Sony Xperia Ion Android Smartphone Offers 4.6-Inch Display, $99 Price

AT&T will sell the Sony Xperia ion for $99.99, starting June 24. Sony, like Samsung, is pairing its phones with programmable NFC tags, four for $30.

Sony is the latest beleaguered phone maker to try and wrestle some market share away from Apple and Samsung.

AT&T will begin selling the Sony Xperia ion, an Android smartphone equipped with Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology, June 24 for $99.99€”a price that puts the Sony squarely on Nokia turf.

Nokia, also fighting to regain market share, with its new commitment to Microsoft's Windows Phone, settled with AT&T on a $99.99 price point for the Lumia 900. The price was something of a novelty and helped the phone attract headlines and eyeballs€”and likely also sales. In April and May, the Lumia 900 was AT&T's best-selling phone behind the Apple iPhone 4S, according to investment firm Canaccord Genuity.

If pricing doesn't get the Xperia ion some attention, however, Sony still has two other cards to play. One is a 4.6-inch 720p HD Reality Display with a Mobile Bravia Engine. Borrowed from Sony's television line, the video engine is said to offer "unbeatable HD viewing," according to AT&T.

The other is compatibility with what Sony is calling SmartTags€”near-field communication-based tags that bring to mind the metal circles often handed out at museums, for visitors to attach to their buttonholes. Using a free app, users can program the tags to make the phone do things it already does, just quicker. For example, instead of dimming the phone and setting the alarm before going to bed each night, these tasks can be programmed to a tag that a user simply swipes each night.

Samsung recently announced a similar offer. Called TecTiles, Samsung's are like plastic stamps, sold in five-packs for $15 and are reusable. The Sony SmartTags will be available in four-packs for $30.

The Xperia ion runs a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and has 16GB of internal memory, plus a microSD expansion slot that supports another 32GB. With High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) and Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) technology, the phone can also support multiscreen connectivity. It's PlayStation Certified for high-quality gaming and features a 12-megapixel camera with an Exmor R sensor and 1080p high-definition video recording. There's also a 720p HD front-facing camera for video calls.

Working against the phone, no doubt, is the curious decision to have it run Android 2.3, known as Gingerbread. While Google has since released two other versions€”Honeycomb, which is optimized for tablets, and Ice Cream Sandwich, which offers more features and an overall more pleasant user experience€”May data from Flurry Analytics found 70 percent of Android users to still be running Gingerbread. Only 7 percent are now using Ice Cream Sandwich.

It's a detail that's frustrating for Android developers€”and one Apple was quick to point out during its Worldwide Developer Conference keynote June 11, telling attendees that 80 percent of iOS devices are currently running iOS 5. (Apple executives proceeded to show off the upcoming iOS 6.)

During the first quarter of 2012, Samsung shipped more than 86.6 million mobile phones, by Gartner's count, followed by Nokia with 83.2 million and Apple with 33 million. Smartphone sales were dominated by Apple and Samsung, which together raised their combined market share to 49.3 percent, up from 29.3 percent a year earlier.

Android phones, collectively, accounted for more than 56 percent of shipments.

Sony, clearly building out its portfolio, introduced the Xperia miro and Xperia tipo in the United Kingdom June 13. Both have lower-megapixel cameras, come in a variety of colors and run Ice Cream Sandwich.

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