Sony and Ericsson’s marriage always had a lot of promise, but never reached the joyful heights it was supposed to. So now that Sony’s decided to split from its wife and go its own way, are things looking better? The first Sony branded Xperia handset seems to indicate that’s the case.

The 4.3-inch Android smartphone is a slightly different design from previous Xperia handsets, and while it lacks some of the sex appeal a razor thin design can bring, it’s still an attractive looking phone. More importantly though, it’s comfortable in the hand and on the ear.

Sony’s decided to pack this thing full of Sony tech as a way of differentiating from the army of identical Android handsets out there. There’s Bravia tech in the screen, an Exmor CMOS sensor for low-light photography, Playstation certification, TrackID… the list is impressive. On a more generic spec lineup, there’s a dual-core processor, NFC chipset and HDMI output all packed into the phone’s body.

As you’d expect, performance is pretty snappy. Maybe not as quick as some of the new Quad-core handsets, but far from sluggish. The translucent bar at the bottom of the phone looks nice, although is kind of frustrating given that although it has the phone’s soft button icons on it, the actual buttons are above the bar. Given it acts as the phone’s antenna, that’s not too big of a surprise, but that doesn’t stop you from constantly trying to press it.

Also frustrating is the amount of crap software Sony have pre-installed. Sure, there’s the inevitable Timescape, which Sony uses to try and differentiate itself in terms of UI, but the inclusion of an app recommendation app, an app buying app and about a dozen other programs you can’t really get rid of is more than a little frustrating. It’s like buying a PC from Dell all over again.

The NFC function is also kind of neat. Until NFC payments become a mainstream app in Australia, Sony has decided to include two little NFC tags in the box, which users can program to change the settings of the phone automatically. So when you hold your phone against the tag, it can automatically change profiles, or launch applications, or start a particular music playlist. It’s a nifty feature, although not one we’d use all too often.

The camera is pretty sweet for a phone, and the inclusion of a dedicated camera button is a welcome addition.

The Xperia S is available through both Optus and Vodafone, but can also be purchased outright at JB HiFi, Dick Smith Electronics, Allphones, Telechoice and Harvey Norman. It’ll happily work on Telstra as well.

There’s plenty to like about this handset, with a few easily-overcome frustrations. Sony’s first solo handset has a lot going for it, and is well worth looking at if you want an Android handset.

Price: $599
Web: Sony