10
May
Sony-Ericsson-Xperia-Play-ofic-1

Sony, you really confuse me sometimes. The US is just about to get the Xperia Ion on AT&T, supposedly the Sony-branded flagship smartphone. The problem is that the Xperia GX just took that crown from the Ion - before it even came out. I'm not sure what Sony's grand master plan here is, but looking from the outside in, it seems like the company (that lost $5.7 billion last year - most of it in the fourth quarter alone) is flying completely and utterly blind.

Sony got into the Android smartphone game way back in 2009, with the announcement of the Xperia X10. It really wasn't a very good phone, but Sony persevered, releasing the X10 mini and mini pro - lifestyle device focusing on small size. By mid-2010, Sony abandoned its non-Android smartphone platforms, and focused its then-partnership with Sony-Ericsson almost solely on Android products.

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Xperia X10 and PLAY, respectively

That partnership yielded few good phones - the Arc was such an exception to the rule. But most of them were fraught with the typically-Sony attitude of aggressively pushing unique, one-off lifestyle features and strange form-factor experiments. The Xperia PLAY, for example, was a disaster - an attempt to mix a slide-out game controller with a smartphone which, by the time it was released, had woefully outdated internals. Another such device was the W8, a Walkman-branded smartphone that was, to put it nicely, a misstep.

Sony is well-known for its strategy of attempting to create hardware for markets that don't exist, and then locking consumers into its proprietary experience when and if it manages to hook them. Android and Sony, then, seem like odd bedfellows, especially when you consider just how lightly Sony has traditionally skinned the OS on its smartphone devices.

Instead of locking people into a software experience, though, Sony has attempted to appeal to (read: invent) niche hardware markets. Incredibly small phones like the Xperia ray, a 3.3" device, and the Xperia active, a highly ruggedized smartphone with an even-smaller 3.0" display, were some of the last devices to come out of the Ericsson deal. Neither were bad phones, but it should have been obvious to anyone that they weren't destined to cause revolutions in the marketplace. Were they meant to? Probably not, but they're symptomatic of the increasingly obvious fact that Sony really doesn't get smartphones.

In saturating the marketplace with a huge number of models, none of them really good enough to attract much in the way of critical acclaim or consumer attention, Sony's "shotgun" approach has clearly failed. Sony's new CEO, Kazuo Hirai, has made it known that he is willing to implement radical change at the company in order to get things done, and put Sony back on track. Slashing 10,000 jobs is a good start. Much of Sony's financial woes actually come from its ailing TV business, which Korean giants Samsung and LG, along with the US-based Vizio, have all but stomped into submission. But we're here to talk smartphones.

Sony-Branded Smartphones, With Some Ericsson Leftovers?

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At MWC, Sony unveiled the full extent of its new line of Sony-branded smartphones, the first phones to lack the Ericsson badging. Sony has also shed the awkward, polished physical buttons and strange form-factors of the Ericsson days, going with a consistent look across its entire line. From a design standpoint, Sony hasn't done a bad job - the Xperia S, P, and U evince a sense of stylistic unity in a way which Sony's previous Android smartphones never did. They launched with Gingerbread, but hey, at least Sony's doing some things right.

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XPERIA Neo L

But instead of cutting its losses entirely on the Ericsson split, Sony is trying to salvage some of the designs that were clearly made while the merger was still in place. The Xperia Neo L, for example, is a midrange device that bears the trademark "old-Xperia" look. Why are you releasing this phone, Sony? There is literally no reason. All it will do is confuse consumers, hurt your brand, and diminish the confidence of investors in your ability to take a unified approach and focus on making the best phones you possibly can. But that phone is a small smudge on a larger picture, perhaps one that can be overlooked. There's one that can't be, though.

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And that brings us back to the beginning of the article: the Xperia Ion. The Ion seems to represent the last days of the Sony-Ericsson collaboration, which is to say, it looks about 50% Ericsson, and 50% Sony. It's not a pretty phone at all, and after playing with at CES back in January, we came away with a whole lot of "meh" to say about it (I was impressed at the time, now, not so much) - good, but nothing special. Had Sony released it within weeks of that announcement, it might have been a worthwhile device. Now, after the release of the One X and announcement of the Galaxy S III, it once again appears Sony's hardware will be too little, and much too late.

Sony seems to just miss the curve on every major device it releases. The Ion has a previous-generation Snapdragon S3 processor with a discrete LTE radio, meaning it will absolutely drink down its 1900mAh battery. It runs Android 2.3 (*shudder*). It's 10.8mm thick - a full 2mm thicker than the HTC One X or the Galaxy S III. All of this adds up to a phone we might have expected to compete with the Rezound on Verizon over 6 months ago.

Now, the Ion is at least half a generation behind its biggest competitor (the AT&T One X), and will suffer immensely under the weight of the impending US-launch of the Galaxy S III. There's simply no reason to buy this phone anymore. Sony needs to take a page from Samsung's Skyrocket HD and can this thing, because it's going to do absolutely nothing to help their smartphone presence in the US. At best, it will mildly disappoint a few unfortunate Sony diehards, at worst, it will damage Sony's already poor reputation in the smartphone market even more. I can't see many critics bestowing a recommendation on a flagship device running Gingerbread and a previous-generation dual-core processor.

But there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and it's called the Xperia GX. It looks awesome:

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The GX takes styling cues from the Ion, the Arc, and Sony's NXT line of phones (the Xperia S, P, U), and the result is something that actually seems pretty great. A Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor with integrated world LTE, a full 720p 4.6" display, virtual Android buttons (no capacitive touch), and a 13MP camera with some new-fangled sensors technology that allows you to take HDR photos and video (check out this sample). And it actually runs Android 4.0.

But there's a problem: this device will be launching in Japan only (at least for now) this summer.

Sony, we want this phone. What we don't want are your cold Ericsson leftovers that have been sitting in the fridge since CES. And if you want the world to take your smartphones seriously, launch them in major markets before they become obsolete. Because I don't know about you, but I think I see some green fuzz growing on that Ion.

David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • warcaster

    Sony was way behind the others in 2012 in terms of hardware, and also software. They were like 2 versions of Android behind in 2010. In 2010 they stepped up their game on software, and were among the first with Gingerbread, but throughout the year, and even until Xperia S this year, they've always been at least 6 months/half a generation behind the others in terms of hardware.

    Now it felt like they really caught up with the big boys with the Xperia GX, but it looks like it will get ignored throughout most of the world, because they aren't launching it on time. It's a shame, and I do hope they step up their game. If they did, I think they could be very good competitors to HTC, Samsung and Motorola.

  • fixxmyhead

    good article and yea those idiots need to bring there phones over here instead of only bringing 2 crappy ones. that Xperia GX looks pretty good, too bad they wont even bring it to the states. if they stepped it up i think they could compete with samsung or HTC

  • FrillArtist

    lol. sony.

  • Lars Gyrup Brink Nielsen

    Well I think that the Xperia S is beautiful and I would personally prefer that over the One X and Galaxy S III without having tried any of them :)

    • Nohomad

      I have a Xperia S and a Galaxy S II, I like both of them, but i confess that the galaxy s 2 is a better smartphone in almost every way. I gave the Xperia S to my girlfriend...

  • Robin

    At xda someone wrote that the GX is the Mint and the international version will be the Hayabusa which looks almost the same but won't have LTE (I personally don't care here in Germany, a good HSDPA signal is more than enough IMHO).
    According to the portfolio leaked early this year, Mint was planned to september, but Hayabus for July (iirc)... Let's hope :)

  • JonJJon

    David Ruddock, thank you for this article, I really like Sony and Sony products, I guess I could be called a fan of them but boy do I agree with this completely (I'm a Brit in the UK so don't have to worry about LTE) but with the announcement that the Ion was coming to the UK eventually after the US release I was like yeah I could get this phone, but now I also don't want the Ion, I want this GX in the UK (LTE or not as we don't have the networks yet) I hope Sony mans up, wises up and scraps the Ion and focuses on getting the GX out globally this summer and not just Japan. They need it and they should do it because I see more great things from Sony in the mobile market.

  • Afro

    I totally agree, the GX is dope but Sony needs to quicken their pace and get caught up with HTC and Samsung and stop releasing old spec smartphones. Oh indeed launching them in markets other than Japan, like North America and Europe wouldn't hurt either.

    I believe SONY and HTC are the best in terms of design. Sony just need to get back in the race...I could go on but what needs to be said is in that article.

  • andrew__des_moines

    Sony should be able to update these phones quickly to ICS, as they wrote the lion's share of that code.  If they want to find a good 'niche', I would suggest standardizing a second rocker button for answer/end -- it may sound simplistic, but it would make using the PHONE as a PHONE a much improved experience.

  • Tyler Chappell

    Sony just needs to go back to doing what it does best, making game consoles for 10 year olds.

    • SharkMonster

      I thought that spot was reserved for Call of Duty playing kids on Xbox? 

    • http://profiles.google.com/zandmstudios Steven Zang

      So are all consoles for 10 year olds? And what are Nintendo consoles for then, 5 year olds? No offense sir, but your point is not a point.

  • aiden9

    The GX does look pretty sweet. I'm sure Qualcomm would be happy with the One X, GSIII, and then this phone all running on S4's(at least LTE versions).

  • http://www.theandroidsite.com benmarvin

    I honestly have a hard time telling the different models apart sometimes. Funny how the Play and the Walkman (both mentioned as failures) are the ones that stand out the most from the Xperia lineup. However I think Sony's biggest problem is cracking the US carrier juggernaut, something they have had very little success with since the mediocre X10. Maybe the release of the Ion will push them over the edge if AT&T puts any sort of backing on it, nevermind that it's not the flagship anymore, the average consumer doesn't care. It's got LTE and a 12MP camera, that's all the selling points you need for the average person walking into an AT&T store.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RobJohnson90 Rob Johnson

    I couldn't disagree more on a few of your points.

    First of all, as a gamer, the Xperia Play is by far the best phone available, it takes more than raw power to make something good.

    Second, Sony's Xperia designs look like absolute crap compared to Sony Ericsson's Xperia designs.

    • Vikramaditya Rai

      I disagree. Xperia S is so far one of the most beautiful phones I've seen. So much thought has been put into it to make it a tremendous improvement over the earlier SE flagship phones.
      For example, the Xperia arc's LED is above its volume toggle keys on the side, what's with that?
      Xperia S has such a beautiful transparent notification strip.

      Sony is definitely being innovative & is trying to regain its market share. Yes, its marketing might be a little poor, but rose has its thorns.

    • Vikramaditya Rai

      I disagree. Xperia S is so far one of the most beautiful phones I've seen. So much thought has been put into it to make it a tremendous improvement over the earlier SE flagship phones.For example, the Xperia arc's LED is above its volume toggle keys on the side, what's with that?Xperia S has such a beautiful transparent notification strip.
      Sony is definitely being innovative & is trying to regain its market share. Yes, its marketing might be a little poor, but every rose has its thorns.

  • Sootie

    Why cant they just beef up the hardware and release a play 2 (or play vita to keep up with there silly psp naming conventions), real buttons is such a massive win for a smart phone, touch screens are really rubbish for playing games. Or even better put the first gen psp stuff in it and let you download and play ps 1 and ps 2 games on your smart phone

  • ThilinaC

    This is what I wrote on xda regarding this article,agree with you tho

    Agree about Xperia Ion and eve Xperia S releasing later than both should've been.And use of gingerbread.They should've released ION right after mwc and they might've made a fortune and stole some of GS3 buyers too,instead they failed big time buy thinking to release it later so Xperia S won't get hit.

    So they gonna release Ion too on gb,if yes that's bizarre and stupid.Even Xperia S should've been released with ICS,big FAIL that it came with gb and its getting ICS update after 2011 portfolio Arc S,Neo V & Ray.I am grateful that sony gave us ICS first but in a business point of view they should upgrade their newest flagship phones first.

    And the next dumb thing is they only announced GX at Japan :/ and no release date for rest of the world,GX can be the light they need if they do it correctly.If they release GX now to compete with S3 I'm pretty sure sony will win cos S3 was not up to the expectations of most people comparing to S2,note.I mean come on other than few hardcore users I don't think most of users even want a quad core in their phone with outdated hardware like 8mp cam,crappy design(even comparing to S2).I mean come on tell me any of us gonna use a smartphone as a complete replacements for pc's ? for a quad core I got my i5 760.Why would I need a quad core in train,bus or park ?  and contrary to all of S3's down side GX pawns all(except maybe be processor,but that's not a very big issue).But hey Sony gonna mess this chance too by releasing GX too late :/

    Sony/Sony Ericsson always missed the deadline when it comes to releasing the phones at the right time,starting from maybe I dunno W995i.    

  • L boogie

    releasing the gx and other future devices like it or better should be released on time, ahead of the competition and across the globe could help Sony get a better footing in the mobile market (think global not local). dont know how long the company is gonna keep up this hit n miss parade. Hoping someone in Sony is paying attention to this and only way the Ion could be any type of hope to Sony is shipping/selling it with Android 4.0 or just write it off as a loss.

  • JJ

    Xperia Arc & Xperia S are one of the most beautiful Android phones out there. Even their older phones (e.g. Xperia Neo) look great. So I'm glad they keep releasing phones that still have that design (e.g. Neo L).
    The phones from Samsung, Motorola & others are usually ugly or they look ordinary, but with (much) better specs indeed. HTC seems the only one doing everything right.
    And saying that their niched phones were failures means that you have no idea what you're talking about. You should check the numbers (e.g. in Asia), before writing this kind of articles.

    PS: Personnally, I don't like the Xperia GX design. I prefer a good looking phone with decent specs, as opposed to those ugly high-end phones (e.g. Galaxy S3)

  • vantechmag

    The worst mistake, in my eyes - is that Sony did axe the production of the truly excellent SE xperia pro, which especially include a superiour slide out keyboard, just two months after it finally was released late 2011 and never was promoted, even if it clearly won over all other smartphones with keyboards, in a deep review in the Swedish magazine Mobile... Im also extremely happy over mine, that is the finest "pocket computer" I ever own or even dreamt about... And they don't want to make any more smartphones with keyboards, either!

  • MacVities

    This is only a problem in the US, where the networks control what get released when, and exclusive contracts reign supreme.

    Add into the mix the hatred of any non-US company, and you have the constant Sony-hatefest that seems to be universal.

    These Sony haters wouldn't know a great phone if it came up and bit them on the ass.

    • TejasEric

      Do you even think about what you say? The largest two Android phone makers are Samsung (Korean) and HTC (Taiwanese) and no one has issues buying their phones.

      Way to make yourself sound like an irrational Sony fan-boy.

      Sony just needs to release good products in a timely manner not always be late with average phones.

  • Zerounodos

    The way I've always felt about sony's smartphones: hey, look, it's a pretty sony smarthpone! now let's see what samsung/htc/motorola have to offer!...oh, never mind, sony.