Talk about a bold departure from the stock Android experience. When you first turn the Xperia X10 on, it doesn't even look like a Google phone. That's because Sony Ericsson didn't just skin the OS; what you see on its 4-inch screen looks and feels completely different than anything else on the market. This phone's unique Timescape feature lets you flip through social networking updates like a deck of cards, and its Mediascape app neatly organizes your music, photos, and videos--including online content. We also like the Xperia X10's 8-megapixel camera, which borrows fun features from Sony's standalone digicams like face and smile detection. Unfortunately, this 1-GHz smart phone doesn't feel nearly as fast as its clock speed, and it runs the now ancient Android 1.6 OS. So is its $149 price tag reasonable for the features you get, or should you just step up to the Samsung Captivate or iPhone 4?
With its 4-inch scratch-resistant, shatter-proof glass display, the Xperia X10 is nicely balanced between the 3.5-inch iPhone 4 and the larger 4.3-inch Motorola Droid X and HTC Evo 4G. At 4.7 x 2.5 x 0.5 inches and 4.8 ounces, it's slightly shorter but thicker and heavier than the 4.5-ounce Captivate. The X10 is also the same weight as the iPhone 4. However, the iPhone 4 has a much more elegant glass and steel design.
On the plus side, the back is comprised of high-grade soft touch material similar to the Droid X, making it easy to grip. There are no buttons on the left of the phone, but to the right are nicely raised volume buttons and a dedicated camera shutter. On top is a power button and flap-covered mini USB port, with a 3.5mm headphone jack wedged between. For novice Android users, the Xperia X10's three physical buttons (Menu, Home, Back) may seem like standard fare, but the lack of a dedicated search button was a nuisance. We found ourselves reaching for the nonexistent search button often while e-mailing and web browsing, and realized just how much we've come to rely on it.
To make matters worse, the small white LED lights between the buttons barely help to distinguish them in dark conditions. And why use a square icon instead of a Home icon for home? Beneath the phone is the microphone, and on the back is an 8-MP camera accompanied by a light that Sony Ericsson wouldn't dare call an LED flash (we'll touch upon this later).
The Xperia X10 has a 4-inch WVGA 854 x 480-pixel resolution display that's big and bright when the setting is cranked to the max. While not as crisp or colorful as the Super AMOLED display on the Captivate or the iPhone 4's Retina display, the Xperia X10 still does a good job of displaying multimedia content such as videos and pictures. Web sites looked good on the device as well, and the extra screen estate came in handy when dealing with the virtual keyboard.
The Xperia X10's sole reliance on Google's default Android keyboard is a bit of a bummer. Typing in landscape mode was fine and mostly error-free, but entering portrait mode felt too cramped. We recommend installing Swiftkey beta from the Android Market as an alternative to Google's keyboard.
With the Xperia X10, Sony Ericsson heavily skins the dated Android 1.6 OS with its own intriguing custom interface. From the main home screen, one swipe left and one swipe right is all you get, as the phone is limited to a paltry total of three home screens. By comparison, the Captivate has five home screens, and the HTC Aria boasts seven.
The main home screen has a digital clock in the center, four application icons along the bottom (Timescape, Mediscape, Messaging, and Dialer), and the Timescape widget above the digital clock. A most visited/history widget (that tracks your web browsing usage) is on the left home screen, and the right home screen has a Google search bar and a widget that toggles Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and Sound/Vibrate functions. Each widget has a nice transparent effect similar to Aero in Windows 7. The application tray is marked by a faded navy blue area highlighted with white lines at the bottom of the screen, and can be accessed with an upward swiping motion.
Sony Ericsson sets the X10 apart with Timscape and Mediascape, two visually appealing interfaces that chronologically aggregate social networking and media content on the device. Timescape presents Facebook, Twitter and Myspace updates, in addition to recent e-mail, MMS, photos, SMS, and videos in a vertical Cover Flow-like card presentation called Splines. It's similar in concept to Motoblur, and the social networking integration on the Evo 4G and Droid X, but with more visual pizzazz.
Scrolling through content is done with a simple upwards or downwards finger swipe. A dock at the bottom of the screen lets you Spline-view content by application. Selecting an individual Spline lets you view the update in its entirety; pressing it again lets you comment or reply. However, instead of launching the dedicated social client (for example, Twitter for responding to a tweet), the Xperia X10 will launch that app's website, which feels jarring. The animation when swiping is nice, but we noticed sluggishness when we first launched Timescape, and whenever it was relaunched after the phone came from out of hibernation.
Each Spline--including music and photo files--has an Infinite button in the upper right-hand corner. Once pressed, all related info to the item will be displayed in a list for fast access. Pressing the infinite button on a MP3 music file by Brandy Norwood brought up all her music on the device, plus a web search button to get additional information on the artist. The X10 also presented a YouTube tab that shows thumbnail previews of her videos on that site. It's a smart feature that worked really well, but its usefulness depends on how much peripheral information there is about the subject. For example, using the Infinite button with Twitter and Facebook contacts only gave us the option to "add to contacts." We also don't think most consumers will get what the Infinite button is or what it does until they try it.
Specs and Performance
The Xperia X10 runs Android 1.6, a version of the OS that's more than three generations behind the current crop of Android devices. It loses out on features such as voice-to-text and applications that were specifically tailored for Android 2.1 devices, such as the new Twitter app. The lack of multitouch on the Xperia X10 really hampers the experience, too. No pinch-to-zoom on photos or web browsing and in apps in general really make the experience undesirable for seasoned Android users.
The 1-GHz Snapdragon processor and 384MB of RAM which power the Xperia X10 are nothing to sneeze at: it nearly matches the 1-GHz CPU and 512MB of RAM combination found on high-end phones like the Captivate and Droid X. One would expect these guts to handle Android 1.6 with no sweat, but unfortunately that's not the case. The issue lies with the graphically enhanced GUI. Switching between home screens was seamless, but jerkiness plagued the Timescape interface often, and we encountered brief but noticeable pauses when switching between video, music, and photos in Mediascape. However, when playing videos, the phone was quick to switch from portrait to landscape modes.
We also noticed lag when unlocking the screen or running multiple applications. Maps loaded a bit slower as we streamed Pandora in the background. These issues seem more related to the workload placed on the CPU due to the Sony Ericsson's interface, and not hardware.
The Xperia X10 comes with 1GB of onboard memory and a measly 2GB memory card, but you can expand that via microSD to 32GB.
Applications and GPS
Minus the official Twitter app and a few others, the Xperia X10 has access to the Android Market's rapidly expanding selection of 70,000+ apps. Some of our favorites include Pandora, NYTimes, and Google Goggles. Preinstalled apps include OfficeSuite for viewing office documents, and Mobile Banking. There are also premium paid apps such as MobiTV, a $9.99-per-month service that offers TV shows and content from networks such as CBS, FoxNews, and ESPN. What's missing is a music store such as Amazon MP3, which you can download from the Android Market.
By now we're also used to seeing the usual selection of AT&T apps on Android devices, which include the trio of mapping apps (AT&T Family Maps, AT&T Maps, AT&T Navigator). We say use Google Navigation, which is free and quickly calculated a 35-minute trip from Brooklyn, NY to Elizabeth, NJ. AT&T Radio, a premium paid radio subscription ($4.99 per month) that doesn't seem to have any value when stacked against freebies such as Pandora.
Web, E-mail, and Messaging
Web browsing performance over AT&T's 3G network with the Xperia X10 was comparable to the fastest phone on the carrier. It loaded CNN.com in 11 seconds, the same time as the iPhone 4, and ESPN.com in 9 seconds, the same time it took on the Vibrant. It managed to best the iPhone 4 in loading NYTimes.com at 11 vs. 13 seconds. It took a reasonable 40 seconds to download the 950MB Pandora application.
Setting up a typical Gmail account is as simple as entering your username and password. Business users will appreciate that the Work E-mail app, powered by Futuredial, offers Microsoft Exchange support. You simply enter your corporate e-mail address, password, domain, and server, and it should configure automatically.
Text messaging is similar to other Android devices, except the feature is also integrated with Timescape.
The 8.1-MP camera (with 16X digital zoom) on the Xperia X10 snaps sharp, colorful images. You're limited to 6-MP if you want to take 16:9 aspect ratio shots, but the 8-MP shots look great, even in 4:3. An image of a flowerpot in Times Square was bright and well saturated. Although the Xperia X10 doesn't have a dedicated, automatic flash, it does have a camera light. Too bad you must manually toggle it on or off.
We do like some of the other features Sony Ericsson packs in, some of which you'll typically find on dedicated point-ant-shoot cameras. For example, the X10 offers both smile detection and face detection. Plus, you'll find plenty of scene modes.
Video capture quality is behind the times, as the Xperia X10 maxes out at WVGA. For example, the Captivate and iPhone 4 capture 720p HD video. The good news is that the footage we shot of midtown Manhattan played back smoothly on the device, offering plenty of detail. And Sony Ericsson says that the X10 could be upgraded to handle 720p with a software update.
Music, Photos, and Videos
Mediascape is the Xperia X10's dedicated music, photo, and video application; gone are the gallery and music apps typically found on Android phones. At the bottom of Mediascape are three icons (Music, Video, Photo); selecting one brings up the associated content in thumbnail form, and arranged by how recently, or how frequently, it was accessed.
The music player is nicely presented, and is visually better than what you'd find on a typical Android phone. However, we wish the Xperia X10 stretched the album art out a bit more like the Captivate and iPhone 4, especially since it has a large screen. Also, the music player only works in portrait mode. Music quality was so-so: the included headphones had generous bass response, but weren't comfortable to wear, and the external speaker was tinny when cranked to full volume.
Although the photo gallery was easy to navigate, the lack of pinch to zoom sours the experience. Swiping from photo to photo was also sluggish. In addition to viewing images captured with the phone, you can sync the X10 with Picasa and Facebook to view the photos you have stored online.
The video player doesn't really stand out. It has the standard pause, play, rewind, fast forward features that you'd expect from a media device. You're on your own for content, too, since the X10 doesn't offer a video download service like the Samsung Captivate's upcoming Media Hub.
We like the fact that you can use Mediascape to e-mail files directly from the device to any one of your contacts. As with Timescape, Mediascape also makes use of the Infinite button. For example, when listening to a Brandy album, pressing the button presented both of the albums we had stored on the device, and gave us the option of performing a web search. Swiping to the right loaded YouTube videos from the artist.
Call Quality and Battery Life
During our testing, callers reported that we came in clear on the Xperia X10, and volume was good on our end. Likewise, a message we left on our Google Voice account sounded good.
The Xperia X10 has a talk time rating of up to 8 hours and standby time of up to 18 days. We unplugged the Xperia X10 at 6 p.m. and used it to send and check e-mail, snap images, and surf the web on our 1-hour commute home, and left it on overnight. We still had a quarter of juice left remaining the next day when we arrived in our office at 9 a.m., so you should be able to make it through a full workday.
Pricing and Value
The Xperia X10 is priced at $149 with a two year contract, and a 2GB data plan costs $25 per month. AT&T's Nation 450 w/Rollover Minutes plan is $39.99 per month, which nets you 450 daytime minutes (to landlines and mobile phones other than AT&T) and 5,000 night time and weekend minutes (9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and weekends). Unlimited text messaging costs $20 extra.
On paper, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 sounds like a good deal at $149. It has specs that rival higher priced phones, including a 4-inch display and 1-GHz processor, and the Mediascape and Timescape apps add some real utility and entertainment value to the typical Android experience. However, this device lacks multitouch, runs a bit slow, and uses an outdated version of Android. Overall, we think AT&T subscribers would be better served by spending the extra $50 for the Captivate or iPhone 4, and cash strapped buyers might want to save $20 and go with the HTC Aria, if they're willing to live with its smaller screen. The Xperia X10 has the potential to be a very good smart phone, but we'd hold off until Sony Ericsson offers Android 2.1 (or newer). We'd also like to see a better selection of premium music, videos, and other content offered by Sony.