What kind of smart phone can $800 buy?The luxe Xperia X1 from Sony Ericsson.
At this price, it probably appeals only to recession-resistant gadget lovers, but it says something about what some gadget makers think consumers would want if money were no object.
In this instance, what you get is more sleek sheath than intelligent innards. Its glut of options makes it pokey and difficult to navigate.
Out of the box, the device is pure eye candy, with a black or silver metal-and-plastic body, crisp 3-inch touch screen and slightly curved QWERTY keyboard that slides out smoothly with a satisfying click. The X1 has minimal included memory, so you’ll need a sizable microSD card if you want to access lots of songs, videos and photos on it; a 4 gigabyte card was used during testing, which was enough for plenty of content.
But even before it was turned on, the whopping number of choices to be made would make many nervous. One would be more confused about the phone’s operations than excited about the freedom to use it as one pleases.
When the phone went on sale recently at Sony Style stores and on the Sony Style Web site, it came unlocked, providing access to a variety of carriers. In the United States, you can slide in a SIM card for AT&T or T-Mobile and it should work with their 3G networks.
Then, there was the assortment of 11 buttons on the X1’s face, including a center button that can select items or work as an optical joystick, which scrolls with a finger swipe.
Beyond the button bounty, you can navigate the X1 by tapping its screen with your finger or with a stylus. The stylus was often the best way to go, as the device’s many options are often presented in small text that is difficult to accurately jab at with an index finger.
The X1 uses Windows Mobile 6.1 as its operating system, but Sony Ericsson developed a variety of customized enhancements that run on top of it. Most notable is the stylish panel interface, which consists of up to nine small rectangles you can customize and use to view different applications or media on the device in different ways.
The panel idea is cool, and it’s a nice way to differentiate the X1 from the slew of touch-screen phones that have been released this year, since each rectangle leads to a variety of options instead of just a single application. Panels were used for conducting Google searches, listening to the built-in FM radio and checking out the songs and videos that were stored on the X1.
However, the panel interface still sits atop Windows Mobile, which offers its own methods for listening to tunes or watching videos. It’s hard to understand why anyone would want so many options.
That said, the inclusion of Windows Mobile does mean that if you’re familiar with it, you won’t have much trouble navigating the X1 once you find and click the “Start” tab in the upper right corner of one of the panels. Business users can synchronize the phone with their PCs and get e-mail from their Microsoft Outlook account pushed straight to the phone – something that can make it difficult to switch to a more consumer-friendly phone like the iPhone or the G1, which uses Google Inc.’s Android operating system.
And there are several cool features on the X1. Though the iPhone has a larger screen, the X1’s touch screen sports a sharper resolution. As such, videos look quite good, and it was fun to watch some clips of “The Simpsons.” You can also stream some content from the Internet, such as videos from YouTube, and adjust video sizes to make lesser-quality clips look more palatable.
The X1 also has a standard headphone jack, which is becoming increasingly common on smart phones and makes a big difference to music fans like myself.
Surfing the Web is easy on the X1, and, as with videos, online content looks very good on the screen. The phone includes the Internet Explorer Mobile and Opera Mobile browsers, and having more than one option here is appreciated.
The built-in 3.2-megapixel camera takes good photos and can also be used for videos. Phone calls sounded impressively clear – for $800, they’d better – and if you can find a friend whose phone also supports it, there is a video calling option.
Still, some issues with the X1 often overshadowed the fun. Many times it seemed fairly slow to open applications or complete actions, displaying the multicolored Windows while it processed the request. Even without slowdowns, it usually took several steps to complete a simple action.
The X1 is a gorgeous device. But even if you can afford it, dealing with its overabundance of choices would, in the words of Dewey Finn from “School of Rock,” test your head and your mind and your brain, too.
Xperia X1 at a glance
WHAT IT IS: The $800 Xperia X1 smart phone from Sony Ericsson.
WHAT IT DOES: It has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, sharp 3-inch touch screen and a long list of features that includes Web surfing and video recording. It uses Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Mobile 6.1 as its operating system and has customized enhancements developed by Sony Ericsson.
THE BOTTOM LINE: You may have fun watching YouTube videos, making calls and listening to music on the X1, but its steep price tag puts it out of reach for many gadget fans. And its overabundance of options makes
it somewhat slow and hard to navigate.