Review: Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini and Mini Pro

SonyEricsson-X10Mini-Title

The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro captured everybody’s attention when it was announced at Mobile World Congress 2010. It was flanked by the Vivaz Pro, which was a QWERTY variant using a smartphone OS few cared for, and the X10 Mini, which seemed impractical without a real keyboard. The original X10, though looked good on paper with an 8 megapixel camera and 4″ screen, suffered from poor software, and as Sony Ericsson’s first Android phone, it was a bad start to their history with the platform.

Now we have these two little guys trickling into the market, and we can’t help but wonder: could the Xperia brand really be saved by two devices running a relatively-old Android 1.6, packing mere QVGA displays, and sporting a largely-untested form factor?

Sony Ericsson X10 Mini and Mini Pro
Mini available on Rogers for $29.99 on a 3-year contract

Specifications (Specs – sheet)

  • 2.55-inch capacitive touchscreen, QVGA (240 x 320)
  • Mini: 88 g, 83 x 50 x 16 mm; Mini Pro: 120 g, 90 x 52 x 17 mm
  • 600 MHz Qualcomm MSM7227 CPU
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 5 megapixel camera with LED flash, autofocus, and macro setting
  • 3G (HSPA: 900/2100, quad-band EDGE)
  • WiFi (b/g)
  • GPS (aGPS)
  • Android 1.6 with Sony Ericsson’s Timescape social networking app
  • MicroSD card slot that supports 16 GB
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Slide-out QWERTY keyboard on Mini Pro
  • 3.5 hours talk time, 360 hours standby

The Good

  • Highly pocketable and attractive form factor
  • Good camera with easy sharing
  • Excellent keyboard on the X10 Mini Pro

The Bad

  • Poor battery life
  • Predicitive text on virtual keyboards can be slow
  • Small screen size and resolution diminishes media power

Hardware

Overall, I’m impressed with the X10 Mini and Mini Pro’s build quality. The slide mechanism is snappy, but requires just a bit too much force to kick in for my liking. The key quality is exceptional – they’re well-spaced, slightly domed, and a good size, even for such a small device. The backlight also kicks in really quickly, which is nice for when ambient lighting is a little erratic. The matte battery door adds a significant amount of grip when typing, and keeps things very comfortable. In fact, a big chunk of this review was written on the Pro, which I don’t think is something I could do on my usual handset, a BlackBerry. Unfortunately, the virtual keyboard on the X10 Mini didn’t work in landscape, leaving you to work with a traditional predictive keyboard. Boo.

Style-wise, the Minis follows closely in the footsteps of their significantly bigger brother, the X10. Like before, Sony Ericsson strikes a really elegant balance between sharp edges and smooth curves. The two devices have some slight differences in style, mostly by way of the function keys around the outside, but you can still tell the X10 Mini and Mini Pro are related. The form factor strikes me as highly distinctive – I’d be hard pressed to name a smartphone that’s this small and packs a physical keyboard, and as such, the X10 Mini Pro will be the only real option for those who place pocketability and solid keys high on their checklist. The X10 Mini might see a little bit of competition from Acer, or the HTC Aria, but even then, it’s still a largely unoccupied niche.


Software

It needs to be said that Sony Ericsson’s take on Android has been significantly improved since the X10. Everything is way faster to load and the on-screen keyboard actually responds properly.  Still, there are a few quirks. For one, inputting any text summons a bar along the bottom allowing you to change languages and see your caps and alt status, which (though handy) gobbles up precious screen real estate. Moving the text cursor can be finnicky too, as mentioned in my X10 Mini unboxing. You need to start swiping right away with text, as if you hold down for too long, it brings up the native Android popup.

I found typing on the X10 Mini a hassle. I’m sure I could get used to the prediction system in time, but it felt like a lot of work tweaking nonstandard words, or chugging through multitap get words out. It’s not for lack of polish on the virtual keyboard, mind you – the keys respond accurately, quickly, and the prediction options pop up as smoothly and intuitively as you could expect. Despite that, I would have no doubts about picking the X10 Mini Pro over the standard Mini, even if it’s a few bucks more.

Sony Ericsson’s custom social networking app, Timescape, is actually really nice for casually perusing Facebook and Twitter updates; I’m just a little disappointed that I can’t do more through that interface without launching through to a mobile website or a dedicated Twitter app. The other custom Android app, Mediascape, is conspicuously absent, but to be honest, I never found it to be especially useful on the X10. Speaking of useless, I still don’t find the Infinity button especially necessary for anything. It makes an appearance in media and contact apps to discover local and online related content, but the desire to do anything like that on a day-to-day basis is close to nil.

Aside from that, there are a few smaller customizations made for the X10 Mini and Mini Pro, the most obvious being having widgets take up entire home screens, and shortcut slots in the four corners of those home screens. Some widgets work well as a single home screen kind of a thing – Foursquare, Facebook, and Latitude stick out as good examples. Others, like the quick search bar, utility controls, and even Sony Ericsson’s own Timescape widget leave a lot of dead space that you can do nothing much with. The screen size also limits some apps in either practicality or compatibility, but I still found the Android Market selection to be much more interesting than BlackBerry App World’s.

Yes, Android 1.6 will feel a little dated if you’re rocking something newer already. The only real feature I found myself really wanting was a unified inbox, but that’s because it’s been taken for granted on every BlackBerry I’ve used over the last couple of years. Overall, the X10 Mini and Mini Pro didn’t feel especially gimped for running Android 1.6 and not something more recent.


Multimedia

The 5 megapixel camera is generally awesome, and will let you take some nice Facebook-worthy shots. As soon as you sideload the full pictures onto your desktop, however, I’ve found that the pictures are lacking a lot of finer detail. It almost feels like Sony Ericsson is just blowing up a lot of the image to claim the 5 megapixel count, but to be fair, you’re not often going to be in a position where you want something print quality. The macro focus is really good, though – take a look for yourself.

Here’s a little something in low-light using the flash.

And a shot in open sunlight. This one’s a good example of the diminished detail I mentioned earlier. Zoomed out all the way, it’s fine, but looking just a bit closer, even at the stuff in the foreground, you can see little detail.

Speaking of pictures, viewing shots on the X10 Mini and Mini Pro is surprisingly good. When browsing in landscape, the whole album tilts in a pretty funky way depending on how much inertia you throw into scrolling. Zooming is also really nice and intuitive; just hold your finger in one spot until it vibrates, and you move your finger up or down to zoom in or out, centered on the spot you touched.

The web browsing experience on both phones was adequate – the native Webkit Android browser is generally pretty fast, and the zoomed out mode with magnifying glass and fast panning is a nice change of pace from the BlackBerry browser. However, the QVGA display and small size will leave anyone used to full touchscreen slates pretty unsatisfied.

Finally, I found both phones subpar as media players. There were many media types on my microSD memory card that wouldn’t play, and my Bose in-ear headphones with in-line mic didn’t work with the jack. The bundled headphones were alright, but not something I would permanently want to use.


Phone and Battery

Over the last couple of weeks using both the X10 Mini and the X10 Mini Pro, I didn’t have any trouble with calls, although holding a phone that small can occaisionally be awkward. The automatic Google sync for contacts was great for backing up the phone numbers of relatives while I was visiting out of town so I could pull all of the new data to my BlackBerry when switching back.

The battery is the by far the toughest pill to swallow with these handsets. 930 mAh isn’t enough to power a full day of moderate to heavy use. GPS and Wi-Fi take their toll too, and the fact that the X10 Mini’s battery isn’t removable just compounds the problem. If you’re interested in using this as your daily driver, be sure to carefully plan mid-day charging.


Verdict

The X10 Mini and the X10 Mini Pro are some pretty interesting phones. The camera seems too powerful for something so small, Android should be a pain to navigate on a screen that size, and on paper, the idea of a keyboard on the Mini Pro sounds like it just wouldn’t fly – yet all of these things happen on the X10 Minis. And bless Sony Ericsson for finally getting Android working reasonably smoothly on one of their phones. The original X10 was a complete headache.

There is of course, plenty of room to improve: Timescape, though some nice enough eye candy, still has some proper functionality it could include. The Infinity button idea is still foreign and useless, and should be taken out back just like Mediascape, and in order to make the X10 Mini really work, it needs a landscape keyboard. Android 1.6 will be a big strike against these handsets for aficionados, but Sony Ericsson has promised that updates are on the way.

So who should pick up the X10 Mini or Mini Pro? Light smartphone users who are primarily interested in something fashionable that can take good pictures, and handle messaging in a pinch. Hardcore users will likely be left unsatisfied with the smaller screen, weak battery life, and older operating system, but casual users won’t notice or care.

Back to top ▴