It's been a busy old year for Sony Ericsson. As it struggles to regain a foothold in the market it was once sucha major player in, it's been firing out more Android-based Xperia smartphones than long-lost relatives on an episode of Jeremy Kyle. And they're not half bad either.
The Xperia Arc has been the flagship of 2011's bunch. Arriving in the spring, it became the skinny poster girl for the Swedish-Japanese hybrid, showing off its amazing screen presence with the help of the Sony Reality Display (the bit that reproduces colour on the screen and makes it look great) but in the Xperia Ray, Sony Ericsson has gone for a smaller model.
Before we go any further, there is one point we have to make clear: this phone is small. And thin. Think smaller and thinner than you expect, then shave a bit more off your dimensions. That's what you get.
The Xperia Arc (we're going to be making lot of comparisons to the Arc in this review) is 125 x 63mm with a depth of 8.7mm. The Ray slices most of that off and comes in at a remarkable 111 x 53mm. It is slightly fatter, by less than a millimetre, clocking in at 9.4mm deep.
It reminds us very much of the original (and, at the time, revolutionary) HTC Touch Diamond from 2008 – a niche handset that only retro phone geeks are likely to recall.
But it is no slouch. Under that hood, you'll find a not-too-shabby 8MP camera with HD video recording, Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread, HSUPA/HSDPA and 1GHz processor.
The Ray sits comfortably in the hand, and at 100g, you'll barely even notice it's there. Indeed if ever there was a candidate for a 'going out phone' that would slip unobtrusively into a pair of skinny jeans, this is most definitely it.
The rear has a matt finish that's only broken up by the camera lens and flash, plus a speaker near the bottom, crowned by a Sony Ericsson logo.
Around the side, there's little to comment on. The left has only a micro USB socket for charging/syncing, while the left houses a volume rocker.
Up top, you'll find little of interest other than a (thankfully easy to hit) power/sleep button and the 3.5mm socket for headphones of your choice.
The front is fairly minimalistic, made of a large sheet of glass broken up only by an earpiece and a physical Home button. The other two buttons that serve as Back and Options are both touch-sensitive jobs and, unfortunately, not as sensitive as we'd have liked.
Inside, you'll find 1GB of memory – although only 300MB is available to the user – and a slot for swapping microSD cards. You only get a 4GB card in the box compared to the 8GB the Xperia Arc ships with, which seems a little tight. But considering how cheap memory is these days, we'll not hold it against Sony Ericsson too much.
But here's an issue: the memory isn't hot swappable. Seriously, Sony Ericsson – is that too much to ask in the year 2011?
The handset is available in a number of colours, including gold, black, pink and white, catering for all members of fashion crowd, apparently.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray's screen is the same resolution as the Xperia Arc's amazing display, which means 480 x 854 pixels. But it's a lot smaller, at 3.3 inches, compared to the Xperia Arc's 4.2 inches, which means a much higher density.
Don't underestimate this – when you look at the Xperia Ray's display, you will not believe how clear it is. Put it next to an Apple Retina display and you'll notice there isn't much in it.
Colours on the whole look fantastic, although we were disappointed with the quality of our blue sky wallpapers, which looked a lot more washed out than they did on the Samsung Galaxy S2. Plus the clarity is incredible.
We did find that we often had to tap a button or function again because the first go didn't register. We had the same issue with the soft keys. It wasn't a deal breaker, but it was unresponsive enough for us to notice and get slightly frustrated.
We're shallow enough to admit that one thing we love is the animation when you turn the display off. Hit the Standby button and the screen decreases and disappears into a white line in a deliberate echo of the sequence we'd see in days gone by when turning off an old CRT TV set - first seen on the Google Nexus S.
It's a cosmetic addition that adds no functionality. It's a gimmick. And it's pointless. But man, did we love it. And so did all of our friends we showed it to. Small things, small minds.
As with all modern mobile phones, the glass is apparently toughened. We couldn't see any literature that defined it specifically as Gorilla Glass but whatever it is, it's not great.
Not only is the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray a fingerprint and dust magnet, the screen is also a scratch magnet. In the week that we had it, we noticed scratches appear at the rate of several per day. Don't get us wrong, they weren't huge, and indeed, we had to strain to look for them.
But if you're as OCD as us about keeping your precious looking precious, you won't like it. And putting a screen protector on (providing you can find one that fits exactly) will take away some of the sparkle.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray has just started hitting shelves at a very reasonable £299 SIM-free price. That's £50 cheaper than the Xperia Arc, which is almost identical, save for the size.
If you want to go on contract, it's available free on £25 a month deals (provided you sign 18-24 months of your life away.) On a 12-month contract, you're looking at about £50 for the phone, which is still very reasonable for what you're getting.
Without reinforcing a stereotype, we can't help feeling this is one for either the ladies or the smaller fingered men among us. Those who want a similar Android experience on a larger deviceare likely to plump for a Samsung Galaxy S2, HTC Sensation or, indeed, the Xperia Arc itself.
The problem for any Android manufacturer is the same: how do we make our smartphone different? There are dozens of Android handsets on the market in this country, and it's the world's most-used mobile phone operating system. But that's also the problem, because it's reaching saturation point.
HTC has enjoyed phenomenal success with its HTC Sense skin that sits atop the Android platform and has become instantly recognisable through that big flip-style home screen clock widget. Samsung's given us TouchWiz and, in turn, Sony Ericsson brings Timescape to the table.
In essence, the main function of this overlay is a widget that sticks your social media updates on your front page, or wherever else you fancy putting them.
It's versatile in that you can add Twitter and Facebook updates out of the box but also install other extensions to get additional services. (Foursquare, Gmail, Orkut and Picassa are just a few of these – there are dozens on Android market, although curiously we couldn't see a LinkedIn extension.)
You can set it to update your notifications periodically and then swipe through them like a rolodex. SMS/MMS and missed calls can all be handled here too.
But for us, it just wasn't practical for two main reasons.
Firstly, we have a fair amount of Facebook friends but follow hundreds of people on Twitter. If Timescape updates all your Facebook and Twitter info together, you're going to be looking through it all day.
You can decide which services it checks and which it doesn't (so, for example, we selected Facebook only, to make it more manageable) but if you're doing that, what's the point? You may as well just use the individual Facebook and Twitter apps.
You'll probably end up doing that anyway, because that is our second point – Timescape is merely a launcher. If you scroll through and see a friend has, say, posted a link on a Facebook update, when you click it in Timescape, it just launches the Facebook app, which then gives you the link to click on, which then launches the browser. It's the same with photos and so on.
So you then have to exit the Facebook app to go back to the home screen to get back to your feeds and go through the whole rigmarole again. It's bitty and annoying and we'd much rather that Timescape had some kind of inbuilt image and web browser so that you could view all your Facebook and Twitter content in one place.
Luckily, being an Android phone, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray enables you to remove Timescape and just customise your screens with better widgets, which we'd advise you do.
Other widgets include a Favourites Quick Dial, which we liked because it had room for 12 people (we're very popular) plus obligatory elements such as quick toggles, Google search, weather and music/gallery controls. It's all effective, but there was nothing in there to jump out at you, and we couldn't help feeling it was all a bit pedestrian.
Sony Ericsson does give you a selection of themes to pick from, although they're all just coloured variations of the same pattern.
You can also reorder apps easily through the app drawer and create folders. It's a small blessing, but something we're glad to see, since many other Android manufacturers omit this for reasons known only to themselves.
The four shortcuts on the main screen dock at the bottom of the display can be easily reassigned whichever way you see fit by long-pressing the icon.
We did install some nice new live wallpapers, but were dismayed to see that the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray struggled with them. The standard Android ones were there, but when we tried to install the beautiful Flux free live wallpaper (which we've used on several Android handsets), it stuttered and stammered until we'd uninstalled and gone back to the original wallpaper.
This isn't what we'd expect from a 1GHz processor. Not. At. All.
There are five home screens for you to pick from. We couldn't see any way to increase this, which is a shame because you may fill them up quickly, but you can always plump for a free third-party launcher replacement if you like, to solve this.
Luckily, with Android, if you've used a handset with this operating system before, it's pretty similar, albeit with custom icons. And if you haven't used an Android phone then, along with iOS, it's one of the most intuitive systems out there.
Contacts and calling
The contacts and calling section app on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray is heavily skinned, and we found it a pleasure to use. It's all very intuitive. Calls are easy to place using the on-screen dialler or the various tabs such as Call Log, Contacts, Phone and Favourites. You can also save a contact into the phone book having dialled their number manually.
Contacts can store an almost infinite amount of information, and it's all presented in an easy to navigate format. Each entry has three shortcuts up top: Send Message, Favourite and Edit. If you want to call them, you just tap the phone number itself and away you go.
We have to say we weren't overly impressed with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray's contact linking abilities. Some of us are extremely tidy when it comes to keeping our phone books in check, but we have to say we're not.
We've been astounded by the initiative shown by recent HTC mobile phones in the way they manage to automatically link contacts from Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and elsewhere and tie them all together, with an option for us to then approve. The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray has a 'joining' facility too – but unfortunately, it's not great.
Whereas HTC handsets do it automatically periodically, on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray, you have to go into each individual contact, then select to edit. Only once in edit mode can you link that contact with another. If you have several joins per person, it becomes a real chore and will take you all day.
With hundreds of names in the average address book, we decided that life is far too short and gave up by the time we reached the letter C.
Calling was one of the Xperia Ray's strong points, with conversations conducted without any groaning or moaning. We could hear the other party clear as a bell, and they reported a good reception from us too.
Signal could be a little flaky from time to time and we weren't blown over with the strength of the Wi-Fi chip, which appeared to struggle with showing full bars even when we practically sat on the router.
Still, it never actually dropped a signal, which was highly commendable when you consider that other phones we've tasked with this have failed.
Yet one thing we're still missing here is full-screen caller picture ID. Yes, we know it's a small thing. Yes, we know it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. But it breaks our heart when we have such an amazingly sharp screen plus some beautiful photos, but we can't have them appear properly when loved ones call us.
If this were any other manufacturer, it'd be a simple moan. But we're particularly disappointed because this was a feature all Sony Ericssons used to come with, and it's a real shame this hasn't made it through to the subsequent Android builds.
Messaging is heavily catered for on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray. We wouldn't expect it to be any other way. This is, after all, an Android handset.
The actual messaging app is standard Google fare, although again it's been skinned to fit in with the look of the rest of the phone. When you open the app for the first time, there's a subtle but cool animation that stacks your messages up, which is a nice touch.
If you have photos of your contacts in your address book, they're displayed alongside the message in list mode, which again just makes the experience that little bit nicer and more visual.
Email-wise, you get a good selection. The inbuilt Gmail client is onboard – it's the version we know and (some) love, and nothing has really changed here (the changes are, apparently, on the way with Ice Cream Sandwich).
It's functional enough and provides advanced tools for hardcore Gmail users such as organising labels and proper searching of your inbox remotely.
If you're not a fan, there's also the separate email client that Sony Ericsson has provided, which works with Gmail but is primarily provided for those who don't want to give their mail over to Google. It supports most other IMAP/POP3 services as well as the all-important Exchange protocols.
One thing we really like about it is the 'split view' it offers. Both in portrait mode and landscape, you can view your emails in a list with a preview pane. In reality, the screen is a bit too small for it to be of any practical use for long, but we really like the fact that Sony Ericsson has put it in there as an option.
The usual suspects are available for social networking – the likes of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, plus third-party services that tie into them.
You have to download them to get the latest versions, but they work well although they are very individual.
We yearn for an HTC Sense-type experience where it all feels integrated into Android, but in the end, we didn't get it. It's a shame, because Sony Ericsson has obviously had a slight whiff of this with Timescape but not followed through and made it into anything worth having.
Of course, no messaging handset is even worth getting out of the box if the typing experience isn't top notch. And with the virtual keyboard on screen here, we'd say that's an adequate way of describing it: "not top notch."
We have to put a disclaimer in here and say that this is entirely our personal opinion, based on rather large hands. We must also point out we thought the keyboard was great at first. But the experience went downhill.
The problem here is the screen size. It's just difficult to type on a screen that small and hold the phone in the hand correctly.
To be fair to Sony Ericsson, in portrait mode, the Xperia Ray is set up to automatically use an on-screen phone-style keyboard like you used to get on an old mobile phone – how retro. You even have T9 that you can toggle on and off.
In theory, this should work. But in use, we found that issue with the screen's unresponsiveness kept rearing its head. We'd be tapping away and realise that keypresses hadn't registered and have to keep going back, which just got annoying after a while.
Alternatively, you can turn that option off and in its place, you get a standard keyboard in portrait orientation. But because of the screen size, it's difficult to hit the keys accurately. Not impossible, we stress. You can do it if you're careful, but you won't be typing at any great speed to do it. Or any speed at all, really.
Indeed, the only really usable keyboard is the one that appears when you turn the phone into landscape mode. It is easy to hold the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray and type with both thumbs here, but again, you won't be typing out War and Peace on this. Unfortunately, it's the downside of going for a smaller phone with a smaller screen, and there's not much that Sony Ericsson can do about this.
If you're a big browser, then the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray gives you a full-blown internet device in your pocket at a size you'll barely notice. And we have to say the internet experience on the Ray is second to none.
Firstly, it comes with Flash integration (as do most Android handsets), so gets a massive plus from us and usurps handsets that retail for hundreds more pounds (*cough* iPhone and BlackBerry handsets *cough*). Videos on websites load without any hitch and pages appear blisteringly fast.
On Wi-Fi, the TechRadar home page loaded in full in five seconds and only took marginally longer over a 3G internet connection. It trumped our HTC Sensation, which was still playing catchup on page one by the time we'd already started reading our second page on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray.
Pages also look absolutely beautiful on the Xperia Ray's screen when they fill the whole screen.
To actually read anything, you obviously have to zoom in, so use pinch to zoom or double tap, which both work with no delay.
You'll struggle to see any pixilation even when zoomed in. This really is one of the top internet experiences we've had on a smartphone, and we found that loading speeds were on a par with some of those larger, dual-core smartphones.
The standard Android browser is used, so it supports multiple windows and bookmarks, which work as you'd expect.
We love the fact that you can change search engine (although this isn't restricted solely to the Xperia range) and that great Android function where you type whatever you like into the address bar and it automatically detects if it is a website or a search term.
We may have reservations about other areas, but when it comes to browsing, we were sold.
The Xperia Arc is one of Sony Ericsson's flagship Xperia handsets and, as such, comes with an 8.1MP camera. Naturally, we'd have expected something a little smaller on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray. But fear not, this too has an 8MP camera, and what a great addition it is.
The viewfinder fills the screen and subjects almost jump out because they look so clear and vivid. As we moved the camera around the room (not taking a picture, just looking for things to photograph), there was absolutely no lag or flickering. It was as though we were watching a high-definition movie. We assume this is where the Reality Display bit really kicks in.
The camera gives you scene modes, although curiously, only three: Normal, Smile Detection and Automatic. All seemed to work OK, but we just kept it on Automatic for best results.
You can also select the photo size (8MP, 6MP and 2MP) but, for some reason, you can pick between 4:3 and 16:9 in 2MP mode but not the others, presumably as that's the only mode Sony Ericsson thinks can fit in all the pixels.
We like the fact that there's a self-timer, which is something that some of the even more advanced handsets seem to neglect.
However, one thing we don't like is the way the photo light deals with situations or, more to the point, the lack of automatic mode. The light is either on or off, and there's no option to let the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray decide what's most appropriate. That's left to the user to decide for each individual photo, and can get annoying if you're trying to take a snap in a hurry.
NOISE:The Xperia Ray struggles in low light without the flash, and you end up with lots of noise
Another small thing we like is the option to turn the shutter sound completely off. Some handsets don't give you the option to do this, which we get annoyed by. There are occasions where taking a sneaky pic is justified, and we like the fact that we can do this without being caught if we need to.
To take photos you won't be using a camera button, because there isn't one, which is a slight shame. Instead, to shoot you tap the screen.
Normally, we'd expect tapping the screen to focus, but that's not what happens here because this camera has some kind of human-like intelligence – so much so that if you move from focusing on, say, a person to a close-up of some text, it actually recognises what you're trying to shoot and tells you (it says 'document' in the corner) and refocuses all by itself. Hurrah.
In general, we weren't overly pleased with the outcome of photographs taken with the camera. There were some issues with noise in low light settings where the flash wasn't used, and we admit that we did think they looked better displayed on the actual screen of the phone than transferred to a computer.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray shoots video in all its HD glory. If you're not convinced, it even boasts of that with a big 'HD' logo on the rear battery cover.
And for some bizarre reason, although you only get three basic scene modes to pick from in the standard camera app, when it comes to the video camera, you're presented with lots more (Landscape, Beach, Party, Portrait, Night and Sports modes).
That's really odd and these would surely be more use in the stills camera.
There is no way of automatically focusing your video as you move around. Although there are three focus modes built into the options (Single Focus, Face Detection and Infinity), we found they made little difference and parts of our video remained blurred out.
Again, the light is either on or off, and since you have to tap the screen to start/stop recording, you can't even bring the light in midway because any interaction with the screen will end your moviemaking.
You do get the feeling that in the Xperia Ray, Sony Ericsson has put more weight behind the video recorder than the main stills camera, since you're overrun with options from exposure value and white balance to metering and image stabiliser.
Again, you'll have to tap on the screen to start and end your video, because there's no camera button.
Most Android phones with HD recording commit one cardinal sin: they enable you to film video in fantastic clarity, but when you want to send your video by MMS, they don't resize it, just tell you that the video is over your carrier's limit. This is one field where the Apple iPhone beats Android smartphones hands down, and it really needn't be the case.
So we were hoping that Sony Ericsson might buck the trend here. But it doesn't.
Yes, you are able to send your video by MMS, and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray does give you the option of editing your video to send that way. But in reality, it doesn't reduce the frame rate and make a smaller file. All it does is give you the ability to trim your video and, due to the size of an HD recording, it means you'll probably only get about three seconds of video in an MMS. Pointless.
Luckily, you can share via lots of other methods from email to WhatsApp to Dropbox, but it does leave a sour taste in the mouth that you have to download third-party software to do something that a phone this smart should be able to do out of the box.
Media-wise, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray is pretty standard Android fare. It does the job well but there is nothing here that is brand spanking new and will leave you excited.
In terms of watching videos, this is one of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray's strengths. Again, you just can't fault that screen for clarity, and watching HD videos that we'd dragged and dropped onto the card was a real pleasure.
You won't be watching the Star Wars Box Set on it – unless you like squinting – because the screen is so small, but for watching a quick music video or an episode of Family Guy on the train to work, we give the Xperia Ray a big fat thumbs up.
The music player is standard Android. Again, it's been skinned to within an inch of its life to give it the Xperia colour tone, but under the gloss it's the same music player you'll find on most other Android handsets. That's not to say it's a bad thing, because it works well.
We found that dragging and dropping a ton of music from a MacBook Pro worked a treat, and the player was able to figure out which albums were grouped together simply.
The gallery app is the same one we've seen since the Nexus One launched at the start of last year. It looks slick, creates albums automatically, tilts in line with the accelerometer and even manages to change the background of the entire gallery depending on what photo you're looking at.
We'd love to say it's busting with loads of new features and tell you all about them, but the reality is there were only two new things we noticed about it: firstly, the icon is new (well, it's a Sony Ericsson variant). And secondly, Facebook albums are now in there too, as part of the deeper Facebook integration that now lives in the contacts menu too.
There's a YouTube app preinstalled (Note to BlackBerry: an actual app, not a link to the mobile website. Take the hint!), and it does the job valiantly. It's the standard YouTube for Android app.
However, as well as the standard Android stuff, Sony Ericsson has also kitted out the Xperia Ray with its own media goodies, which we feel should get a special mention.
First, TrackID is an inheritance from the days of the K800i (possibly even earlier) and was the precursor to Shazam. It's always worked well and we've always been fond of this little app.
Not only that, but now it goes even further and provides you with an updated music chart and options to search YouTube or even buy the song you've searched for. It's all powered by the fantastic Gracenote database, so you really can't go wrong.
One fun app that we noticed is called Friends' Music & Videos. It's linked into Facebook and basically collates all of your friends' posted and recommended videos or music. It's not something you're likely to spend hours on, but for mucking about it's a nice addition.
For those who want to rent movies (or indeed buy them) direct on the device, there's a Qriocity app built in. The selection of flicks isn't exhaustive but it's OK if you're really bored and stuck for something to watch.
Prices are similar to the likes of iTunes.
And, hallelujah! We knew we could rely on good old Sony Ericsson not to let us down here: there is an FM radio! Woohoo! With lots of manufacturers neglecting to fit these, it's lovely that Sony Ericsson still keeps this element in just like it did in the old days.
For those of us who like to go running with our phones and listen to the radio, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray gets a bonus point here.
Battery life and connectivity
One of the complaints about the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc was (and still is) the pretty woeful battery life. The 1500mAh power pack may have been useful in older phones, but it just couldn't cut it on the Xperia Arc with that vivid screen and hungry thirst for juice.
Indeed, one sales rep at a large high street mobile phone retailer told us: "The phone's great – but I can't lie, the battery's shit". If that's his sales patter, you've really got to worry.
So, we picked up the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray with a slightly heavy heart and prepared to find that Sony Ericsson had fitted it with something pointless like a 400mAh battery due to its size.
We nearly fell off our chairs to discover that this little baby has a 1500mAh unit inside it too – the same as its big brother, but on a screen that's much smaller.
It seemed too good to be true, but you know what? We're really thrilled to say it wasn't. Because here, in the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray, we have an Android handset where we can confidently say the battery life does not completely suck.
Sony Ericsson quotes the talk time as up to 7 hours and standby time as up to 440 hours, depending on your network band type. With moderate use, you'll still probably not get anything more than two full days out of it. But you'll certainly notice it go a long way.
We got some fantastic readings out of our evaluation unit.
We're talking taking it off charge at 7am, some pretty heavy twitter usage for a couple of hours, an eight mile run (using both the RunKeeper software and FM radio simultaneously), about 20 minutes worth of streaming music over Bluetooth to the car stereo, sending about 12 texts and eight emails, plus about 30 mins worth of calls. At this rate, we still had 32% by 7pm.
That's quite commendable since Android smartphones (even Gingerbread handsets) aren't known for being phenomenal with battery. If you barely use the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray, you'll notice it lose about 1% an hour on battery, but these things are always subjective and depend on the strength of your signal and various other factors.
You're pretty connected in every conceivable way with the usual suspects including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and HSDPA/HSUPA included. We weren't overjoyed with the signal strength of the Wi-Fi unit, as we mentioned in the Contacts and calling section of this review, but everything else works as you would expect.
The GPS packs a powerful punch for such a small baby and we managed to get a signal indoors a fair distance from the window within five seconds from a cold start.
HSDPA really does live up to its name, and data flows down from the ether into this handset like molten lava when loading web pages. We still can't get over how bloomin' fast this is at displaying websites.
Bluetooth streamed across to our car stereo with no issues.
Sony Ericsson provides its own remote sync software, which helpfully enables you to sync your contacts with its servers. That's nice of it, but we can't help wonder why bother when Android is based on Google, which offers contacts sync out of the box. Still, it's there if you want it.
NFC is not included on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray – not that we expected it to be. Sony Ericsson is not one of the handset manufacturers pushing the technology down our throats, and obviously doesn't view it as crucial to the Xperia user base.
DLNA is naturally supported (we'd be surprised if it wasn't, since Sony was the firm to bring it to us originally years ago) and helpfully enables you to share your media on the big screen via either a PS3 or supported TV.
We think it's restricted to Sony Bravia units, because we struggled with our Samsung TV. However, getting it connected to the PlayStation was a dream, and we were very pleased to be able to bore friends with our holiday snaps in glorious Technicolor!
Maps and apps
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray caters very well for your app needs. And of course, being an Android handset, what you get in the box is just the beginning, with much more available via the Android Market.
You'll find all the usual suspects in there, including Maps, Latitude, Places, Talk, Gmail and the excellent (and free!) Navigation Beta. Maps now supports 3D scrolling, although it only works in certain cities. It's nice to show the area around the Empire State Building to your friends, even if it is slightly pointless.
Sony Ericsson also provides you with helpful set-up and support apps.
The Calendar is standard Android fare – although we got a little annoyed with the fact that although it supports multiple Google calendars, by default it displays them all as the same colour, and we couldn't figure out how to change this.
It makes multiple calendars pretty pointless and means you have to concentrate more rather than just being able to evaluate your diary with a quick glance.
There are other helpful additions in there too, such as a Data Monitor, which will be a lifesaver if you're using your Android phone abroad in particular. We really wish we'd had it on a recent trip to Asia, where automatic updating of apps left our holiday anything other than cheap.
We thought we spotted Sony Ericsson's own app stores here, following Samsung's lead.
But its helpful Get Apps and Get Games offerings actually just show you a selection of recommendations that then require downloading via the Android market.
There is an alternative app store of sorts, in the form of PlayNow, which is a hangover from yesteryear. We fired it up and chuckled at the cheapness of it (the way it looks rather than the cost of apps) before closing it.
Heaven knows why Sony Ericsson still supports this, let alone ships it on handsets like the Xperia Ray, but it probably keeps somebody in a job.
For the business minded, you get Office Suite as standard, but closer inspection reveals that you need to upgrade to the Pro version if you want to edit documents, since the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray only comes with a licence for viewing office docs. Not that it's extortionate at $9.99, but it's a shame Sony Ericsson couldn't have felt the love and included this for free and swallowed the cost.
Having said that, a viewer is probably all you'll need, since any attempt to tap out more than the shortest of memos on that tiny but beautiful screen will no doubt lead to colourful language being emitted.
Hands on gallery
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray really is a phone of contradictions. The internet browser is amazing, but the camera and keyboard are average. That's the only way we can think of to describe it.
And in these times when we seem to be getting more obsessed with the mine's-bigger-than-yours argument (we're talking screen sizes here) with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S2, the BlackBerry Torch 9860, the (probably) forthcoming iPhone 5 and the HTC Sensation, it's really refreshing to go back to the smaller units. Holding it makes us feel slightly nostalgic – almost as though we're gripping an old Nokia 8210.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray is an impressive handset with a powerful processor and very impressive battery life. Plus, it rocks Android Gingerbread, so is customisable to the hilt.
It flies through internet pages – even with Flash – like nobody's business, but struggles with some live wallpapers. Based on the size of it, it should be a basic handset, but it is actually a stealth powerhouse.
The small size won't be to everybody's taste – especially when it comes to trying to type on the screen. And while children and the slender handed will be fine, the giants among us won't be fans.
It comes with an 8MP camera, but doesn't take pictures as well as you'd expect, and the flash is really underpowered. The video is equally uninspiring, especially when sharing it over MMS.
We can't help wishing it was ever so slightly more powerful than the 1GHz it currently gives us, so that we don't feel we're putting it under strain with live wallpapers.
There is no doubt about it – never mind a rabbit, Sony Ericsson has pulled a gem out of the hat here. The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray is a joy to use (for 99% of tasks) and we're seriously impressed with the form factor and how it's squeezed it all in.
The only issue we have is that the remaining 1% of tasks that are less pleasurable to do with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray (typing on the screen, for example) really do affect usage, so this is a handset you should try out before you buy.
The beauty is that if typing is your only gripe with the Xperia Ray, then the Xperia Arc will provide you with an almost identical experience, albeit in a larger form factor.
But that's also the problem – the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray is not massively different to the rest of the Xperia line, which is starting to feel like its saturating the market with 'me too' handsets that don't offer anything uniquely different.
Not that this will matter to the majority of buyers who, like us, will be won over by its small size.
And there is no getting away from it – if you want something small that packs a punch and don't fancy Scrappy Doo in your pocket, then the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray is definitely a very worthy contender for consideration.