On a press conference held in elite Gold Class by American Express theater in Zagreb, Croatia, Sony Ericsson demonstrated new line of Android-powered smartphones for 2011. Given Croatia’s unusual market situation (4.5 million residents, 6.5 million active phones, Sony Ericsson is #2 on the market), we were greeted with a series of Android-powered smartphones with which the company hopes to capture more market share.

Sony Ericsson press conference was held in Gold Class cinema, part of Blitz Cinestar multiplex
Sony Ericsson press conference was held in Gold Class cinema, part of Blitz Cinestar multiplex

Press conference was started with a performance by free body movement artists, and continued with the information that in 2010, Sony Ericsson shipped 10 million smartphones, a turning point for the company. Even though they’ve lagged behind the competition, we noticed that the sales have been growing faster than Android adoption rate. According to our expert analyst, Mr. Tomi Ahonen, Sony Ericsson shipped 4.9 million smartphones in the first quarter of 2011 and it looks like the company is on track to ship whole 2010 contingent by August 1st, 2011, i.e. potential to record a 100% year-on-year growth and ship 20 million phones in 2011.

Besides nice looking girls, and box-headed guys (playing with RC cars), Press conference also featured an astronaut from Team Synergy Moon (hint: look for white bearded fella) and you can even find yours trully on the image (hint: 3rd guy on the right).
Besides nice looking girls and box-headed guys (playing with RC cars), mixer after the conference also featured an astronaut from Team Synergy Moon (white bearded fella), our contributor Miss Daniela Kustre (white shirt, Canon DSLR in hand) and you can even find yours trully on the image (hint: 3rd guy on the right).

The six key phones that are targeting that 20 million smartphone figure are Xperia mini, Xperia mini pro, Xperia neo, Xperia Arc and Xperia Play. All phones carry Google guaranteed 18 months upgrade cycle, meaning the phones shipping with Android 2.3 Gingerbread will be upgradeable to Android 2.4 Ice Cream and Ice Cream Sandwich (3.2) during 2011. It is worth noting that Ice Cream Sandwich unifies the tablet and smartphone operating systems. They will be upgradeable to Android operating systems all the way until mid-2013.

Sony Ericsson chose to unify hardware as much as possible, and the company opted for Qualcomm and their second generation Snapdragon processors. The Scorpion processors are clocked at 1GHz, and we’re talking about Qualcomm’s version of ARM’s Cortex-A9 core, while the graphics processor is Adreno 205 GPU. Users can count on 512MB of system memory (RAM) and between 320-400MB of built in memory. For expansion, Xperia phones are counting on microSDHC cards, up to 32GB capacity.

All phones feature eight million pixel camera capable of recording HD video (720p only). However, the company deployed a trick or two to enable really impressive images and videos. The CMOS sensor is called Exor R and it is identical to CMOS sensors Sony used in their Cyber-Shot digital cameras. Sony Ericsson uses LED backlit sensor (note: this is different than flash), in order to enhance the light arriving to the lens. Conference organizers demonstrated this in quite an interesting way: inside a black box, a small Android doll was positioned. Only new Sony Ericsson phones were able to record the green doll, while Sony Experias of yesteryear, iPhone 4, Desire HD, BlackBerry Torch and others recorded nothing but dark (same happened with Pentax compact digital camera with 14 Mpix sensor).

Mr. Vedran Bjelos of Sony Ericsson demonstrates the Xperia HDMI Connectivity, joined by filmmaker Martin Birac
Mr. Vedran Bjelos of Sony Ericsson demonstrates the Xperia HDMI Connectivity, joined by moviemaker Martin Birac

Second innovation was Reality Display, i.e. Bravia Engine. Just like Sony’s TV line, Bravia engine offers noise reduction, sharpness, color and contrast management. The most interesting bit was HDMI interface. When we checked the Tegra-powered LG Optimus 2X, we were disappointed to see the 852×480 home screen for the Android stretched across the 52" LCD. In the case of Sony Ericsson phones, enabling HDMI automatically loads the TV in its native resolution, with pixel-adjusted Gallery UI.

Sony Ericsson Xperia mini Pro and Mini: The only difference is keyboard on the Pro. Note the Customizable Quick App Access UI
Sony Ericsson Xperia mini Pro and Mini: The only difference is keyboard on the Pro. Note the Customizable Quick App Access UI

There are two distinct groups, and Xperia mini and Xperia mini Pro are the ones we view as top sellers. While Apple, HTC, RIM, Samsung and just about everybody focuses on building as bigger screen as possible, there is a significant market group that does not want to carry a phone as big as Monte Carlo. Sony Ericsson Xperia mini was a killer product in 2010, and the company launched two models with refreshed hardware. The difference between the two is physical QWERTY keyboard, but the rest is the same: compact size, 3.1" LCD Screen and customizable colors (backside is user replaceable). However, we’re really impressed with the level of customization offered by user interface. SE designed customizable quick-access menus located on four corners of the screen.

When it comes to high-end phones, Sony Ericsson relies on Xperia Neo, Xperia Pro, Xperia Arc and Play. Xperia Neo and Xperia Pro are built with a conventional candy-bar design, but bring interesting twists – Xperia Neo is available in Black, Silver and Red color.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play: 50 games available today
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play: 50 games available today

For the end of the conference, we were updated on the Sony Xperia Play. Just like the PlayStation console, the phone is gathering tremendous amount of developers signing on and the company expects triple number of titles when it comes to PlayStation-Certified titles. When Xperia Play was introduced on Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain in February 2011, there were only 10 or so exclusive titles available. Today, that number expanded beyond 50, and companies like Gameloft are very aggressive in ramping up the number of titles. Naturally, the company expects to sell millions of Xperia Play devices and is actively pushing Google to enable Android Premium Market in as much countries as possible.

As far as Xperia Arc is considered, the phone looks amazing on photographs, but left us with the same feeling as we had with Samsung Galaxy S and SII – phone is really light due to use of plastics instead of metal material. Still, nobody cannot say the phone isn’t a looker.

Sony Ericsson made an interesting move with Arc, and that was to kill the screen completely while the screen isn’t active – you can expect a perfect black surface, akin to a home TV. In any case, even though these phones do not feature dual-core processors, Sony Ericsson made a deliberate decision to build excellent features inside the phone, made the UI work perfectly smooth and then will probably go from single-core to 28nm quad-core design in 2012.