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November 12, 2008

Sony Ericsson XPeria X1 Review

Aside from the iPhone 3G, the Sony Ericsson XPeria X1 is probably one of the most highly anticipated smartphone for the year 2008. I looked into the prototyped of the XPeria X1 given to me last week to find out if it lives up to the hype.

Design and Construction. A touch-screen and a full QWERY keyboard is a rare combination and Sony Ericsson offers both. Solid stainless-steel construction all around — even the keyboard is made up of polished aluminum. The keys are somewhat beveled and spaced just right although if you have big fingers, you’d end up using your fingernails to press them. It’s pretty easy to get used to with very minimal incidents of mis-typing.

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The slider is a little curved which gives a smooth and snappy action when popping out the keyboard. At 17mm thick, it’s just right with the hands and reasonable for a slider phone. In contrast, the XPeria is 1mm thinner than the Nokia N96, N81 and N82.

The finish gave an overall impression that the phone was made in great detail and strong materials. The only significant non-metallic parts are the glossy plastic keypads on the front panel. The phone feels a bit heavy though but that is expected with all that metallic body.

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The Screen Real Estate. The front panel features a 3-inch screen with a resolution of 800×480 pixels. Video quality is top notch — crisp with high contrast and has a wide-angle view (you can still clearly see the videos at close to 90-degree angle). Playback is smooth but I noticed a lag of about 2 to 3 seconds when loading up the videos. 

The XPeria comes with a stylus (and an extra one) tucked in at the top left on the back side for use to navigate the screen menu. You can use your fingers most of the time but there will be instances when you’ll really need the stylus as the menu items of Windows Mobile get too narrow for the fingers. There’s limited haptic feedback on selected functions.

The speakers are found at the bottom end of the phone. Sound volume is a little low that you’ll will find it hard to listen to any vocal audio even at normal ambient noise. Good thing Sony brought in one of their fine earbud headphones (35mm jack) to compensate for that. The FM tuner gets excellent reception when the headphones are attached.

An Internet Device. The XPeria gives an impression that it’s more of an internet device than a phone. Comes with HSDPA (7.2Mbps) and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g so you don’t have problems with connectivity. The real bonus here actually is the pre-installed Opera Mobile 9.5 (a $24 value) which gives you real internet browsing experience — plays flash content, save images/pages, copy/paste, tabbed-browsing, Ajax-support and a lot more.

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Web pages renders fast and you get to view all types of sites from the Flash-powered Cartoon Network to the Ajax-powered BaseCamp. When tethered to a PC/laptop via microUSB or Bluetooth, you can share 3G internet connection with an easy one-click activation.

The Panel Interface. Aside from the usual Windows Mobile navigation and interface, Sony Ericsson added an XPeria Panel UI to easily launch applications or features from the front screen. You can see a short video clip of the panels in action below:

Each panel acts like a widget which you can customize. Furthermore, you can download additional panels developed by Sony Ericsson or other 3rd-party developers. I downloaded one which makes an eye-candy widget to more shortcuts on the phone. As of the moment, there are only a few panels available on the site and you’re also limited to a maximum of 9 active panels on the phone.

Since the XPeria X1 is powered by Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, you also get access to hundreds of free and paid softwares developed for it. The unit I have is just a prototype version so there are still kinks with the operating system though I’ve only experienced the device freezing just once (not the BSOD kind).

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The camera at the back is rated at 3.2MP (2048×1536 pixels) but the autofocus works well that it can take decent to good quality pictures depending on lighting conditions. Here are samples of shots I took with the phone’s camera.

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There’s a dedicated camera button at the  right bottom side of the phone for when taking photos or you can use the center button on the front panel. The center button also serves as a 4-way directional button and optical mouse. The optical mouse takes a bit of time to get used to but you can adjust the sensitivity to your liking.

Multiple Device Input. Aside from the QWERTY keyboard that slides out from under the phone, there’s a virtual keyboard you can activate to use with the stylus. The virtual keyboard seems a bit small despite occupying about 30% of the screen. On top of that, you get navigational buttons on the front panel and the touch screen. There’s no other way to get as much input system as that although sometimes you get confused which one to use.

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With the GPS and Google Maps pre-installed, you can basically get turn-by-turn navigation with map data.

Battery life lasts an average of 2 and a half days with normal internet and phone use. The Lithium Polymer battery is rated at 1500mAh, just like the one on the Nokia E71. The phone charges with hooked up to the PC via the USB cable.

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What’s missing? Well, for one, I find the internal storage of 512MB memory a bit lacking (at least 4GB would have been better). Yes, you can stick in a 16GB microSD card but that would have cost you more. There’s also a limited number of panels to download and use but I guess that will be addressed in time. The external speakers need some re-work too.

Overall, the XPeria X1 is a strong candidate for “Smartphone of the Year” and Windows Mobile users will find this model very attractive. We’ll just have to wait though how much this unit will eventually cost once it hits the stores by end of the month. More often than not, it’s the retail price that’s always a big spoiler to potential customers.

Disclosure: This prototype/trial unit was given to me by Sony-Ericsson. They are also an advertiser on this blog. There’s a risk that it may influence my review but I always try to be very objective about them.

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Abe is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of YugaTech. You Can follow him on Twitter @abeolandres.

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