The end of the Sony Ericsson venture was probably one of the biggest news stories of 2011, bringing to a close a rather solid, if uneventful partnership.
Sony has continued on with its mobile business though, with the Xperia S being its first major offering after the split.
Take the handset out of the box and you're greeted by an interesting hardware design.
The biggest eye-catching detail is the transparent "prism" at the bottom of the device, replete with button icons ("back", "home" and "more"). It's a unique feature, seemingly serving little purpose, but regardless, it's a unique addition anyway.
Making an impression
Turn on the phone though and it's easy to see what's so special about it.
The 4.3-inch touchscreen is a real looker, with a 720p resolution and bright colours. However, it's the pixel density that really makes it stand out from the pack.
At 342 pixels per inch, the Xperia S beats the Retina Display seen in the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. In fact, it's only rivalled by the HTC Rezound, which isn't available in SA anyway.
The other differentiating feature on the Xperia S is the 12-megapixel camera, making it one of the bigger sensors available on a smartphone (the HTC Titan II and Nokia Pureview 808 being two notable exceptions).
Accompanying the camera is a dedicated hardware shutter button, something that we'd really like to see more often on Android phones.
The camera itself is right up there with the HTC One X and the Galaxy SIII in terms of image quality, sometimes surpassing the quad-core powerhouses. Pictures tend to be extremely detailed and it copes pretty well when sunlight gets thrown into the equation.
That's not to say that the shooter is perfect though, with low light conditions resulting in fuzzy images. Manual focus, with the aid of the two-stage shutter button, is also hit-and-miss occasionally. Still, it's an extremely capable camera and one that can hang with the best shooters out there.
Powering the smartphone is a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM, so it's not the most powerful phone on paper.
In practice, the specifications aren't really an issue though, with the phone flying through menus, coping with even the most intensive tasks. It might not have a quad-core processor, but you can't tell after playing with the phone for a few minutes.
Additionally, the phone has 32GBs of non-expandable storage and an NFC chip for financial transactions and the like. In a pleasant surprise, the Xperia S also features a mini-HDMI port for outputting to HDTV.
Using the Xperia S
The handset's touchscreen is pretty responsive, with swipes and gestures all being pretty accurate. Even on Gingerbread, the device was pretty speedy, opening apps quickly and playing games with nary a hiccup.
Sony also tinkered with their custom user-interface when the Ice Cream Sandwich update landed. For instance, swiping from right-to-left at the lockscreen now activates the camera.
The biggest downer are the menu keys, being three tiny dots. Predictably, this means that you'll often need several tries to find the button you'd like to use.
We would've loved to see the icons on the luminescent strip being used as buttons, as we gravitated towards pressing them when we first turned the phone on.
On the software front, the Xperia S first shipped with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, despite Android Ice Cream Sandwich being launched a few months before. Nevertheless, Sony released an update in late June for ICS. So, you'll have your Face Unlock functionality, bandwidth manager, new Roboto font and plenty of other associated improvements.
But the usual array of Sony services and apps are included as well to further differentiate the phone from the rest of the Android pack. The Timescape interface is back, along with support for PlayStation Suite titles and DLNA for media sharing.
Speaking of media, the Video and Music Unlimited services are available too, but not for us South Africans. It's an issue by no means unique to Sony, with Samsung and Apple also having a limited media presence, but we expected Sony to lead the pack.
The Sony Xperia S still manages to take a few steps forward thanks to its sharp display and capable camera. However, it also takes a step back due to its relatively average specifications and those tiny menu keys.
Nevertheless, if you're looking for a speedy Android smartphone with a fantastic camera, this gets a nod in our books.
Score: 8.8 out of 10
To view sample photos taken with the Xperia S, click here.