Summary:

Sony has been on a quest to climb back into the U.S. handset market, and this month it’s introducing an imaging powerhouse that may help it accomplish that goal. AT&T will start selling Sony’s first U.S. LTE smartphone, the Xperia Ion, on June 24 for $100.

Sony Xperia Ion

Sony(sne) has been on quest to climb back into the U.S. handset market, and this month it’s introducing an imaging powerhouse that may help it accomplish that goal. AT&T will start selling Sony’s first U.S. LTE smartphone, the Xperia Ion, on June 24 for $100 with contract.

As shown at CES, the big attraction of the Android device is its 12-megapixel rear camera. Sony’s fast capture and quick launch features allow a user to activate the camera from standby and snap a first shot in 1.5 seconds. It also has lag times of less than a second between shots. In video mode, the rear camera captures 1080p video, while the front camera shoots in 720p. The phone will link directly to a TV through an HDMI port and hooking it up to HD monitor will automatically launch media management software, which will allow the device to be controlled via a Sony Bravia TV’s remote control.

Another interesting feature on the device is its near field communications (NFC) chip coupled with Sony’s SmartTag technology, which allows a subscriber to instantly customize the phone for specific locations. The Ion ships with a few tags, which can be programmed to configure the phone’s settings and apps when tapped. For instance, tapping a SmartTag in your car could immediately activate Bluetooth pairing (which is one of the biggest complaints about current connected car technologies) and turn on the phone’s GPS.

Some of the actual smartphone aspects of the Ion leave a bit to be desired. At this late date releasing a new mid-tier Android device without Ice Cream Sandwich may seem ridiculous, but the Ion is shipping with Gingerbread (Android 2.3) nonetheless. The Ion sports a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor and 16 GB of internal memory (with a micro slot for expansion). The 4.6-inch LCD display will render 720p video and Sony boasts that it is powered by the same Bravia engine used in its TVs.

The Ion can support Sony’s Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited, though the former isn’t exclusive to Sony devices. Sony is offering up a free 30-day subscription to Music Unlimited for Ion buyers, but no other special considerations apply. Ion owners must download the apps from Google Play and any song downloads or streaming, as well as movie purchases, count against their data plans. Finally Sony has certified the device for its PlayStation mobile games.

The Ion is Sony’s first U.S. device since its divorce from Ericsson, which left Sony with the suffering handset business. The device isn’t exactly Sony’s flagship phone, but the imaging and NFC features – as well as its low price – might make it attractive to U.S. audience. The inclusion of LTE is also key, showing Sony is specifically optimizing its devices for U.S. networks even though LTE is still in the minority in the rest of the world.

Here’s the AT&T promotion video for the Ion:

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