Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
6/27/2011 5:21:28 PM
The solid body is waterproof and dustproof, and can take a pounding too. The tiny screen is sharp and responsive
Armband feels loose and bulky, small display, fiddly touch-screen
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Active is a charming little phone aimed at the fit and healthy, those active types who might spontaneously sprint up a mountain at the weekend. It's a smartphone designed to survive the elements (like the Motorola Defy+ before it) with a rugged waterproof build. However, it also packs in a full range of features, to keep you entertained when you're scaling cliff walls. Or sprawled on the sofa watching Battlestar Galactica repeats like us.
If you're hiking for miles in your spare time, you'll probably need a compact and light device. The Xperia Active is surprisingly dinky with a three-inch display, though it's also quite a chunky beast. At 111g it feels hefty without weighing you down.
The rubberised back feels good in the hand, and there's no denying the Xperia Active's ruggedised credentials. We attacked the screen with pointy objects and it only picked up light scratches, while slinging it in our backpack and knocking it around had no impact. You can even pull it out in the rain without worry. The Micro USB and headphone ports are covered with rubber shields to prevent leaks, and the screen remains surprisingly responsive even when your fingers are damp.
Serious joggers get a wrist strap bundled, which you slip the Active inside. You can then wear it on your arm when you're engaging in strenuous activity, to listen to tunes or record your efforts using the built-in WalkMate app. We tried jogging around our block (frankly that was more than enough exercise for us) and found the strap a little loose for our admittedly weedy arms, while the extra padding bulks it up so it looks like you're wearing some Star Trek transponder device.
You can access the Xperia Active's screen through the transparent window (if you're listening to music and want to change track, for instance) although it's very unresponsive. We'd rather just cram it in our pocket, although you also get a strap if preferred.
The Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS gives you five desktops to fill with apps and widgets, and Sony has fitted its own custom interface over the top. Besides the Timescape widget which displays recent social media updates, the main difference is the four shortcut panels, one for each corner. These give you quick access to texts, your phonebook, the dialpad, and your ‘active apps' (including a fitness mapper and compass).
Android runs like a dream and we had no issues using it with the compact screen, even when texting – turn the Xperia Active on its side and you get a full QWERTY keyboard to type on. Currently, the phone is scheduled to receive Ice Cream Sandwich in March or April.
A dedicated Camera button on the phone's edge opens up the Camera app (albeit slowly) and takes snaps. The five-megapixel camera has built-in auto-focus and takes reasonably sharp shots, although colours suffer in low lighting. You do get a built-in flash for evening shots, and can shoot HD video too. We also liked the screenshot option (accessed by holding down the Power button), perfect for snapping a hilarious photo or comment you see online and sharing it with the world.
This being Android, you have access to millions of apps via the online store. Browsing the web is a smooth experience despite the tiny screen, which produces sharp text and colourful images. Flash is supported in-browser too, so you can stream video from the likes of BBC iPlayer and 4OD. Pages loaded promptly over both 3G and Wi-Fi.
While outdoorsy types have the most to gain from the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active, thanks to its rugged build and built-in fitness apps, there's plenty to like here even if you're a sloth like us. The armband felt unwieldy and the compact size makes it more suitable as a secondary handset than an everyday phone, but it certainly isn't lacking when it comes to performance or features.