Review: Does the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 do Android proud?

Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X10 is the company’s first Android handset and it is packed to the gills with high-end features: a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, a 4-inch display, 8-megapixel camera and all the connectivity you expect from a smartphone. Throwing Android on some high-end hardware seems like a match in heaven, but does the X10 pull it off? Read on after the jump for a thorough review of the device.


Sony Ericcson Xperia X10
Available now in the United States unlocked for prices starting at $539

Pros:

  • It has a stylish design that looks and feels good.
  • It’s packed with high-end features like an 8-megapixel camera.
  • Solid battery life for a device with this screen size.
  • The custom UI is very visually appealing and the multimedia and camera tweaks rock.

Cons:

  • It’s only running Android 1.6, which is a non-starter for me.
  • The custom UI software makes it extremely sluggish.
  • Unlocked pricing only at this point, which is way too expensive considering the competition.
  • I hate removing battery to change microSD card.

Hardware specifications / Spec-sheet overview

  • Qualcomm QSD8250 Snapdragon 1 GHz processor
  • 4-inch VGA capacitive touchscreen at 480 x 854 resolution
  • 8-megapixel camera with LED flash
  • 3G data
  • WiFi
  • GPS
  • 1 GB of internal storage, microSD slot for memory expansion up to 32 GB
  • Bluetooth (Stereo (A2DP), Handsfree, Headset, Phonebook Access)
  • Android 1.6

Hardware

The X10 has a large, 4-inch screen, so it’s a relatively big slate device. I’m loving the trend of huge screens, have decent-sized hands, and I don’t wear super skinny jeans, so I’m fine with the size of the device. If you’re seeking the Xperia experience in a smaller form factor, the X10 Mini should be coming soon.

It’s big width-wise but it’s only 13-millimeter thick, so it feels thin in the hand. There’s a curved finish to the back that lets it easily rest in your palm and the weight (135 grams) felt right – it’s heavy enough to give it some substance but it doesn’t feel like a brick. There’s a silver trimming along the sides and back that quickly becomes a scratch magnet if you’re dumb like me and accidentally put your keys in the same pocket as the phone. The back cover feels nice to touch but it’s a complete pain to remove because you have to shove a fingernail in a needless divot at the bottom. I absolutely hate that you have to remove the battery to get to the microSD slot, too.

Sony Ericsson ditched the dedicated search key on the face and there’s only hard menu, home and back keys on the face. I’m used to having that search button with my Droid, but I really didn’t miss it on the X10. Along the sides, there’s a camera button and volume rocker that respond as they should. The standard headphone jack and power button are correctly paced on top of the device and the microUSB slot is beneath a plastic flap. I understand the aesthetic reasons for hiding the port behind a flap but the X10′s looks flimsy and I’m scared I’ll break it.

The star of the show is the big, bold screen. It’s not quite as much as a monster as EVO 4G display, but it provides ample space. The colors are vivid and bright and you quickly learn to love the additional real estate when you’re typing or surfing the web. We’re rapidly approaching the “too big” category with smartphone screens but the X10 is just right, in my book. The contrast is stellar and the responsiveness is what you should expect from a high-end device like this.

So, despite a few minor quibbles, the hardware rocks. That should make this a great phone, right? Well …


Software

The X10 is like a gorgeous lady who has no personality and who is just an awful person deep down. Sure, she’s nice to look at and show off to your friends but it’s not worth the everyday hassle. The software on the X10 is visually appealing but it sacrifices performance and ultimately makes this device a pain in the you-know-what to use. It’s not necessarily Sony Ericsson’s fault, as everyone who throws a comprehensive skin on top of Android runs into problems the first time around (with the possible exception of HTC’s Sense).

My first beef is that it’s only running Android 1.6 and this is a non-starter for me because I need at least three Google mail accounts to truly be productive on my phone. I may be an outlier with that though but many will still feel the limitations of not having a more modern version of the platform. Still, it’s not horrible because you can easily surf the web, shoot out e-mails, update your various social-networking statuses, and, of course, make calls. It’s simple to set up e-mail accounts and you’ll have access to the Android Market – although certain programs like the official Twitter app won’t be available until the device receives an update. Sony Ericsson has promised to upgrade the device but we’ve seen devices running stock Android (like the Droid) take a while to get the latest firmware, so I’m not holding out hope.

So, the OS has been re-skinned to be more visually appealing and it does look nice at first glance. The important pieces of software are Timescape and Mediascape and these are an incredibly mixed bag. Timescape is sort of like Motorola’s happening widget because it aggregates your friends’ various updates and messages into a single interface. This is actually a pretty cool, 3D stack presentation filled with animations and visual panache. Unfortunately, it’s as slow as molasses in January. The animations are slow, it can take a while to load if you haven’t launched it in a while and it’s just not how I want to view something like Twitter. Mediascape’s a bit better and I’ll touch upon that more in the multimedia section below.

They’ve also thrown in a customized keyboard that works well for the most part. It has intelligent auto-correcting software and its learning curve is about on par with what we see from HTC. One problem is that there’s no easy way to get rid of it – hitting the back button doesn’t always work. That’s frustrating but not a deal breaker. There’s also some preloaded software from MySpace and others but none of it is remarkable.

The UI layer is very nice but it’s not nice enough to overcome the sluggishness it brings for a device. This thing has a freaking Snapdragon powering it, I want it to feel like it. To be fair, the custom software does shine with the camera and multimedia, and I’ll dive into that in the next section.


Web browsing, multimedia, camera and video

The browser is your standard Chrome-like goodness you’d expect from Android and it performs well, for the most part. One things that may trip you up is that there’s no multitouch for pinch-to-zoom and this doesn’t look like it will ever come to the handset. The double tap motion is easy enough to zoom and the browser generally formats the page optimally for reading from a phone but part of me misses having that granularity of control you get when using multitouch to zoom.

The 8-megapixel camera is very good at capturing shots in nearly any light. It’s not DSLR quality but you could do a lot worse for a camera. Sony Ericsson used its Cyber-Shot experience to good use as there’s a revamped camera interface that outpaces what Google gives with stock Android 1.6. There’s a boat-load of software to help make you a better shooter (smile detection, auto focus, etc.) and you can turn the LED flash into a consistent light for framing your shots. Videos were pretty solid but, like many camcorders on phones, it had trouble handling fast-moving scenes.

The Mediascape multimedia experience is better than your traditional Android music player, which is still fairly abysmal. Sony Ericsson’s multimedia player can handle most of the video and music you can throw at it and it has a pleasing interface to browse through you media. There’s also integration with the company’s PlayNow, as well as Flickr and Facebook for photos. It doesn’t seem to suffer from the lag that Timescape does and, although I would have enjoyed a bit more bass in the tunes, it’s a mighty fine multimedia player.

For all the trouble I had with the rest of the custom UI, I’m very happy with what Sony Ericsson did with the camera and multimedia.


Call quality and battery life

The call quality on the X10 was excellent on AT&T in San Francisco. Voices were clearly audible and I was told that my voice was coming through loud and clear. The speakerphone was also rock solid for calls but don’t think it will be your next boom box. Getting data service from AT&T in San Francisco can be a mixed bag, but it was never a huge deal on the X10. The main places I used it (my house, on transit, downtown) had good coverage with the occasional slippage to EDGE. I had no problems connecting to WiFi networks and it easily paired with the Bluetooth headsets I threw at it.

I was able to get through a full day with the X10 and I was surprised because big screens use a lot of energy. I’m fairly certain that the one e-mail account limitation of Android 1.6 had a lot to do with that though, as I didn’t receive as many notifications as I normally would. Also, that dandy music playing software also eats through battery life like nobody’s business – but that’s kind of typical with most smartphones.


The final take: Hot or not?

The Xperia X10 would have been the belle of the Android ball if it was fully released late last year. I’m still a big fan of the hardware but the software is not up to par. I applaud Sony Ericsson for trying to spruce up Android but this falls short. The device is only available unlocked at the moment, which means it will come with a hefty price tag. Even if it launches subsidized on AT&T, as expected, it would still be tough to recommend it considering all the great Android devices like the EVO 4G, Droid Incredible and what we may see from Dell. Better luck next time, Sony Ericsson.

Any X10 users out there? Let us know how the device has treated you in the comments.

  • aron

    Se should hv waited And launched it with Froyo n they would hv had a best seller. Launching it now with an ancient OS version is only going to turn off even serious SE fans n create a bigger dent in SEs reputation. I don’t understand why they are releasing it now and killing a nice piece of hardware

  • alesandro

    im here in italy,my x10 is superb performance,im not encountered problem of software nor hardware of what you said,i ve satisfied of my x10

    • Scooby

      This is consistent with the reviews I have read… It’s like anything Sony, the sum of the parts are much greater than the whole!!

  • John

    I can agree that timescape was very slow when I got the phone. However after two minor software updates, running baseband version 1.0.21, the phone is much faster for me, and Timescape is very smooth. However I agree that it sucks that its only 1.6, hopefully it wont be too far until Froyo is released on the Xperia.

  • Droid Dude

    I have been using X10 in UK for about a month. Mine runs super quickly and ultra smooth. I really like timescape which has grown on me a lot and brings together all of my incoming messages in a really accessible way with pics of whose sending them. A simple double click then takes me directly into facebook, twitter, mail or whatever. This all happens with some impressive animation and there is no lag on my handset at all. As you state camera is stunning and has made my little canon digital camera redundant. I run 3 email accounts and battery lasts me all day unless i am using sat nav. Many of the people that have tried mine have got one. In UK this phone is a free upgrade.

  • Ravz

    Dont agree with the review, firstly it seems the author hasnt used the phone much coz if he did he will know battery life is a problem with the Xperia X10 …but i would still say Xperia X10 is the best phone out there in the market…beats everyother phone in the competition even though its running on android 1.6….guess things can only get better from here :)

  • xreventonx

    the X10 is super speedy, even with the UI, who ever wrote this review is just super fussy, like the memory card prob. how often do you plan on removing the memory card ? its like complaining you cannot take the simcard out easy, you just dont do that often !

  • Gavin

    Definitely feeling the Android love on this device. My battery lasts about a day and a half, although I still charge nightly out of force of habit with my old G1. Media performance is good, as is call quality and battery usage from said activity. Some slowdown occurs, mostly with Timescape but aside from that, runs as smooth as butter. Updates are coming, hopefully SE decides it’s worth going straight on to 2.2, but 2.1 is still an improvement over 1.6. Rumours abound regarding the ‘can it/won’t it’ debate regarding multitouch. Which ever is the answer, I’m still happy with my investment.

  • Alex Lux 911

    This review is rubblish!!!
    High school is the place for you to learn how to write an essay but not here.

  • myway

    Love this phone. Luckily I don't use timescape, but mediascape is fast as are the rest of the apps I do use. Great screen for showing co-workers videos or photos of the kids i shot with the awesome camera. They all marvel at phone almost as much as they do at my kids!!! haha.
    Love the integration with all my google stuff, picasa, gmail, calendar, maps etc
    It plays well with my mac laptop, too. Plug in the USB, mount it, and away we go.
    At this point, I couldn't care less about multitouch.

  • Andrew

    UXP update for Q4 2010 to include Android 2.1. FroYo 2.2 update unlikely until 2011 due to development time required, unless SE have a business case for reworking the last 5 months worth of effort to switch to 2.2.

    Phone makers added UI features to differentiate their Android models from others, but stock apps in 2.2 will be better than 1.6, so why use an add-on?

    I, for one, will never use Timescape, nor will I use the Moxia apps installed on my DoCoMo phone. Yes, MediaScape is good enough that I probably won't download a different app from the Market, but other apps like Gmail and Picasa are standard for Android.

    These custom UI's smack of the laptop world, where a new slab has so many applets installed from the vendor that everything slows down and it's more difficult to support.

    Both of which are things end-users do not want.

  • toni jae

    how do doe any one no how to take the back off of a sony ericsson xperia x10
    i have had mine for nearly a day and still cant get the back off

  • toni jae

    does any one no how to take the back off of a sony ericsson xperia x10

    • cstp

      you have to pull the from the bottom side. It is a pain as you think it will break. Took me ten minutes the first time I did it as I was scared of breaking it!

  • Sujit

    My android based X10 works fine till now… just recent purchase though… 1st time SE user….. good as my starter phone though…dows any 1 know how to toggle fullscreen in x10 or any convertion screen resolution??

  • joebu

    MY X10 works great, no issues and I can't put it down. It's the first phone I am actually enjoying fully. I have beef with some of the supposed "cons" listed.
    * It’s only running Android 1.6, which is a non-starter for me. — (1.6 Android OS was what was available when Timescape and Mediascape was developed. Not a big deal. Timescape and Mediascape are major selling points on this device.
    * The custom UI software makes it extremely sluggish. (it updates and takes a few seconds when you open the app. Not a big deal considering the more friends you have updating their status, will reflect in your timescape. The phone is not sluggish.)
    * Unlocked pricing only at this point, which is way too expensive considering the competition. (you get what you pay for, usually. No good unlocked phone will be cheap. Plus, any carrier support in the US will have unique customization process and will through out some cool features)
    * I hate removing battery to change microSD card. (I look at this as protection and not an issue. With Bluetooth, messaging, email, wifi, usb transfer, etc. Do you really need to remove the memory card all the time? and it's not a bad idea to reset the device once in awhile anyways.)
    If you're considering the device, the X10 is great.
    Always try to look at non biased reviews and always consider the source. This site has tons of HTC ad support for TMobile and Sprint and these authors will always reference those devices as great. ie: HTC EVO 4G

  • MiG

    I've had the X10 for a bit over a month now, and looking to replace it with another android phone already. I like Android, but the X10 is far from the optimal platform for it.

    - The UI is sluggish, especially compared to other Snapdragon-based phones like the HTC Desire. This makes using the X10 for day to day tasks rather unpleasant and ruins the entire experience.
    - Battery life is very short, even after the recommended 3-4 charging cycles and running a battery saver like JuiceDefender it won't last a full day. In all fairness though, it's not the only 'droid phone with this problem.
    - The "improved" on screen keyboard is bad. Very bad. Its touch zones don't line up with the keys so you often miss or mistype characters, and to make matters worse even when you miss characters the phone will vibrate as if you hit one. You can use the standard Android one, but that has its share of faults as well (Lack of international layouts etc)
    - No multitouch. There was some speculation for a while, but it's now been confirmed that the X10 hardware doesn't support it, not now not ever. Some marketplace apps depend on multitouch, so this is a pretty big drawback.
    - Bad custom UI. Timescape is terrible, and you can't uninstall it. Mediascape is somewhat less terrible, but still a far cry from what it should have been.
    - Android 1.6. Not getting 2.1 until Q4 is a damn joke.

    On the upside, the camera is great (in good light conditions, but no mobile camera works well in poor light). The camera light is useless though. The display is very nice, bright and very readable even in direct sunlight. Unfortunately, the few advantages the X10 has are heavily outweighed by its disadvantages.

  • jason

    Love this phone to bits. BUT timescape is sluggish still, media scape is sluggish, i think the s.e c905 camera is slightly better but since an update the video cam is awesome now, its HD and great at fast motion.

  • paris

    how do you get the camera light working on the x10 ? i just can't seem to find it. anyone know ? thanks :)

  • logan

    wow great phone, love my x10. favorite unlocked mobile phones this year. processor is fast, touch screen is really responsive, battery life lasts all day and i like the keys on the bottom, and i'm pretty dang picky. much better than my old unlocked android phones. they are practical, the email and web browser are great for my business and keeping in touch with my clients. gps helps me get around. the apps are great and it's such a nice looking phone, i get a lot of compliments. love my new unlocked gsm phones. my wife loves hers for the facebook, camera, and recorder. daughter loves hers for the games and I like it so i can keep in touch with my fantasy team. x10 is my favorite so far. practical too. got my last couple unlocked 3g phones at gsmallover.com 2 thumbs way up

  • Relle

    I’ve got no complaints at all with the operation quality of this phone. The only app I’m not able to get going yet is Timescape, which for some reason will not connect to my email server (I’m sure I’ll nut that problem out shortly). As for all else, the phone does what it is promoted to do. Takes quality photos, very good vids (if you want better by a video camera !). Mediascape is great….the onscreen menu layouts are convenient and easily changed….all in all, I have no complaints ! Great phone, and you don’t need a pilot’s license to drive it.

  • Chris

    It’s is a very good phone, and the 4,0″ screen i really nice but it will be AMA-ZING when it gets Android 2.1 this month(September 2010) =D

  • Beth

    Does anyone know how exactly to take the back off? I’ve tried pulling it off from the side like a comment said somewhere here, but it’s not working…

  • Lsentker

    @ paris…download the app : LED Light

  • jessiiee

    i love the phone :)

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