Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 in-depth review -

Look and feel

The Xperia X1 is larger and heavier than your average handset, but the body and QWERTY keyboard each benefit from a classy brushed metal finish and the device is robust and well put together without being particularly sexy.

 

Features

One of the most innovative phones of the year, with its customisable panel-style touch-screen user interface, tilt (arc) display and large slide-out QWERTY keyboard, the Xperia X1 caused a stir when it was first revealed that the phone’s hardware was in fact built by Taiwan manufacturer HTC.


There is a fine array of multimedia functionality on the Xperia X1, including a decent 3.2-megapixel camera with auto focus and flash that can be accessed via a dedicated key on the side of the phone.

 

Ease of use

As a Windows powered mobile, the Xperia offers Outlook for email, calendar and contacts, as well as push email with an Exchange server and personal email over the internet.


As a result, it is a well-rounded email device with the added benefit of MS Instant Messenger, great if you want to enjoy PC-like messaging functionality from your phone. However, if you just want to send a basic text, it is far too complicated.

 

Performance

As well as being slow and clunky and prone to the odd crash, the user interface is poorly thought out. The panels do not really work on either an aesthetic or practical level and I found myself resorting to the Windows UI to locate and access the majority of the features. The other issue is a touch-screen, which is not particularly finger friendly.

 

Battery life


With a talktime of up to 600 mins and a standby time of of 833 hours the Xperia X1 has a marathon battery.

 Sony Ericsson Xperia X1  Review -
3

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:53:17 PM

6

out of 10

Performance

6

out of 5

Look and feel

10

out of 5

Ease of use

4

out of 5

Features

10

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

The phone has an innovative design and user interface and is packed with functionality.

Cons:

It is slow and the user experience is poor.

Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X1 has been grabbing headlines ever since its unveiling in February.

One of the most innovative phones of the year, with its customisable panel-style touch-screen user interface, tilt (arc) display and large slide-out QWERTY keyboard, the Xperia X1 caused a stir when it was first revealed that the phone’s hardware was in fact built by Taiwan manufacturer HTC.

As strange as this arrangement may seem, HTC is a prolific and respected manufacturer of Windows Mobile smartphones for third parties – most notably, the mobile operator-branded handsets.

Even so, the Xperia X1 is quite unlike anything we have seen before from Sony Ericsson or HTC. Because, although the usual tried and tested Windows Mobile OS functionality is present and correct on this device, Sony Ericsson has added an innovative UI skin that really sets this phone apart from the crowd.

Xperia X1 - Customisable touch-screen panels


The Xperia X1’s USP is the panel-style user interface. In principle, this is a really clever idea, designed to use the Xperia X1’s touch-screen display and it has succeeded in boosting interest in the device.

Basically, the screen is divided into nine touch-sensitive panels, each enabling direct access to a key feature, such as Google, Microsoft Today, world clock, radio, media experience, a Sony Ericsson home screen and a seemingly random fish panel.

Actually, the fish do serve a purpose, albeit a gimmicky one. As well as obediently flipping into action as soon as you stroke the touch-screen display, the fish also change colour according to your phone’s activity. For example, one fish turns red when your battery is less than 10% full, one fish turns gold when there is an unread message and one rogue fish only pops into view when you have a missed call.

Unfortunately, you may need to carry a colour chart around to remind you what each different colour means.

It is a novel little flourish, but you will almost certainly still rely on the conventional icons to inform you when you have a message or whether your battery is flat.

As well as the pre-set panels, there are a couple of free spaces available for you to add your own panels from a free online download zone.

Adding a new panel is done with just a few clicks. Of the four panels currently available in the download zone, we chose to add the slideshow panel for viewing photos in slideshow format and the dashwire panel, enabling users to back up and share content.

The panel interface is easily customisable and any of the panels can be removed and replaced with another, except for the Xperia homepage, which is locked.

Overall, the touch-sensitive panel interface is a great concept. Unfortunately, the execution is only so-so. For a start, aside from the instantly recognisable Google application, the clock and the calendar, the panels are simply too small to accurately display their function clearly.

As a result, we found ourselves opening random panels to find that the feature we wanted was not there. Even more frustratingly, there is no back key, either on the touch-screen or among the mechanised keys. So you have to click the panel key to take you back to the main menu to begin the lottery all over again.

It is also slow. Click on a panel and it takes a couple of seconds before you are able to activate the functionality. After a short while this becomes hugely frustrating, as does the lack of a panel to access SMS, the internet or GPS. You have to go into another menu option first.

 

Xperia X1 - internet


The Xperia X1 has all the hallmarks of a great internet phone. It has a huge touch-screen display and it is also easy to auto rotate the screen between portrait and landscape by flipping the phone’s keyboard open and shut. Meanwhile, the Xperia X1 is HSDPA-enabled, so pages should download quickly and it boasts an Opera web browser, which is usually very reliable.

However, we found internet browsing on the X1 a little clunky and awkward. On some sites, the font size is too small to be read comfortably, so we zoomed in on the text. However, with many of the sites that we browsed, the pages didn’t automatically render to fit the screen, which meant a lot of scrolling about to find information. This is not generally an issue with major websites like BBC News. However, if you do a Google search, you will very often land on a website which does not render properly.

We also found that certain popular news websites – The Times Online is one example – do not display at all.
 
Instead we were presented with the message: ‘This page contains errors and cannot be displayed’.

To scroll up and down through a web page, you have a choice. You can stroke the screen with your finger, use the mechanised joypad or use the phone’s built-in stylus to control the virtual scroll bar on the side of the touch-screen.

Each method has its drawbacks. Stroking the screen is a novelty for a few seconds, but you don’t get a great deal of control, meaning that the screen can scroll all the way to the bottom while you only wanted to see the paragraph below. Using the joypad is a little more reliable, although we would have liked to have seen a virtual mouse, which would enable you to choose and select specific areas of the screen. Meanwhile, the virtual scroll bar is just a little too fiddly for fingertips, requiring you to whip out your stylus and take away half of the fun of a touchscreen UI.

All in all it is a disappointing web browsing experience from a phone that we would expect to excel in this area.

Xperia X1 - QWERTY and tilting screen


The Xperia X1 is larger and heavier than your average handset, but the body and QWERTY keyboard each benefit from a classy brushed metal finish and the device is robust and well put together without being particularly sexy.

Arguably the stand out aesthetic feature, aside from the customisable touch-screen panels, is the arc slider design. The slight curve of the phone’s QWERTY keyboard enables the phone to tilt upwards when the keyboard is slid open.

Although the tilt is minimal it is a neat effect and gives the effect of working on a mini laptop. Thanks to the spacious keyboard, enabled by the phone’s length, the Xperia X1 lets you reel off messages relatively quickly with your thumbs.

As a Windows powered mobile, the Xperia offers Outlook for email, calendar and contacts, as well as push email with an Exchange server and personal email over the internet.

As a result, it is a well-rounded email device with the added benefit of MS Instant Messenger, great if you want to enjoy PC-like messaging functionality from your phone. However, if you just want to send a basic text, it is far too complicated.

For a start, there is no panel (that we could find) for messaging, so to send a text you have to go through the familiar but fiddly Windows menu. Once you have selected the SMS option, there is no obvious means that we could see to create and send a new text to a new contact, which is arguably the most basic requirement on any mobile. Instead, you have to go into the Windows Mobile UI and choose messages, then select SMS, then click on the menu key, then choose new, then select SMS. Finally, after six clicks, you are in a position to compose a new text message.

Multimedia features


There is a fine array of multimedia functionality on the Xperia X1, including a decent 3.2-megapixel camera with auto focus and flash that can be accessed via a dedicated key on the side of the phone. You do not get any of the class-leading features, like BestPic, face detection or smart contrast that can be found on Sony Ericsson’s Cybershot handsets, but the results are sharp and render well on the big screen. The phone also makes it easy to blog photos online and to easily edit images.

As for the music player, the Xperia X1 can store and play MP3 and AAC music files and also sports an MPEG4 player. We are also happy to report that there is a 3.5mm headset port on board, which is the first time we can remember seeing this universal port on a Sony Ericsson handset that includes the Walkman range.

In addition to the 400MB of internal memory, there’s also a microSD slot for expanding memory storage capacity rather than the Memory Stick Micro cards that you usually get with Sony Ericsson devices.
The Xperia X1 comes boxed with a set of stereo headphones, for handsfree voice calls and music, although we found ourselves plugging in a set of Sennheisers when listening to music and the sound quality was very good.

Business and sat nav


As well as the full QWERTY keyboard and email support, on the Xperia X1 you also get Office Mobile, which means direct access to Windows Mobile business stalwarts like Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word. Thanks to the roomy keyboard, the X1 is actually a pretty decent word processor, providing you are not writing War and Peace.

The device also comes with A-GPS built-in and features Google Maps and a Quick GPS application, which you can quickly and easily download to upgrade the phone from GPS to A-GPS (internet-assisted) functionality.

 

Xperia X1 - more applications


As a smartphone device, it is easy to download new authorised third party applications. There is also a pre-loaded Handango InHand application on board the X1 which gives you one-click access to thousands of Windows Mobile compatible applications.

Be warned, some of the applications can be quite pricey compared to similar apps from the likes of Apple and Symbian. 3D Ten-Pin Bowling, for example, will set you back £12.40, which is steep for a game, even if the graphics are impressive.

As for the pre-loaded games, you get the usual Windows Mobile fare, including Solitaire, Sudoku and Bubble Breaker and the popular Bejeweled 2.

Xperia X1 - the verdict


As you may have gathered, the Xperia X1 is packed with functionality and, on paper, would appear to be one of the phones of the year.

However, I struggled to engage with this phone on any level.

As well as being slow and clunky and prone to the odd crash, the user interface is poorly thought out. The panels do not really work on either an aesthetic or practical level and I found myself resorting to the Windows UI to locate and access the majority of the features.

The other issue is a touch-screen, which is not particularly finger friendly. In Windows OS mode, you simply have to use the stylus to have any chance of choosing the appropriate menu choice. In short, it’s an unpleasant device to use.