Lost In Mobile

Shaun McGill

07412 655899

Lost In Mobile is the continuation of PDA-247 which, under various names, provided news, reviews and commentary on the mobile world for 10 years.

I have been writing about the mobile industry, mobile products, apps and everything else in between and beyond for more than 10 years, and currently write freelance for Imagine Publishing, PDair and also undertake one-off projects upon request.

I welcome your comments and thoughts and if you want to get in touch, please do so via the email address or phone number above.

Thanks for stopping by.

Shaun McGill

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 Review

Product Name: Sony Ericsson Xperia X1
Price: £499.38
Available SIM free from Clove
Reviewer: Shaun McGill

In The Box- Sony Xperia X1, Battery, USB Cable, Headset with mic, Additional Stylus, AC Charger (UK), User Guides, Getting Started CD.

The box and contents are adequate to get you off to a comfortable start with the X1, but I maybe would have expected more from a device which retails for £500. The box itself is surprisingly plain and there is no hint of HTC involvement in this area. Bizarrely, there is quite a selection of manuals included; one each for Opera, Panels, Multimedia, Getting Started, Support and Browsing the Web and Messaging. There is some logic to this I guess because it gives quicker access to pertinent information, but it is certainly an unusual approach.

The headphones are of the in-ear variety and come with various attachments to ensure a good fit, and are actually quite pleasant for music and video. I would still advise a better quality pair for better audio quality which is easy to do via the 3.5mm audio jack.

Design and Materials

It is hard not to be impressed by the X1’s looks when you first pick it up and it is smaller than you may expect from the marketing photos. The contrasting use of materials makes for an expensive look which has a touch of retro married with the future. Part of me thinks of the older style communicators when I look at it, and then I think of resemblances to some newer devices (the back looks like a Glofiish) and then I think of it as completely unique. I have used and reviewed a number of phones over the years and the X1 appears to borrow bits from many of them- part HTC in places, pure Sony Ericsson in others and 80’s chrome in even more areas.

The use of brushed metal, chrome look plastic and matt plastic makes for a striking design that is hard to stop picking up and looking at. In closed mode it is not actually much of a looker and takes on an industrial flavour, but once the keyboard is pulled out, via a sumptuous spring loaded mechanism, things start to change. The brushed metal is exposed and everything looks just right.

Keyboard

The keyboard itself is unusual in that the keys are diagonal just as you see with a standard desktop keyboard, and the key spacing is fairly generous. The keyboard footprint is large and your most used punctuation is easy to get to- through in a large space bar and we should be looking at one of the best keyboards on the market. Sadly, this is not the case because the lack of tactile feedback is matched only by the lack of depth to each key. I simply cannot understand why a keyboard this big has been designed to perform so badly. Sony Ericsson does not have a good history with keyboards on feature phones and I do wonder if design was more important than practicality in this area. To be clear it is not dreadful, but it is certainly a missed opportunity. I did, however, find myself speeding up somewhat with practice and after a couple of hours intensive testing I could knock out emails at about half the speed I can on the BlackBerry Bold.

Buttons

The button set up on the X1 is also an area of contention, and one that fails to generate great emotions either way. The optical navigation pad is not great, but if you ever need to use it I would be surprised because the standard 4-way navigation key effectively takes away the need for the former. This is a case of two parts doing roughly the same thing, and this is a line I will be using a lot throughout this review. There are two shortcut keys below the screen which work well and finally call end/start buttons just above the Panels and OK buttons. Each is triangular and initially quite tricky to use, but time does improve this. Do they need to be triangular? No.

On the left hand side is the miniUSB jack which is used for charging and synchronisation on the right there is a flush volume key and a shortcut button for the camera. Finally, at the top is a well made on/off button alongside the aforementioned 3.5mm headphone jack.

Screen

The screen is the stand out feature in comparison to other high-end Windows Mobile smartphones and is certainly impressive. It is the first touch screen (besides the iPhone) I have seen that performs well in sunlight. It is not as great as some other reviews would have you believe and not match some of the non touch screen devices and the iPhone. Interestingly I found finger navigation very easy on the X1 and was able to accurately pick out the smallest of menu options when I needed to.

Performance

The X1 is super quick in general use, provided you ignore Panels, and I would say that it is the fastest Windows Mobile device I have used to date. At times browsing the web was a bit hit and miss which frequent slow downs. I noticed this more in Opera than Pocket IE, but will continue to experiment with this.

Tomorrow I will look at more of the hardware and the interface options, and follow that up with a look at the included software and conclusion on Wednesday. So far, I am verging on impressed.

Specification

Operating System -Windows Mobile

Memory -Up to 400MB

Display -3" WVGA 65,536 Colour TFT (800x480) (Touch Screen)

Networks - GSM (QUAD-BAND) 850, 900, 800, 1900 EDGE HSDPA HSUPA UMTS 900, UMTS 850, UMTS 1900, UMTS 2100

Connectivity - Bluetooth (A2DP) WiFi

GPS -aGPS

Camera -3.2 megapixel with 3x Digital Zoom

Expansion – MicroSD

Input - QWERTY Keyboard Optical joystick 4 Way Key

Dimensions (LxWxH) 110 x 17 x 53 mm

Weight 158g

Product Name: Sony Ericsson Xperia X1
Price: £499.38
Available SIM free from Clove
Reviewer: Shaun McGill

Yesterday I talked about the design and hardware implementations on the Xperia X1 and first impressions were on the whole quite positive. The keyboard continues to irk me a little bit, and I am struggling to respond to emails in the same speedy way that I do on some other devices. The screen is definitely the highlight though and it is an immensely likeable machine.

Today I want to concentrate on the on board software, and in particular Panels which has been promoted so much by Sony Ericsson. I will also look at some of the hardware specifications that were missed yesterday.

Panels

Panels is a good idea and is one that impresses from a distance. It has the potential to bring one touch access to a multitude of applications and is gorgeous to look at. The problem is that it is rather slow and brings with it a serious performance drain that actually makes it a bind to use. As I demonstrated in the unboxing video, it can stutter and cause occasional lock ups which completely takes away from the startling good looks. When you are in the standard Today screen the Xperia is super quick and easily the fastest Windows Mobile smartphone I have used to date. In some of the other Panels it is still slow and gets no way near the performance of the standard set up.

There is another issue at this time in that most of the Panels achieve the same aim and just variations on a theme to offer information on the one screen. From calendar entries to web feeds to weather to big clocks it is all there, but often in separate panels. Spb offers Mobile Shell as a free download, but this is just another option to gather lots of information in one place. I must say that Mobile Shell is quick on the Xperia and certainly my preferred choice of interface.

To conclude this bit, I do not like Panels at all and feel that it is little more than a good looking interface which completely fails to perform. At the end of the day it is not too important though because you can just ignore it if you like.

Memory

The specifications quote 256MB of SDRAM and 512Mb of NAND flash which is mightily impressive for any Windows Mobile smartphone. In reality this reduced substantially to around 150MB each on first use. There is a lot pre-installed and even at the lower values you will have few issues with lack of program memory when running multiple applications. For a phone at this price point I would expect to see at least 8GB of on board storage memory, but with 16GB microSD cards retailing at under £50 now it is not a huge deal breaker anymore. Let’s also be very thankful that we are not dealing with Memory Sticks here as well

Camera

The camera could be better, but on the whole I managed to take decent quality shots in good lighting conditions. Because smartphone cameras are often limited in the megapixel area, it is important that they are quick to start up and quick to snap a picture. Unfortunately the X1 camera is not quick in either respect and this results in longer than wanted picture taking times.



The video capture is quite good at VGA and 30 fps so the end result is perfectly passable video clips. There is a VGA camera on the front as well for video calls so the imaging set up is as you would expect from an S.E. device.

Software Extras

The X1 is not overladen with software extras, but does come with everything you would expect in a Windows Mobile smartphone. We have mentioned Panels and Spb do offer a free version of Mobile Shell for the X1 which is a bonus. Google Maps (free) is pre-installed; Handango InHand (free) is also installed along with trial versions of Bejeweled 2 and Astraware Sudoku. In essence none of these are giveaways because they are free anyway, but the Astraware titles do show off the capabilities of the larger screen when games are programmed properly for them. Sudoku in particular looks great on the WVGA display.

Web / Email

The inclusion of Opera is a positive setp and web pages do display well on the WVGA screen. I had some small issues with speed at times and the occasional lag crept in. Pocket IE is included should you wish to use that- can't think of a reason why you would, but some people are traditionalists

MS Exchange works perfectly out of the box, but be aware of an SMTP sending issue that many people are discussing. This is affecting Windows Mobile 6.1 and hopefully a fix will be on the way very soon.

GPS

In my first tests I was stunned at how quickly the X1 picked up my current position. Google Maps and a trial of Wayfinder are installed to get you started, but TomTom is well worth considering because it works very well indeed on the Xperia.

Tomorrow I will conclude my thoughts on the X1. This review may seem negative at times, but I am concentrating on specific areas in this section. Sometimes the whole can be better than all of the separate parts just like the Beatles. There is something that draws me to the Xperia and I need to figure out what that is before I wrote the final part...

Product Name: Sony Ericsson Xperia X1
Price: £499.38
Available SIM free from Clove
Reviewer: Shaun McGill

It has been a rollercoaster ride with the Xperia X1 over the past few days and one that has caused me more confusion and angst than ‘any’ other review I have written to date. There is so much bundled into this little metal box, software and hardware, that it is difficult to know where to start and to decide which parts are good and which are superfluous.

The Panels software creates discussion whenever it is mentioned and will always be a bone of contention- in my opinion it is the perfect example of trying to hide Windows Mobile, but it simply doesn’t work. I’m not going to mention it anymore because that would be to take away from what is basically a brilliant Windows Mobile smartphone.

It has everything you need and is encased in a form factor that takes the classic sliding keyboard build and adds some glamour to the set up. It is without doubt desirable and looks good in any place and for any time. Some parts are difficult to get to which is caused by the OS and button placement / design and it is not an easy device to get used to at first play.

Register Hardware summed up the Xperia experience very well- “Like Madonna, the X1 is quite good looking and very well connected, but living with it can sometimes seem like hard work.”

On a personal note I came extremely close to keeping the Xperia for a number of reasons, but ultimately I couldn’t justify the loss of practical speed against the extra flexibility of being able to add as many applications as I like. The BlackBerry Bold is quicker in general use, has superior music and video playback, the keyboard is better and is just a better machine for my personal needs. The signal strength is also MUCH better on the Bold- I can have a good 3G signal anywhere in my house whereas the Xperia (and every other smartphone I have used) can only get GPRS. Throw in a better battery life and it is not really a contest for me.

Where the Xperia wins is in bringing everything into one small space and giving the new user a good multimedia experience, access to a huge range of third party applications, GPS, great connectivity blah blah. It is stuck in between corporate and consumer models and as such could do quite well in both markets.

To conclude I would put the Xperia above all of the recent HTC branded models and it is probably the best Windows Mobile device I have ever used.

Build Quality- 9
Ease of use- 7
Battery- 8
Screen clarity- 8
Value for money- 8
Total score- 86%