Sony Ericsson Xperia Active review: Sony Ericsson Xperia Active

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent

Average User Rating

4.5 stars 6 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Waterproof and dustproof design; Android 2.3; 720p video recording; Responsive touchscreen.

The Bad Screen is small at 3 inches; Case might be too chunky for some.

The Bottom Line Although it has a rather small screen, the Xperia Active isn't lacking in any other department. With a robust design, decent camera and nippy processor, this is the perfect handset for adventure-addicts who desire a rugged smart phone but don't want to compromise on functionality and power.

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The Sony Ericsson Xperia Active is a tough smart phone running Android 2.3. It's water-resistant and dustproof, and boasts microSD expansion and a 5-megapixel camera capable of shooting 720p HD video.

Contract prices for the Xperia Active weren’t available at the time this review was compiled, but SIM-free the phone will cost you around £250.

Should I buy the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active?

Most modern smart phones tend to conform to pretty rigid stereotypes. The race to produce the thinnest and lightest device shows no signs of abating, but it’s often forgotten that not everyone desires a svelte handset.

As the Motorola Defy proved a few months back, there’s room in the market for a smart phone that can withstand the rough and tumble of the outdoor world. The Xperia Active takes this to the next level, and small screen aside, it trumps Motorola's rugged Android phone in almost every regard.

It's chunky, but otherwise perfectly pocket sized. We're also impressed with the fact that it's running Android 2.3 , as well as the latest version of Sony Ericsson's much-improved Timescape user interface.

Add in 720p video recording and a super-responsive touchscreen, which works even when covered in water, and you've got the dream smart phone for lovers of the great outdoors.

Interface

After a poor start with the Xperia X10 , Sony Ericsson has been surprisingly quick to ensure its phones are running the latest version of Android. The Xperia Active comes with Gingerbread installed, and what's more, it's a very recent iteration -- 2.3.4, to be exact.

Xperia Active Interface
The Xperia Active is sporting Android 2.3, with Sony Ericsson's Timescape UI sitting neatly on top.

This update includes the ability to make video calls using the Google Talk app and the phone's front-facing camera, as well as other minor bug fixes and enhancements.

As well as Android 2.3, the Xperia Active is running a modified version of Sony Ericsson's own Timescape user interface. We've already seen this on the Xperia Ray and Xperia Arc S, and we came away very impressed with the improvements.

Xperia Active keyboards
Because of the Active's small screen, the default keyboard is alphanumeric (left), but qwerty is available too (right).

For example, the inclusion of swipe-to-type functionality in the onscreen keyboard is a real bonus. On the Active -- which has a quite a small display -- this proves to be invaluable. We also like the fact that you can now take a screenshot of your phone's display via a menu command. Apple's iPhone and iPod touch have boasted such a feature for ages, but very few Android devices have it.

Speaking of the small 3-inch screen, we're pleased to report Sony Ericsson has made some changes to the user interface to make it more manageable. The 'smart corners' concept -- first seen on the Xperia Mini -- is back with a vengeance, and it allows you to tag four different application shortcuts to each of the display's four corners.

It's a fantastic system that not only saves time, but makes the phone's UI feel more intuitive. You can have all of your communication shortcuts -- such as text messages, email and your dialer -- tied to the top-left corner, while your media links -- music, YouTube, gallery and camera -- can be pinned to the top-right.

That means you can have access to 16 different apps using the smart corners interface alone -- and that's not to mention the number of shortcuts and live widgets you can spread across the handset’s five home screens.

Design

Like the Motorola Defy, the Xperia Active is a smart phone that has been designed to survive the trials and tribulations of the outdoor world. It has the coveted IP67 certification, which means that it’s water resistant and dustproof.

Xperia Active waterproof tea test
The Active is designed to withstand being soaked in water -- or, should you be very clumsy, your cuppa.

Unsurprisingly, this level of protection from the elements has resulted in a pretty chubby handset. While the Xperia Active isn't a beast in terms of overall size, its thickness is a whopping 16.5mm.

Xperia Active battery
Like some kind of mobile Russian Doll, the Xperia Active comes apart in different stages.

This is largely due to the three-stage battery cover, which is designed to keep out water and dust particles. The rubberised back cover reveals a secondary cover when it's removed, and this provides a watertight seal around the handset's delicate innards.

The USB socket and headphone port are protected by sealed covers when they're not in use. Impressively, the phone prompts you to check these covers are in place after you've removed your USB cable or headphones, to ensure they don't get left open accidentally.

Xperia Active USB cover
The USB and headphone sockets are both covered by watertight seals, and the phone even reminds you to close them after use.

While it's almost twice the thickness of the Samsung Galaxy S2 , the Xperia Active doesn't feel like a porker. In fact, it rests quite comfortably in the hand, and will slip into most pockets without too much fuss.

We're slightly less keen on the fluorescent orange trim, which runs around the edge of the phone. It calls to mind some of the questionable design choices Sony Ericsson made when its Walkman phone range was first doing the rounds many moons ago.

Xperia Active covers
If you fancy a bit of a change, you can swap the default black battery cover for a pearl white option.

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Where to Buy

Sony Ericsson Xperia Active

Part Number: CNETSony Ericsson Xperia Active

Typical Price: £250.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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