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.
You can check out in moving pictures how the phone looks, with our special video review of the Xperia Ray:
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.
Indeed, compared to the larger handsets we've become used to using, such as the Samsung Galaxy S2, Apple iPhone 4 and HTC Sensation, this really does feel teeny and we couldn't stop picking it up at first.
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.