We're grateful that Sony Ericsson hasn't skimped on features, but, without a good way of finding and figuring out how to use them, many users are unlikely to bother with them. The terse manual included in the Aino's box won't help much, and you'll have to go online to figure out what everything does.
If you're prepared to make the effort, though, you'll find that the Aino offers every feature you'd expect to find, and more. An FM radio, a feature that organises your music by 'feel', and GPS maps with geotagging are just a selection of the many options on-board.
Connect to the Net over Wi-Fi or speedy HSPA 3G and you can surf the Web in the Aino's browser, which shows mobile versions of sites, rather than the full versions you'd see in a more powerful browser like the iPhone's. YouTube and BBC iPlayer apps come pre-loaded, and video is watchable on the bright screen.
The Aino comes with a charging and syncing dock, which
holds the phone sideways at a good angle for watching videos or using the
touchscreen interface. You can keep the slider open while the phone's in the
dock too, if you're streaming video from your PS3 and you want to work the
controls. The dock can be plugged into your PC to sync the phone over
USB, or it can be plugged into the wall.
Get unplugged and dance
The Aino also comes with a Bluetooth headphone adaptor, with a hands-free microphone. You can plug into the adaptor the included earbuds or your own headphones, or the 3.5mm jack in your car or stereo, if you have one. When we tested the adaptor, it connected automatically when Bluetooth was turned on, and it stayed connected even when the phone was several metres away. The Bluetooth adaptor isn't tiny -- it's about the size of a finger -- but it's got easy-to-use controls and some groovy flashing lights too.
We'd usually complain about a media phone like the Aino skimping on a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, but we can't whinge when there's a headphone adaptor that can keep your cans connected wirelessly, without adding any extra cord length. Sound quality is reassuringly good, although we felt that, when using the Bluetooth adaptor, audio lost a subtle fullness compared to that of a good dedicated MP3 player. Nevertheless, the Bluetooth adaptor is an awesome accessory that we wish we could get with every phone.
While the Aino's music player and Bluetooth headphone adaptor made us dance our little black hearts out, the camera left us cold. Despite an 8.1-megapixel sensor, we found photo quality was only average, with grainy tones and washed-out details.
The LED photo light didn't do a good job of illuminating large areas when we took shots in low light, and we had to keep a steady hand to get clear shots, even in good light. But we could say all this about most mobile-phone cameras, and the Aino is no worse than average, so it's fine for the occasional snapshot when you don't have a dedicated camera with you.
We admire the Sony Ericsson Aino for bringing a tonne of new features into our lives, but we can't love it. Cool tricks like streaming from a PlayStation 3 and becoming a touchscreen media player when slid shut are good in theory, but they're confusing, unreliable and hard to use in reality. Ignoring these headline features, the Aino works well as a great-looking slider phone with excellent accessories, but, as a cutting-edge phone with a price tag to match, it's a disappointment.
Edited by Charles Kloet