ďOne of the smallest and the best smartphones around - but larger hands will feel infinitely less at homeĒ
The screen is vibrant and extremely sharp
We used to think small mobiles were better mobiles. Until smartphones, manufacturers competed on size above all else - to the point that handsets looked like they were designed for hamsters rather than humans. Luckily, this trend has since been reversed, but todayís humongous screens are not to everyoneís taste.
This is probably what led Sony Ericsson to create the Xperia ray. Itís got all the capabilities of a device twice its size, but slips comfortably into tight jeans. It really is a feat of engineering and a wonder to behold. Anyone with the slim digits of a pianist will love everything about it.
But if youíre a burly bloke with fists like King Kong, you might as well stop reading now. The Sony Ericsson Xperia ray, competitively priced under £300 sim-free, is one of the smallest and the best around - but larger hands will feel infinitely less at home on its slender display.
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The outer casing is sturdy, sleek and well designed
Although the Sony Ericsson Xperia ray doesnít come equipped with the dual-core processor and gigantic display of bulkier smartphones, itís still a brilliantly quick Android device in its own right. Encased in a smooth aluminium frame, it looks the part and feels more expensive than it is.
Despite being noticeably smaller than most, the 3.3in display is more than big enough for browsing the web, viewing images and streaming video. Enhanced by Sonyís BRAVIA technology, the 480 x854 resolution provides a vibrant and crisp experience to rival even the most macho of screens.
Where the dainty display falls down though is with text input. Writing messages on the stock Xperia ray keyboard can be a very frustrating exercise. A set of svelte and nimble fingers wonít run into trouble, but most of us will prod around making typos left, right and centre.
Sony Ericssonís Xperia ray is powered by the Android 2.3 - also known as ďGingerbreadĒ - mobile operating system, well known for its ease of use and highly customisable interface. With that in mind, you may be surprised to find the intuitive qwerty keyboard is replaced on this handset with an on-screen number pad.
Instead of a full keyboard, you get the nine-digit telephone keypad arrangement, with individual letters accessed by pressing each button up to four times. It makes sense not to have crammed too many keys onto the modest display, but thereís still something quite archaic about it.
Luckily, with a few clicks in the settings menu, the number pad can be ousted by the far more user-friendly qwerty input. However, since it squeezes in at least a dozen extra keys, this wonít be an option for anyone with less dainty digits.
Most of what youíll find onboard is identical to other Gingerbread handsets, but there are several interesting widgets unique to the Xperia range. One such tool, Timescape, does a great job of integrating your messages, contacts and Facebook updates on the home screen.
You only get a preview of each item, but clicking the notification launches the relevant app and displays the message in full. In some ways you could argue that Timescapeís uses are actually quite limited. Itís really nothing more than a launch pad to open other applications. Then again, if youíre not a fan of Timescape - or any of the widgets on the home screens - you can chop and change them to your heartís content.
Social media is far more usefully integrated in your contacts, where each personís Facebook profile is accessible with a single tap. It also displays their birthday and interests, as well as enabling you to leaf through their photos - all without leaving your phonebook.
Predictably, for a phone Sony had a hand in creating, the Xperia ray really comes into its own as an mp3 player. The 4GB microSD card included will hold roughly 1,000 tracks, but for a relatively small cost this could be upgraded to 32GB, rivalling many iPods ofor storage.
The sound is immense too. Sony Ericssonís use of the xLOUD audio engine means everything from a twinkly ringtone to the latest drum and bass comes over with a clarity and depth often lacking on tiny mobile speakers. As a result call quality is equally impressive, particularly on loudspeaker.
In theory the 8.1 megapixel camera should be superb - and in many ways it is - but unless youíre in broad daylight the feeble LED flash produces grainy disappointment shot after shot. However, in the right conditions, it canít be faulted and the photo gallery integrates seamlessly.
When it comes to battery life, there are few smartphones that wonít let you down, but the Sony Xperia Ray is an incredibly rare gem equipped with a meaty 1500mAh supply. It comfortably runs with frequent-ish use of its flashiest functions for at least 12 to 16 hours.
By adding power saving widgets to one of the five home screens, youíve got rapid access to ďon/offĒ buttons that toggle vibration, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and brightness to make your battery last even longer. It still wonít outlive a less sophisticated device, but on endurance itís the smartphone to beat.
In a nutshell, the Xperia ray is a top-end smartphone in miniature. In the right pair of hands, itís an absolute pleasure and itís hard to miss that extra inch of LCD when exponentially better battery life is the trade-off. Plus, itís useful to own a phone you can comfortably operate in one hand.
Anyone with a taste for something chunkier should look at the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc, which is essentially the same phone underneath - just with more screen and a little extra padding.
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