Sony is drawing from its entertainment heritage to push out a new smartphone it hopes will draw fans searching for a mobile HD experience. The Sony Xperia ion debuted on the AT&T network Relevant Products/Services Sunday.

Selling for $99 with a two-year AT&T agreement, the Xperia ion is a 4G LTE Android smartphone. Sony is working to differentiate the ion with the LTE specs by adding HSPA+ with enhanced backhaul, which promises to keep the mobile HD experience running even when users travel outside the LTE coverage area.

We caught up with Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, to discuss the new device and its marketplace chances. He told us the Xperia ion is an important release for Sony.

"First of all, it's the first Sony-branded phone, not Sony Ericsson. They are hoping that the fact that it is Sony-branded will help at retail because Sony has far more brand recognition than Sony Ericsson ever did," Greengart said. "They are also using a lot of sub-brands in these products. They talk about it being PlayStation certified with an HD reality display with Mobile BRAVIA engine."

Entertainment-Focused

Sony's first 4G LTE smartphone, the Xperia ion has a 4.6-inch HD display and lets users view HD content on a big screen via HDMI. The HDMI connection also opens the Xperia ion's TV launcher, a customizable home screen carousel of application shortcuts. Users can navigate the TV launcher and the rest of the Xperia ion's menus using their TV's remote Relevant Products/Services control.

Sony is also trying to woo photo lovers with the Xperia ion. The device offers a 12-megapixel Fast Capture camera and quick launch feature to help users catch spontaneous moments. The device sports a dedicated camera button that makes it possible to transition from standby to first camera shot in 1.5 seconds, and then from shot-to-shot in less than a second. On the video front, Xperia ion offers all-around HD video recording, offering high quality from both the rear and front-facing cameras.

Sony is also working to make it more convenient to use the ion with the launch of SmartTags. SmartTags aim to let users do normal tasks on the phone faster and more easily with the tap of a finger by using near field communication technology. Essentially, Sony lets you store device preferences for locations and situations, such as opening and controlling volume on the music player as you set out for a jog, turning on GPS and Bluetooth in the car or turning on your alarm and silencing your ringer at night.

Remembering its Walkman days, Sony Xperia ion lets users take music and videos everywhere via the Sony Entertainment Network. Sony Music Unlimited, for example, offers a global catalog of more than12 million songs that can be accessed via the phone. And Sony Video Unlimited offers the latest Hollywood blockbusters and TV shows from all major studios for rent or purchase.

Too Little, Too Late?

At $99, Greengart said it is not a bad deal, especially for consumers looking for an Android phone. For all its technological bells and whistles, Greengart noted that the Xperia ion is entering a crowded, competitive market.

"If you are looking for the best possible deal, LG has a $49 phone with roughly the same specs at AT&T," Greengart said. "The iPhone 4 is $99 at AT&T. And for people who are looking for a Flagship device, HTC and Samsung have devices for $199 that I think many consumers are going to be willing to step up for."