Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1 review

Sony Ericsson has produced some exceptional handsets over the years, with certain gems like the W950, W300i and W580i (just to name a few) catching the eyes and hearts of casual and hardcore mobile fanatics alike. Even so, it's hard to argue that any single phone in the outfit's history has caused more of a stir than the XPERIA X1. Sure, half of that is because we here in America have been waiting on the thing since February, but the other is due to pure, unadulterated sex appeal. 2008 has been a banner year for smart- / touchscreen-based handsets, and even though this one is lagging behind most of the other guys in terms of time to market, the X1 is still a formidable rival. We had a chance to spend a few quality days with the North America-bound X1a ($799.99; ships November 28th) -- which is different than the X1i that has already landed in certain parts of the globe -- and if you've come here looking for opinions, you haven't come in vain. Follow us past the break for a look at the pros, the cons and the middling minutiae of SE's slickest smartphone yet.

No need to beat around the bush -- the very thing that caught everyone's attention when this beauty was originally unveiled was its magnificent body. From end to end, top to bottom, the XPERIA X1 is drop-dead gorgeous. Yeah, you could probably credit HTC for that, but either way, there's no denying just how striking this piece is in the hand. Sure, it's a bit bulkier than some of the fashionphones we've seen lately, but it's hardly "thick" for a WinMo powerhouse. In fact, we actually admired the heft and felt that it was just thick / heavy enough to feel "solid" without bleeding into the undesirable realm of "chunky."

Quite frankly, it's astounding the level of detail that's here. From the brushed black aluminum body to the tasteful chrome accents to the curvaceous slide-out keyboard, it's easy to see that every square millimeter of this was combed over before heading to production. The high-end exterior doesn't end there; flick your thumb against the loose side of the front panel and experience a silky smooth opening that reveals a chrome / silver QWERTY keyboard that's just begging to be touched. And if you take this gem behind closed doors and flip off the lights, be prepared to be all sorts of impressed with the backlit keys that light up automatically with the onset of night.

After caving to the keyboard's seduction, we quickly found that the typing experience wasn't nearly as delicious as we were led to believe. It's not that we couldn't bang out comprehensible messages at a decent rate, it's just that we never felt truly comfortable that what we were mashing was translating correctly to on-screen text. Let us explain. For starters, the entire keyboard is too flush with the body. Unless you're casting at least a passing glance at the keys while you type, you can easily question whether or not you've actually "depressed" a key. Sure, it sounds like a minor grumble, but a little more feedback in the keys would've certainly been swell. On a related note, the top row of keys is simply too close to the edge of the display. We can't imagine that the curved design helps in this regard, but in any case, we often found our reasonably small thumbs clashing with the bezel rather than inputting that all important "R," "T," or "O." Is this something you could learn to adapt to? Maybe. But after a number of days texting and sending e-mail, we still found ourselves having to re-input missed keystrokes and readjust our approach to the top row.

Moving on to the display, we can't say that we're altogether stoked about the resistive touchscreen. Yeah, it gets the job done, but after spending a moment or two with a capacitive touch panel (see: T-Mobile G1 and Apple iPhone 3G), it's hard to go back to the mushy, spongy reality that comes with resistive. Particularly with some of WinMo's smallest icons, we were forced to angle our fingernail just so in order to finally get the screen to recognize our input in the correct location, and while it performed rather admirably with the stylus, those who tend to keep that thing holstered may take issue with how it interprets finger-based inputs. Not that this is any different than most other resistive touchscreens -- it's just the nature of the beast, so to speak. As for the quality of the 800 x 480 resolution display itself? Striking. And really, did you honestly expect a reaction different than that? We mean, it's a VGA screen on a handset -- that's a recipe hard to sabotage.


A quick note on the hard buttons just beneath the LCD. All of 'em seemed to do their respective jobs well enough, but the optical joystick in the center was a touch on the finicky side. In some cases (scrolling up and down web pages, for instance), it was easy to love. In others (moving about within the Programs folder), we found ourselves frustrated by how erratic it could be. We'd gesture down, it would move two blocks right and one down. We'd gesture up, and it'd shoot up three and back down two. Thankfully, the quirkiness was somewhat contained after adjusting the sensitivity to an optimal setting (read: very low), though it's still a matter of personal preference whether one will enjoy this over using the touch panel or the "D-pad." Of note, the joystick can be deactivated altogether or just in IE, Messaging and Contacts.


It is worth noting that the external volume rocker is well placed and much appreciated, as is the marvelous 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. Also, we love how tightly integrated the 3.2-megapixel camera (and flash) is with the body, but we're not so hot on where the lens is. Time after time, we found ourselves having to move our finger from how it naturally fell when gearing up to depress the shutter button in order to snap a photo. Maybe our gorilla hands are just clumsy like that, but it seems to us the lens is placed precisely where your middle finger on your left hand will always reside when holding the camera for a shot. As for the camera quality? We'd say it's pretty darn great for a cellphone, but then again, the inbuilt camera tends to be one of Sony Ericsson's strong suits. Have a look at the sample shots below to see what it's capable of.One final thought on the hardware -- the removable battery is much, much appreciated, as is the ease in which it is to remove. No atypical hardware is required here. Simply pop the back casing off with your thumb and pull up on the bottom of the cell. We will say, however, that having the micro SD slot hidden underneath of this casing could prove annoying for those who swap out flash cards with any frequency, but it does keep the overall look of the phone less cluttered.

Software / Windows Mobile 6.1

So, now that you've combed through the ups and downs of the hardware, we're logically ready to tackle software. By and large, what you've got here is tried and true Windows Mobile 6.1. In fairness, the operating system is beginning to show its age, and unlike the Touch Diamond, there isn't much here to mask it. Those familiar with WinMo 6.1 will feel immediately at home on the XPERIA X1. Everything is where you'd expect, and everything functions just like you're used to. Outside of the unique Panels interface, you won't find anything too out of the ordinary here.

One would think the 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7200 processor coupled with 256MB of RAM could chew through this OS with ease, but in our testing, we found that not to be the case in too many instances. On an annoyingly frequent basis, we found the "OK" button and hard "Exit" trigger to do absolutely nothing for 5, 10, even 20 seconds. Eventually, everything would catch back up and we could resume whatever it was that we were trying to do in the first place, but the frequent and debilitating lag when switching applications, screen orientation, folders or e-mail accounts was downright pestiferous. After awhile, it would often get to the point where a hard reboot was the only option left for getting the system back to its speedy self. When things did decide to run smoothly, we found ourselves enjoying the spoils of Windows Mobile, but too often -- for instance -- we'd glance down and manually surf over to "Messaging" only to find a dozen text messages that it never bothered to alert us of.


As for the Panel interface, we found ourselves cautiously optimistic that SE could have a winner on its hands here. Just seven panels come loaded on the X1a, and for those unfamiliar, each panel is essentially a customizable home screen that provides a variety of information based on what panel you have selected. For instance, the included Google panel puts a search box right on your home screen along with one-click links to Maps, Gmail, Gcal and Photos. The multimedia panel puts your tunes / videos at the forefront of your X1 experience, while the more generic calender panel hosts up a clock, your upcoming appointments, the current weather and a small RSS feed of your favorite websites.

We've heard that SE has big plans for this initiative, possibly bringing panels for YouTube access, social networking sites, etc. Unfortunately, the "More Panels" download link within the UI was still under construction at the time of this writing, so we're left to simply hope that what will eventually reside there is enriching and worthwhile. We should mention, however, that our experience with the seven built-in panels wasn't entirely exhilarating. Oftentimes, just changing panels was a 10 to 30 second affair, and icons on the panels themselves generally took 5 or more seconds to respond to an input (read: not nearly as quickly as what we saw in a Panels promotional vid). It's possible the panels integration with WinMo could be tightened in future software updates, but as it stands, the lag times put a damper on an otherwise enticing aspect of the phone.


Herpal14 said...

maaf mbak diana..
saya kemaren baca di iklan'
katanya blog ini mau di jual ya??
bener gak tuh??