The evolution of feature phones to smartphones has claimed several scalps, Nokia and BlackBerry most notably. Sony (nee Sony Ericsson) has also struggled to find its feet in this brave, new world; until now. Recent estimations putin smartphone sales, and for good reason. The company continues to make better phones with each new release.
The Xperia TX continues this trend, and is better than the previous in the Xperia family, but is it really better than its nearest competitors?
Sony has finally landed on the best combination of its previous designs. The Xperia TX shares the "human curvature" design language of earlier phones, going back to the Xperia X10, but now has the sleek looks and soft-touch plastic finish of the company's more recent efforts. The curve in the back of the handset is more subtle than we remember on the other models, but it is still enough to feel nice and be somewhat interesting to hold.
One of the things we love when looking at the TX is that when the screen is turned off, this is a seriously black looking phone. The engineering that has gone into the panel means that the screen doesn't look grey within the black plastic bezel. It is like one, single black slab.
It looks great with the screen on, too. Sony's answer to Apple's Retina display is dubbed Reality, and it is a decent alternative, especially in the TX. Previous Xperias have suffered from an ugly colour banding problem in the LCD panel, making gradients look like segmented bands of colour rather than a single, smooth blending of tone. This problem has been thankfully resolved at Sony HQ, and the TX is band-free.
One curious element of this design, which tempers the love-fest for us, is that Sony has made the power button and the dedicated camera button the same size, and placed them in identical positions at either end of the phone. Some may say that symmetry is pleasing, but these people haven't taken a dozen accidental photos when trying to turn their smartphones off.
On a similar note, the position of the camera lens is also rather awkward. It is centred at the very top on the back of the phone, so when you turn the handset sideways to take a photo, it is too easy to cover the lens with a greasy finger.
Forgoing the trend followed by other smartphone makers, the battery on the TX is user accessible and replaceable. Located under a detachable plastic cover, the battery sits beside the micro-SIM and microSD card slots, and will need to be removed to access either card.
Manufacturer-designed user-interface overlays for Android have always been a hot topic for discussion. Some love them, some hate them. HTC won early fans for its Sense UI, but seems to be losing them now, despite new iterations of the popular software.
Sony's NXT UI is one of our favourites, but mainly because it isn't too intrusive. If you are familiar with Android, you'll find everything is located in the same positions as you'd expect them to be. Sony includes a few very handy custom widgets, including an excellent power control widget, and the whole system is scattered with small graphical tweaks and cute animations. When you remove an app from the home screen, for example, you toss it into a small bin icon that opens when you hover the app over it, and gives the phone a short buzz when you drop the app icon inside. It is a small touch, but very welcome.
The little UX tweaks and touches are welcome.
(Screenshot by CBSi)
We are far less fond of the Xperia Keyboard, which comes pre-installed on the phone. On the surface, this virtual pad has the works; Swype-like text input, easy to access emoticons and simple punctuation options. But for the Swype-like input to work, the prediction has to be outstanding, otherwise, you spend more time correcting your messages than you would entering them letter by letter. This has been the hair-pulling story of our time with the Xperia TX, where the predictions of the keyboard always opt for the most obscure words and where careless composing has led to more than one embarrassing message being sent. Seriously, Sony, why not just pay Swype and license its smarts?
The most unique feature of the TX, and presumably of Sony's Xperia line going forward, is the addition of what the company is calling Small Apps. These are tools designed to operate as overlays on top of the Android home screen and other core apps. Out of the box, you get a calculator, a voice recorder, a note take and a mini web browser. To access these Small Apps, you select the one you want from the Multitasking menu option, and you can only have one Small App open at a time.