I have had the Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro for two (2) months now and have used it extensively in that period. While I have written bits and snippets about the device – its great usability due to the size and Sony Ericsson’s UI customization, and its top-notch 5 megapixel camera, among others, I have refrained from doing a full review until it received the Android 2.1 update that SE promised at launch.
Well, that update is here now, and it is a pleasant surprise. Android 2.1 has catapulted the X10 Mini Pro into a level of performance hitherto reserved for devices like the Nexus One and HTC Desire. This guy may be much smaller but it packs a punch that no-one was probably expecting.
The X10 Mini Pro is one of the smallest smartphones on the market, and just a little bigger than its sibling, the X10 Mini. It is a sliding QWERTY Android-powered smartphone, initially launched with v1.6.
Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro Review: Hardware
The build quality is very good. The handy dimensions help too. Almost everyone who has seen it took a second look. It looks good to the eyes and feels good in the hands. The sliding mechanism feels sturdy and is spring-assisted.
The display is scratch-resistant capacitive TFT at 240×320 pixels. No AMOLED or Super-AMOLED here. It fades significantly in direct sunlight but is usable if you set the brightness to 25% or 50%. If you notch the brightness all the way up to 100% (with the consequence of greater power consumption), it is very usable in sunlight. But at 50%, you are really good to go.
There’s a really loud speaker at the back of the Mini Pro. Because of the “human curvature” curve at the back of the phone, the speaker is never totally covered when you put the phone down on its back. As such, music playback still comes out quite loud (the sound bounces off the surface that the phone rests on).
At the bottom of the Mini Pro is the microphone slot and a lanyard slot. To the left is the USB port. At the top are the quite large power button and a special 3.5 mm audio jack. The right side of the phone spots the volume keys and the camera shutter button. All keys are comfortable to use.
The front of the phone (which is in black) features only three hardware buttons (all in chrome) – a menu button, a home key, and a back button. The contrast is really cool. See the chart below for a labelled walk-through of the Mini Pro.
The 2.6-inch capacitive display is a joy to use. Usability is further enhanced by the small size of the device – one-handed texting and general use works so well that for the first time I am really enjoying entering text via touchscreen and only use the slide-out hardware keyboard for more extensive typing.
Sony Ericsson did their homework with customising the Android interface to work on such a small display. They did a good job. There are four large icons in the corners of the homescreen. You can set your favourite apps to these slots.
During ongoing calls, the same concept of large icons at the four corners is utilised to provide you in-call options.
Widgets can be placed on the homescreen, which has multiple desktop pages. Because of the display size, only one widget can be placed on each desktop page, though you can have as many pages as you desire.
When the display is off, you can unlock it by pressing the power button (or home button) to light it up and then sliding an onscreen button to the right. The phone can also be muted without having to unlock the display at all.
All icons in the menu are large and finger-friendly. The menu itself is flat and you navigate by swiping horizontally.
Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro Review: Text Entry
One would think that a device this small could never provide a usable hardware QWERTY keyboard. Wrong. The keyboard is quite good and I am able to crank out text with almost no mistakes. It has no dedicated numeric keys though, as it has only four (4) rows, but that is forgivable on a device this small and with the good performance of the keyboard.
But there’s also an onscreen keyboard. In portrait with the hardware keyboard retracted, you get an alpha-numeric keyboard that is an extreme joy to use for short text. There is auto-prediction and correction. Both work quite well. You can add new words to the dictionary’s vocabulary and so increase its usability per time. Once the hardware keyboard is extended, the onscreen keyboard disappears.
Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro Review: Messaging
Messaging is a cinch on the Mini Pro, whether it is SMS or Gmail. They just work well. The built-in Gmail app supports labels, batch operations, searching and multiple Gmail accounts.
Gmail retrieval is a breeze. My mails regularly arrive on my device faster than they show up on my PC. I am talking of instantenous email.
Where I have faced issues till date is trying to setup a non-Gmail email account on the device. I always get an error that says the server could not be found. Entering all the paprametres manually didn’t make any difference either. Till date, I have not been able to setup a non-Gmail email account on the X10 Mini Pro.
Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro Review: Web Browsing
My only complaint with web browsing on Android has to do with the way that multi-tasking is implemented on the platform and Webkit’s issues with cache. By default, when you launch an app that Android has shut down in the background, the OS restores it to the last state it was in before it was killed off. In the web browser, all pages that were opened before are re-opened – and the browser actually reloads all those pages afresh by connecting to the internet. It does not reload them from cache. You can begin to imagine how much of your mobile internet bandwidth is wasted this way.
Believe me when I say it is expensive business using the built-in Android browser. If you need to save on mobile internet, download Opera Mini from the market right away. Besides that, I have no other complaints about the browser.
Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro Review: Camera
Permit me to say it upfront – the X10 Mini Pro has one of the best 5 megapixel cameras on the mobile market. While the options offered in the camera interface are few and limited, that simplicity works well for how the average person uses their cameraphones.
Again, Sony Ericsson has implemented four, large finger-friendly buttons at the four corners of the camera interface. Simple. Elegant.
The hardware camera shutter key is easy to use, though you need to watch out that you do not push the slider down while shooting.
The Mini Pro produces stunning images. Colours are sharp and bright. Details are fine. Autofocus is fast. Pictures are processed quickly so you can take your next short almost immediately. The camera simply rocks. it is one of the reasons why giving up the Mini Pro is going to be difficult for me. To see for yourself, visit my X10 Mini Pro Camera Samples Gallery.
In video recording mode, there is continuous autofocus and also LED light for recording in low-light situations. The continuous autofocus, which was added with v2.1, is not quite smooth, as you can clearly observe brief pauses when the camera re-focuses. This is hoping that SE refines this feature some more so we can enjoy it to the max.
Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro Review: Music and Video
The X10 Mini Pro performs above average in the multimedia department as well. There is no stuttering and audio reproduction is fine. There is no support for AAC files (audio) or DivX and Xvid (video), so I keep having to convert some files. Minus these limitations, I am quite satisfied with its audio and video playback capabilities.
Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro Review: Other Features
There is Facebook integration with contacts, so you can synchronise your Facebook contacts with those on the phone, and even pull their profile pictures. It is also stressless uploading images from the album to your Facebook or Picasa albums (or sending them as email attachments et al). You can create new Facebook albums and add a caption to each image. Videos can also be directly uploaded to YouTube too with a few taps.
There’s Bluetooth file transfer and apps downloaded from the Android Market can be set to automatically update without any action on your part once an update is available for individual apps. There’s Wifi, GPS with A-GPS support, FM radio, GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA, and HSUPA, so the Mini Pro lacks nothing on the connectivity front.
Oh, there’s also Timescape – Sony Ericsson’s home-grown solution for aggregating all your communication information – Facebook updates, Twitter updates, call logs, messages etc. To be honest with you, I didn’t find any real use for it. Clicking on a Facebook update for example launches a web page or the built-in Facebook app. Twitter updates are also handled the same way. Timescape is just not functional enough. After trying it a couple of times, I just filed Timescape away on a back shelf. I didn’t miss it, and I doubt that anyone else will.
Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro Review: Battery Life
The Mini Pro won’t win any battery performance marathon, but it has one of the best battery performances among touchscreen devices out there. It gets me through a day of fairly intensive use (that amounts to really intensive use for the majority of mobile users that I have met).
I ran an extreme battery test on the X10 Mini Pro to see how much to expect of it in a worst case scenario. In this test, here are the parametres that I set up:
- I charged the battery full
- Set network mode to always-on 3G
- switched WiFi radio on
- switched Bluetooth on
- set volume to loudest
- set Gmail synchronisation to automatic, so delivering always-on real-time email
- set the display backlight to brightest
- watched a movie for about 20 minutes
- played some music for about 10 minutes
- automatic synchronisation with Google calendar and contacts
During the period of the test, I received 2 SMS conversations and had three phone calls of a little over 4 minutes. I also browsed the web for 1 hour.
The test commenced at 7.25 p.m. About nine hours and twenty minutes later, the X10 Mini pro shut down at 4.43 a.m. That kind of result in an extreme situation suggests that my regular experience of having the battery last a day or more is just fine.
Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro Review: Performance
For a device running on 180MB of RAM and 600 MHz, one would have expected some level of sluggishness; right? Wrong? The Mini Pro is snappy and performs like a champ.
Running several Quadrant benchmark tests, the highest figure the Mini Pro hit was 553 and the lowest 537. Here’s the surprise – even at the lowest score, the X10 Mini Pro outguns bigger boys like the HTC Desire (v2.1, 1GHz processor; 576MB RAM) and the Nexus one (v2.1, 1GHz processor; 512MB RAM). The X10 Mini Pro sits right below the Galaxy S (v2.1, 1GHz processor; 512MB RAM) on the scale. Take a look:
Don’t let the looks fool you: if you want a powerful Android device but cannot afford the Galaxy S, give the X10 Mini and/or X10 Mini Pro a shot.
Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro Review: Conclusions
Do I like the X10 Mini Pro or what. You know Michael Bolton’s song with the lyrics, “Said I loved you but I lied… this is more than love I feel inside…”. The X10 gives me that feeling. Saying I like this smartphone is an understatement, but I will leave it at that.
It is so handy that using it as a phone is a breeze. yet, it is so powerful that it puts many other smartphones to shame in terms of features and performance. If only I can get to set up my non-Gmail accounts (tips, anyone?) and also cut down on that data guzzling……
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