The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini has a name that's longer than the Nile, but it's actually the smallest smart phone we've ever seen. It's so tiny that it makes us chortle whenever we pick it up, but it's just on the right side of usable, and Sony Ericsson has made some smart tweaks to the Android user interface.
The Mini is available for free on a £15-a-month, 24-month contract. You can also buy it SIM-free and unlocked, so you can use it on any network, for around £230.
The Mini is the follow-up to Sony Ericsson's first Android phone, the Xperia X10. The Mini feels like the X10 snapped in half, but it has many of the same features, as it also runs version 1.6 of the Android operating system.
Sony Ericsson has tweaked the user interface to suit the 64mm (2.5-inch) screen. For example, the on-screen Qwerty keyboard has been ditched in favour of an alphanumeric keypad. That means you'll never be able to text as quickly on the Mini as you will on most other smart phones. But, considering the size of the phone, the keypad is well designed.
The keypad buttons are large and finger-friendly, and it's easy to swipe between different keypads that feature letters, numbers and symbols while you're typing -- an innovation that we'd like to see on more touchscreen phones. Unfortunately, the keypad doesn't work in landscape mode, so it can't take advantage of the full height of the screen.
The home-screen area is equally well suited to the small display. You're able to swipe between a selection of home screens that you can load with one widget each, and four shortcuts sit in each corner of the screen too. It's too bad that the widgets don't fill more of the screen -- most of them sit in the middle -- but it's handy to have access to live info without having to open a separate app, like your calendar, for example.
Escape the Timescape
We're not as impressed with the Timescape feature, which is one of Sony Ericsson's flagship apps. Timescape brings together your Twitter and Facebook updates, as well as missed calls and texts, into a zippy timeline that you flick through with a finger. It's not as jazzy-looking as the version on the larger X10, and suffers from the same flaw -- you can only see the first few words of an update. Then you have to tap it and open the relevant Web site to see the whole message or reply, even if you have an app installed that could handle it. We recommend you try downloading one of the great Facebook or Twitter clients from the Android Market instead.
The Mini doesn't offer the X10's Mediascape feature, which shows the videos, photos and music on your phone. But it does have an 'infinity button' in its music player app that loads related content from YouTube and PlayNow, Sony Ericsson's music store.
Behind the times
Because Sony Ericsson has tweaked the Android OS for the Mini, it's fallen behind the breakneck Android update schedule. Consequently, the Mini is running Android 1.6, rather than the latest version, 2.2. That won't make much difference to most people, especially if you've never used the newer version of Android, because you can still download apps and use Google features like Gmail and Maps.
You will, however, miss out on a couple of handy features, such as built-in support for Outlook email -- you'll have to install a separate app instead. Also, a few apps won't be available for Android 1.6, so you won't see them in the app store, and there's no multi-touch zoom capability.
The Mini doesn't feel as fast as a top-of-the-line smart phone like the HTC Desire, but it's still usable, and, crucially, the keypad is responsive. We did experience a few crashes and stalls during our tests, but we can forgive that when Sony Ericsson's rammed a smart phone into such a small, cheap package.
The Mini has Wi-Fi and A-GPS on-board, and it also has HSPA for fast Web surfing over 3G. There's only a paltry 128MB of built-in memory, which could be an issue if you're installing loads of apps. But, for storing music, video and other files, you can slap in a microSD memory card of up to 16GB. The phone we tested came with a 2GB card, as well as some snazzy, interchangeable back covers.
For geeks with plenty of extra cash, a SIM-free Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini would make an ideal party phone. It's tiny enough to take out on the town, but you still get all your Android apps, and your contacts and other data will be automatically synced with your main phone over the cloud.
The Mini is also a good choice for anyone who wants a small handset, but still wants to dip their toes into the world of apps and other smart-phone perks. The lack of a virtual Qwerty keyboard means we can't recommend it for serious emailers, texters and social-networking fiends, though.
Edited by Charles Kloet