a 3.3-inch screen. Unfortunately in portrait mode, the keyboard is more like a phone keypad as there isn’t enough room for a full QWERTY. Typing on it was totally old school and not fun.
Qriocity is included for all your video and music needs.Video Unlimited lets you buy or rent movies specifically for the device. I found the prices a little high, not to mention the screen is a little small. Music Unlimited gives you access to over 7 million songs with a subscription. They also include PlayNow which allows you to download ringtones and wallpapers. There’s a game and apps section, but it wasn’t supported for this device. I am not sure why manufacturers include such software when the Android Market takes care of all your download needs. TrackId is included which will tell you what song you are listening to (externally), much like Shazam or Soundhound.
Timescape also offers syncing of your contacts on their servers, which again is useless when Google does this for you. I guess it doesn’t hurt to have another, but I would assume if your next phone is not a Sony Ericsson, you won’t be able to utilize them anyway.
Last but not least, I found it very difficult to connect the device to a computer for file transfers. I was forced to download companion software for my PC. Most Android phones automatically install the driver on the PC side so you can browse your phones files with File Explorer, but this was not the case with the Xperia Ray. It took a some extra time, but it did eventually work.
The camera on the Xperia Ray is really nice as the pictures are rich and the shutter lag is almost non existent, but the flash is bizarre. For whatever reason, the flash isn’t auto. You not only have to turn it on, but when you do, it stays on like a flash light. I actually found this to be helpful in very dark situations as you can actually see what your trying to take a picture of. When using another phone that had auto flash (like the DROID RAZR), I could not see the object before actually taking the photo. Overall, most people aren’t taking pictures in such dark situations, so the lack of auto flash is a concern. In normal situations I found the camera to perform very well. The first photo in the examples below was taken utilizing the manual flash (or flashlight).
Speaking of dark situations, the included Exmor R CMOS sensor should give you high quality videos when your lacking light. I have two short examples below in which it wasn’t pitch black, but very low light. I found the performance to be very good. Low light video is always a problem, and you can’t ask for much better from a smartphone.
The Xperia Ray also offers a 3D panorama option. I had a hard time getting it to complete a final image as you are supposed to move the camera from left to right, but you can’t move too slow or too fast. It also kept telling me I was moving in the wrong direction. Supposedly the finished images will display in 3D on 3D supported devices. I could not fully test this, but it seemed interesting.
The Xperia Ray is for those that don’t want to get tied down to a contract and who only want a smartphone for basic needs such as casual Web browsing, updating Facebook, reading / replying to emails, and playing the occasional game. If that’s you, then this is the phone for you. You will get a really compact and solid phone with a really nice camera (minus the auto flash). You can find it at many online retailers like Newegg and Amazon.