The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray is a mid-range smart phone that runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread. It has a 3.3-inch capacitive touchscreen and a 1GHz processor, as well as one of the thinnest frames we've seen on a device in this class.
The Xperia Ray is available for free on a £20-per-month contract, while the SIM-free edition retails for just under £300.
Should I buy the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray?
Sony Ericsson is positioning the Xperia Ray slap-bang in the middle of the Android battleground. It lacks the large display of the Xperia Arc, yet boasts a surprising amount of the same internal tech.
There's an 8-megapixel camera with 720p video capability, as well as the fancy Exmor R for Mobile sensor, which is brilliant at taking photos in dimly lit environments. You'll also find that the Ray comes with the very latest version of Sony Ericsson's Timescape user interface, and sports Android 2.3 Gingerbread, putting it at the vanguard of the Android scene.
The Ray's biggest failing has to be its 3.3-inch screen. Its small size seems quite strange in this era of monster handsets like the HTC Titan and Samsung Galaxy Note. While the resolution is fantastic and the image pin-sharp, it's a display that's likely to cause large-handed people a massive amount of problems.
By keeping the screen small, Sony Ericsson has succeeded in crafting a truly pocket-sized blower, but there's a danger that many potential purchasers will ignore it in favour of a device that's more suited to adult-sized fingers.
If you're not dissuaded by the tiny display, then the Xperia Ray is something of a steal. The amount of tech included is stunning, and it's all wrapped up in a wafer-thin frame that will slip effortlessly into any pocket.
Interface and OS
Like its siblings the Xperia Play, Xperia Arc and Xperia Neo, the Xperia Ray runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread. This is the latest flavour of Google's smart-phone operating system, and it offers a fantastic degree of functionality.
You can run several applications in tandem, download games and apps from the Android Market, sync your email, contacts and calendar with the cloud, and use real-time widgets to keep yourself fully up to speed on everything from the weather to your Facebook feed.
Like HTC and Samsung, Sony Ericsson has chosen to embellish the core Android experience with its own custom-made Timescape 'skin'. This sits on top of Android and brings with it unique menus, applications and widgets.
Timescape is now up to version 4.0, offering a raft of enhancements, including tighter integration with Facebook, allowing you to share content from your phone more easily.
Another new addition is the introduction of xLOUD technology, which augments the power of the phone's speaker. This is really handy if you happen to work in a noisy environment and often can't hear your phone's ringer, but we noticed that the boost in volume actually distorted the audio.
Other features in Timescape 4.0 are cosmetic rather than functional -- the screen shut-off animation seen on the Google Nexus S has been included, for example. It mimics the power-down sequence of an old cathode-ray-tube television set. Admirers of retro chic will love it.
The widget overview has also undergone a slight visual change. By using a pinch-to-zoom command, you can display all of your widgets on a single screen. Timescape 4.0 also now allows you to shake your phone and cause the widgets to float around. That's a neat party trick to show to your iPhone-owning mates, but it actually makes it harder to select the widget you want.
Other changes in Timescape 4.0 are similarly disappointing. Sony Ericsson has removed the popular 'power control' widget, presumably because it's quite close in functionality to its own 'status switch' variant. The problem is that Sony Ericsson's version omits the ability to disable auto-syncing of apps -- something we think hard-core Android users will miss.
The Xperia Ray's screen is likely to divide opinion. On the plus side, the LED-backlit LCD screen is sharper than a tailor-made Armani suit, packing a resolution of 480x854 pixels.
This has much to do with the fact that the screen only measures 3.3 inches. The image appears
crisp largely because all those pixels are crammed into a display that's much smaller than that of the
Samsung Galaxy S2 or Google Nexus S. The Xperia Ray boasts 297 pixels per inch compared with 217ppi on the S2 and 233ppi on the Nexus S.
Compared to its stablemate the Xperia Play, the Ray's screen is gloriously bright and colourful. It very nearly matches the brilliance of Samsung's Super AMOLED Plus screens. The Ray uses the Mobile Bravia Engine feature also seen in the Xperia Arc and Xperia Neo to offer enhanced images and better viewing in direct sunlight.
On the negative side, the long, thin profile of the screen makes it feel rather cramped, especially when you're using the Qwerty keyboard option.
Fans of super-responsive touchscreens will be pleased to learn that the Ray sports a capacitive display. This type of screen type doesn't require pressure to register your touch, which makes it quicker, more precise and more accurate than resistive touchscreens. Multi-touch commands are also possible.
Unusually for an Android phone, the Xperia Ray's default keyboard is alphanumeric. It's safe to assume that Sony Ericsson has opted for this arrangement due to the small size of the Ray's 3.3-inch screen.
You can switch to a full Qwerty keyboard in the phone's options menu, but it's predictably awkward to use, especially if you possess chubby fingers. Installing an alternative keyboard, such as the 'trace-to-type' Swype helps matters, but there's no getting around the diminutive size of the phone's screen.
The Xperia Ray is a seriously dainty handset. With an overall thickness of 9.4mm and a weight of just 100g, it's one of those phones that will have you patting your pocket just to check that it's still there.
The Ray has a predominantly plastic chassis with metal and rubberised areas also making an appearance. The metal lends the phone an air of sophistication, while the plastic provides an ultra-grippy surface to ensure that accidental drops are kept to a bare minimum.
Like arch-rival Samsung, Sony Ericsson seems to think that less is more when it comes to physical buttons. The traditional Android search button is nowhere to be seen, and the 'back' and 'menu' buttons are touch-sensitive. The only physical button on the front of the device is the 'home' key.
There's a thin semi-circle of transparent plastic around the home button, and this illuminates whenever you have an unread text or email. It also glows during charging, just to let you know that the battery is being topped up.
There's only two other physical inputs on the Xperia Ray -- the power button (located at the top of the phone, next to the 3.5mm headphone socket) and the volume rocker (positioned on the right, near the top). On the opposite side to the volume rocker is the micro-USB charging and data port, which sadly lacks a cover to prevent dust and dirt from getting in.
Camera and video recording
The Ray packs an 8-megapixel camera with 720p high-definition video recording. There's also a VGA-resolution front-facing camera for video calls. Like the Xperia Neo, the Ray boasts an Exmor R for Mobile image sensor. This permits better shooting in low-light conditions, and allows you to take some truly amazing shots.
The camera also offers an LED flash, smile detection and image stabilisation. The addition of autofocus means that close-up macro shots look great, even in dim conditions. We'd have liked a dedicated camera button somewhere on the phone, but you can't have everything.
Processing power and gaming
Beating at the heart of the Xperia Ray is a 1GHz single-core processor, aided by an Adreno 205 graphics chip and 512MB of RAM. While this set-up no longer represents the cutting edge, it's powerful enough to run the vast majority of Android apps and games.
Speaking of which, we tested a wide variety of 2D and 3D games on the Ray. Although some of the more complex titles stuttered occasionally, we had no major complaints. The only issue was the small nature of the screen, which doesn't lend itself to some of Android's grander titles.
Bear in mind that, when you're playing games that require you to use on-screen controls, the thin 3.3-inch screen means your thumbs will obscure a large proportion of the display.
Internet and applications
The Xperia Ray's narrow screen can make it hard to browse the Net, but its high resolution and the nippy browser mitigate this problem somewhat. We're also pleased to report that the phone supports Adobe Flash, so you can play Flash content, such as videos and interactive elements, in the browser itself.
In terms of applications, the Xperia Ray comes pre-loaded with a few exclusive offerings. Some of these are expendable, such as PlayNow, which harks back to that unpleasant era before the App Store and Android Market revolutionised everything.
Others are slightly more interesting. The Data Monitor app can be pinned to your home screen as a widget, and tracks the amount of data traffic to and from your handset. You can set alarms to warn you when you're about to creep over your contract's data allowance, and thus avoid nasty surprises when your bill turns up at the end of the month.
Connectivity and battery life
With 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi support, the Xperia Ray is well-equipped for any wireless situation. There's also DNLA as standard, allowing you to effortlessly send images and music to compatible devices.
In terms of expandability, the Xperia Ray has a microSD slot capable of accepting cards of up to 32GB in size. A 4GB card is included with the phone.
Battery life is around average for an Android device. The Xperia Ray's 3.3-inch screen means that, on paper, it should be less hungry than phones like the HTC Desire HD and LG Optimus 2X, but we didn't notice a massive improvement in terms of stamina. A typical day of data syncing, Web use and gaming will ensure that you need to charge the phone's 1,500mAh battery by the evening.
As a mid-range Android device, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray is fantastic. Android 2.3 delivers a pleasurable experience and the phone's 8-megapixel camera is brilliant, offering HD video recording and impressive performance in low-light conditions.
The only issue we have is the 3.3-inch screen, which makes precise typing more awkward than it should be. When you consider that the Orange Monte Carlo offers a 4.3-inch screen for half the price of the Xperia Ray, it does make you think twice.
If you're concerned that your fingers may be too chubby for such a slim handset, the Xperia Neo is worth considering. Still, a small screen means a small phone, and the Xperia Ray will find favour with mobile users who aren't enamoured with the recent trend for big-screen blowers.
Edited by Charles Kloet