ANDROID smartphones have the northern hemisphere summer to themselves in the absence of any new iPhone launch - so Sony and Samsung are taking on the US this week with the Ion and Galaxy S III, respectively. Also, we take a look at a cellular WiFi hotspot device that prevents rip-off roaming charges when using smartphones abroad.
1. Sony Xperia Ion
As the owner of many Sony TVs, Walkmans, game consoles and cameras over the years, it seems amazing to find elements of them all captured within the slim body of a smartphone such as its new Ion Android device.
Sony has played to its strengths in borrowing technologies from these antecedents for its big push into the US with the Ion. It is also imitating Nokia's strategy on the Lumia 900's US launch, which offered the faster version of 4G known as LTE for just under $100, about half the price of most rivals.
The Ion is Sony's first 4G LTE phone; it is also $99 and its solid, angular design reminds me of the Lumia, as well as the Xperia S - its nearest equivalent in Europe.
The Ion has a big, 4.6in screen, and technology borrowed from Sony's TVs enable sharper images and easier viewing in sunlight. The same technology powers the display of videos in HD on a big-screen TV when attached with an HDMI cable. Few people think of playing videos and photos from their phone on their TVs, but the Ion makes it easier with a menu that is easily controlled from the phone - and even from a TV remote control with some sets.
Access to the Sony Entertainment Network - its online content network - is another attraction, with services such as Video Unlimited allowing movies to be rented and watched on the phone before being switched to TV. Walkman xLoud technology used with the Music Unlimited service enhances the audio but despite its game-ready PlayStation-certified status, there is little on offer to play so far.
The 12Mp camera uses a sensor provided by Sony's imaging division to achieve excellent results. The feature I liked best was the physical camera button that can be pressed when the phone is asleep, letting me snap a picture in two seconds.
Overall, the all-round capabilities of the Ion will be appreciated by consumers, suggesting a brighter picture for Sony in smartphones in general, and in the US in particular.
2. Samsung Galaxy S III
The Ion looks restrained next to Samsung's showy S III. The leading Android smartphone tries to top rivals - not to mention its predecessor the S II - by being outsized in every department.
The screen is a cinematic 4.8in, the colours are vibrant, and the camera takes pictures with a wider angle than the Ion and has a "burst mode" in which holding down the camera button lets you take shots rapidly and continuously. There is a super-sized battery and LTE has been added for the US version for the fastest connectivity available.
There are also extravagant flourishes, such as motion control: tip it to zoom in on a picture; shake it to update you on the WiFi hotspots available.
The content options are not as strong as Sony's Entertainment Network, but it has access to Google Play and a host of widgets and apps through its silky-smooth touch interface.
At $199 in the US with a contract, the price is maxi-sized too, next to the Ion, but there is a priceless quality to this peerless Android smartphone.
3. Tep Pocket WiFi
Travelling with my US smartphone in Europe this week, I tested a Tep Pocket WiFi device as a way to avoid ruinous roaming charges. A palm-sized cellular modem, it registers with local wireless carriers in 36 countries and works as a WiFi hotspot.
Using the 3 network in the UK, it gave me fast connections to my phones, an iPad and a laptop, letting me make Skype calls, stay on top of e-mail and watch online video.
ASK THE TECH EXPERT
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THE ANSWER: The latest PCs offer a free pre-installed Starter edition of Office that has just Word and Excel and may contain advertising. Microsoft does not offer this as a separate download to consumers, and it is being phased out, so act fast. Otherwise, create Word and Excel documents online for free with a Windows Live account and using its Skydrive storage service.
© 2012 The Financial Times Limited