If there’s ever a phone to divide opinion, it’s the X10 mini. However, Sony Ericsson hasn’t just built one small Android phone, it has built two.
Is the company mad, or has it suddenly found a valuable niche in the market?
With Android continuing to go from strength to strength, there’s been a real emphasis on producing devices with fast processors and huge screens, so the X10 mini and the keyboard-equipped X10 mini pro seem totally at odds with where the market is heading. But does everyone really want a flat slab with a four-inch display? Sony Ericsson already ranges the full-sized Xperia X10 for these people, so you can’t say they’re not covering all bases.
The X10 mini is being touted as a more feminine-friendly model, with changeable covers and a size that makes the phone easy to slip into a clutch bag. The X10 mini pro is the phone for people who want to send lots of messages. Of course, that can be both male and female, so it seems the ladies have the best choices here.
The X10 mini pro is also slightly bigger, not just in depth (it’s quite a bit thicker) but in overall size. On the back, despite having the exact same 5-megapixel autofocus camera and LED flash, the layout has changed. There has been an attempt to make the mini pro look a bit more like a camera than the standard model, but the resulting images will be exactly the same on either.
Having commented on the full-size X10 having a very poor camera interface, it’s nice to see that there’s an improved version here. Although there are less options and settings overall, you can at least take a photo and have the flash come on automatically. Just four icons are shown in each corner, but it’s all simple to use. The dedicated camera button also makes it easy to take a photo, although you do have to unlock the phone first.
The four corner icon system is extended to the home menu, which is quite a major change from the normal Android homescreens. Instead of three, five or seven panels, you can have multiple pages to scroll through. The reason for this is down to the fact that you have just one widget per page. Scroll down and you get the normal Android notification bar, while scrolling up presents you with all your apps. Here you can scroll left and right, and rather than have the applications shown alphabetically as with most Android handsets, you can arrange icons in any order you wish (like the iPhone). If you don’t like this layout, you can easily download something like ADW Launcher from Android Market with changeable themes and icons.
But, for now, we’ll leave things as they are. You don’t need to change anything either, as all of the Sony Ericsson apps, for messaging, finding contacts or making a call, are designed specifically for the smaller display and arguably work better than more advanced apps because of it.
The capacitive touchscreen is very responsive, and the 600MHz Qualcomm processor never shows any sign of lag or responsiveness issues. That’s probably because it’s a lot quicker to display images on a 240×320 pixel display than 480×800.
Will you notice the drop in pixels? Well, of course you will. If you already have a phone with a larger dislay, or are thinking of buying an HTC Desire, Motorola Milestone or the Samsung Galaxy S for example, then you’re probably going to baulk at the prospect of using such a low screen resolution, but this is where you might be surprised. Android is good enough as an operating system to cope with all sorts of different screen resolutions, and if you can navigate easily enough, you won’t really have a problem. For reading a text, email or accessing the phonebook, the screen is just fine. You have all the same information as a phone with a larger display and smoother text.
Web browsing is probably the only real ‘victim’ here, as you may have to scroll around a site. The lack of multitouch support doesn’t help, but at least the browser is more intuitive than the one on the Vivaz and Vivaz pro, say.
The upside of having the smaller display is the smaller footprints of the handsets, and you can easily hold each one in your palm and walk along without it being conspicuous to others. It slips easily into a pocket, while the slide out keyboard is still big enough to allow fast text entry.
Sony Ericsson has included its Timescape app, which shows, as a series of cards, new messages, Twitter and Facebook updates and missed call information. You can select the update frequency, or turn it off altogether to conserve power.
Conserving power is something you’ll need to take quite seriously as there’s only a 930mAh battery under the hood (non-removable on the X10 mini). A recent update for the X10 improved the battery life considerably, and it seems that the X10 mini and X10 mini pro each need similar updates to improve standby times.
It seems that with 3G enabled, the battery can drain far quicker than without. Also the phone often struggles to reconnect to a Wi-Fi router, which is fixed only by disabling Wi-Fi and re-enabling it, or rebooting.
The free Juice Defender app, a must-have for any Android phone, saves power by turning off mobile data connectivity, so it isn’t quite as effective as it is on other handsets. However, that said, if you aren’t using the phone constantly then you should still last a full day at the very least.
Sony Ericsson will be upgrading both models from Android OS 1.6 to 2.1 in the coming months. There has been no confirmation of any intent to then update to 2.2 afterwards, but even with the 1.6 release you can do most of the things that you can do on 2.1. One feature of 2.1 is the live wallpapers, but you probably wouldn’t want them on anyway. Sony Ericsson has bundled an app called ‘Creatouch’ that lets you design your own (non-animated) wallpaper designs.
Unlike Android OS 1.5, you can run most apps on 1.6, this includes things like Google’s Navigation service (although the voice prompts were very quiet even on full volume) and Google Goggles, the image recognition software.
Sony Ericsson has pre-loaded some other apps on the device, including some demo games that can only be run once (if you don’t buy them you can’t uninstall them, which is rather nonsensical). There’s also RoadSync, the user-guide (doing away with the printed manual) and an exclusive game that’s not available to other Android users: Peggle from PopCap.
For all intents and purposes, you can do everything on an X10 mini that you can on any high-end Android phone. The reason for getting one of these would be the pocketability, and Sony Ericsson is spot on when it says ‘mini but mighty’.
A lot of people may read this and think that I’m mad. And I’d have to say that I can understand why. Here’s a magazine that is regularly testing and reviewing devices with amazing screens and then, all of a sudden, it’s recommending something that looks like a budget phone for kids.
But the X10 mini and mini pro are more than that. Although they certainly are cheaper, they’d be wasted on teenagers simply wanting to send IMs to their mates or check out what’s going on in Facebook. You can still view email attachments, use Google Maps, manage appointments and even play 3D games like Speed Forge Extreme that fly along at 30 frames per second.
There’s a good camera, a decent speaker and if you ditch the rather miserly 2GB memory card for something bigger, you’ll be able to fill the phone up with music and video. The phone can happily play downloaded or converted films, while you can also enjoy YouTube clips or watch live TV using the TV Catchup service.
Small night out
If money is no object then either phone could be used as a ‘night out’ phone, complementing a model with a larger screen. As long as you’re logged in to the same Google account, any apps purchased for one phone can be installed on the other at no extra cost. With seamless syncing of email, contacts and appointments, it’s possible to swap phones and have access to all of your data.
As you can probably tell, I was impressed with these handsets. In fact, I think Google should be impressed with them too, as it opens up Android to a new audience. There was a time when everyone wanted a tiny phone, then we all started to want large screens to give us the web and video.
Now we have no shortage of phones with big screens and it’s refreshing to see something for those who didn’t ask for, or want, to see the whole industry going from one extreme to another.
If these products weren’t enough to throw a spanner in the works, Sony Ericsson also announced another Android phone that might bridge the gap. The X8 will come with a 320×480 pixel display (the same screen size as the HTC Legend), but continue to use the four-corner user interface that makes single-handed usage so straightforward.
However, I’d be quite happy to recommend either X10 mini model. Personally the pro just swung it for me thanks to the addition of a full keyboard, but if you want the smallest possible Android phone experience then there’s the excellent X10 mini.
Verdict – Sony Ericsson X10 mini
Remember when everything was about miniaturisation? Now it’s all about smartphones with huge screens, for multimedia and the web. The X10 mini caters for the people who aren’t after something with a 5-inch screen, but still want a smartphone with a decent operating system. The small screen is complemented by a user interface that makes it easy to use, even when entering text, while you can run almost all Android apps. The camera is great too. The downside is a battery that will need regular top-ups. An upgrade from OS 1.6 to 2.1 is due in Q3.
Ratings (out of 5)
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Verdict – Sony Ericsson X10 mini pro
Unlike the Vivaz/Vivaz pro, the X10 mini pro has the same specification as the X10 mini, with the addition of a QWERTY keyboard (but no changeable covers). It’s slightly bigger, but if you’re into messaging then it’s worth it (it’s hardly bulky). Sony Ericsson is pitching the mini pro to a more serious, professional audience. It’s unlikely to attract business users, even though the phone probably could work very well for business. If you’re not sure if you could live with the small screen, you are advised to see both models in the flesh before making a decision either way.
Ratings (out of 5)
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Update; Since writing the review, a firmware update for the SIM-free, unbranded, X10 mini pro has been released that offers improvements to screen response and battery life. To do an update, you will need to download the Sony Ericsson update software (PC only) from www.sonyericsson.com/support