When it rains, it pours. In recent weeks, we've seen the release of a number of highly anticipated smartphones, including the RIM BlackBerry Bold and the T-Mobile G1, and now we have the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1. First announced at GSMA 2008 in February, the Xperia X1 made headlines for being the company's first Windows Mobile device and for its interactive panel interface. It was such a showstopper that we barely got a look at the smartphone because of the swarms of spectators.
Fast-forward to now, where the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 is finally ready for release and we've had a chance to spend some time with the final product. The X1 panel interface is undoubtedly cool, and we like having that extra level of personalization. It's also a well-crafted handset with a strong set of features and good performance. However, we have big doubts about its success. Unfortunately, the Xperia X1 will not be offered by a U.S. carrier at this time, but you will be able to buy it unlocked from Sony Style stores for $799.99. Yes, you read right: $799.99. Sony Ericsson was very clear in stating that the Xperia X1 is aimed at customers looking for a high-end phone, but even so, this is a bit ridiculous. Aside from the interactive panels and a couple of multimedia extras, Xperia X1 is very much like other Windows Mobile 6.1 devices and the aforementioned features don't seem to justify spending the extra dough. Unless you've got money to burn, we just can't imagine spending $800 for the phone. It's truly a luxury item. The Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 will be available for preorder on November 13 from the Sony Style Web site and will be in stores November 28.
Smartphones with slide-out keyboards (a la AT&T Tilt and Sprint Mogul) have a tendency to be large and bulky, but this certainly isn't the case with the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1. At 4.4 inches tall by 2.1 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep and 5.6 ounces, the Xperia X1 is compact and has a nice, solid construction. The phone is available in two colors: silver or black. We reviewed the silver model, which has an attractive steel finish and feels cool in the hand. The X1 definitely has wow factor and Sony Ericsson really did a nice job on the hardware.
The Xperia X1 features a 3-inch touch screen that displays 65,536 colors at an 800x480 pixel resolution. With such a sharp resolution, it's no surprise that images and text looked crisp and colors were vibrant. However, the highlight of the smartphone is the interactive panel interface. Sony Ericsson created this feature to give users one-touch access to the features they wanted and the ability to customize the smartphone to their lifestyle.
Basically, you can choose from nine panels and, depending on whether you're at work or at play, you can pick whichever panel you want to fit your needs and have that be your Today screen for the day. Seven panels come preloaded on the device: Microsoft Today, Sony Ericsson (two variations), Google, 3D Fish, Xperia Radio, and Media Xperience. Most are self-explanatory, but if you're curious about the 3D Fish, it basically shows you the date and time and then three or four fish, which each represent some type of notification. For example, the speckled fish (called Ryukin) alerts you to missed calls, and the other fish will turn from one color to another when your battery is low or if you have a new message. It's all spelled out in the quick guides, but good luck remembering what everything means. You can also customize what type of information is displayed on the Today screen and add widgets to the Sony Ericsson panel, such as Web feeds and clocks and weathers for different cities.
In addition to the standard seven panels, you'll be able to download more panels from other developers through Sony Ericsson's download site. Unfortunately, when we tried on our review phone, we were met with a 404-page not found. Sony Ericsson said the full site will be up and running by the time the X1 is out. While the X1 panel interface is a cool concept and we love the customization, in reality, we only used about three of the panels. It's rare that we wanted multimedia or the radio to be at the forefront. This, of course, is a personal choice, though, and we appreciate the customization option.
Below the display, there is a navigation array that consists of two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, an X1 panel key, an OK button, and an optical joystick/directional keypad with a center select button. We weren't huge fans of any of these controls, as they're small and stiff to press, particularly the two sliverlike soft keys. We missed having a Home key. The optical joystick operates similar to the optical mouse on the Samsung Omnia and Samsung Epix, but like the Omnia, the trackpad is somewhat small, limiting how much you can move around on a page. Alternatively, you can press the outer edges of the trackpad (up, down, left, right), so it acts more like a traditional navigation toggle.
To access the keyboard, just slide the screen to the right. The sliding mechanism is smooth and feels strong enough to endure multiple openings and closings. In its open state, you'll notice that there's a slight arc to the phone. Sony Ericsson did this to provide a better ergonomic experience when using the keyboard, and we think it succeeds. The slight curve makes it comfortable to hold the phone when typing messages, and it also props the screen at a nice angle for better viewing. The screen orientation will also automatically switch from portrait to landscape mode when you open the phone. The keyboard itself is pretty good. The buttons are slightly on the smaller side but there's enough spacing between them that we think it shouldn't give most people problems. We were able to compose messages and enter text without too many errors, though the number keys are a bit hard to find at first.
On the left spine, you'll find a mini USB port, while the right side holds a volume rocker and a camera activation/capture button. The latter two controls are somewhat tiny so they're not the easiest to press; the volume rocker was particularly tricky, as it was hard to accurately press up or down while on a phone call. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack and a power button on top of the handset. The camera is located on the back, and there is a microSD expansion slot, but you have to remove the back cover to access it, which is an inconvenience. Also, a minor issue but worth mentioning: there's no release button or switch for the battery cover; you only get two little indentations on either side of the smartphone where you can pull it off with your fingernail, which wasn't always the easiest thing to do.