Video: Sony Xperia sola phone with “floating touch”

The new Sony Xperia sola smartphone, announced on Tuesday, has a unique touch-free feature that helps users navigate the web today and apps in the future. Simply hovering a finger over a web page, without actually touching the screen, will highlight links. Called “floating touch,” the feature acts as an on-screen cursor in the browser when moving a finger around the page.

Here’s how Sony(s sne) describes it:

Making its smartphone debut exclusively on Xperia sola, Sony’s unique floating touch lets consumers navigate the web by hovering their finger above the screen so it acts like a moving curser [sic], without actually having to touch the screen.  Once the desired link is found it can be highlighted and a simple tap will load the page.  Floating touch will evolve with new user functionality and applications through software updates and engagement with developers.

The feature sounds interesting, but I’m wondering if it’s more gimmicky than useful, based on this video demonstration. My reason: Your finger has to be pretty close to the display for the feature to work, and you still have to tap the screen to register a click.

I do see some benefit here, though. By hovering over various links or buttons prior to tapping, Sony’s floating touch feature can help ensure you’re choosing the link you want. That could reduce the need for multi-touch screen zooming. I’m also hopeful that third-party developers can find ways to leverage the technology.

Floating touch is the big differentiator here, although the Xperia sola also includes NFC, or near field communications, support. Every Xperia sola owner will get two NFC tags; by tapping the phone to a tag, the phone can automatically perform up to 10 pre-configured functions. Tap the phone on a tag at your front door and perhaps a home automation app turns on your house lights and fires up favorite tunes on the stereo, for example.

Other specs place the Xperia sola in the mid-range of smartphones: a dual-core 1 GHz processor, 3.7-inch display at 854 x 480 resolution, Android 2.3 (upgradeable to Android 4.0) and a 5 megapixel camera. Sony expects to launch the phone in the second quarter of this year.