On behalf of tech enthusiasts worldwide, let us be among the first to welcome Sony Ericsson to 2009. At one point it seemed like the Swedish-Japanese conglomerate would be left in the recent past while the rest of the mobile world speeds away on the wave of touchscreen awesomeness. The Satio is Sony Ericsson's first touchscreen for the year and its first since last year's Xperia X1, and if you follow our reviews you'll know we didn't love the Xperia.
Happily, the Satio is exactly the kind of touchscreen experience we needed to see to restore our faith in Sony Ericsson. Though it uses resistive touchscreen technology the phone is extremely responsive. You do need to give the screen a gentle push when making selections, rather than just touching the screen as with capacitive screen technology, but it is a very gentle push and the extra effort will help you to not make selections accidentally.
The 3.5-inch display is bright and richly coloured and is a pleasure to use. We did find that the screen was difficult to read under sunlight at 50 per cent brightness, but this is par for the course with most mobiles. Around the edges of the phone you'll find a number of buttons and sockets, including dedicated camera keys and a microSD card slot. The Satio's lack of a built-in 3.5mm headphone socket is a disappointment and the absence of an adapter in the box with the headphones is a major oversight. Please Sony Ericsson, make a standard headphones socket a standard inclusion on your phones, especially ones geared towards media playback, as the Satio is.
Though the Satio might seem on the surface to be in the same category as the iPhone, Samsung's Omnia and Nokia's N97, we contest that it lives in a different category. While the aforementioned try to prove their merits as business phones with fun elements, the Satio is all party. Sure, it can access your business email and calendar thanks to a licensed version of RoadSync pre-installed, but the phone's strengths lie with media, in both capture and playback.
Its 12.1-megapixel camera is the show-stopper and we've been very careful to put it thoroughly through its paces. The verdict is good, and though there's a number of issues to point out, we've been very happy with the experience overall. The camera software starts quickly after you open the lens cover, and the settings are laid out in a finger-friendly fashion. The auto-focus and shutter speed is rather slow, averaging at about 1.4 seconds, so you may have a decent chance of catching your kid's second or third steps, even if you miss the first.
Photo comparison side by side: the Satio (top) and the Canon IXUS 120 IS (bottom)
Picture quality during our tests ranged from good to great, depending on the lighting situations. Daytime shots, especially in warm afternoon light, are gorgeous, but night-time shots tests the image sensor's sensitivity and the results tended to be extremely noisy. We also saw some of the worst red-eye in night shots that we've ever come across — even subjects across a room had glowing balls for pupils like burning hot coals.
To really test the Satio we paired it with the 12-megapixel Canon IXUS 120 IS, an Editors' Choice award winner, for a photo tour of Sydney's CBD. Side by side the results obviously favour the Canon, but the Satio kept up well enough to win our admiration. Though the tiny lens doesn't let as much light in as the Canon, the colour and detail in the images were in the same ball park as the dedicated shooter.
Photo comparison side by side: Satio (left) and the Canon IXUS 120 IS (right)
Media and the web
The lack of a 3.5mm headphone socket is a big letdown in our books, but if you can get past this you'll find the Satio is quite a media hub. The media menus are clear and well designed, which is the same Sony Ericsson experience you find across its Walkman range. From the home screen you can access this menu using a dedicated on-screen media key, or by pressing the mechanical media key on the right side of the handset. The 360x640-pixel display looks fantastic playing back video content, and the Satio will recognise WMV, 3GP, MP4 and Real Video media files.
The pre-installed web browser is one of the better browsers we've come across, even while the HSDPA latency makes page load speeds a drag. Some pages can take up to 20-plus seconds to load, but once available these pages look great, with excellent rendering and smooth finger navigation. For the best results we suggest you stick to mobile web pages, these load quickly and look best on a screen this size. Look our for YouTube and Facebook apps designed for the Satio tucked away in the "My Apps" folder — the YouTube app in particular is great to use.
Built for speed
Our time with the Satio marks the fourth opportunity we've had this year to experience the phone in person, and each time we've seen a significant improvement in performance. In fact, it's gotten to the point where we don't see any performance lag when moving through the menus or switching applications. Sony Ericsson has refined this interface to a point where we have no reservations in highly recommending this touchscreen experience.
Areas where we remain reserved are in regards to battery life and cell tower signal reception. The battery life is bad, but not unusually so for a touschscreen with a large display. As with many phones in this class, the Satio's battery lasts for about a day, and we found ourselves charging it each evening. The reception issues were more concerning, with the Satio losing the ability to make calls or send messages in areas where few phones struggle, like train stations for example. Those familiar with the iPhone will know about this trade off; exceptional performance in a few key areas — the camera and media playback in the case of the Satio — at the expense of phone functionality under certain circumstances.