Sony Charges Into Smartphone Scene With Xperia Ion

Sony has launched its first Xperia smartphone since buying out Ericsson in February. The Xperia Ion is a 4G LTE device that will be available from AT&T June 24 for US$100 with a two-year agreement.

The Sony Xperia Ion

The Sony Xperia Ion

The Ion has a 4.6-inch 1080p HD Reality Display powered by Sony’s Mobile Bravia Engine and can be hooked up to a TV set or a Sony SmartWatch.

It can also download music and movies from the Sony Entertainment Network, and it’s PlayStation certified.

“It’s about time,” Ramon Llamas, a senior research analyst at IDC, told TechNewsWorld. “The Ion is going to be a high-end device, really cool, really slick, launching in the United States, which is one of the most competitive markets in the world. If they can make it here, they can make it anywhere.”

The Ion’s Specs

The Xperia Ion has a 12 MP rear-facing camera with 16x digital zoom, autofocus and an LED flash. As in other Xperia smartphones, this camera’s equipped with an Exmor R sensor that lets it capture HD video in low light. The Exmor R is a back-illuminated CMOS active pixel image sensor made by Sony that’s claimed to be twice as sensitive as standard front-illuminated sensors.

The device also has a 1.3 MP 720p HD chat camera. Its capacitive touchscreen is scratch-resistant and shatter-proof, and the Ion has an on-screen keyboard.

Preloaded applications are Google Voice Search; Google Talk with video chat; Google Mail, Calendar and Maps; Twitter and Facebook.

The Xperia Ion supports HDMI and is DLNA certified. It supports Bluetooth and WiFi and supports up to five WiFi devices through its tethering feature. It also has various business capabilities including syncing with Microsoft Exchange Server.

The AT&T Experience

AT&T customers will get to try the premium version of Sony Music Unlimited, which gives them access to songs and movies, free for 30 days.

AT&T also offers the SmartTags service as a separate fee-based option. This uses near-field communications — the same technology used in Google Wallet — to store device preferences for various locations and situations, such as opening and controlling volume on the music player, turning on GPS and Bluetooth in the car, or turning on the alarm.

AT&T representative Melissa Simoncini told TechNewsWorld that tethering will be available on the Xperia Ion.

However, “tethering or serving as a WiFi hotspot has become another expected smartphone feature, so I’m not putting too much weight on that one,” IDC’s Llamas stated.

It’s possible that other carriers will also get new Sony Xperia handsets — both Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile have offered products in that line previously, Llamas said.

Ion Flux

Despite its tie-ins to entertainment and the Sony SmartWatch, the Xperia Ion “resembles a lot of other Android smartphones — it still taps into the Android Market and taps into the same Android UI,” IDC’s Llamas remarked.

Sony is trying to position itself as a musical entertainment hub, and “one thing Sony does have going for it is that it has a deep library of, and deep background in, consumer electronics products and services,” Llamas said. “We all know about Cybershot [cameras], we all know about the Walkman, we all know Sony has a huge music and movie library.”

However, the company’s attempt to shape the perception of the Xperia Ion as an entertainment device might not quite work. “The trouble with that is, if you ask the man in the street to name you five movies or five musicians on Sony, I don’t think they can,” Llamas pointed out. “I don’t think that story has been completely crystallized yet.” Further, “you can talk about HDMI, the SmartWatch, but what Sony needs to do is go to market with a strong compelling device.”

Sony did not respond to our request for further details.

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