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

By: , IntoMobile
Friday, May 21st, 2010 at 4:54 PM

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.

About The Author

Marin Perez

Marin Perez has torture tested cell phones and smartphones for industry leaders like CNET and InformationWeek. He remembers when 4G was just a screen on PowerPoint presentations and is fascinated with the amount of innovation out there. Marin has spent a lot of time with BlackBerry and Android but he finally broke down a bought an iPhone to see what all the hype's about. He also has too many tablets.