Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1a Review
There is no bad time to take a look at the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1a. Released in Europe last fall and in the US around the New Year, it’s no longer the newest kid on the block since we’ve had the pleasure of seeing CES and MWC come and go. But that doesn’t mean it’s obsolete or uncool anymore. In fact, (spoiler alert) it’s one of the better WinMo devices I’ve had the pleasure of playing with.
When originally announced in February 2008, the X1 was going to be head of the class. Its innovative design and high-end features were enough to make any tech fan salivate. And quite frankly, it’s a sexy looking phone. It just took a while to finally get to North America, and hasn’t been picked up by AT&T or T-Mobile. Nevertheless it has still been a highly desired gadget.
So join with me as I pick apart Sony Ericsson’s first major venture into the realm of Windows.
Design of the SE Xperia X1
Love at first sight — the design is where the Xperia truly shines. It’s the first thing I noticed upon opening the box and handling the X1; we’re talking some serious eye candy. The phone itself is made of brushed metal and throws in some chrome detailing which gives a great sleek and sexy look. The phone feels great in the hand as it is one of the narrowest Windows devices I’ve seen. Overall a lot of thought was put into the making of the X1.
As a side note, HTC must be credited with actually designing and making the X1. This is not much of a shocker considering HTC is the worldwide leader in designing and manufacturing Windows devices.
Directly below the touch screen we find a set of triangular navigation keys. In addition to the typical call/end and soft keys, we find an OK button and Panel button (we’ll get more into panels in a moment). The triangular shape is unique as we don’t see this style present in many other phones. The argument is that this shape optimizes the size of the buttons while making it feel as though your fingers naturally go there. My opinion is that it doesn’t really make a huge difference either way. If anything, I found myself confused at first.
In the middle of the navigation keys underneath the touch screen lies an optical toggle. Instead of building in the typical up/down/left/right button setup, Sony Ericsson opted for one button that allows you to swipe your finger up/down/left/right (or press inward) to get the desired result. I enjoyed using it, but it will frustrate some people who are used to the standard layout.
Sony threw in a beautiful 480×800 WVGA touchscreen that measures at 3.0″. While very narrow, the clarity of the screen itself is wonderful and I didn’t have a problem using my finger on it. I didn’t find any difficulty with the sensitivity of the touch, as it is a resistive touchscreen.
The most unique part of the X1’s design is its chrome-laden and curvy keyboard.
As you can tell, the sliding mechanism is somewhat curved, allowing the keyboard to arc ever so slightly when slid out. It is a 4-row QWERTY keyboard with the numbers bunched together on the right-hand side instead of being on the top row. I loved using the keyboard, as it was smooth to slide open and not too easy nor too hard. It offered spring but also resisted at the same time.
The buttons on the keyboard were smaller than I would like. I have small fingers, yet the buttons were still a bit too small for me.
The bad news about the design is that due to the brushed metal that makes up the outer shell of the X1, the Xperia weighs in at 5.1 oz, heavy compared to similar Windows devices currently in the market. But the X1 can’t win at everything in design, after all.
The Xperia is a narrow and thin 4.35 x 2.07 x 0.66 inches. Let’s see how it compares to some other similar phones.
Xperia’s User Interface
Just like HTC came out with TouchFLO 3D and Samsung thought up Touchwiz, the panels are Sony’s creative contribution to the Windows Mobile world.
Panels are customized home screens for Windows; different panels are capable of performing different types of tasks that suit the user best. For example, in addition to the standard Today screen that uses up one panel, there are 2-3 different types of today screens; a Google panel that looks much like the search engine itself and offers other Google services on the panel; panels for Facebook and the included FM radio; and a media player panel.
The beauty of the panels is the idea that you can download several other panels from Sony Ericsson’s special website optimized for the X1, which is essentially an app store for the X1.
By pressing the Panel button on the bottom of the X1’s navigation keys, it offers up several thumbnails of different panels you can choose.
Turn the phone on its side and it will show it in landscape style which is rather reminiscient of Apple’s Cover Flow design.
Don’t get me wrong — I think the panel concept is innovative and a new way of using Windows Mobile to our benefit. However I was disappointed in the execution. The very first thing I noticed when switching from one panel to another was how much of a lag there was in between. It typically took around 10 seconds for all the information on the new panel to update properly, and that is much too long to wait. Especially when anyone using the phone will want to switch back and forth multiple times in one sitting.
The other thing I noticed was that the regular Today screen is just another panel. If it were the default go-to screen it may make switching back to the Today from Facebook a bit more smooth and fast a transition.
Nothing groundbreaking here. The SMS, MMS and Email applications are all standard and haven’t changed on Windows devices in years.
Naturally the phone comes with IE built-in, but it also throws in Opera mini 9.5, a much more welcome sight for sore internet-surfing eyes. Needless to say, I went straight to the Opera for all my internet needs. Here are a couple screenshots.
Features of the Xperia X1
Processor/Memory – The Xperia sports a Qualcomm MSM7200 528 MHz processor with 256 MB RAM and 512 MB ROM. Also included is 400 MB of internal memory with a MicroSD slot. A decent amount for a smartphone of this caliber, but we always are hoping for more.
a-GPS – GPS works pretty well on the Xperia and doesn’t take too long to get set up, but it has some help from HTC’s Quick GPS program because it downloads satellite data to the phone.
WiFi – I found WiFi setup easy, and no real problems connecting whenever I needed to.
RSS Feeder – there is even a basic RSS feed reader available as an option on some of the panels. It works best when there are only one or two feeds, so if you are trying to keep up with several at once I still recommend any of the RSS readers available on the web.
Camera – The Xperia camera is a respectable 3.2 MP. Nowadays that isn’t the top of the line by any means, but for such a well-packed Windows device 3.2 MP is decent.
Performance of the Xperia
Again, another strength of the Xperia was in its performance. I had good experiences making and receiving calls, as I did not find any complaints either on my end or the other end of the call. Calls were clear, and reception was great in my area.
Battery life is rated at 10 hours of continuous talk time and 13 days of standby. 10 hours? For a Windows Mobile device? That is completely unheard of — but Sony Ericsson (or HTC?) found a way to make it happen. Keep in mind, however, that the battery life may not last the full 10 hours if you are playing games, internet, or movies. These types of activities will certainly cause more of a strain on the battery performance than simply making calls.
The only frustration I had was in the performance of the panels. As mentioned earlier, I had difficulty getting the panels to switch in a timely manner. They switched fast enough, but took 10-15 seconds to remember the previous customizations I had made to each particular panel.
All in all, the Xperia X1 is a sleek and sexy device that packs a lot under the hood and does not disappoint easily. While not a perfect phone, it is certainly worth a look if you are in the market for a new Windows PDA device.
If you have used the Xperia, please let us know your experiences in the comments.