Is Sony Ericsson's Android debut a Legend killer?
It’s taken almost six months since its official nod for the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 to finally make its way onto the high street, finally arriving on Virgin Mobile. In that time its operating system, Android, has become ubiquitous and upped its powers, with the bleeding edge 2.1 version of Google’s OS out on the prowl in the HTC Desire and Google Nexus One. The Xperia X10’s reliance on the ageing 1.6, Donut, platform appears almost suicidal on Sony Ericsson’s part.
But the Xperia X10 cannot be judged solely on its older edition of Android. This is a truly stunning smartphone and undoubtedly Sony Ericsson’s greatest design achievement to date. In terms of looks and build, only the HTC Legend comes close when you consider the current crop of top end mobiles.
More on the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10
The tapered rear means the Xperia X10 sits beautifully in the hand and definitely makes it more comfortable for extended use when compared to the likes of the HTC Legend and the HTC Desire. Unlike older Sony Ericsson models, the focus is very much on keeping things minimal and sleek. The slimline 13mm body rocks just camera, volume and power buttons, as well as a much-welcomed 3.5mm jack, all without drawing away from the device’s central focus, that huge 4-inch (480x854) screen.
No matter which way you cut it, the inclusion of this monster panel makes the Xperia X10 a huge handset when up against the dinky HTC Legend. But it really is testament to the design labs that this phone never feels like a monster when you’re fondling it or slipping into a pair of jeans a lithe, youthful Mick Jagger would have trouble getting into.
That size also means Sony Ericsson can shoehorn in some truly stellar specs. There’s the latest 1 Ghz Snapdragon processor, Wi-Fi, HSDPA, AGPS,1GB internal memory, micro SD support up to 32GB and Bluetooth 2.1. We fired everything up the minute we got the phone, with the battery kaput in around 20 hours, after a raft of calls, texts, emails and web browsing. That’s a relatively average return, but can be tweaked by ensuring Bluetooth and Wi-Fi aren’t on all day.
The screen itself is excellent, although we would have liked to have seen it bumped to AMOLED in light of HTC’s like the Desire and Legend. That said, the 450 x 854 effort is absolutely perfect for watching movies on the move. Clips are beautifully rendered and look far better than on an iPhone or iPod touch, with the extra screen real estate giving your mobile movie experience a real lift.
In terms of the screen’s touchable style, there’s no denying this is Sony Ericsson’s very best effort to date, beating the Vivaz hands down. Swipes are registered every time and it has the same easy to tap icons that make other Android phones perfect for touchscreen tech. That said, multitouch is missing, something we find hard to fathom if this wants to kick it with the big boys.
The touchscreen is also let down by a poor onscreen keyboard. We found getting up to speed with its quirks a real struggle, with the X10 requiring spot on prods every time in order for your text to appear neat and perfect first time. This compares poorly to the ace keyboard on the HTC Legend, which feels far more reassured when firing off missives to your mates. The space bar on the keypad is tiny, meaning you often accidentally pick punctuation marks instead of the gaps in text you want. Fortunately, you can switch to the vanilla Android QWERTY as seen on the Nexus One and Motorola Milestone, although this, again, is nowhere near as good as HTC’s peachy version. This can be put down to Android 1.6: Android 2.1’s update offers a more stable, skilful keyboard solution.
The reliance on Android 1.6 is definitely an issue. For a phone that’s been held back for six months, it puts it well behind the Legend and Nexus One in terms of core Android skills. That’s not to say it doesn’t have the easy Gmail set up from the get go, or the familiar menu system and Android Market on board. But it does lack some key functionality that by now is standard on all high end handsets. There’s no multiple Gmail account support, so you can’t hot swap between different accounts or merge mailboxes from your different Google email addresses.
That said, we’re impressed by multitasking, which is handled with a simple press of the central hard key, bringing up a roster of the apps you have open, letting you tap into them stat. It’s an easy-to-use and much welcome function.
However, the older version of Android does bring with it some speed issues. The X10 is remarkably slow to start up. We’re talking three minutes from pressing the power key to getting the homescreen up and running. Hopefully the mooted over-the-air update to Android 2.1 can fix this.
The X10’s trump card though is its new UI, where the system is split between Timescape and Mediascape functions. The latter houses all your music, video and photos, letting you choose the media you want swiftly by swiping through your collection. But it’s the much-hyped Infinity key which really makes Mediascape tick, bringing up a raft of recommended videos and music, the latter available for direct download. It’s a swish and clever addition which gives it the jump on HTC Sense’s media smarts.
Music playback is also as you’d expect from Sony Ericsson. It has the feel of a Walkman device and is by far the best we’ve seen on an Android phone so far, as this is an area where Google’s OS has struggled in the past. Although the Xross Media Bar has gone, left to handsets like the Vivaz. Timescape is also a winner, aggregating social networks and email into tiles which you can flick through using the touchscreen, integrating contacts with those from your SIM. The set up process is simply a case of adding deets from Facebook, Twitter or Gmail and watching the messages roll in. It’s very similar to HTC’s Friend Stream on the Desire and Legend, but we think this is a tad more powerful and easier to use, although the tile view can appear confusing by comparison.
The 8 megapixel peeper on the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 is, as you’d expect, one of the stars of the show. That 4-inch screen means working up your shots is much easier than on smaller rivals like the HTC Legend. There are nine scene modes, smile detection and face recognition, with pics coming out very sharp and clean in good light. The single LED flash, however, means this isn’t a winner when the sun goes down, with shots appearing grainy and noisy unless you’re in a well lit room.
You can’t deny that the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 is a corking smartphone. From its gorgeous design to its support for the increasingly excellent Android OS, it has everything it needs to be the iPhone-killer Sony Ericsson so obviously wants it to be.
But that’s to miss a few fundamental factors. The lack of Android 2.1 is really disappointing and Sony Ericsson’s excuses for not having it on board at the get go fall on deaf ears. In the six months since its official unveiling, the HTC Legend and others have taken the Xperia X10 to the cleaners.
It is clear though that Sony Ericsson should stick to Android. The new UI is fantastic and if the Android 2.1 update can get on board soon, this is a phone well worth taking a long hard look at. For design fanatics, the choice between the Legend and X10 is tough. The Legend offers HTC Sense and Android 2.1, but the large screen, excellent camera and 1GHz processor make the X10 worth a look. It's available now for free on Virgin Mobile £35 tariffs, with unlimited web browsing.