DESIGN & HANDLING
In a relatively minimalist vein (the phone is offered in a choice of black, black and white or black and red), the Xperia Sola's sober design is accentuated by straight, angular lines. This lightweight (107 g), compact smartphone sits perfectly in the palm of your hand and is quickly forgotten in your trouser pockets. The soft-touch rubber shell feels good to the touch.
The receded strip on the bottom of the phone doesn't add much functionality; the idea here seems more to be to make the Sola stand out visually from the other models in the series (the Xperia S, P and U). The finishing is just about right for a mid-range smartphone.
At first sight everything seems fine with the body. It's only after carrying it around for a while that you realise that the back shell that covers the non-removable battery, SIM card and microSD card detaches much too easily. All it takes is a slight upward push of the thumb and the back slides right off. Usually the backs on smartphones are a nightmare to get off. Here, it's the opposite problem: it's too easy. It comes off when you didn't mean to take it off. Weird.
The colour accuracy achieved on the Xperia Sola's display is average for smartphones released in the past few months (dE of 5.2, where a very good screen would be under 3). However, the contrast, like the brightness, could be a bit higher.
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
An update to Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Android, is expected at some time in the future, but for now we'll have to make do with Gingerbread and the Sony interface, which we already discussed in our Xperia S review. This graphically pleasing interface simplifies access to widgets and apps. The social network aggregator, Timescape, does exactly what it's supposed to do, which is to collect all activity from the different social networks you're a member of and display it all in one window. And to better organise your five desktops you can create folders for your various content. As with any Sony smartphone, in addition to Google Play all users have access to Sony's PlayNow multimedia content and proprietary app downloading platform, as well as Music Unlimited, with its catalogue of over 7 million songs.
The Xperia Sola is surprisingly responsive. The interface runs smoothly when moving from one desktop to another, installing widgets, and so on. It rarely slows down or gets stuck, but it does happen. We suggest closing any unused apps after you've finished with them. Needless to say, the biggest, most recent video games out there will certainly suffer constant lags. But the relatively light-weight specs will be more than enough for your odd round of Angry Birds.
All you numbers geeks out there will be pleased to know that in terms of computing power the benchmarks reveal a surprisingly capable dual-core ST-Ericsson processor. With 3D graphics, however, the Sola is clearly not one of the frontrunners in the industry.
Let's start the camera section by pointing out that the Xperia Sola has a physical button for the camera function. This is rare and worth mention, as many users prefer this to a purely touchscreen configuration.
Also of note, the Xperia Sola is fairly quick to focus, shoot and save, which allows you to take several rapid-fire shots in a row. The 3D panoramic mode delivers nicely rendered images, and the smile detection function works fairly well. The rendering is sharp and contains a decent amount of detail. Noise is fairly well reduced and the colour accuracy is respectable (with the exception of whites, which tend towards yellow). The Sola's 5-Megapixel sensor is quite effective for a lower-end smartphone.
The video mode supports 720p, with acceptable rendering for a mid-range smartphone and fast focusing. It will do the trick, as long as you're only looking to catch friends and family doing stupid and adorable things (respectively) and post them online. But don't expect the stabilisation or amount of detail you'd get with a camcorder or top-notch smartphone (such as the Lumia 800, or HTC One X). The Sola has no HDMI port, but it is DLNA-compatible, which allows you to send content from your phone to a DLNA-compatible TV screen.
The Xperia Sola natively supports MP4 files for video playback. However, to decode DivX and XviD you need to install a player such as MX Video Player or DicePlayer, which you can find for free on Google Play. The Xperia Sola does not handle files above 720p resolution.
The audio interface is effective. The audio signal is clean and gives a respectable (though not earth-shattering) sound for a smartphone. Same goes for the speaker, which provides good sound and volume for a phone.
As mentioned in our Xperia S review, the web browser is fast when it comes to loading pages, even pages with lots of content (with or without Flash), and the system for managing pages and bookmarks is effective. Texts on web pages are easily legible in landscape mode without ever having to zoom in.
The Xperia Sola has an astounding new no-contact touchscreen feature that Sony has dubbed Floating Touch. It can be activated in Settings and reduces the amount of zooming you have to do. With Floating Touch, if you want to open a link that's in the middle of a bunch of text, all you have to do is hover your finger over the screen and point at the link—without touching the screen—and the link opens. This function is usually quite precise, but (here's a shocker) not always. We're excited to see what applications can be found for this refreshing, new technology.
With a not-so-energy-saving sleep mode, the Xperia Sola has trouble lasting all day. For average to heavy usage (Internet, Facebook, geolocation, phone calls, Wi-Fi, music, photos...), this phone needs to be charged daily.
Let's not forget to mention SmartTags. These little token-shaped smart stickers are NFC-compatible and can be placed at home, at work or in your car. Each SmartTag can be programmed with a different profile for whichever situation you're in. For example, it can automatically activate Bluetooth and launch GPS when you're in your car, or turn on the alarm function when you're in bed...). The Xperia Sola is sold with two SmartTags.