The Xperia X1 is the first Windows Mobile smartphone from Sony Ericsson. It’s an ambitious start: a WVGA touchscreen, built-in keyboard, GPS, 3G, and a host of other high-end features.
Like many Windows phones these days, it offers an alternate user interface than that standard one from Microsoft.
It’s a well built and well designed device, and it’s only real drawback is its price. The X1 wasn’t released by any U.S. carrier, but it’s available from retailers like eXpansys, who was kind enough to loan me a review unit.
Build and Design
When developing the X1, Sony Ericsson used a tried-and-true design. It’s a tablet with a large display on the front which slides aside to reveal a keyboard.
The display is beautiful, and very high resolution (800 x 480), but at just 3 inches isn’t especially large. This means that you’ll primarily be using the stylus to select items on the screen, not your fingertip. Still, it’s comparable to the display on one of its top competitors, the HTC Touch Pro.
The X1’s QWERTY keyboard is generously sized — it’s larger than the screen — and easy to type on. The combination of a large keyboard but a relatively small display makes this an outstanding device for mobile messaging, but a bit less ideal as a mobile video player or web browser.
Next to the screen are a pair of buttons that correspond to the “soft” buttons that are always at the bottom of the Windows Mobile display. While convenient, these are thin bits of metal that are actually slightly painful to use.
Close by is a directional pad for selecting items on the screen when you don’t want to pull out the stylus. This has a slightly unusual shape, as there’s an optical touchpad in the middle. The touchpad would be far better if it controlled an on-screen cursor like you see on a PC, but it doesn’t.
Sony Ericsson has added a couple of nice touches to the design, like a set of lights around the outside edge of this device to give you status updates.
Overall, the Xperia X1 is very professional-looking device, primarily because of its metal casing. It’s not the smallest or thinnest smartphone around, nor the lightest, but it rides fairly well in my pocket.
This device is based on Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, which is Microsoft’s operating system for phones with touchscreens. This is a very powerful OS, offering multi-tasking, a very useful suite of bundled applications, and access to a huge library of third-party software.
Xperia Panels: Although Windows Mobile has many positive aspects, not everyone likes the default home screen, the Today Screen. That’s why Sony Ericsson has added an alternative that gives you loads of options.
The X1’s Panel system lets you choose from a variety of home screens that emphasize different things. For example, you can get a home screen that looks just like Google’s search page, or another that ties in the the the VoIP service Skype. Don’t worry, the standard Today Screen is still available, too.
I have two favorite panels. The practical one displays a variety of information in a compact manner: time, weather, upcoming appointments, and even news. My other favorite is the exact opposite, showing a simple but beautiful pool of water with goldfish swimming around in it. It’s not completely frivolous: it displays the time, and the number and color of the fish show you if you have missed a phone call or if your battery is low.
But be warned: Xperia Panels are cool, useful, and/or fun, but they load a bit slowly… about a second or so.
Wireless: The version of the Xperia I’m reviewing — the X1i — is a quad-band GSM phone with support for 3G: UMTS, HSDPA, HSUPA (900/1900/2100 MHz). In my testing I was able to get a 3G connection to AT&T with this version. The X1a is also a quad-band GSM phone with a slightly different version of 3G: UMTS, HSDPA (850/1900/2100 MHz).
No matter which version of the X1 you’re dealing with, it has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. If you’re on a carrier like T-Mobile USA, who uses an odd 3G frequency not supported by either version of this device, Wi-Fi lets you connect at a very high speed, as long as you’re near a hotspot. Bluetooth allows you to use wireless accessories, like a headset.
Call quality: Judging call quality is always a dicey business when discussing an unlocked model like this one, as so much depends on the network whichever carrier it is connected to. I tried the X1 out with both AT&T and T-Mobile and experienced no problems.
Internet Access: There are two major things people do online: access the web and exchange email. The Xperia X1 handles both very well.
It comes with the latest version of Opera Mobile, an outstanding mobile web browser. With it and mobile broadband or Wi-Fi, you have a very capable browsing setup.
The X1 includes Outlook Mobile, Microsoft’s email software. This handles messages from consumer services, like Yahoo and Gmail, and enterprise email. Exchange ActiveSync support lets it connect to a corporate server for push email, and this includes constant updates of calendar and contacts information.
Productivity: I’ve already mentioned one of this smartphone’s best productivity features: push email. But it doesn’t stop there.
All Windows Mobile Pro devices come with a “lite” version of Microsoft Office, which lets you work with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. These come in most handy when someone from your work sends you a document to read over, but you can create your own too.
Another standard feature is a suite of personal information apps. These let you keep track of your calendar, To-Dos, and address book. You can synchronize this data with Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Exchange (if your company offers this.)
Entertainment: Windows Media Player Mobile is a fairly decent multimedia player, allowing you to play both locally stored files and streaming audio and video.
The X1’s screen isn’t the biggest around, but it’s a tolerable way to watch a movie on a long flight.
Storage: This device includes up to 400 MB of internal storage, and a microSD card slot for gigabytes of additional storage of anything you need, from Office documents to full-length movies.
Battery Life: This Sony Ericsson model offers decent battery life; near the top of the range, actually. I’m a heavy smartphone user, constantly monitoring my email and surfing the Web for hours daily. I can drain the X1 in a day, but it’s not easy.
With much lighter demand, it can go two days, or even three or more if your needs are exceptionally light.
Camera: The 3.0 MPx camera takes fairly decent pictures. Sample 1 was taken in low light, and I’m surprised how well it came out.
But keep in mind, like many high-resolution phone cameras, the X1’s is fairly slow. Expect several seconds between pushing the D-pad and the picture being snapped.
Here are a couple of sample images:
The Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 offers a nice selection of high-end features, and its built-in keyboard makes is a good option for those who exchange plenty of emails.
Windows Mobile probably makes is a better choice for a business user or pro-sumer, but Sony Ericsson’s Panels help it be a better consumer device than some of its competitors that run the same operating system.
It’s unfortunate that no U.S. phone company picked this model up, so it’s not available with a subsidy. That pushes the price out of many people’s range; eXpansys is currently offering the X1 for $670. Still, I can see it being worth that price if you’re looking for this combination of features.
- Hardware keyboard makes typing messages easier
- High-resolution screen
- Loaded with feartures
- High price
- Slightly heavy