Not everyone can afford the smartphone running a thousand-core processor and packing a 500 000-megapixel camera. But thankfully, manufacturers are well aware of this, creating affordable yet beefy handsets in the process.
The Sony Xperia Sola is one of them, featuring a capable 1Ghz dual-core processor and 512MBs of RAM. But Sony's handset has a few tricks up its sleeve to differentiate itself from the crowd.
Most importantly, the Xperia Sola comes with a near-field communications (NFC) tag – a simple piece of plastic with an NFC chip in it. Sure, it sounds pretty lame, but Sony has created some fantastic functionality with the technology.
Using NFC tags
The tag, when swiped by the phone, can launch various preset settings and applications.
For instance, you could have a tag for work, which activates silent mode, turns on your WiFi and opens your calendar. Then, when you get home, you could have a tag that opens up Facebook and turns your phone back on loud.
It's a really nifty trick, showing off just some of the possibilities with the technology. And it beats the usual NFC accessory pairing and file-transfers we're used to seeing.
Programming the NFC tag itself was pretty easy once we actually found the damn setting, hidden away in Liveware Manager.
Aside from the NFC functionality, the Xperia Sola also features what Sony has dubbed "floating touch" technology for web browsing. So users can hover their finger over the browser window, mimicking a cursor, before actually touching the screen to click a relevant link.
The technology isn't immediately obvious unless you've read the spec sheet, but it works well enough.
Your usual Sony experience
Aside from these two features, the handset is your typical Sony smartphone, which is by no means a bad thing. So, on the hardware side of things you'll have a vivid 3.7-inch display powered by the firm's mobile Bravia engine as well as 3D surround sound support.
On the back of the phone you'll find a five-megapixel camera - pretty much standard for mid-range handsets these days. Your snaps aren't going to rival the likes of the Xperia S or the HTC One X, but they're good nonetheless. Additionally, the camera also has native support for panorama snaps and 720p recording.
Delving into the hardware itself, you'll find a nippy 1Ghz dual-core processor, ensuring that there's very little lag or stuttering, whether you're streaming video or playing graphically intense games.
In the software department, we were mightily disappointed to see that the Xperia Sola was still running Android 2.3 - now two versions behind the latest Android update.
However, Gingerbread isn't the end of the world, being pretty smooth thanks to the Timescape UI implemented by Sony. Additionally, the company is working on getting Ice Cream Sandwich onto the handset too. But again, as with so many other manufacturers, no solid date has been given for a rollout.
In another strike against Sony and the Xperia Sola, the company's Music and Video services are still seemingly unavailable over here, despite being preinstalled on the phone anyway.
Nevertheless, the Xperia Sola is a very capable smartphone on its own, and one that stands out from the pack thanks to some useful NFC wizardry. Definitely put this on your list if you're looking for a new yet affordable handset, with a recommended retail price of R4600.
Score: 8 out of 10