The Xperia X1 was one of the most anticipated smart phone of 2008. It came to the market very late, but it’s never too late to play with it and publish our findings. Let’s provide some context: The Xperia X1 is Sony Ericsson’s first Windows Mobile smart phone and is the leading model in an “Xperia” family that will grow overtime. Among its numerous qualities, two set it apart from the Windows Mobile crowd: metal construction and panel-based interface. Does the X1 live up to the hype, and how does it compare to other top of the line Windows Mobile phones?
Basic Phone – Dialing
As smart as a phone might be, it needs to perform basic phone tasks well, simply because the killer app for phones is… voice. The Xperia X1 virtual dial pad works very well. From the homepage, click the dial button once and the numeric pad shows up. It can be used one handed and works great. To find a contact in mobile outlook, just slide the keyboard out and start typing. If you wonder, sliding the keyboard in and out does not terminate a conversation, so it’s OK to use it during a call. Overall, the dialing function work very well. That might sound like a “duh”, but Windows Mobile phones aren’t all created equal in that respect.
Basic phone – Sound Quality
There was a time where smart phones had a lower sound quality (or even volume!) that dumb phones, but we’re glad t report that this was not an issue in our tests.
The physical design of the Xperia X1 is top notch. The aluminum body look and feels good, just like nearly everything that the eye can see. Metal is everywhere, even the QWERTY keys have a metallic feel, although I can’t say for sure if they are made of aluminum or not. The keyboard sliding mechanism feels very solid and the slight upwards tilt of the display is a very nice touch that improves usability a little (as compared with the HTC Touch Pro). I personally think that there’s a bit too much branding on the front (the “Sony Ericsson” name and the “Xperia” logo). At the bottom, there’s a “mouse” that is comparable to the optical mouse in the Samsung OMNIA. It can be very useful in situations where you have to scroll up and down or go down a list – mainly because the drag and scroll doesn’t work very well in Windows Mobile. A Blackberry-type trackball would be a much better alternative.
The downside of this design is that it is a little thick and heavy – you can definitely feel it in the pocket. For comparison: Blackberry Curve (111g), iPhone (135g), Xperia (145g). I guess that it’s the price to pay for a nice metallic design.
The 800×480 touch display is wonderful and it is certainly the focus point of the phone. We also noticed that it was easier to hit the corner buttons (start, close) on this one compared on other phones (HTC Touch Pro, Samsung OMNIA). It is actually the first one that doesn’t annoy us to death when trying to click the “close” button on the upper-right. Now, the real issue is Windows Mobile 6.1 itself and the fact that it is not designed for a touch-only use. Fortunately, there’s a keyboard and the optical mouse.
The Windows Mobile 6 Main Menu is roomy and has plenty of screen real estate to show emails, appointments. When you want to launch an application, you will have to click once to get to the panel and once again to launch the app. It takes about 2 seconds to launch any applications present in the panel’s first screen. From the panel, you can also choose between multiple home screens (work, home, travel…), which is unique for a Windows Mobile device. There’s a cool one with a few fish moving around in 3D. That’s my favorite one, when I’m not working.
Sony Ericsson Panels
Out of the box, the Panels screen acts as an application launcher. It’s kind of nice to have shortcuts to the most used apps. We described a few panels that are in fact custom theme skins. We love the idea, but only time will tell if developers will create compelling software.
Windows Mobile 6.1 Pro
As we said regularly on this site, Windows Mobile 6.1 Pro is not really tuned for modern touch phones. That’s too bad because we love to be in display-only mode until there is a need for serious typing. In reality, we found ourselves using the keyboard often to do simple things like searching a contact. Overall, this phone is fast and responsive. Even the “start” menu is quick to show up. This is often not the case on Windows Mobile phones.
Having a real keyboard can be a huge asset, if you type a lot. With the X1, you can type reasonably fast, much faster than with an iPhone, but not as fast as you would on a Blackberry. The thinness of the keys makes typing a little slower, but that’s just how sliding keyboards usually are. Compared to the HTC Touch Pro, the keyboard of the X1 is better, thanks to the slightly thicker keys.
The virtual keyboard is cute, but it is way too small to be used with fingers. It is far inferior the one included by competitors like HTC and Samsung (why!?). Hopefully, you can find an alternative as an installable application, but we think that Sony Ericsson could have done much better in this instance. Yes, there is a physical keyboard, but still, sometimes, it’s nice to not have to slide it out to type “Yup!” or when using the phone with only one hand.
With Pocket Internet explorer, the web browsing experience is similar to most windows mobile devices: not great. The high-resolution display helps a great deal when compared to VGA windows mobile phones, but in today’s age of zoom and pinch”, pocket explorer is just out of the game. Obviously, the browsing speed depends on your connection – WIFI or 3G will help there.
There’s no GPS navigation application that comes included with the phone, so if fully exploit the GPS feature, you’ll need to get a stand-alone application. Obviously, Google Maps can be of use too, if you can stand the download times. If you want to see what Tomtom looks like on the XPERIA, go to this video.
With all windows mobile phones, email is best when you have an Exchange Server, but it is OK if you use POP or IMAP. We prefer to use an Exchange Server as it provides push-email, syncs contacts, tasks and meetings over the air (OTA). Overall, it’s good and there’s little to report that’s out of the ordinary. With Microsoft Push Email, it works just the way it’s supposed to.
Photo/Video Capture Quality
Captured photos and video are very decent (for a phone), especially in dim lighting. Don’t expect any miracles, but the Xperia X1 beats the crap out of an iPhone when it comes to
imaging. Now, we think that Nokia phones with a Carl Zeiss lens can do better, but they are also bulkier and not as powerful. Overall, we would say that the Xperia has good imaging capabilities, even in difficult lighting situation, but it won’t replace a compact camera.
Video replay quality is great – if you can find a good video source. There is no embedded YouTube app, like on the HTC Touch Pro, so, your best bet is to download video files on a micro-SD. The phone came with a Quantum of Solace trailer (.mp4) tailored to the Xperia X1 display. The frame rate was about 15fps (I’m just eyeballing here), but the resolution was great. I’m not sure that I could watch a whole movie like this, but I’m willing to try during a long flight.
Battery life can vary widely depending on usage. A moderate usage of the X1 would probably yield two days of use. A more intense use of the display and of the data connection would force you to recharge every night. It is somewhat similar to the competition, there’s no big surprise here.
Things to improve
On our test unit, we found the battery cover to be hard to remove. That might be a downside of using aluminum, but we were not the only ones to have this problem: whoever removed the battery before we did had scratched the sides already. Secondly, when the Xperia X1 goes to sleep mode, you have to press the power button to wake it up (the Omnia is like that too) – that’s kind of annoying, as we would have preferred to press the Call or Hang buttons. Finally, Windows Mobile 6.1 Pro itself needs some changes to become finger friendly and nicer when it comes to web browsing. Read our Windows 6.5 Mini Review.
The Xperia X1 is a smart phone with an excellent construction, display and processor. It is best used with a Microsoft Exchange Server, but Active Sync and POP or IMAP should work OK too. The X1 was the best Windows Mobile phone before the recent Mobile World Congress, but it is one of the most expensive too. In the end, what’s important is the software: these days, all that we ask from the hardware is to be fast enough. Unfortunately, Windows Mobile 6.1 Pro is definitely behind the competition. If you are open to using another Operating System (OS), you should take a look at a Blackberry or the G1 as both feature QWERTY keyboards. We hope that the Xperia X1 will be upgradable to Windows Mobile 6.5 or whatever comes next.