After what seems like an eternity, the wait for the X10 is over. After leaks, and more leaks, beginning just short of a year ago, the X10 will finally be in the hot little hands of those who have waited so patiently. To be honest, we don't remember the last time a Sony Ericsson phone generated this much interest. Oh wait, actually we do, the original Xperia X1 had a year of hype behind it too, and it didn't end so well. Will Sony Ericsson's luck change for its first Android?
Big, beautiful, kinda touchy
Let's begin with the obvious, the X10 is a monster. Its 4-inch display even manages to make the HTC HD2 seem, well, regular in size somehow. Our review model is in lustrous black, and with its stainless trim and glossy display it looks and feels like a polished piece of obsidian as it slides in and out of a pocket. The back of the X10, the battery cover, is made from soft-touch plastic, and is emblazoned with a Sony Ericsson badge and the X10's 8-megapixel camera lens.
The 4-inch display, with its 800x480 WVGA resolution looks great, especially when showing off Sony Ericsson's Timescape and Mediascape 3D-animated applications. Unfortunately, the screen's touch sensitivity doesn't live up to its size or clarity. Typing with the on-screen keyboard requires more patience and accuracy than compared with the iPhone or HTC Desire, as each keystroke has to be deliberate and reasonably slow or else letters in the words you type will be overlooked. We also found problems making selections around the edge of the screen where dragging down the Android notifications bar by mistake is a tiresome regularity. Scrolling can also be a bit tricky, with the X10 selecting an app or contact during a swiping motion.
Timescape - waste of time?
We positively drooled when we first saw the Timescape UI on YouTube — we actually dribbled a pool of saliva in our laps. For those who haven't seen Timescape, it is a stand-alone app that aggregates all of your recent call logs, SMS messages, email and photos, and adds two of our favourite social-networking tools into the mix, with dedicated "splines" for Twitter and Facebook. The result is columns of transparent 3D cards showing contact names and a nubbin of their message to you. Timescape can even be set as a total home screen takeover or a 2x2 home screen widget displaying the most recent entry.
This sounds like a great idea, and for some people this will be extremely useful we expect, but for us it was a clumsy, resource-hungry mess of data that is much better organised by dozens of free apps available on the Android Market. The 3D graphics are amongst the sexiest we've seen on a phone, but the X10's hardware struggles to render the cards efficiently, especially when it has to pull down dozens of Facebook and Twitter user profile pictures. It will work better if you restrict the "splines" to show local updates minus Facebook and Twitter, but then that defeats the purpose of Timescape altogether, doesn't it?
Timescape: add a busy Twitter feed and things get messy.
(Credit: Sony Ericsson)
Mediascape is Sony Ericsson's take on a media player for Android, and it is much better. Compared to all previous media-playing apps on Android, Mediascape stands head and shoulders above the rest for its excellent looks and advanced functionality. Not only does Mediascape organise your music, videos, photos, etc in a clean and easy-to-read interface, but it will also search the web and pull in YouTube videos showing the bands in your playlist. While the X10 doesn't ship with more than 512MB of internal memory, Sony Ericsson does slip an 8GB microSDHC card into the box with the handset.
Where the X10 shines
So Timescape is a dud, but while this may seem like a major selling point of the X10, it really is only a single element of an otherwise sold smartphone package — an element you can easily switch off if you agree with our assessment. Without it you have a phone with an enormous screen, an excellent Webkit web browser, full connectivity options and a decent-enough 8-megapixel camera.
The web browsing experience is the real standout for us, though the stock browser isn't any different to the one you'll find on any other phone running Android version 1.6, like the HTC Hero for example. But in combination with the 4-inch display you have a little more screen real estate to help read desktop-sized websites with ease.
The 8-megapixel camera and flash combination does a decent job of capturing your travels, though the overall image quality doesn't warrant us making any outrageously enthusiastic claims of brilliance. The camera software has a few nice touches above and beyond the standard settings, including face detection focus mode and the ability to tag photos you've taken with contacts from your address book, letting you build walls of photos for each of your friends Facebook-style.
Mediascape does a good job of organising your media.
(Credit: Sony Ericsson)
Timescape isn't the only area that taxes the X10's seemingly capable hardware combination of a 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 384MB of RAM. Basic tasks struggled too, like the animated arrow you drag to unlock the phone in standby mode. Most menu navigation is fine, the X10 features three customisable home screens and swiping between the three is usually smooth, so too is browsing through the list of your installed apps, but other tasks like opening the Dialler or entering the Message after you receive an SMS can take several seconds before they are usable. This may be because both apps are connected to the Timescape app, and if this is true then it is another cross against this sluggish tool.
Other elements of the phone work as expected; call quality is good, the web browser is great, notifications come through regularly and Google services, like maps and mail are first rate. It's also worth noting that people requiring MS Exchange support for business email can do so using a third-party app called Moxier, which could be pre-installed with the phone (unless your carrier decides to remove it for one reason or another).
As with all Android phones, battery life is either a pass or fail depending on how you manage it. Heavy usage with constant web access only delivered about a working day's worth of charge, but this can easily be extended with a little common sense and an app download or two. By tweaking our screen brightness and riding the controls for mobile data, Wi-Fi and location services we managed to include another half a day.
If you thought all Androids were created equal you'd be wrong; various manufacturers are working with Android, delivering innovation in both hardware and software to sweeten the deal of Google's excellent smartphone platform. Sony Ericsson's X10 is about halfway right, its design is sleek and sexy, and the 4-inch display feels big in a good way. Likewise, Mediascape is an excellent addition, giving an Android phone a standout media experience for the first time. But the parts of this phone that struggle tend to impede on the basic day-to-day user experience, which is never a good thing. The touchscreen can be temperamental, the resource-sucking Timescape software that we ended up deleting from the home screen towards the end of our review process, and the lag into some key apps like messaging really dampen the experience.
Some people may also gripe about the use of the older Android version 1.6, but to be honest this didn't phase us too much. After spending time with the HTC Desire recently we couldn't easily identify a feature we missed when using the X10 (besides Live Wallpapers perhaps), though this earlier version of Android may have contributed to the inconsistent performance we experienced. All in all, the Xperia X10 is a good smartphone, but falls short of being be an outstanding one.