Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 Review
Back when the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 was announced, it was the talk of the town. After all, it had a huge screen, fast processor, and it had all of those things well before any of the competition. But, as fate would have it (or Sony Ericsson’s track record would keep it), the X10 has still not seen official release (even if preorders are being taken, right now), and between its announcement and now, there’s been a few other devices not only announced, but released. But, does any of that matter when you’re using the X10? Should you not want the device just because there are other phones out there? You’ll just have to read the full review and find out for yourself. Is the X10 a relic already? Or is it worth your time?
Hardware wise, the SE X10 still manages to be relevant, even amongst the competition currently available on the market. Which, if you ask us, is pretty fantastic considering it was unveiled months ago. But, we imagine that’s just some major forward thinking on the part of Sony Ericsson, and nothing more. The screen is four inches (diagonally), with an 854×480 resolution, and it’s of the capacitive variety. Under the hood, you’re faced with a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, and 1GB of on board storage. It all comes together to make, theoretically, a pretty responsive device. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to create. Also, the handset is only running Android 1.6, which, well, isn’t Android 2.1. But, at least it isn’t Android 1.5, either. You do get support for Google Goggles, as well as a few more Google-based features, so at least there’s that for it. But, we still wish we could have seen a newer, more relevant Operating System on the device.
As for the buttons along the side, you’ve got a 3.5mm headphone jack at at the top, along with the power button, and a MicroUSB port. We were very tempted to rip the little protective flap off the MicroUSB port, because it’s more annoying than anything else, but we refrained, thankfully. You might not be so level-headed, though. And along the right-hand side of the device, you’ve got the volume rocker, and below that the dedicated hardware camera key. There isn’t anything placed along the left-most side, and along the bottom, you’ve got a slot where you could put a lanyard, if you so desired.
As we mentioned above, the front of the phone is dominated by the 4-inch screen. However, along the top, there’s room for Sony Ericsson to squeeze in their name; and along the bottom, XPERIA shows up, along with three hardware keys: menu, home, and back. That’s right, only three hardware keys, which is unlike a traditional Android-based device. It’s missing the Search key, and while we had never given it a second thought before, the moment it’s taken away from us, we realized how much we actually used it.
The X10 feels nice in the hand: it’s not too heavy, and it’s big enough to let you know that you’ve got a grasp on it, or that it’s tucked away nicely in your pocket. However, we’re not a fan of the plastic approach that SE took with their XPERIA handset. While the whole thing is nice to look at, when you’re holding it, you may get the impression you’re holding a toy, and we don’t think that’s a very good thing. And, while the front is shiny and attractive, it attracts fingerprints like nobody’s business, so expect to be wiping off the front of your handset quite often. (Though, that’s the territory you encroach upon when purchasing a touchscreen device anyway.)
Despite everything else, the phone is thin enough not to be an annoyance, and the bezels (at least along the side, for obvious reasons) aren’t big enough to take away from the stares the screen is going to attract. The whole thing measures in at just 4.7 x 2.5 x 0.5 inches, and weighs only 4.8oz. The X10 also supports a MicroSD card, for up to 16GB of additional storage, and SE was nice enough to include an 8GB card in the box for you.
As for the battery life, it’s not great. In fact, we were actually kind of surprised by the lack of life sustained even in stand-by mode. We had email checking for incoming messages, but Timescape and Mediascape turned off for automatic refreshes, and the battery still died over a night of no usage. It obviously gets worse when you actually start using the device, and we’re pretty sure that if you actually use it, you’re going to have to charge it at least by mid-day. Of course, this is just our usage, and it’s going to change per user, so take that for what it’s worth.
Now, when it comes to software, this is where Sony Ericsson want(ed)s to shine. The truth is, they put a lot of hard work into their customized User Interface, which (as we mentioned above) is running atop Android 1.6. The official name of the skin is Rachael, and it’s supposed to bring a level of interconnectedness not seen before. Of course, with the likes of HTC’s Sense UI, we were dubious for obvious reasons. And, sadly, it was all worth that hesitance. While there’s a 1GHz processor under the hood, there’s definitely a lot of stuttering going on. Even on the homescreen transitions. Some people may not notice it, but it was definitely aggravating for us to watch, over and over again. And, while the transitions from one feature, or app, to another feature or app may be worthwhile, it was just another thing driving us crazy when it comes to performance. We expected more, as we’ve seen better with the Nexus One and HTC Desire. We like customized User Interfaces, but we also enjoy our user experience, too, and we believe that those two things can live happily together. If you believe this, too, then the X10 may not be the best roommate for you.
Timescape is just one of the two main features supposedly representative of the Rachael experience. And, while it’s cool to look at, there’s nothing much else there. Much like HTC’s FriendFeed, it’s designed to populate an “updated stream” of recent status messages and updates to your device, so you can keep up with everything going on in your digital world. Facebook and Twitter were the two services we tried, and we got the feeling that it wasn’t working as well as SE envisioned it would. There’s a lot of lag, even after Timescape pulls down all the data and refreshes your stream, and going from one panel to another (with those hugely blurred images in the background of each panel making it all look so dated) stuttered more often than not. We tried to wait, for several minutes, after we updated the list, but the lag seems to be a dual partnered force from the dated software, the processor, and the way that Timescape handles the information and in which the UI is set up.
If you pan to the right and left, you’ll get access to recently played music, Facebook and Twitter, and your mail. All of these things can be customized based on what you want to show, and you can add multiple mail accounts. Also, you can tell the device how often to sync up your data (which, theoretically, should save your battery life — we weren’t so lucky), or if you want to do it manually when you see fit. While we agree that Timescape is definitely an interesting way to get your information, we aren’t sold on it.
And then there’s Mediascape. Compared to Timescape, this just seems boring. It’s a way to compile all of the media on your device, but it’s handled in such a “regular” way, that it seems like SE didn’t put much thought into the other version of their “scape” elements. There are some interesting parts to the whole, but the sheer difference in the way that Mediascape displays the content to you, compared to Timescape, feels half-hearted. Even with elements like online media, with services like Sony’s PlayNow, or with the Infinite Loop symbol that SE integrated with almost every single UI feature on the phone, which brings up more information about a particular object when touched, doesn’t seem enough to make Mediascape worth it. Yes, we love the fact that there’s no lag when we’re trying to find our favorite song, but we wish we could have the Timescape layout without the lag. We’d consider that a win-win situation.
We will say, though, that Mediascape does a great job of slowing things down. Truth be told, while the lag in Timescape is annoying in of itself, so is the fact that if you’re a hardcore Twitter user (meaning, you have a lot of people you follow), the whole stream can get congested very, very quickly. We understand that people enjoy the visual elements of software, but with Timescape, we can see people losing interest just because there’s no way to keep track of people in the stream, let alone prioritize some people’s updates over others. Following certain people on Twitter can mean you only see their updates in the stream, and no one else’s.
And then there’s the software keyboard. What can we say about this thing? Is it bad? Is it good? We wish we could come up with a definitive answer for you. Truth be told, it’s somewhere lost in between those two categories. If it didn’t have a track record of out right missing screen presses, we’d say it’s good. Also, the space key is remarkably small, and a pain to get used to. And when we say it’s small, we mean really small, and we found that trying to actually type on the handset was hindered by its limited size. We wish it had a more robust auto-predict/correction dictionary enabled, and we also wish beyond all wishes that the keyboard was more intuitively constructed, but we have neither of those things, so we rarely messaged people. It just wasn’t worth the trauma.
But, there’s one feature that makes the X10 stand out far above the rest of the pack. The 8MP camera on the back not only currently trumps all the Android devices on the market, the sheer fact that the images it does capture are amazing, is enough of a feature to make some people want it. On top of that, the handset also features smile detection and face recognition; digital image stabilization; 16x digital zoom; autofocus; and the ability to geotag photos right from the handset. (Yes, we know that geotagging photos is also on other handsets, but when bundled with the other aforementioned features, it definitely adds to the momentum.) On top of everything else, probably the coolest feature is the face recognition. Take a photo of someone that’s in your contact list, and you can link that photo with your contact. Right from the phone. It may not be as intuitive as Facebook integration, but it definitely takes care of the fact you may not have everyone on your Facebook, and some times you want a more personal photo for the people you know and love, right?
And finally, what’s it like to call on the XPERIA X10? Actually, not that bad at all. Sound quality wasn’t half-bad, and when we tried to find out whether or not people could hear us in loud areas, they seemed to be able to just fine, considering there isn’t any kind of noise cancellation on the handset. The speakerphone is plenty loud, even if the speaker itself isn’t on the back, but on the side (which is probably one reason it’s good in the first place). And, considering the hassle the onscreen keyboard brings to messaging people, we’re of the mind that if you do end up with the X10, you’re probably going to be calling people more than messaging them, so at least be happy with the fact that it isn’t terrible to do so.
In the wrap up, we’ve got to say that the X10 isn’t what we thought it was going to be. Instead, it looks like Sony Ericsson gave Android a valiant effort, but it’s just not up to the task. And, while we wish we didn’t have to compare it to the other Android-based devices on the market, we do, and the X10 just doesn’t cut it. When you look at the handset from SE, and you’re faced with a decision to choose either the Nexus One, HTC Desire, or even the upcoming HTC Incredible, there’s no reason we can see why you’d choose the X10. Even the 4-inch screen, when compared to those device’s 3.7-inches is trumped by the fact that those handsets have an AMOLED display, and not just the normal LCD. As for devices that are still coming down the pipe, you’ve got Samsung’s Galaxy S (with it’s 4-inch Super AMOLED display, and fastest processor on the market), and Sprint’s upcoming HTC EVO 4G (with a 4.3-inch LCD display), it looks to us that the X10 just doesn’t have what it takes to prevail. Sadly, that won’t change when the XPERIA-branded device gets upgraded to Android 2.1 later this year.