Sony Xperia Ion hands-on (updated: video)

At today's Sony event at CES, the company took the wraps off its "newest progeny" the Xperia Ion. Running Android 2.3.7, the device isn't loaded up with the latest Google mobile OS -- that'd be Ice Cream Sandwich, but the company assures us it's coming in the 2nd quarter of this year. And, yes, it'll be rocking a skinned UX -- sorry, folks. The handset strikes a definite presence in hand, bucking the thinner is better trend we've seen over the last few days for a bulkier, premium build. Beneath that hulking construction lies a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm MSM8660 processor, powering the 4.6-inch display. Fans of the new, Ericsson-less Sony can snag this handset when it goes on sale globally in March. We got a chance to spend some time manhandling the devices, so follow on after the break to find out our first impressions.

As we mentioned earlier, the Xperia Ion definitely cuts a heavy presence in the hand. Rather than push out a high-end smartphone wrapped in a cheap-feeling plastic casing, this handset is solid. In fact, the unibody design bars users from accessing the phone's internals. That's right, there's no accessing the 1900mAh battery, but you can complement the 16GB of onboard storage via microSD slot with support for up to 32GB. The inbuilt storage should definitely suffice, but users looking to take full advantage of that 12MP rear camera and its 1080p video capture might find themselves minding their media.

We only spent a few moments fussing with the camera app, but in that short time we were please to note the impressive quality of photos taken with the Exmor-R module. Those of you interested in video-calling will be glad to know the phone sports a 1.3MP front-facer capable of 720p, so your friends and loved ones can see you as you were meant to look.

Unfortunately, you have to take the good with the bad and we can't say this is a handset that zips along. In fact, we noticed a bit of sluggishness when attempting to navigate through Sony's Android overlay, which is surprising given its dual-core 1.5GHz processor. The likely culprit here is the company's own skin not being optimized for the chipset, but hopefully that performance hiccup can be sorted out when that Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade hits in Q2 2012. One other area of the device that also seemed to evince a hit or miss workability were the four capacitive buttons at the base. You'll notice in our hands-on video that we had to continually tap on the menu, back, search and home icons to get a response. It seems our fingers had to be aimed quite a bit lower to trigger the soft keys.

Of course, you're probably wondering just how gorgeous that HD Reality display is and we can verify -- it is, indeed, quite sweet. The 4.6-inch expanse of the screen boasts a 1280 x 720p resolution that should delight users keen on streaming content from the likes of Netflix to their smartphone. If you happen to be possessed of tiny hands and tiny fingers, this is obviously not the handset for you, as we even struggled to manipulate it one-handed. No, this is a beast phone and requires beast claws, but don't let that discourage you should you fall on the smaller digital spectrum.

NFC is supported on the device, as is AT&T's brand of 4G, which we were able to test here in the showroom. Despite being deep inside the convention center and amidst an invisible bevy of wireless demand, the network did seem to perform speedily. So, if you're in the market for a high quality, outsized display and happen to have a proclivity for LTE, a distinct lack of Carrier IQ (thanks, Supercurio) and all things Sony, then you'll want to check the Xperia Ion out when it hits this spring.