Sony Ericsson X10 on AT&T Review

Over the course of the summer we have seen AT&T working very hard to improve the diversity of its smartphone lineup by bringing refreshes to Blackberry and Symbian, adding WebOS, and expanding its Android offerings to more than just the subpar Motorola Backflip. While we don’t know if this is in attempt to prepare for an inevitable loss of iPhone exclusivity, the large improvement to its smartphone selection is admirable.

In terms of Android, AT&T has brought out a decent selection in the Samsung Captivate, HTC Aria, Dell Aero, and now the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10. The X10 almost feels as though it was launched due to a last-minute decision for AT&T to appease Sony Ericsson in some way. After all, the phone has been discussed for nearly a year and officially launched for around 7 months. Why is the X10 arriving to the US so late to the party? With the same exact specs, no less?

Nobody really knows the answer, and it really doesn’t even matter that much. What does matter is if the X10 was worth the wait, and if it is a respectable addition to AT&T’s slowly growing Android lineup. Does it compare to the Captivate or even the Aria?

Design of the Xperia X10

One of the strongest points of the X10 is its overall look. The X10 is a gorgeous phone, and is sleek in every way. It sports a large 4” capacitive touchscreen display. While it’s not the thinnest phone offered on the market today at 13.3 mm, it doesn’t feel any more bulky than is necessary. If it were any thicker than this, however, that thickness should be justified by throwing in a full QWERTY. Overall the phone felt okay in my hand.

There aren’t any crazy designs on the back; the back is almost completely flat although the edges curve out in order to meet the sides. This still gives it a very elegant feel. I can tell that the back is made of a type of plastic that reminds me of the back of the Microsoft KIN phones, using a non-glossy charcoal gray material. A chrome bezel races around the sides with some curves thrown in, I assume to give a little extra originality to the design.

Sony Ericsson opts for a more minimal design approach overall. The back is certainly one example with its simple look, the front utilizes the large screen and has three physical navigation buttons underneath that screen, and the sides don’t employ use of a lot of buttons – the right side only has a volume rocker and camera shutter; the left side doesn’t have any buttons at all. And it really doesn’t feel like anything crucial is missing as a result, either.

The top of the X10, from left to right, includes a power/screen lock button, 3.5 mm headphone jack, and MicroUSB charging port covered by the usual plastic that feels like it could break off whenever it darn well feels like. After witnessing the Samsung Galaxy S “trap door” method of covering ports, it’s hard to feel good about this kind of cover on a phone. With that said, the cover itself still blends in with the design of the phone rather well, so at least it has its good point.

Underneath the hood there’s room for a large 1500 mAh battery that claims an excellent talk time (we will talk about this later) and slots for SIM and MicroSD cards. The X10 already comes with a 2GB card which is necessary given only 400 MB included memory.

Software and User Interface of the X10

Sony Ericsson has preloaded the X10 with its own UI overlay of Android 1.6, which at the time of the phone’s global launch was still a common occurance among many Android devices coming out, but fast-forwarding to fall 2010, 1.6 is considered archaic software. The only devices that are using 1.6 are either obsolete or low-end. Sony Ericsson has officially stated that an update to 2.1 is coming out, but I just feel that 6 months is more than enough time to get that update pushed out before it graces AT&T’s shelves.

Some of you may be wondering why this is so important. What exactly is missing on a phone running 1.6? Multi-touch, for one. Having become used to a full multi-touch experience on other smartphones, I get rather frustrated trying to use a program like Google Maps and not be able to pinch-to-zoom or use other multi-touch gestures. You are also limited to just three home screens in 1.6, which gets expanded out to five screens in 2.1. One last major improvement 2.1 will bring to the X10? A camcorder with 720p HD video capabilities, compared to its current WVGA offering.

In addition, there are several other smaller improvements that are thrown into version 2.1 that cannot be utilized in the X10 as of yet. It’s unfortunate to Sony Ericsson since this is considered to be a huge competitive disadvantage to most of AT&T’s (and everyone else’s) lineup.

Sony Ericsson knows this just as well as anyone else does, so to make up for the lack of 2.1, the company added its own UI overlay that is supposed to enhance your user experience. New programs such as Timescape and Mediascape are added to the home screen as a way of throwing in additional visual improvements, and add a decent amount of original thought into its design.

If you ever miss using a Rolodex (or secretly still use one when nobody is looking), you’ll find the idea of Timescape very appealing and quite familiar to you. Timescape takes several different streams of information, be it Facebook status updates, Twitter feeds, SMS/MMS, email, or call logs, and displays it in the form of vertical carousels called “Splines”. Each piece of content is shown on a card, all the cards are stacked vertically on these splines Rolodex-style, and it’s easy to scroll up and down through the available content, and sideways to switch streams. When you choose a card, that card will pop out of the stack and show off a small portion of the card’s information. Tap the card again and you’ll be transported into the proper application (choosing a text message would send you to the messaging app, for example). While it does take some getting used to, I must admit that Timescape is much easier to use, more visually stunning and less annoying than Motoblur’s method of displaying social networking streams.

Speaking of visual enhancements, Sony Ericsson also has thrown in some actual color into its backgrounds. Where most other Android handsets use nothing but black backgrounds and white text, the X10 is set apart in a large way with its baby blue background in most menus. It definitely makes the display more interesting to work with.

Next up is Mediascape. This application uses a similar style to that of Timescape, but without the vertical splines. Essentially, Mediascape takes all of your music, photos and videos and puts them all together in a user-friendly app together. All the content does seem to go horizontal instead of vertical, however. Again, it all looks great because of Sony Ericsson’s efforts here. While playing music in the media player, I found a button with the “infinity” symbol on it. This takes you into other music from that artist already on your phone as well as showing off related YouTube videos. I really like the look of Mediascape and find it rather handy to use. But it’s not perfect; I do loathe the idea of the X10 not including an Equalizer, which I feel should just be a standard feature included in any smartphone since such a heavy emphasis is placed on the music experience.

Features of the Xperia X10

The X10 is loaded with a lot of nice features. Granted, most of them are exactly the same as most of the Android handsets currently being released to market, but a few of them do stand out. One such feature is Sony’s typical Cybershot 8.1 MP camera that comes included with LED flash and autofocus. There are a lot of great phones out there right now that don’t feature a LED flash, and it just puzzles me. Sony Ericsson, however, makes it known that the camera is one of the company’s strong points and will usually push the focus on its hero device to that strength. In this case, Sony played its strength well. Below are some outdoor and indoor shots I took at high-res. Colors were incredibly vibrant and every image looked incredibly sharp.

There may be times you don’t need to take advantage of the highest-resolution pics possible because you are looking to conserve SD card space or for other random reasons. If this is the case, it’s easy to adjust the resolution down to 6 MP or even 2 MP if necessary. You can also adjust the focus settings, such as macro and infinity. Many smartphones neglect these types of settings but is something you can find on most standard point-and-shoot digital cameras. Another unique setting that isn’t found on many other phones is face recognition. This technology lets you take a picture of someone, tag it, and then the phone stores that tag. Thus, when you take a picture of somebody the phone has previously tagged, it will tag that same person again.

Now I must make the confession that when I first recorded video using the X10’s camcorder I was a bit perplexed as to why HD video recording wasn’t included, and that will show in my commentary for the video below. Simply put, the hardware is good enough to support high-res videos but the software is not; 720p video recording will be available on the X10 as soon as the Android 2.1 update comes out. In the meantime, the WVGA/VGA resolution currently available as of this writing is okay. It’s hard to like it when compared to any of the Galaxy S phones, but it’s still average. When panning across my back yard I was disappointed in some choppiness.

Sony Ericsson chose to use a stock Android browser on the X10, which I find to be a moot point since several other browser options are available through the Android Market. No Flash available, but there’s really no shocker there.

Another limitation on the X10 is that only three home screens are available. When compared to HTC’s Sense UI, Samsung’s Touchwiz, or any Android handset running 2.1 or higher, this is extremely inconvenient. Many widgets I like to use tend to take up a lot of space on the screen, so it severely limits what kinds of widgets (and how many) I can put on my X10. While most people don’t use all 3 screens, this is still a very important thing to take note of when comparing handsets to purchase.

Though other Android devices that shall remain nameless are having large issues getting the included GPS to work properly, the X10 didn’t have any problems with GPS at all. I was able to find my location quickly and reliably each time I used it. If you rely on navigation services in any way, this certainly will be a good reason to go with a Xperia X10. Especially with many of the AT&T services available, such as Navigation, AT&T Maps, and AT&T Family Map (a service which helps you locate other handsets on your account, which is very helpful for parents).

Performance of the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10

The strongest performance factor on the X10 is its battery life. Rated at nearly 7.5 hours, this almost sounds too good to be true for an Android device; Android tends to be notorious for terrible battery life. If any company can do it, however, Sony Ericsson can — it consistently rates some of the best battery life times of any phone on the market. The X10 is no different; while my Droid X and Epic 4G were dying within just 4-5 hours of moderate use, the Sony Ericsson did last its rated battery time.

Timescape and Mediascape, while being clever new apps that deliver enhanced visual coverage to the X10, seem to slow the device down a little bit. The X10 does feature a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and is fast enough for my taste, it’s not as fast as the Hummingbird processor featured on the Galaxy S lineup, or the Droid X. Of course, the use of version 1.6 may have an effect on processor performance as well.

Call quality and sound were perfectly fine on the X10, and people sounded clear and loud. No noise cancellation mics on the X10, though, so the only relief here is to use a noise-canceling bluetooth earpiece.

Final Thoughts on the X10

The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, simply put, is a phone that is meant to have Android 2.1, and won’t feel all the way complete until the outdated OS 1.6 is refreshed. The X10, in fact, feels somewhat crippled because it’s  not able to achieve its ultimate potential, being limited in several ways.  But while we wait for that update,  it is still a very sleek and good-looking phone with a decent processor and huge screen with good resolution. If you don’t absolutely have to have multitouch, extra screens for widgets, or HD video recording (but wouldn’t be opposed to getting it down the road), I think the X10 is still at least worth looking at for a possible purchase to see if it fits your needs. It is available at AT&T for $149 — a nice discount when compared to the Captivate or iPhone 4 — with contract.

Look below for an incredibly comprehensive look at pictures and screenshots of the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10.

Get Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 only for $29 with new contract from Amazon

Author: Brad Molen

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