They say good things come in small packages, and when it comes to phones, they don't come much smaller than Sony Ericsson's X10 mini.
It really is quite an astounding feat; Sony Ericsson follows up its Xperia X10, one of the industry's larger phones, with a mini version and succeeds in creating a truly unique, pint-sized smartphone. At only 90mm tall and 52mm wide, the mini pro looks like a small, black pebble and fits in the palm of our hands. Sony Ericsson has told us that this design encourages single-handed use with your thumb in position for all menu navigation. For the most part, this works exactly as described. In combination with the user interface design, most menu surfing is possible without needing to hold the mini pro in one hand and poke at it with the other.
Sony Ericsson's UX user interface has been modified from what we saw on the original Xperia X10 for use on smaller devices. The most notable and necessary adjustment is its four-corner user-definable shortcuts. Though users will also get four home screens to customise with widgets and application hot-keys, the four corners of the home screen constantly display the same shortcuts for one-touch access to the apps you use most. You can also access the Apps Drawer on the phone with a vertical swipe anywhere on the home screen, rather than having to hen-peck at a tiny on-screen button.
This press image shows the four-corner shortcuts
(Credit: Sony Ericsson)
At the end of the day, though, there's no overlooking the fact that the display of this smartphone is only 2.6 inches big, which is tiny compared with similarly capable smartphones, and its QVGA resolution is much lower than we're coming to expect from phones of this ilk. The mini pro's form factor may fit better in your jeans pocket, but when it comes to viewing web pages or multimedia, we're talking about thousands of pixels difference. For most everyday tasks this screen is fine — reading messages, selecting contacts from your address book — but if you rely on your mobile browser for lengthy sessions of web surfing, the mini pro is not for you.
If messaging and social networking is your focus, then you will appreciate the mini pro's decent QWERTY keyboard. Hidden beneath the screen, this keyboard is definitely shorter length-wise than the keyboard you'd get if you choose the LG Eve instead, but it's nonetheless usable for thrashing out a quick SMS or typing a URL into the browser's address bar. We wouldn't want to be conducting a day's worth of email on this pad, but it'll do the trick for anything else.
Making a working phone this size is a remarkable enough accomplishment in and of itself, but what's truly amazing is that Sony Ericsson has managed to cram in everything else you'd expect to find on a modern smartphone. For web browsing and data transfers, the mini pro features HSPA technology (high speed uploads and downloads) and Wi-Fi with support for 802.11 b and g network protocols. On the back of the phone you'll find a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash, a 2GB microSD memory card inside, 3.5mm headphone socket and a video player supporting H.264 MP4 video files.
There's an accelerometer and A-GPS for orientating the phone locally and globally, with Google Maps installed to make use of the GPS hardware. The mini pro runs on Google's Android version 1.6, so you can expect to find Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar and the Android Market pre-installed and ready to play with out of the box. Also installed is a YouTube client and an FM radio player, though you'll need to plug in headphones to tune in to FM radio stations.
As part of Sony Ericsson's UX interface you also get access to Mediascape and Timescape, though the versions of these apps on the mini varies from what we originally saw on the first X10. You could consider them "lite" versions of the software, Timescape in particular has been pared back to improve performance, and both apps now make use of the four-corner shortcuts you find on the home screens. Mediascape is still a winner for us and is probably the standout feature on both the X10 mini and the mini pro. The UI is attractive, easy to use and takes your music further than other players with a direct link to YouTube videos of your favourite bands.
Timescape Lite: pared back for improved performance
(Credit: CNET Asia)
If there's one area of smartphones that truly suffers after being miniaturised, it's the battery's capacity. The battery in the mini pro is a non-user removable 930mAh unit, which is 25- to 50- per cent smaller than the batteries we tend to see in regular-sized smartphones. The results are pretty obvious, even when we employed our best battery-saving tips we still needed to charge the X10 mini pro every night after a day of low to medium use. The upside is that this tiny battery charges like its been struck by lightning.
We also struggled a little more with the tiny touchscreen than we would have liked. For broad strokes of the screen, for example, swiping between screens in the menu, the touchscreen seemed to be responsive. But for fine object selection, the usability takes a dive. Trying to select the pull-down Android notification bar can be very tricky to do quickly, but it was perhaps most notable when we played Peggle during our tests, a game that requires fine movements, and we found it very hard to position our shots as accurately as we'd expect to on another devices, like the iPhone. You often have to move your finger slowly over the screen to ensure your accuracy and this is less than we'd expect.
Making calls is fine with this tiny unit, with a loud, clear earpiece speaker, though receiving calls is a little trickier. We found the ringer volume to be far quieter than we'd like, even at full volume, and often we'd miss calls with the phone in our pockets. The irony to this point is that the mini pro has a startlingly loud external speaker, which you can use for hands-free calls or music playback, so we're guessing the quiet ringer must be a software issue, rather than a hardware one.
The Xperia X10 mini pro is an engineering feat, but we don't buy phones because they are a certain size, shape or colour — performance always has to come first. The X10 mini pro includes all of the features you'd expect from a smartphone, fast web speeds, Wi-Fi and GPS, a good suite of apps and an online store to expand its functionality, and it packs it all into a unit that is about half the size of a standard phone. But the size of the phone does come with drawbacks, its smaller battery capacity and more importantly its smaller, low resolution screen. Both are issues that challenge the everyday use of the X10 mini pro as a phone.
At its best, the X10 mini pro is an excellent portable music player and short messaging handset. We don't love web browsing with the itty-bitty display, but it's fine for browsing sites with clean, minimal layouts, like Facebook mobile.