By November 4, 2008

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1i Review

image The Xperia X1 is a new phone from Sony Ericsson powered by Windows Mobile 6.1. It has amazing build quality and is smaller than I expected from seeing the press shots and other reviews. For me this device is for keeps and I am very happy for it to replace my HTC Touch Diamond and keep me away from iPhone 2G.

Full review after the break.

Hardware

The first thing you will notice is the truly great build quality of this device. Having had other HTC devices mainly made from plastics this is a classy build with nice metals and solid feel.

Yes it does have a 3.5mm headphone jack which is very useful when you just want to plug in regular headphones. The Xperia comes with a nice set of in-ear noise suppressing earphones which come in two parts, main lead with a mic and female 3.5 so you can plug in either the supplied headphones or your own expensive one.

Memory – This is big plus for the Xperia, it comes with 512MB ROM and 256MB RAM with an additional 128MB of dedicated graphics memory. This means that the panels do not take up much memory at all. I had Opera and Kinoma Player (which are large memory app’s) plus 5 other regular app’s running and still had over 50% memory remaining. Making the device fast and quick to switch between applications.

Data – This device has WIFI and HSDPA (Fast 3G). This is the X1i (international) which covers everywhere except US and has the European 3G bands. The device will still work in the US and as far as I know it has the right bands to pick up 3g on AT&T but don’t quote me on that. GSM voice will work fine everywhere.

DSCF0063 Camera – Its ok, 3.2mp with touch to focus which is nice to have. The flash is not really a flash it’s a light? So it’s either on or off? Bit odd, I was expecting a proper flash.

Picture quality is fine outdoors but inside even with the light is still poor unless you are a statue taking a picture of a statue. Any movement just gives you blurred photos. It just does not work in low light very well at all. To be honest the “flash” is pretty much useless.

It does however record video at 30fps in full VGA is very nice and produces great videos when lighting permits. (The US version X1a is limited to 24fps at QVGA for legal reasons)

It also includes the smallest front facing camera for video calling I have ever seen. It’s so tiny!

Optical-Settings DPAD / optical joystick – Was not sure about this when I first got the device, had heard of others hating it and disabling it within 10 minutes. I too at first could not get used to it as it was too sensitive and every time I tried to click down for action it would brush either left or right and move the track forward or backwards! But I persevered  and dropped the sensitivity right down using the app in the settings and now I love it. With the keyboard out in landscape I can control the whole thing without touching the screen and can move about with the optical pad. This was a surprise as I really thought it was going to be a gimmick.

Keyboard – It takes a little time to get used to it as the keys are very flush to get that arc slide to work nicely. Now I can type very quickly on it and have found that the layout is very intuitive with an OK key and dedicated @ key. I thought I was going to miss not having dedicated arrow keys to move about but surprisingly when you get used to the optical pad it makes getting about very easy by brushing your fingers across it.

DSCF0066When you slide the device open, the screen rotates to landscape mode and generally this takes less than a second and does not affect the experience.

Bluetooth – Supports the full plethora of protocols but there does seem to be a common issue with it turning itself off! This only seems to happen when nothing is connected though, seems like a power saving idea to turn off when not used, but annoying if you leave it on so you can jump in the car and connect your handsfree kit. When you are connected I have never had it drop off so it’s not the end of the world and I am sure it will be fixed in a future ROM update.

Screen – Now the display is 800×480 WVGA which is impressive and the colours and brightness are crisp and sharp. This super high res can make for small text though on the 3” screen. I personally installed a cab from XDA developers to increase the start menu size as it is tiny. It’s only really the start menu that suffers as it’s too small to be finger friendly without the hack.

Brightness can me manually controlled if you wish but the automatic settings seem to work great and control the brightness based on ambient light using the senor. Nice power saving feature.

Speaker – The main external speaker is on the bottom left corner of the device and pretty much exactly where you would hold the phone in your hands, so I often get muffle sound until I realise I am covering it up. Sound is ok, nothing special but loud enough and clear.

DSCF0062 Battery Life – This is always an interesting topic and very objective as it differs greatly depending on your use habits. Today for example the phone was fully charged at 7am and its now 8pm and I have 60% battery.

I have had A2DP Bluetooth headset connected and playing podcasts via Kinoma Play for about 2 hours, spoke on the phone for about 30 minutes via Bluetooth headset, and had mSuite (Commontime push email for Lotus notes) running with replication every 30 minutes.

Also used it for surfing and email for about 30 minutes. The Xperia was also connected via activesync for about 15 minutes around 12pm so would have charged the device a little. Not bad for an average day. The size is 1500mh

GPS – Works well and gets a fix very quickly, had no problems with Google maps. Loaded Tom Tom and it worked like a charm for turn by turn. Did come with Wayfinder demo in the box but I always use Tom Tom so cannot say how that works.

Illuminations-Settings Illuminations – This is unique to the Xperia. It has 4 LED lights, one at each corner of the device which illuminate with different colours and speeds so you can differentiate between an incoming call or an SMS message etc.

Nice idea and works well by the side of the bed at night if you have it on silent. During the day I can’t say I have noticed them so in normal daylight I think they are a bit weak.

You have a small application in the settings menu to control them and can disable them if you wish.

Software

Windows Mobile is your OS on this device, I won’t cover this in detail as there are plenty of reviews of the operating system out there, I will cover the extras though.

Stability – Pretty good so far, I must admit I have had lock ups but normally with 3rd party app’s. It’s been running fine for a few days without a reboot now that I have stopped installing everything.

Opera-Menu Opera – Not much to say about this really, it’s the same as the Touch Diamonds version and is not set as the default browser so any web links you follow in email or other app’s will spawn Pocket IE not Opera.

There are ways to fix this but thought they would do this out of the box. Works well and I have not had any issues with it, renders pages very nicely and if you install FlashLite yourself you can even get flash working within the browser.

YouTube is not great but small flash games work well. Also this is when I am happy the Xperia does NOT have an accelerometer as on the Diamond and iPhone it would drive me nuts when trying to lay on your side in bed and surf the web as these always flipped the page on its side! No problems for the Xperia.

Panels

PanelGrid This is the Xperia’s answer to HTC’s TouchFlow 3D, a way of giving you a bespoke system to access the different parts of the device and display key information. The benefit of the panels concept is that you can load up to 9 panels for easy switching and have an unlimited amount on the phone if you want to drop one out for another.

Whereas TouchFlow 3D is a single interface which you cannot customise at all, panels gives you the option to change what’s important for you. If you like Music and media then use the Media Panel then when ready switch to the Google panel or the Clock/Appointment panel.

The concept is to use the right panel for the job at hand. Also there is a software development kit available for free from Sony for 3rd party developers to create new panels.

Click the dedicated panel button and a grid appears for you to choose your panel or customise existing ones to display different information.

Panel switching take a few seconds to kick in the new panel but to be honest I don’t switch much and do not find this to be an issue for me.

MediaPanel Media Panel – Music playback is basic, no AVRCS Bluetooth control, no album art, no synced playlists! Come on Sony! Does resume last point played which is something.

Also having this as a panel is odd as if you want to listen to music but also use another panel for real work you can’t. If you switch panels it cuts off.

Personally I am using Kinoma as my audio player of choice but you can use any alternative player like Media Player which is built in.

It does support video but don’t expect it to play DivX or XVID etc. It will play your recorded video or any video converted for playback on Windows Media player fine. If you want true DivX/XVID support just use CorePlayer as I do.

The panel is good for pictures and scrolling through them just a shame that they did not include an accelerometer as you need to slide open the keyboard to switch the orientation. (note: This is the only case on the Diamond and iPhone I ever found an accelerometer useful)

There are 2 other SE information panels which are fine for general information and you can customise them to show specific quick launch icons or RSS feeds of your choice.

They also have nice quick shortcuts to enable/disable WIFI/Bluetooth/Phone etc.

SEPanel1 SEPanel2

I am using the downloaded SPB Mobile Shell (free from SE website) as my main panel as I find this gives me the best access to the features of the device and for people new to Windows mobile this also makes it a much more finger friendly device.

Fish panel is novelty only, never used it unless showing off the device.

SPBPanel FishPanel

Radio Panel is ok, nothing special, no real use for me as I only use Bluetooth A2DP headset and you need physical cable headphones to act as an aerial. You can make it play through the loud speaker though which is a nice touch.

Here is some extra software I would recommend to compliment any Windows Mobile device.

Kinoma Play – Great media player and online streaming software with guides. (YouTube etc)

CorePlayer – The best video player for Windows Mobile (DivX/XVID etc) not user friendly sadly.

Batti – Simply shows your battery status across the top of the screen

Tiny Twitter – Simple but effective twitter client

Conclusions

DSCF0050 For me Windows mobile is a base to build on with extra applications to help you make the phone more to your liking. Users moving from a feature phone to Windows Mobile on the Xperia may feel let down by the experience out of the box as apart from the panels its basic Windows Mobile 6.1. Don’t get me wrong I like WM6.1 but it’s not the iPhone for a UI so don’t expect it to be.

The SPB shell panel goes a long way to hide WM6.1 so I suggest most users will opt for this. The power in WM6.1 for me is the unlimited nature of the software you can get to make the device do what you want.

DSCF0073 Unlike for say the iPhone which is limited by Apples whims on what can or cannot go on the device, with WM6.1 you can normally find an app for all occasions.

Will be nice when Microsoft finally make a single app store, as for now there are independent publishers selling direct from their own sites or the more commercial sites like Handango etc where you can find a good selection.

The Xperia X1 is an excellent device as long as you know what to expect from Windows Mobile. I have brought an Xperia and intend to keep this as my main device of choice for the foreseeable future.

Thanks to Clove for a review unit.

Technorati Tags: Windows Mobile,Xperia,Xperia X1,Review

About the Author:

Seasoned tech blogger. Host of both the Mobile Tech Addicts podcast and Retro Tech Addicts podcast.
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