Following in the footsteps of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play and Xperia Arc, the Xperia Neo could be seen as the runt of the litter. But thanks to its excellent camera, bright screen and HDMI output, it's hard to dislike this mid-range Android smart phone.
The Neo is available on monthly contracts starting from around £25. You can also pick it up SIM-free for around £370.
Case and screen
In terms of aesthetics, the Neo looks more like the Play than the wafer-thin Arc. It shares the same bulge at the rear, making it easy to hold. From the front, both the Play and Neo look very much alike, although the latter curiously lacks the standard Android 'search' button.
The Neo still has some tricks of its own, though. The two-tone plastic casing has a colour gradient to it, starting off jet black at the top of the phone and then slowly giving way to a hint of metallic blue at the bottom. It's subtle, but lends the device a classy look.
The 3.7-inch capacitive touchscreen is a step-down from the Play's 4-inch display and the Arc's 4.2-inch panel, but, in terms of brightness and clarity, it's fantastic. For that, you can probably thanks Sony Ericsson's Mobile Bravia Engine picture-processing technology.
Buttons and camera
The left-hand side of the Neo is completely bare, but Sony Ericsson has crammed in plenty of physical buttons on the right-hand side. You'll find a power button that also serves as the lock key, a volume rocker and a dedicated camera button.
As with the Arc, the Neo's excellent 8-megapixel camera uses an Exmor R CMOS sensor. The end result is that it captures images of impeccable quality, with bright colours, bold contrast and stunning detail -- even in low-light conditions. You may even find that your Neo outclasses your dedicated point-and-shoot digital camera.
Unlike the Play, the Neo is capable of recording 720p high-definition videos. Again, the power of the Exmor R sensor is evident -- videos are smooth and packed with detail.
The best way to fully appreciate the quality of the images and video captured by the Neo's camera is to hook up the phone to your hi-def TV using the built-in HDMI port, located at the top of the device. You can also play games using this connection, which is seriously impressive. We dearly wish Sony Ericsson had seen fit to include an HDMI port on the Play.
Android 2.3 and widgets
Like its relations, the Neo runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread. This is the latest edition of Google's mobile-phone operating system, and it's the fastest and most powerful yet.
In terms of software, the Neo is very much the same as its stablemates. Sony Ericsson's Android skin is relatively unobtrusive, and the dock at the bottom of the display, which allows you to drop in four shortcuts that appear on all your home screens, is a genuinely useful touch.
We're not so keen on Sony Ericsson's Timescape widget, however. Although it's a step up from the woeful first version seen on the Xperia X10, it's still relatively uninspiring. Thankfully, it can be binned from your home screen and replaced with something more worthy.
With a single-core 1GHz processor, the Neo can't be considered hugely powerful by modern smart-phone standards. Dual-core monsters such as the HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy S 2 are now pushing the boundaries of CPU power even further, so you might worry that the Neo will be hideously outdated by this time next year.
The phone is perfectly capable of playing the latest games and running all the most demanding apps that the Android Market can offer, but you may wish to think twice about getting the Neo on a lengthy two-year contract.
The Neo's battery life is pretty average. With heavy use, you can expect to charge it once a day. By keeping the screen dim and avoiding unnecessary Web usage, we managed to get nearly two days of battery life before having to plug the phone into the mains.
Edited by Charles Kloet