The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 has a body that makes a thousand promises, with a big 102mm (4-inch) screen and an 8.1-megapixel camera backed by a curvaceous booty. Unfortunately, it doesn't follow through on the flirting, due to its slightly older version of the Android operating system and user interface tweaks that need more polish.
It's available now online SIM-free for the thick end of £500, for £430 on pay as you go or free on contracts from £25 a month.
Escape the landscape
Sony Ericsson has jazzed up the bog-standard version of Google's Android operating system, and in theory we're right behind it. Android can be uninspiring and complex in places, so a little sparkle can really improve an OS that's otherwise powerful and fun. Son Eric's efforts are a mixed bag, however.
The X10 sports two headline features -- Timescape and Mediascape. Timescape brings together everything from texts, email and tweets to recent photos and songs into a zippy timeline, which you flick through with a finger. It's cool-looking, and we like the idea, but it's not as useful as it could be.
It's great to see all your tweets and updates in one stream, but you have to tap each message to see more than the first few words, and then tap again to open a separate application to reply, follow a link, or anything else. For our tweets, that meant re-opening the Twitter Web site every time we wanted to do anything other than read -- click a link, for example -- and then hitting the back button several times to get back to Timescape. Social media is all about interaction, so until you can interact seamlessly, Timescape needs work.
Mediascape, on the other hand, is a useful treat. It shows the music, video and photos on your phone, and also displays your online photo albums from services such as Picasa and Facebook. In our tests, online photos sometimes took a moment to load, even over Wi-Fi, but we loved having them available on our phone.
Mediascape doesn't have some of the slick user interface actions of Timescape -- for example, you can slide your finger to filter the items in Timescape when you want to just see text messages, for example. In Mediascape, you have to tap the on-screen buttons rather than swipe with a finger to move between categories. We'd rather have function over form though, so we wish Son Eric had spent more time focusing on what's useful rather than whizzy transitions.
Android on board
Because Sony Ericsson has taken the time to tweak Android with its fancy footnotes, the X10 has fallen behind. It runs version 1.6 of Android, rather than the latest version, 2.1, seen on the HTC Legend and others. If you haven't used Android before, you probably won't notice the difference -- you can still download and install apps, use Google Maps, and lots of other fun stuff.
There are one or two features you'll miss out on though -- the later version can support more than one Google account, for example, so if you have a Gmail account and a Google Apps account you can't use them both. But this won't affect many people, and most of the other holes have been plugged by Sony Ericsson. It's added support for Microsoft Exchange email, which many people use at work, since that feature wasn't added to Android until version 2.1.
Sony Ericsson has promised the X10 will get frequent updates, which is admirable -- especially since most people will be forking out for a two-year contract for this phone. That means later versions of Android and refreshes to the custom features, unlocking bits of the hardware that aren't yet supported by the OS, such as an even higher colour resolution for the screen. We expect the company will live up to this promise, so if you fall in love with the X10, we don't think you should stay away just because of the slightly older version of Android.
Unfortunately, one feature that probably won't be coming to the X10 is multi-touch, which means no two-fingered gestures that will have you giddily zooming in and out of Web pages and photos. If you aren't used to using multi-touch already, you probably won't miss it, but it's such a fun and intuitive way of interacting with a touchscreen phone that we're always sad when it's not an option.
The X10 may be behind the curve on software, but its camera is ahead of the pack. An 8.1-megapixel snapper does a great job of capturing sharp shots in good light, and there's even an LED photo light -- although for some reason, it doesn't come on automatically. We had to turn it on manually when we took photos and video in low light, which is totally impractical. Despite this quirk, the camera on the X10 shines when compared to many other smart phones, and offers lots of options to help you fine-tune your pics.
We weren't as impressed with the X10's speed. It boasts a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, just like the HTC Desire, but the X10 felt slower in places. This is possibly because its graphics are more ambitious, like when Timescape first opens and when trying to unlock the screen. But this phone isn't unbearably sluggish, it's just not mind-blowingly fast like some of its top of the range competitors.
Similarly, the on-screen keyboard is better than on the average touchscreen phone, but doesn't measure up to the kings of the touchscreen hill, the iPhone 3GS, the HTC Legend and the HTC Desire. The keys are arranged logically, and they're big enough, but we didn't find them as responsive to our fastest typing, and there's no button to hide away the keyboard -- which is very useful in Android, because the keyboard often pops up and blocks on-screen buttons.
Somehow Sony Ericsson has gotten away with having three buttons on the front instead of the usual four, and it's also gotten rid of the trackpad you typically see on Android phones. That makes the phone look more streamlined, even with the addition of a dedicated camera button.
At 13mm thick, the X10 isn't the thinnest phone out there, but it feels thin, and we love its softly curved back -- it's slightly rubbery to prevent slips. The front is a sheer cliff of screen, which is shiny and hungry for fingerprints, but worth it for the 4 inches of big screen loveliness.
The X10 doesn't skimp on connectivity either, offering Wi-Fi, GPS, and HSPA for fast Web surfing over 3G. Stereo Bluetooth and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack ensure you can use your own wireless or wired headphones. It's also packed in 1GB of on-board memory -- which is especially handy for Android phones, since you have install all your apps to the on-board memory -- and comes with an 8GB microSD card, with support for up to a 32GB card.
With all this power on board, making calls should be the least of your worries -- and we found call quality was fine on the X10. We were slightly annoyed we had to tap to unlock the screen, while in a call, so we could use the number pad -- but at least it keeps the phone from being dialled by your face.
The battery life was also decent for a smart phone, which is to say you can get a full day on one charge, unless you're surfing the Web like an eBay addict.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 is a very good first stab at the Android-powered phone, with a lovely big screen and above-average camera. If we'd never seen its top of the range competition, such as the HTC Desire, we wouldn't know to pine for the latest Android features, multi-touch or better-integrated custom apps. But we have seen this phone done slightly better elsewhere, so it's hard to ignore what's missing on the X10.
Edited by Nick Hide