The Sony Xperia neo L is the second revision of the neo design. The biggest change is the screen, which grew to 4 inches, and the OS - the L model launches with Android 4.0 ICS out of the box.
Quad-band GSM /GPRS/EDGE support
3G with 7.2 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
4" 16M-color capacitive LED-backlit LCD touchscreen of WVGA resolution (480 x 800 pixels) on Sony Mobile BRAVIA engine
Android OS v4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich
1 GHz Scorpion CPU, Adreno 205 GPU, 512 MB RAM, Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255 chipset
5 MP autofocus camera, LED flash, geo-tagging, 3D Sweep Panorama
720p video @ 30fps with continuous autofocus and stereo sound
Front facing VGA camera, video chat (Google, Skype)
Wi-Fi b/g/n and DLNA
GPS with A-GPS
microSD slot (32GB supported, 2GB card included)
Accelerometer and proximity sensor
Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
microUSB port (charging) and stereo Bluetooth v2.1
Adobe Flash 11 support
Deep Xperia Facebook integration
Display has poor viewing angles
Very limited video codec support
No HDMI port as on the older neo models
No FM radio as on the older neo models
No hardware camera shutter key as on the older neo models
Memory card slot under the battery
Design and build quality
The Xperia neo L looks like the first phone Sony made after the split with Ericsson. You know, for old times' sake. And while a certain charm is hard to deny, it's pretty obvious that the good-looking phones are in the NXT line. The Sony Xperia neo L is a cure for nostalgia.
Most of the phone's front is taken by a 4" 16M-color LCD screen of FWVGA resolution (854 x 480 pixels). The neo L uses the same Reality display as many of its Xperia line siblings, based on the Sony Bravia Mobile Engine.
The LED-backlit LCD has pleasing colors and contrast. The questionable feature is viewing angles: contrast quickly deteriorates and the colors get washed out when viewing the screen at an angle.
The maximum brightness of the screen isn't very high and the sunlight legibility falls somewhat short too.
Xperia gets Ice Cream Sandwich
The Sony Xperia neo L runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box but it's still covered head to toe by the custom skin that Sony usually use and the interface doesn't feel too different. If you have one of those Xperias that started life with Gingerbread but got promoted to ICS, you'll feel right at home with the neo L.
The Xperia neo L has the usual five-pane homescreen configuration, but there is no option to add or remove panes. There are four docked shortcuts (two on either side of the launcher shortcut). These are visible on all five homescreen panes and are user configurable: they can be either single icons or folders with multiple items in them.
The Sony Xperia neo L UI
Speaking of folders, one of the differences is that they're now displayed a bit differently - they show thumbnails of the first four items in them. Not a major change, but gives you quick peek of what's inside the folder.
The homescreen does a neat trick called Overview mode. Pinch to zoom out on any of the 5 homescreen panes and a new screen opens up with a cool transition. All active widgets gather there for easy viewing and selection.
The Overview mode helps you find the widget you are looking for
The Xperia neo L has some custom-made Sony widgets in addition to the standard set. Those include the Timescape widget (there's a dedicated app too) and a Mediascape-like widget for photos and videos (the actual app isn't there anymore, the standard gallery is back).
Widgets menu • Removing widget
A cool new addition to the lockscreen, missing from the Xperia phones of old, is the music player widget, which lets you control music playback without unlocking the phone. You can also enable Face, Pattern, PIN or Password unlock, in ascending order of security.
The standard notification area and task switcher are of course present and accounted for - no custom touches to them. For some reason the notification area isn't accessible from the lockscreen as it usually is on ICS (and on other ICS-running Xperia phones).
The lockscreen • Lockscreen options • The standard notification area and task switcher
The visually customized phonebook of the Xperia neo L is virtually the same as the Xperia sola's and can store extensive contact information. A tabbed interface allows you to access contact details, recent calls and info from social networking services.
The phonebook • The quick contacts can save you a click or two • the available options
The contact list can be sorted by either first or last name. There are two contact search options - a dedicated search field on top of the contact list, and an alphabet scroll to jump to names starting with a specific letter.
You can sync with multiple accounts, including Exchange and Facebook, and you can selectively show or hide contacts from some accounts (you can fine-sift specific groups from an account), or set the phonebook to display only contacts with phone numbers or only contacts that are online.
Filtering contacts in the phonebook
If a contact has accounts in multiple services, you can "link" their details to keep everything in one place. Their Facebook photos and interests (part of the Facebook integration) will show as extra tabs.
Viewing a contact entry • Photos and interests from Facebook • Call log for that contact
Quick contacts are enabled - a tap on the contact's photo brings up shortcuts for calling, texting or emailing the contact.
Each contact can have a variety of fields (and repeat fields of the same type), there's an Add field button and the X button lets you remove fields as needed. The fields cover anything from names (including a field to write the name down phonetically) to addresses, nicknames and notes.
Editing a contact
There is an option to redirect calls directly to voicemail. Custom ringtones are enabled too.
Receiving and making calls on the Xperia neo L was trouble-free. The built-in secondary microphone is used for active noise-cancellation so calls are loud and clear even in noisy environments.
The Xperia neo L phone app features smart dialing. It searches for matches in both the contacts' phones and names. There's voice dialing too (the quickest way to activate it is to press and hold the hardware Search key).
Smart dialing is available
Thanks to the proximity sensor, the Sony Xperia neo L automatically disables the touchscreen when you lift it up during a call.
The call log is integrated in the dialer - it shows a list of recently dialed, received and missed calls in the top half of the screen and the keypad on the bottom half. Once you start typing, the call log is replaced by the smart dial list. You can hide the keypad the make more room for the call log.
Messaging is business as usual
Text messages and MMS use standard threaded layout. Each thread is displayed as an IM chat session, the latest message at the bottom. You can manage individual messages (forward, copy, delete) and even lock them against deletion.
Search is enabled to locate a specific message in all conversations and you can also activate delivery reports.
The messaging app • Starring a message • All starred messages • Adding multimedia to the message
Adding multimedia (photos, videos, sounds, etc.) will convert the message to an MMS.
Composing a message • Message options • Attaching an image
Moving on to email, the Gmail app supports batch operations, which allow multiple emails to be archived, labeled or deleted. The app supports multiple Gmail accounts, but there's no unified inbox for other email services.
Gmail app supports batch operations and multiple (Gmail) accounts
However, the generic email app can do that as well. It can handle multiple POP or IMAP accounts and you have access to the messages in the original folders that are created online.
The generic Email client has a combined inbox option
Google Talk handles Instant Messaging. The GTalk network is compatible with a variety of popular clients like Pidgin, Kopete, iChat and Ovi Contacts.
As for text input, the Xperia neo L offers a customized on-screen full QWERTY keyboard. Typing on the portrait keyboard is fairly comfortable - the screen is big enough to house decently sized keys.
Flipping the phone to landscape gives you even bigger, easier to press buttons.
Xperia neo L keyboard is comfortable in either layout
You can also try the so-called Gesture input if hitting those keys individually doesn't give you the desired typing speed. It works the same as Swype. Even if you've never used Swype input before, you'll quickly get used to it.
Two galleries to do one job
The Xperia neo L comes with the Ice Cream Sandwich gallery, but you'll also find the so-called Xperia Gallery, which brings back the good old Gingerbread app.
In the Xperia Gallery, the different albums and folders appear as piles of photos, which expand into neat grids of photos sorted by date. If you have online albums over at Picasa those show up as separate stacks as well.
Facebook and Picasa albums are distinguished by the small logo of the corresponding service. Facebook pictures can be "liked" with the thumbs up button in the upper right corner.
The Xperia gallery • The 3D and Multi Angle views
If you choose the native Gallery app, you'll find a similar arrangement by default - images sorted into albums. However, you can group photos by other attributes too (location, time, people and tags are the other available options).
When viewing individual images with this gallery app, you get a filmstrip of thumbnails at the bottom of the screen, which can be used to quickly jump between images.
The native ICS gallery is also available
Images in both galleries can be cropped or rotated directly in the gallery. Quick sharing via Picasa, Email apps, Facebook, Bluetooth or MMS is also enabled.
The BRAVIA engine enhances contrast and colors by sharpening the image and reducing noise. These steps would normally lead to artifacts, but you'll have to look from really up close to notice. You can switch BRAVIA off, but we recommend keeping it on - it really improves the viewing experience.
Very basic video player
There is no dedicated video player app on the Xperia neo L and the phone has limited video playback support as a whole. We only really managed to get MP4 files to play and ran into plenty of issues with large files.
Watching a video on the Xperia neo L
Depending on which of the two players you choose to use (there are two galleries and two video players), you get access to a simple video editor that can trim the start and end points of a video.
You can download a video player off the Google Play Store with support for more video codecs but chances of getting an HD video (one not shot with the phone itself) to play are pretty slim.
The music player missed the update
The Sony Xperia neo L uses the old music player - the one used before the NXT series. The interface is laid out in four tabs for the available sorting options: all artists, all tracks, playlists and albums.
If you hit the menu key you'll get a search shortcut, as well as send and delete options.
The music player is decent looking and snappy
The Now Playing screen offers nothing but the standard music controls, shortcuts to the library and the Infinite key. The latter lets you quickly look up a song on YouTube or browse for the lyrics.
The music fans will appreciate the selection of equalizer presets but there's no customizable preset. You also get Silent mode, which mutes all other sounds except for alarms - great for uninterrupted listening.
The only available visualization is the album art.
The Now Playing interface • The equalizer
While the rest of the music player is the same as what we saw on the neo V, this one adds music controls to the lockscreen. They replace the clock, which might be annoying if you just want to check the time. Still, the clock slides out of view, so you have about a second to see what time it is (or just look at the small clock in the upper right corner).
Music player controls on the lockscreen and notification area
The Sony Xperia neo L lacks FM radio support.
Audio quality is quiet but perfectly clean
The Sony Xperia neo L fared did great in our audio quality test. It's volume levels were below average in both testing scenarios, but the audio output was almost perfectly clean.
When connected to an active external amplifier, the Sony Xperia neo L got excellent scores all over the field. There were no weak points to its performance so, the volume levels aside, it's as good as it gets.
Camera with stock Android interface
The Xperia neo L boasts a 5 megapixel camera with a single LED flash. It's capable of producing stills of 2592 x 1944 resolution.
The user interface is pure Android Ice Cream Sandwich rather than the bespoke Xperia interface. We are not the biggest fans of it and it lacks some of the fancy functions and streamlined interface of custom camera apps, but it covers everything a casual user would need.
The new camera interface
The viewfinder takes up most of the screen, with a panel to the right of it for some of the controls: the gallery shortcut (which is a thumbnail of the last photo taken), the virtual shutter key and the camera mode switch.
The rest of the controls are overlaid on the right side of the viewfinder. By default, you only see the front/back camera toggle and a shortcut that brings out more controls. The extra controls are semitransparent, so you can keep them on if you like, they won't block your view.
What the Xperia neo L camera lets you customize is the LED flash mode (on, off, auto), white balance, exposure compensation, scene (auto, action, night), geotagging and focus mode. You can choose between three focus modes - auto, infinity and macro. Tap focus and face detection are not available.
When you tap the Gallery shortcut it opens a preview of the last photo taken with a list of all ways to share it and another shortcut to get into the regular gallery mode.
Previewing the last photo taken
Panoramas are easy to shoot - you just hit the shutter key and start panning left or right, the phone will take care of the rest. The phone will warn you if you're panning too fast. When you're done, it takes several seconds to create the panorama afterwards.
The image quality is very good for the class and it shows an improvement over the neo V. There's less noise to deal with, so there's a good amount of fine detail in the shots though noise reduction is still visible in complex areas (e.g. foliage).
Color and contrast are good as is exposure, though photos look oversharpened and the stock Android camera offers no option to reduce the sharpening.
Sony Xperia neo L camera samples
Image quality comparison
The standard test shots from the Xperia neo L are in our Photo Compare Tool database. The synthetic resolution chart shows average results. The oversharpening haloes are pretty easy to spot here. The noise reduction has smeared the grass and gravel in the second chart, but they are still recognizable. The third chart has accurate white balance and good colors under artificial lighting.
Sony Xperia neo L in our Photo Compare Tool
Okay video recording
The Sony Xperia neo L captures 720p video at 30 fps, which is all we can expect out of a single-core processor and a 5MP camera.
The camcorder has the same interface as the still camera and some of the same settings. You can use the LED as a video light, adjust white balance and geotagging. You can also choose to shoot in SD resolution (480p) or do a time lapse video.
The Xperia neo L camcorder features continuous autofocus. It may take a few seconds to refocus after you re-frame but that's better than repeating attempts to lock focus that may ruin a video.
Switching to camcorder mode
Videos are recorded in MP4 files with a bitrate of 6Mbps and stereo AAC sound (130Kbps, 38kHz). The overall bitrate isn't enough for 720p though, and the amount of captured detail is sub par for HD video. On the up side, the framerate is a smooth 30fps and there are no issues with constant autofocus as we've seen on some phones.
Video quality comparison
You can have a closer look at the video quality with our Video quality compare tool. The fairly static Ferris wheel scene is rendered fairly well though you can see the effects of the low framerate. When the lights go out, the Xperia neo L has lighting fast reflexes and adjusts quickly to the dark, but a lot of noise appears. The third chard shows that videos are oversharpened too, just like the still photos.
Sony Xperia neo L in our Video Compare Tool
The Sony Xperia neo L has quad-band 2G and dual-band 3G. Mobile data speeds are boosted by 7.2Mbps HSDPA and 5.76Mbps HSUPA.
Local connectivity is covered by Wi-Fi b/g/n with DLNA, so you can easily share content from your phone on a DLNA TV or music player. There's also Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP on hand.
The Connected Devices app handles the DLNA functionality
A dedicated app, Media Remote, will serve as a remote control for DLNA-capable BRAVIA TVs and Sony DVD/Blu-ray players too. It has a few versions of the interface ranging from simply changing the channels to mouse input and viewing disc history.
The Media Remote app is available for free download at the Play Store so other Android smartphones can use it too.
Media remote app
The neo L also comes with Sony's LiveWare manager, which can be set to launch an app each time you connect an accessory, e.g. a headset or a charger.
LiveWare manager can, for example, launch the music player as soon as you connect a headset
ICS browser rocks
One of the biggest advantages that the Sony Xperia neo L gets from running Android ICS out of the box is the updated web browser. This browser has a streamlined interface, incognito browsing and other cool features.
The browser chrome is quite minimalistic; all you get is the URL bar with a tabs shortcut. Hitting the Menu key you get more options - Refresh, Forward, Save to bookmarks, Share page, Find on page, full settings and a couple of more - Request desktop site (no more hunting for that "Desktop" option buried at the bottom of the site) and Save for offline reading.
The web browser was redesigned
The full settings menu includes some really interesting options. For example, you can set your search engine to Yahoo or Bing, you can adjust text size and the level of which double tap will zoom in.
The browser borrows several features from its desktop counterpart. For example, when searching for something, if the browser is confident you'll click on a certain search result, it will start preloading that page right away so that it opens faster if you do click it. You can set this feature to work over Wi-Fi only to preserve data.
The other trick is Incognito mode - there's no global setting, but you can open Incognito tabs.
Speaking of tabs, the tab switching interface looks exactly like the Recent apps list. You can even close tabs by swiping them off the screen.
Switching tabs works the same way as switching apps does
Quick controls (available from the Labs settings) reveal five controls (New tab, Tabs, URL, Bookmarks, More) when you slide your finger in from the side. Those really improve the browser experience. Another cool feature from Labs is Full screen, which squeezes out a little more screen real estate by hiding the status bar.
The Quick controls
One of the important features in the web browser is the full Flash 11 support. It did not come pre-installed on our phone, but ran without any problems when we installed in from the Play Store. YouTube videos played smoothly all the way up to 720p (1080p crashed the plugin, not that you'd want to watch 1080p video on this phone). Flash games played trouble free too.
Playing YouTube videos in the browser • Flash games work too
The Sony Xperia neo L lasts a bit over 4 hours when browsing the web over Wi-Fi. That's about as much as the Xperia neo V did and a bit better than Xperia U.
Office document viewer
The Sony Ericsson Xperia neo L comes with a solid set of organizing options, including a document viewer.
The app in question is OfficeSuite and it has support for viewing document files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF, including the Office 2007 versions). The Pro version (a $15/€13 update) can also edit documents.
The OfficeSuite reader
Reading documents is quite comfortable and panning is blazing fast. There's built-in file browser and cloud storage integration (Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and SugarSync).
Built-in file browser • Cloud integration
OfficeSuite is a pretty capable file browser too, but Astro comes preinstalled and has even more functions. Its welcome screen gives you easy access to your photos, music, documents, it lets you back up apps, kill running apps and check which folders are eating up precious storage space on your memory card.
Astro file browser comes preinstalled
Tap on the Manage my files button and you get into the full-blown file browser. It can do all the basic stuff (new folder, copy, delete, etc.), plus batch operations, search for files and ZIP multiple files and folders.
The calendar has three different types of view - daily, weekly and monthly. The lower section of the screen is reserved for a list of upcoming events. Adding a new event is quick and easy, and you can also set an alarm to act as a reminder.
The organizer centerpiece - the calendar
The Calendar also pulls info on upcoming events from your Facebook account. Facebook events appear just like regular calendar entries but you can't edit them on the phone, they are read-only.
There is also a calculator aboard. It is nicely touch optimized - the buttons are really big and easy to hit. You can expand advanced functions (trigonometry, logarithms).
Regular Calculator • Scientific Calculator
The alarm clock app supports multiple alarms, each with its own start and repeat time. The Alarms app can also work as a desk clock - you have a big toggle for the brightness, as well as weather info and shortcuts to gallery slideshow and the music player. There's no world clock, stopwatch or timer though.
The Clock • Creating alarm
Play Books came preinstalled. The eBook reading app features several preloaded books (Frankenstein, children's stories by Hans Christian Andersen and Pride and Prejudice). The app has an attractive page turn effect and, of course, lets you add new books to your collection from Google's store.
The preloaded eBook reader
You can also make books available offline (by default they're pulled from the web on demand), change various text display options to make reading more comfortable and enable the Read out loud option, if you feel like a bedtime story.
Offline Google Maps and Wisepilot navigation
The Sony Ericsson Xperia neo L comes with a GPS receiver, which took about a minute to get satellite lock upon a cold start. You can use the A-GPS functionality to get near instantaneous locks. Alternatively, network positioning will do if you only need a rough idea of your location.
Google Maps is a standard part of the Android package and we've covered it many times before. It offers voice-guided navigation in certain countries and falls back to a list of instructions elsewhere.
3D buildings are shown for some of the bigger cities and you can use two-finger camera tilt and rotate to get a better view of the area.
Google Maps uses vector maps, which are very data efficient. The latest version has an easy to use interface for caching maps - you just choose "Make available offline from the menu" and pan/zoom around until the desired area is in view (there's an indicator showing how much storage caching that area will take). You can later view cached areas and delete ones you no longer need.
Note that there's a limit to the size of the area you can cache - you can't just make all of Europe available offline, not even a whole country. We managed to fit New York and some surrounding area before Maps told us the area is too big. Also, there's no address search in the cached maps and you can only cache map data in supported regions of the world.
Making an area of the map available for offline usage is very easy
You can plan routes, search for nearby POI and go into the always cool Street View. The app will reroute you if you get off course, even without a data connection.
Our Xperia neo L came with a Wisepilot trial with 30 days' worth of a full navigation license. The app offers info on weather, traffic, speed cameras and alerts.
Wisepilot uses online maps by default, so you'll need a data connection - but it works even in countries where Google Maps Drive doesn't. You can purchase offline maps if you like - a 2-year license for the whole of Europe is 5 Euro and North America is 5 Dollars.
If you decide to go with the online-only version, the Abroad mode makes sense. It will reduce roaming data usage and maps are cached (so, you if you start off at home or your hotel with the phone hooked up to a Wi-Fi network, you'll save even more).
We just can't promise you that your Xperia neo L will also come with the same Wisepilot license, it may be a region-specific feature.
The Play Store is all good, but the neo L has limited system storage
The Sony Xperia neo L is running ICS, so it has access to the latest apps (like Chrome), but the limited amount of app storage means you'll need to be careful with large apps (again, like Chrome) or move a lot of the apps to the microSD card.
The Store is organized in a few scrollable tabs - categories, featured, top paid, top free, top grossing, top new paid, top new free and trending. The in-app section is untouched though and it's very informative - a description, latest changes, number of downloads and comments with rating. There is usually a demo video and several screenshots for most apps too.
The Google Play Store
There are all kinds of apps in the Google Play Store and the most important ones are covered (file managers, navigation apps, document readers etc.).
While the Sony Xperia neo L does have some advantages over the competition, it faces a tough road ahead with its current pricing. Some people will be inclined to make different compromises than us, and they will probably find value in the Neo L over the NXT line or the Xperia sola, but their number is more likely than not to dwindle over the next few months.