Sony bets on direct U.S. sales for Xperia smartphones


A trio of Sony Mobile’s newest Xperia smartphones are now available in the U.S., but you won’t find them in carrier stores. Instead, the company is selling the phones directly to consumers through Sony Stores, and various web retailers. That means these are unlocked, contract-free phones with non-subsidized prices, making them a hard sell in the U.S. where carriers still control much of the mobile hardware market.

None the models — known as the Xperia S, P and U — support fast LTE networks, which may be why there’s no carrier support. All three work on AT&T’s GSM and HSPA networks while the carrier is the midst of expanding its LTE coverage nationally. The three phones also launch with Android 2.3 at a time when new devices are arriving with Android 4.0 out of the box. Sony Mobile says that all three are upgradable to the newer operating system; without a carrier acting as a middleman, perhaps buyers will see that update faster than from a phone sold directly by a carrier.

Here’s a basic rundown of what Sony Mobile is offering direct with the new phones, all of which use Sony’s Mobile Bravia engine for the display:

  • Xperia S ($559.99) – 4.3-inch, 1280 x 720 display; 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor; 12 megapixel camera, f/2.4 aperture; 1 GB RAM; up to 32 GB of storage; NFC support; 5.0 x 2.5 x 0.4 inches; 5.07 ounces.
  • Xperia P ($479.99) – 4-inch 960 x 540 display; 1 GHz ST-Ericsson U8500 dual-core chip; 8 megapixel camera, 1 GB of RAM; up to 16 GB storage; NFC support; 4.8 x 2.3 x 0.4 inches; 4.23 ounces.
  • Xperia U ($299.99) – 3.5-inch, 854 x 480 display; 1 GHz ST-Ericsson U8500 dual-core chip; 5 megapixel camera, 512 MB of RAM; up to 8 GB of internal storage; 4.5 x 2.0 x 0.5 inches; 3.88 ounces.

Amid flat sales, Sony Mobile has talked about becoming the top Android handset maker for the past two years, but such plans haven’t even come close to materializing. Instead, Samsung has risen through the ranks during that time frame to take the no. 1 spot, mainly due to its Galaxy line of smartphones; the newest being the Galaxy S III.

By building a solid piece of hardware combined with excellent software enhancements, Samsung has garnered the attention of consumers — and equally as important: carriers —  in a way that Sony Mobile hasn’t yet. To “win” in the U.S. where unsubsidized, full-price phones aren’t the first choice of consumers, Sony Mobile needs to woo the carriers for their shelf space and marketing efforts. Until that happens, the company isn’t likely to compete against Samsung, nor other Android phone makers; at least not in the U.S.

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