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Xperia X10 - Full Review

Sony-Ericsson hasn't had a great record in the past with smartphones, its UIQ devices were late to market and didn't work that well when they did arrive and the its first attempt at a Windows Mobile phone was so bad that its second iteration hasn't been picked up by a single UK operator. Its Symbian efforts were marked by a recall of the Satio because of its astonishing return rates which only leaves its new Android devices to save the company's reputation in the smartphone market.

The first of that line is the X10, announced late last year with a stunning specification and unsurprisingly not actually on the shelves until several months later, by which time the world and his dog had caught up to some degree.

Looking at those specs we have a 1GHz Snapdragon processor teamed with 384MB RAM and 1GB storage; a micro-SD slot which supports 32GB cards, a 4" 854x480 LCD screen and an 8Mpixel camera. Still sounds pretty impressive today and all packed into a body only marginally longer than an iPhone 3GS.

Sony-Ericsson have shipped the Xperia with Android 1.6, which was out of date when it was announced, never mind today when version 2.0, 2,1 and 2.2 have shipped and Gingerbread, the next release, is being promised even before SE will have a 2.1 update available. I know Android updates have taken far longer to ship than reasonable on a number of phones, but the Xperia has only minimal customisation to re-tool and I don't really believe that the delay in producing an upgrade is acceptable.

However its important to buy a phone on the basis of what's shipping rather than promises of cake tomorrow. Android 1.6 on the Xperia doesn't force many compromises over the later 2.1 release that ships on the Desire for example. Save for one vital shortcoming - 1.6 only supports 16 bit rather than 24 bit colour on the display which means that comparatively the X10 doesn't make best use of its display when compared to its rivals.

The big advertising push around the Xperia has been for Timescape which looks nice but runs very poorly, being laggy and unresponsive when updating from web services (every time it starts) and therefore only really usable if you disable Twitter and Facebook integration, which are the two main reasons for having it in the first place. Mediascape on the X10 is a hugely improved media player/photo viewer when compared to standard Android fare and it performs much better although not completely free of the lagginess which affects Timescape.

Also bundled is SE's TrackID service - a competitor to Shazam; as well as PlayNow, SE's music store, which is about twice as expensive as the Amazon MP3 store that can be loaded from the Android Market; Quadrapod, a Tetris-like game; and Moxier a suite of enterprise class Exchange applications for anyone planning on using the X10 in a business environment. Strange, then, that Office viewers are provided with no editing option.

In use the X10 is as responsive as you'd expect a Snapdragon powered device to be; its wireless performance (both GSM and Wifi) is excellent and the screen is beautiful and, a rarity these days, excellent in bright sunlight. The placement of the micro-USB charge/sync socket on top of the device seems completely wrong to me, however it is behind a nice flap which keeps the lines of the X10 clean.

Good thing to because the design of the X10 really is excellent and the design team should be congratulated on making a standout device - other phones look very last year side by side with the X10's sharp lines and it feels as good in the hand as it looks.

The 8.1 megapixel camera is the headline feature on the X10, taking pictures that look great on screen or printed out. There are a few advanced features - smile recognition and multi-spot autofocus; as well as a face recognition feature that finds your friends in pictures and tags them. The latter works pretty poorly to be honest - it struggles to put the right name to a face (understandable really and not a big criticism) but allows you to change the name to the correct person when it does. Unfortunately it seems to randomly forget who you manually tagged in a picture and reverts to the incorrect name/no name at all which can be very frustrating. However on the whole this is the first phone camera I've experienced where you really can forget about having to carry a separate camera with you - a real boon if you've got a young family and are likely to get a photo opportunity at the unlikeliest of times.

There are several other areas where SE's smartphone shortcomings are readily exposed. The X10 has wildly variable battery life - in general it will last a full day - just - on a single charge, and on one occasion I reached 22 hours of use before the battery cried enough. However when in standby mode the battery gets depleted at an alarming rate - on one occasion I took the X10 off a full charge and six hours and five minutes of standby later turned it on to be greeted by a 5% battery low warning!

The X10 is also painfully slow at finding a signal after having been out of coverage - on occasions I have come out of my office (a GSM dead zone) and driven home and not had a signal all the way. Sometimes jumping in and out of flight mode will fix this, otherwise its a restart or a long wait.

All in all its a mixed bag of a phone this - the standard Android bits work well, but some of the SE software is pretty poor; the hardware is less than the sum of its parts and save for some redeeming features would be very disappointing. Would I recommend the X10? No, unless you a) are a Sony-Ericsson fan who's well aware of the problems they have but are prepared to live with them b) want the best camera you can get on a smartphone or c) love the look and feel of it and are prepared to accept its shortcomings.

There are several countries receiving firmware updates for the X10 at the moment - although the UK isn't yet on that list - hopefully this will be all it takes for SE to fix the X10's problems and turn it into the world beating phone that it clearly could have been. In the meantime can I suggest that if you're after an Android phone the HTC Desire is the way to go...

edit: I should really add that despite everything I've said above I'm really enjoying the X10 experience and wouldn't swap it for anything else currently available.

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