Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 3:56:23 PM
Good audio and visual quality, plus bundled Bluetooth headset
Jerky video streaming, and PlayNow Arena movies service still in foundation stage
There’s still a glass ceiling as far as media phones are concerned, and it’s down to the media services they can access. The Aino is a fine phone – you can easily call, text and email on it; you can take great pictures; you can watch TV and movies that look pretty good; and web browsing is glitch-free. But Sony Ericsson’s movie service at its download centre PlayNow Arena is still in its infancy, and that takes away from the Aino’s multimedia cred. General user interface
The user interface (UI) is as easy as we expected from a Sony Ericsson phone. The candybar slider (odd alert: with a touch-screen that is only active sometimes) has a grid menu with updated, modernised icons. A media hotkey on the left button underlines its status as a media phone, and there’s also a ‘multitasking’ button – press it and you can not only see and access what apps are running in the background, but also recent events, shortcuts and weblinks. Sony Ericsson recently launched MediaGo for its entertainment phones, and it’s an intuitive iTunes-like software for your PC that lets you manage and sync media and contacts between phone and PC. Many shortcuts in the menu systems make the phone even easier to use – for example, you can press and hold to turn predictive text on and off, which is useful in settings menus – and the ‘Conversations’ option in messages lets you view SMSes in threaded form. You can now sync your Facebook contacts with your phone contacts, and Sony Ericsson has even scored its very own Facebook app, with messages that show up in your inbox. It's probably Sony E's most integrated phone yet and we found no fault with any of the Aino's communications features.
The Aino is possibly the first Sony Ericsson multimedia phone where we’re not going to complain about the lack of a 3.5mm audio jack. No, it hasn’t got one, but it is bundled with the in-ear Bluetooth stereo headset MH100, to which you can also plug in your own set of cans. The headset comes already paired with the phone, so just turn it on and any media you play is automatically streamed via the headset. Audio quality is above average though not as full as with wired headphones, but we found the wireless ‘phones particularly useful when using the Aino on the bundled media stand as we could walk around and still listen to music or keep track of a film. As expected from Sony Ericsson, the music interface is intuitive and pretty, with album covers showing with each played track. There’s also the option to send a track that you’re playing via email or Bluetooth, a nice integrating feature.
The movie interface is as intuitive, with categories for YouTube, podcasts, video feeds and full videos. It works in the background too, so if you pause a film to take a phone call, you can resume the video at any time. We particularly like the stand which also allows you to charge the phone while watching media. Onboard speakers aren’t bad for movies but impossible for music – too tinny and a crackly bass.You can download movies from Sony Ericsson’s PlayNow Arena, and in fact, the Aino comes bundled with 60 free. Well, technically you sideload them – you have to download to a desktop first then move it onto the phone 40 minutes, and then another 15 to move it on the phone. We found the process a little longwinded, and not optimised for phone use, as you can't view the movie on the PC at all, only on the handset.The screen is no high-def honey like the recently released Satio – the Aino is in a much more affordable price bracket – but movies look decent, with crisp edges and good colours. Sadly, in our review model, streamed video was pretty unwatchable, when we were using a Wi-Fi connection rather than 3G. In both YouTube and BBC iPlayer (both preloaded, so bonus points for that at least), videos were jerky, blurring and pixelated, and sound streaming was jagged and rough. We brought this up with Sony Ericsson, and they responded that the YouTube app is designed to be used over a 3G connection, so we'll do a little further testing.
One of the most touted features of the Aino was the PS3 syncing. Well, hold on to your PSPs, this isn’t quite a PlayStation phone yet – you have limited ‘RemotePlay’ capability, which means once you register the Aino with your PS3, you can view content on both devices on either device. You won’t be able to play any PlayStation games on the phone, but you can shop the PlayStation Store, browse the net, and watch TV on the PlayTV service. You can also use the phone to turn the console on and off which though not hugely useful, we found kind of cool.
The eight-meg Cyber-shot lens is on par with that of Sony E's flagship eight-meg phone, the C905+, with auto settings for portrait, daylight, low light, low light with flash, action, and macro. On auto settings, portrait, daylight and low light shots came out well, but like its predecessors, the shutter release isn't quick enough to frame the exact action shot we wanted, though the shot itself came out clear. You can adjust settings on the touch-screen as well as delete, send and share snapped photos. A dedicated snapping button rounds its camera credentials, and geo-tagging is a cool extra. The GPS is quick to get a fix, and along with Google Maps, you also get Navigator, a turn-by-turn sat nav software and NearMe, a location based service that tells you landmarks, restaurants and shops nearby.
The camera and music features are expectedly high quality, but we were really disappointed by the video streaming. Movies already on the phone look great, but we would like to see direct to phone downloads at the PlayNow Arena. This isn’t the ultimate media phone yet, but a tweak to Sony Ericsson’s movie service could rectify that.