Sony's Special Topping Sprinkled Over Google's Ice Cream Sandwich

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Sony's latest Xperia smartphones will arrive running Android 4.0, or "ICS," as Google nerds call it, although you won't really recognise it as the usual Android found elsewhere.

Ever since it debuted Android phones with the impressive X10, Sony's tweaked in-house version of this operating system has been one of the most customised (yet streamlined) options out there, and as it releases newer, more powerful smartphones, the list of software customisations you see within it continues to grow.

The good thing about these software enhancements is that they they don't take away features from Google's core. You still get all the standard Google apps, the updated web browser, the Maps tool and the awesome GPS feature that appears in all Android phones. What makes it better however are the changes added in by Sony's developers to make its Xperia models feel like completely different smartphones. You'll still recognise it as Ice Cream Sandwich, or ICS, but with awesome new features that draw from what Sony knows best.

Sony's custom Android 4.0 keyboard highlights one clever little change you don't see in the regular, stock version of Android. A line-drawing option has been built-in, which does away with the traditional peck-peck-peck form of typing. To use it, you draw one continuous line across the keys, from letter to letter, relying on the phone's software to accurately guess the word you're spelling out.

This system also makes adding in punctuation easy, with commas, full stops and such modern linguistic luxuries automatically popping up once the software's selected your word.

Sony's also amended and enhanced Google's camera software, which is vastly posher and more usable in the new Xperias. As well as taking great shots, the software includes a stitching tool for assembling super-wide panoramas, plus there's also a tiny option that lets you change what happens when launching the camera app directly from the lock screen. You can have it open the camera, or open the camera and automatically take a photo, shaving a critical second or two off the time needed to capture a shot.

There are plenty of other touches you don't see on other Android phones, too. Sony's new WALKMAN-branded music player has the option to generate jazzy visuals to accompany your music, while the photo album looks much more attractive than the standard Android option. Thanks to Sony's clever social integration tool, it also comes with the ability to stream-in photos from your Facebook friends, plus a Map tab for geo-tagging shots. The latter displays all geo-tagged images on a 3D globe, so you can spin around the world and see the countries not yet conquered by your camera lens.

As if this wasn't enough, you still get all the stuff Google's already built and integrated into Android, such as facial-recognition unlocking; a built-in data use monitor; massively-updated new web browser, and many more features that have made Android the success it is now.