July 22, 2009

Hands on with Sony Ericcson Xperia X1

Recently, Sony Ericsson sent me one of their Xperia X1a smartphones to get a hands on review. I remember when this phone was first announced, it immediately became my top choice as a Windows Mobile device, back when iPhone OS wasn't quite as good as today and the market did not have so many other choices (Android and WebOS).

The Xperia X1 is a gorgeous piece of hardware; unlike the iPhone or Palm Pre, the Xperia X1's design is a bit more masculine, with strong corners and bold lines all around. The material used on the phone is very solid, lots of aluminum and metal trims which gives the phone a sturdy and heavy feel. The sliding keyboard mechanism is solid along with all the buttons on the front and sides of this beautiful smartphone. For a slider phone with a spacious QWERTY keyboard, this phone is pretty thin and compact. I am absolutely in love with this phone's hardware design as it brings back the classic high-end phone nostalgia (holding this phone reminds me of the excitement similar to the classic Nokia 8890 that spells class, elegance and luxury). The Xperia X1a Silver can be had for $699 at SonyStyles.com but can be had for much less online (Amazon $560 shipped).

Next, we'll go over the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good: Superb hardware design and specification!
Sony Ericsson Xperia X1a (the "a" stood for version slated for the U.S. market) is loaded with features. You have the usual quadband GSM network and US 3G HSDPA data support (for AT&T) along with WVGA 800x480 display, 802.11b/g WiFi, internal memory, MicroSDHC support, fast 528MHz CPU, high capacity 1500mAh battery, AGPS, Stereo Bluetooth 2.0, 3.5mm headphone jack, FM radio, 3.1MP Camera w/ flash and lots more. The OS is Windows Mobile Professional 6.1 (which I'll get to later) but it features a unique X panel display for highly customizable homepage (icons, feeds, weather, clock, etc...). The phone can be charged via USB cable which makes it highly flexible; the full QWERTY keyboard is hiding discreetly under a unique arc shaped sliding mechanism which makes this package all so beautiful.

The most striking feature of this X1a is probably its stunning WVGA LCD display. At 800x480, the screen is immaculate and super sharp. I couldn't help but stare at the LCD screen just to see how sharp the image quality is on such a small phone. Movie watching off of this phone is an amzing experience; I'd go as far as to say that it has the best LCD of any smartphone I've seen thus far!

The Bad: User input a bit awkard!
Aside from its spacious QWERTY keyboard, I am finding the overall experience interacting with the phone a bit awkward. For instance, the buttons most frequently used are too close to the edge of the phone to be comfortable to operate with one hand (ie. volume, phone, end call, etc...). Sony used a touch-pad like button for primary navigation of the menu; it works great but is limited by how small the surface area of the button is. You can also use the standard D-pad to click and navigate but it kind of interferes with the touch-pad button which makes neither an easy task to navigate. Sony packed in two stylus so we can interact with Windows Mobile easier, I still find Windows Mobile input on screen too slow and too cumbersome.

The Ugly: Windows Mobile Professional 6.1

I can't help but noticed how dated Windows Mobile is on this phone. Its unintuitive and unattractive. I handed over my X1a to two non-smartphone users at work and both were lost and wasn't sure what to do to work the phone; whereas the same people had no problem figuring out basic functionality over my G1 or iPhone. I appreciate Windows Mobile's connection to the business world (ie. mobile Office, traditional file management, exchange/push email, etc...), however, at this point, its just too hard to convince anyone to make a switch from their iPhone or Palm Pre. If only this phone came with Android as its operating system... one can only dream.

Real Life Experience with the Xperia X1:
I took the SIM card out of my iPhone 3G and used the X1 for a couple of days. Voice calls were crystal clear; I mustered a lengthy conversation (40min+) with plenty of battery life remaining. Since X1 can be charged over mini USB, its is very convenient for me to recharge on the go. Surfing the web is extremely fast over 3G network, in fact, I think this phone is by far the fastest data connection I've experienced on a mobile. The X1 for the most part, does everything you want it to do; it just doesn't do it in a fun or stylish fashion. Sony's xPanels are a great way to display useful information to your liking but beyond that, Windows Mobile really makes the user experience quite frustrating; settings and info are often buried deep within subdirectories (ie. Camera), overall user experience (dialer, SMS thread, internet browser) just feels too dated compared to the iPhone OS, Android or Palm WebOS.

That said, I would give the hardware and design a 9 out of 10 score but the mobile experience was let down by its dated OS. A fair statement would be if you absolutely have to have a Windows Mobile device, this would be top of my recommended list. I am really interested in seeing what Sony has in store for us in the upcoming 'Rachel' smartphone featuring Android OS.


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