Sony Ericsson at MWC: All the phones, all our thoughts

The dust has settled over Barcelona as Mobile World Congress draws towards a close for another year. The big manufacturers have displayed their devices hoping to capture customer enthusiasm and be the next big handset. We’re looking at each of the big company’s offerings and considering what they’ve put on the table.

Sony Ericsson kicked off Mobile World Congress, launching three new devices, following on from the launch of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc at CES 2011, which saw its European debut in Barcelona. The company had a poor showing in 2010, with a run of devices that never really hit the mark. Is 2011 the year we’ll see Sony Ericsson regain some of its former glory?

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

The Xperia Play was undoubtedly the device that Sony Ericsson were pushing the hardest. It’s a new proposition, it is ground breaking to an extent and it is risky. Of course Sony Ericsson are trying to leverage another Sony brand and this time it’s one of the most valuable: PlayStation. 

Fusing PlayStation and a mobile phone has been talked about for an age. There have been devices that hinted at this sort of collaboration before, like the Aino, but in the Xperia Play you have the feeling that you are holding an evolution of the PSP Go.

The hardware seems right, it sits in the hands comfortably enough and the gaming experience we’ve see so far is pretty good. However, we have two issues with the Xperia Play. The first is that you have to really want a mobile gaming device to accept the compromise that comes with having a slide-out gaming pad on your phone. It’s fatter as a result than many rivals, so if the gaming content fails to arrive, or you don’t find anything playable, you’ll still be stuck with phone with gaming controls hiding in the middle.

Content is critical and we’re surprised not to see more games highlighted from the off. If Sony manage to deliver rich and engaging games designed specifically for the Xperia Play, then excitement may grow. The Xperia Play is one to watch, it’s an exciting idea, but we get the feeling that selling the Play to people on a contract is going to take a lot of hard work, not to mention game pricing and future device support. What happens after your contract expires and you start wanting a new phone?

Check out our hands-on with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo and Sony Ericsson Xperia Pro

Once you’ve fondled the Xperia Neo and the Xperia Pro, it will become obvious that they are indeed the Vivaz 2. The form factor is similar, the design is comparable, the aims seem to be the same. They are mid-range phones, or perhaps sub-flagship, as they still offer fairly high specs and good build quality.

The Sony Ericsson Vivaz was pushed as a video phone and we can’t help thinking that the Neo will step into the same place. One of the headline features is the Sony Ericsson Exmor R imaging sensor, which picks up on Sony’s growing camera lines, and offers that backlit Exmor R camera sensor. We’ve seen some of the demos of the low light performance and it looks to offer impressive performance.

The only issue, then, is that the same sensor is in the Arc, so essentially, the flagship Arc may leave the Neo feeling a little redundant and the differentiation here will probably come down to network pricing.

Check out our hands-on with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo.

The Xperia Pro on the other hand, picks up on Sony Ericsson’s assumption that professional people need a keyboard on their phone. We’ve never really followed this line of thinking, and given that BlackBerry has seen huge adoption by teenagers who like to text and there are a number of popular affordable QWERTY slider devices which younger people go for, the pro name might not really fit.

However, the keyboard feels good enough and it joins that fairly niche group of Android handsets that offer a physical keyboard along with the full touch functionality. Again, it gets a bit fatter, but it does at least offer you choice.

Check out our hands-on with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Pro.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc

This was launched at CES 2011 and we spent a lot of time with it there. It is not only exquisitely designed, but it comes with those technologies found in the rest of the range like the advanced camera sensor and a fantastic LED backlit display.

It also has a conventional form factor for the high-end, competing with the likes of Samsung and HTC in offering screen real estate. If we’ve learnt anything over the last year, it’s that people are taking to larger screens.

All the Sony Ericsson phones offer the company’s twist on Android, so it has been skinned. It looks to be an improved version over what we saw on the Xperia X10 and other 2010 devices, and from what we’ve seen so far it is slightly less intrusive. Of course, we can’t give a verdict on this from what we’ve seen, but we sincerely hope that it doesn’t obliterate the core Android experience underneath.

Check out our First Look of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc.

Our pick of the bunch

Somewhat controversially it’s the Arc. It looks to offer the strongest and most attractive package. Of course, there will be some who have been itching for a phone that offers proper gaming controls who might be interested in the Xperia Play, but we feel the Neo and the Pro may suffer when set alongside the Xperia Arc.