Sony Ericsson's Aino is proof that the higher you reach the harder you can fall. This phone looked like it had huge potential, but, in the end, just gave us a pain in the Aino. Sporting groovy good looks, it's packed with innovative features, including the ability to remotely control your PlayStation 3. Unfortunately, its huge range of interesting features is poorly organised and occasionally nonsensical.
The Aino is available for free on a £35-a-month contract, or around £390 SIM-free.
Get ready for some heart-breaking news. The Sony Ericsson Aino is not the much-rumoured PSP phone. But it is a phone with a very special relationship with the PS3. Register the phone with your PS3 and you should be able to stream video and audio over Wi-Fi or 3G from anywhere in the world. You can't play games, but you can turn your PS3 on and off, which is pretty cool.
We tried the 'remote play' feature on two different wireless networks, and found that some work is needed to get it up and running. Sony Ericsson has posted a guide to remote play on its Web site, but it's superficial. It glosses over configuring port-forwarding on your wireless router, which is just as techie as it sounds and something that you may have to do to make the wireless-control feature work.
We were able to test the feature by wirelessly connecting straight to our PS3 without going over the Wi-Fi network. When it works, it's very cool. You can easily navigate around your PS3 on the phone, and watching video, for example, is fun. But, again, don't expect this feature to be easy to set up. We also expect that the results would be poor-quality over the 3G network.
Look, but don't touch
The Aino also separates itself from the phone herd by mixing touchscreen and non-touchscreen interfaces. When this slider phone is open, it's an utterly normal non-touchscreen phone. But, when it's closed, it has a totally different, touch-sensitive user interface. In this mode, it doesn't show most of its plethora of features -- instead, it's a media device that you can touch to view your photos, videos and music.
The touchscreen is fairly responsive, and the icons look good, but the user interface works poorly. For example, you can only select your music by album, not by artist or other category. You can listen to playlists, but you'll have to slide the phone out to change them or add a song. It's a very restrictive system, especially compared to that of a dedicated MP3 player like the Sony Walkman NWZ-S544.
It's also unclear where you should touch to make something happen -- for example, to go back a level. We saw some technical hiccups as well, such as the controls being duplicated all over the video-playing screen.
When you shut the slider, the touchscreen fun ends abruptly. We really missed the touch capability when we had the phone open and were surfing the Web, for instance, since the ability to poke a link can really come in handy.
There's no shortage of applications on the Aino -- Sony Ericsson has stuffed in every feature it could think of. Unfortunately, it hasn't designed the user interface to handle it all, so menus often feel like they offer too many options. For example, when we selected 'organiser', which is represented by a calendar-page icon on the main menu, we expected to see the calendar. Instead, we saw a list of 14 more options, including video-calling and file-transfer features, and a folder containing the apps we installed from Sony Ericsson's app store.
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