The Aino joins a small group of slider phones, including the Samsung UltraTouch and the LG Prada, which also feature touchscreens. The Aino's still a candybar shape, and is fairly pocket-friendly at only 104mm high by 50mm wide and 15.5mm deep. It weighs 134 grams.
What really catches your eye is the beautiful scratch-resistant mineral glass display. It is a generous three inches diagonally and supports 16.7 million colours and 432x240 pixels. Everything from photos and videos to simple animations look fantastic. You can only use the touchscreen when the phone is closed, and only then for the Aino's 3D media browser. The browser lets you access the 8.1-megapixel camera, the photo gallery, video and music player, as well as the FM radio without ever opening the phone. You can scroll and tap through these functions easily thanks to the intuitive user interface. The capacitive touchscreen feels responsive with hardly any transition delays.
When you slide the phone open the physical navigation controls worked well enough. They consist of two soft keys, a round toggle with middle OK key, the Send and End/Power keys, a shortcut key, and the Clear key. The toggle can be mapped to four user-defined shortcuts, and the shortcut key brings up a "My Shortcuts" menu overlay that also lets you multitask between different open applications. Aside from the toggle, we found most of the navigation keys to be on the small side and cramped.
Underneath the navigation is the number keypad. Even though the keypad is small, we found it to be quite usable, thanks to the slightly domed surface that lets us dial and type out text easily. On the left of the phone is the typical Sony Ericsson charger/headset jack, while on the right side are the volume rocker and the camera key. On the back is the camera lens plus an LED flash. We were disappointed that there was no 3.5mm headset jack. The microSD card slot is located behind the battery cover.
The Aino comes with a matching Bluetooth headset and desk stand charger which enables you to sync with a PC as well. The Bluetooth dongle clips to your clothes and lets you plug in the bundled set of 3.5mm headphones, or your own if you prefer. The dongle has controls for talk, volume and track selection.
Woah there on the features Sony boffins! This phone really lays them on thick. But luckily for us, most of them are actually useful. The Aino's main calling card is the Remote Play feature which enables you to control and view content on your PS3. Until now this feature has been exclusive to the PSP, and so the added advantage of 3G coverage on the Aino means you can theoretically watch your content &mdash including PlayTV recordings and live TV — anywhere.
The Aino comes with a small 55MB of storage on-board, but ships with an 8GB micro Memory Stick for holding all your media. The music player supports MP3 and AAC and the video player supports MP4, 3GP, ASF, WMV and Real Video formats.
We were also quite impressed with the options available with the 8.1-megapixel camera. You can take pictures in five resolutions including a 1080p 16:9 option. Settings include a self-timer, flash, macro focus, autofocus, an infinite focus mode that ignores the autofocus for longer distance shots, and geotagging. You can take photos simply by tapping on the screen, which also helps to focus in on whatever you're tapping. There's also a unique face-detection mode that will automatically detect and focus on a subject's face. After you take the photo, there are several editing modes available including B&W and red-eye reduction.
Other basic features include text and multimedia messaging, speakerphone, business apps like calendar and a calculator, in-built torch, and an alarm clock. If you're a little more tech savvy, you'll like the POP3/IMAP4 email support, Wi-Fi, USB mass storage, PC syncing, the voice recorder, instant messenger, a file manager and a variety of Bluetooth profiles that include A2DP stereo. There's also GPS support, which is especially handy with location applications like Google Maps.
As the aforementioned 3D media browser indicates, the Aino is a very multimedia-friendly phone. The music player compares favourably with dedicated Walkman phones, with features like aeroplane mode, EQ presets, playlists, and shuffle and repeat modes. Aside from music, you can also easily sync with your favourite audiobooks or podcasts. Perhaps the thing we like most about the music player is the fun and playful user interface. Not only is the menu really intuitive, the different equaliser settings have different art icons, and you can choose from a variety of visualiser animations. There's even a SensMe option that lets you assign moods to songs. Like other Walkman phones, the Aino also has a Shake control that lets you shuffle tracks just by shaking the phone. Other music-related functions include an FM radio, which requires a headset to act as an antenna, and TrackID, a song-identification application.
The camcorder is quite good as well. You can record videos in three resolutions (16:9 HD, VGA, and 4:3 MMS) and you can toggle the night mode, the LED light, the microphone and the image stabiliser. There's a self-timer option as well. Photo quality is quite good — pictures looked sharp for the most part, but we did wish the colours looked brighter. Video quality was OK. Video looked rather pixellated and washed out at times, but they're decent enough for short clips to share with friends.
It seems the engineers at Sony Ericsson have taken a page out of the Apple and Windows books by incorporating Search functionality on the main page. At the bottom right-hand corner you'll find a "Search" button which gives you direct access to Google. We think this is a handy feature and good example of web integration from a company that may not have incorporated 3G features into its phones the best way in the past.
The Aino has a generous 1000-entry phone book with room in each entry for seven numbers, an email address, a company name and job title, two street addresses, a URL, a birthday, and notes. You can categorise your contacts into groups, add a photo for caller ID, or pair them with one of 30 polyphonic ringtones or one of eight message alert tones. You can always use your own music tracks as ringtones if you like.
We tested the Aino in Sydney on the Optus network. We found that call quality was mixed, and while there were no complaints from the other end it was difficult to hear callers at times with muffled sounds coming out of the earpiece.
Moving on to the phone's trump card, we actually found the Remote Play functionality to be a little flaky. When it worked, navigating the XMB was easy enough using the thumb pad. To simulate the X, O, square and triangle buttons you use the top right four numerals when held in landscape mode. However, it's difficult to remember which button is which and using them is a bit cramped and awkward.
Despite this, we were able to control the PlayTV and watch live TV, and also make scheduled recordings. While it was possible to view the PlayStation while connected to the same network we were unable to use it via 3G or on a different network — and this was when the PS3 was on a business network and a home one. More than likely this was a router port access problem, but if we had issues it's also likely to stump others, so just be aware that you may need to access your router's settings to get this to work.
Listening to music on the phone was really quite good, even via the phone's speakers. Though it was a little on the harsh and tinny side, you could still make out the differences between equaliser settings. When heard via a headset though, the audio sounded superb without any tinny artefacts at all. The bass equaliser setting, for example, amplified the bass without distorting it too much. On the video side of things, we found that video quality was quite stunning as well. The sample video clips looked really sharp and colourful, thanks to the bright, clear display.
The Aino has a rated battery life of 13 hours talk time and 15.8 days standby, but we found that with only occasional use the battery would last about a day. This puts it on about par with the iPhone 3GS. If you use the phone more often for listening to music or browsing then you'll find the battery dies much quicker.
The Sony Ericsson Aino really is a jack of all trades, master of none. Apart from the high quality screen and general ease of use, nothing especially stands out — and for a telephone to have less-than-average call quality is almost unforgivable. We also miss the provision of a 3.5mm jack as Bluetooth dongles can easily go missing. With that said, if you're looking for a multimedia handset that is not an iPhone then the Aino is not a bad choice.