Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 – Was it worth the wait?


Just when we got sick of hearing about it, and were beginning to wonder if the Xperia X1 from Sony Ericsson was just more vapourware, it lands up at our test labs. Sure, it’s still a “Prototype”, as the plain white box it came in proclaims, but at least it’s no longer a video on YouTube or pictures on some random site. 
We were excited to get it open, apart from being the X1, it was also our first look at Windows Mobile (WM) 6.1. Immediately after the un-boxing, whilst holding on to the X1, our first reaction was, “Wow, it’s a lot smaller than we imagined.” It’s probably the ultra-high-res images that SE released of the X1, or the knowledge that this is a side-slider phone with a QWERTY keyboard and a 800×480 pixel screen that made us feel it would be a lot bigger.
The X1 feels like a brick, but in a good way — you can’t help but notice the weight and solidness that only a metal body can offer. The brushed metal finish (black in this model, but silver is also available) means the device is not a fingerprint magnet; the screen, however, will need constant fingerprint cleansing.
A gentle press of the metal power button on the top and we were booting into WM 6.1. It took a minute to start up though, which is a lot slower than we’re used to.
After boot-up, we noticed that although most of the body is metallic, the front buttons are plastic, which were hoping will change at launch. We spent a few seconds feeling for the stylus, which fits in perfectly with the body – no chance of pulling this out of your pocket and losing a stylus. The stylus quality is good too, so no complaints.
Stylus in hand, we took a close look at the screen. The gorgeous 3-inch, high-resolution screen is one of the best we’ve seen. It’s crisp, crystal clear and no complaints even in direct sunlight. Tapping on it with the stylus did nothing at first, and we felt that it was probably because we were being too gentle. A minute later we had our first complaint – you have to tap a lot harder than normal.
Apart from this, the phone was quite responsive when going to settings and menus – not Symbian fast, but fast compared to other WM devices. We found it quite surprising that there was no Walkman branding to be seen in the programs, and instead, a WM version of Windows Media Player is left to handle all the media files. While using this, some files would hang the player for a few seconds, and it rather than slow hardware, we think it’s more likely a software bug. Wide-screen format videos play flawlessly, and look really good on the X1.
The X1 has dropped IE for Opera when it comes to the default browser, and we have to admit that this is a good move. IE is still available for use in the programs menu, but isn’t the default browser. We’re sad to report that Opera Mobile breaks even more terribly with Gmail on the X1 than we’ve ever seen.
The 5-way navigation button on the X1 acts like a touch control, with four actual clicks on either side. The centre button is like a trackpad, but without a mouse. Although the centre button is meant to scroll through long pages and links, we found the stylus and the click buttons just offer more control.
We slid open the phone to type in a URL, and were shocked by the ease and smoothness of the slider – brilliant. The curved design to the slider also offers a slight ergonomic edge over similar devices, and is a good thought. The QWERTY keyboard is quite impressive to look at, and since each button has a triangular-shaped raised part, it’s also quite easy to find the right keys. Key feedback is lacking, so again, there’s a little bit of a learning curve involved.  Having to press a function key first to type numbers is a little irritating at first, it’s something that’s unnoticeable after a few days.
The X1 allows you to choose different looks and layouts for the WM Today screen, and they call this feature X-panels. Using the dedicated X key, on the bottom left of the device, pops up the panel options you have, and these can be displayed in various ways. This is cute, but we don’t see too much utilitarian value here. Also, there’s a little wait involved in changing panels, with low-res images of the panel being displayed while the high-res version loads.
Connectivity is the X1’s forte, with all the options you can think of — Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPRS, Edge, GPS, etc. Thanks to WM 6.1, and its new Connection manager, it’s really easy to switch off or on different connections. We tested the X1’s Wi-Fi and GPRS connectivity, and found that it all worked flawlessly.
With PDA / Smart phones, it’s easy to forget that they’re also ~phones~, and this being the X1, we didn’t get down to testing it as one for a few days. The first time we inserted the SIM card and started it up, the X1 claimed there was no SIM. When trying to remove the SIM, it ended up dislodging the chip from the plastic that holds it. Now admittedly the SIM in question was over 7 years old, but we do have to complain about the retention mechanism here — a Nokia-style clip for the SIM retention would be preferred here. Even when we got a brand new SIM, the X1 refused to detect it at first — we will give it the benefit of doubt here, as this is a review piece that’s probably much used.
One we got it working, the network reception was good. We have quite a few dead zones for our service provider in the office, and we made it a point to walk through these while on a call, and apart from a few stutters, the X1 managed to stay connected — again, not as good as Nokia’s N-series, but much better than the regular breed. Voice clarity was exceptional, and the people at the other end of the call said we were crystal clear. The ear piece volume and clarity of the X1 are also impressive, so no complaints here.
With PDA functionality in mind, the X1 is a brilliant phone. Running WM means that mobile MS Office is available, and you have a very long list of office related apps to choose from. Though we said earlier that you have to tap a little hard on the touch screen, it’s still very responsive and easy to use, once you’re used to the amount of pressure that’s necessary.
Most importantly, it’s the quality of the screen that makes this the perfect PDA-phone, because working with documents and e-mail are a joy. Unless your optometrist has prescribed reading glasses for you, you should soon start enjoying the clarity that the screen offers at even miniscule font sizes — which obviously translates to being able to see much more per page.
A minor irritant was the lack of directional keys on the keyboard, but the 5-way, touchpad-style controller allows you to leave the stylus sheathed. Although far from the ideal solution, it’s easy enough to get used to.
So is that all there is to the X1? Not by a long shot; there are many more nice little features as well as niggling irritants to talk about. To start with, we’re shocked that the X1 doesn’t have an orientation sensor, and the screen only changes when you open or close the slider.
We’ve come to expect more of cameras on SE phones too, and the X1 is a disappointment here again. The 3.2 MP main camera is nowhere close to as good as the cameras we’ve become used to. It also features a front facing 0.3 MP camera for video conferencing, but that’s not something we’re used to using in India, so no points gained here. The main camera does offer touch focus though, but this doesn’t work well at night.
The 3.5 mm headset jack on the top of the device is something we’ve been waiting for from SE, and is good to have for those who want to connect a better set of headphones than the bundled ones. The provided headset offers decent quality, but the audio quality improves drastically with even a Rs 800 pair of Sony earphones.
The X1 features a light sensor that auto-adjusts the screen brightness based on ambient light, and this feature works so well that you never notice any drastic changes in screen brightness; it keeps the screen clearly visible at all times. Speaking of lighting, multi-colour LEDs at each of the four corners of the sides of the phone offer some really cool lighting effects when starting up, or when you are notified of an event such as a message or a missed call. Really cool for some; others might not want this.
The X1 is charged using a mini USB connector, and SE has smartly integrated the charger and USB cable. Basically, there is a mini-USB to USB connector, and the charger just has a female USB connector, so as long as you pack the charger, you know you have the USB cable at hand too.
Memory expansion is needed, because the device only features 512 MB ROM and 256 MB RAM, and this is taken care of by a Micro SD slot that’s below the battery cover, but not below the battery — so no need to power down the device to insert / remove the memory.
We’re told the price for the X1 is Rs 44,500, which is just way too much in our opinion. Sure you get WM 6.1 device with a decently fast processor and RAM; yes this device is unique, and definitely offers amazing flaunt value; it’s also true that you get a really nice PDA / Smart phone with an impressive screen; multimedia playback is enjoyable as well and this phone is packed to the brim with features, but a Netbook and a good phone would probably be much better as solutions for those who need to work on the move, and they’d be cheaper too! We suggest you wait for prices to fall a bit before buying this phone, and if it’s available for around the Rs 30K mark, it’s something you really should own. For now, we can tell you from experience that whipping out this phone, even in upper class restaurants, grabs attention – especially when you slide it open and start typing. The bottom line seems to be hidden in the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1’s initials: SEXX1 (sexy)!
WM 6.1 Pro, CPU — Qualcomm MSM7200A (528 MHz), 512 MB ROM, 256 MB RAM, Screen — 3-inch (800×480), 65k colours, 3.2 MP Auto Focus camera, A-GPS, BT 2.0, WLAN, microSD expansion, 1500 mAh battery, weight — 158 g
Contact: Sony Ericsson
Phone: 39011111
Price: Rs 44,500
Features: 4
Performance: 3.5
Build quality: 4.5
Value for Money: 2.5
Overall: 3.5