Sony Ericsson has a knack for making beautiful multimedia-rich phones and it has certainly done so with the Sony Ericsson Aino. The Aino has a stunning display and a fantastic feature set that includes an 8.1-megapixel camera, a media player, Remote Play compatibility, Wi-Fi, stereo Bluetooth, GPS, and support for AT&T's 3G network. It even comes with a handy dual-charging dock, which will charge both the phone and an included stereo Bluetooth headset. We weren't thrilled by the lack of a standard 3.5mm headset jack and the cramped keypad, but if you want a well-made phone that delivers a great multimedia experience, the Aino fits the bill. However, you will pay a price for it--the Aino costs $600 because it is not available with any carrier subsidies.
The Sony Ericsson Aino has a fairly straightforward blocky rectangular design. Still, it does have rounded edges and a matte chassis that is quite attractive. Measuring 4.09 inches long by 1.97 inches wide by 0.61 inch thick, the Aino is a bit bulky and will likely make a dent in your pocket. It's no lightweight either at 4.73 ounces, giving it a very solid and sturdy feel in the hand. The Aino comes in both white and black.
What really catches your eye is the beautiful scratch-resistant mineral glass display. It is a generous 3 inches diagonally, plus it supports 16.7 million colors and 432x240 pixels. Everything from photos and videos to simple animations look fantastic. When the phone is closed, the display actually acts as a touch screen, but only for the Aino's 3D media browser. In fact, it's the only thing you can use when the phone is closed. The browser lets you access the camera, the photo gallery, the video player, the music player, and the FM radio without ever opening the phone. You can easily scroll and tap through these functions thanks to the intuitive user interface. The capacitive touch screen felt responsive with hardly any transition delays.
When you slide the phone open, you will be able to access the rest of the phone's functions, but the display will no longer be touch-sensitive. We were a little disappointed with the limited touch screen, but the physical navigation controls worked well enough. They consist of two soft keys, a round toggle with middle OK key, the Send and End/Power keys, a shortcut key, and the Clear key. The toggle can be mapped to four user-defined shortcuts, and the shortcut key brings up a My Shortcuts menu overlay, plus it lets you multitask between different open applications. Aside from the toggle, we found most of the navigation keys to be small and cramped.
Underneath the navigation is the number keypad. Even though the keypad is small, we found it to be quite usable, thanks to the slightly domed surface that lets us dial and type out text easily. On the left of the phone is the typical Sony Ericsson charger/headset jack, while on the right side are the volume rocker and the camera key. On the back is the camera lens plus an LED flash. We were disappointed that there was no 3.5mm headset jack. The microSD card slot is located behind the battery cover.
The Aino comes with a desktop charging stand that also works as a syncing dock. You can prop the phone up on the stand to view movies or slideshows as well. Another nice bonus is that the phone comes with a complimentary stereo Bluetooth headset that you can charge using the same dock.
The Aino has a generous 1,000-entry phone book with room in each entry for seven numbers, an e-mail address, a company name and job title, two street addresses, a URL, a birthday, and notes (The SIM card holds an additional 250 names and numbers). You can categorize your contacts into groups, add a photo for caller ID, or pair them with one of 30 polyphonic ringtones or one of 8 message alert tones. You can always use your own music tracks as ringtones if you like.
Other basic features include text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, a vibrate mode, a calendar, a tasks list, a notepad, a timer, a stopwatch, a flashlight, a calculator, and an alarm clock. If you're a little more tech savvy, you'll like the POP3/IMAP4 e-mail support, Wi-Fi, USB mass storage, PC syncing, the voice recorder, instant messenger, a file manager, and a variety of Bluetooth profiles that include A2DP stereo. There's also GPS support, which is especially handy with location applications like Google Maps.
As the aforementioned 3D media browser indicates, the Aino is a very multimedia-friendly phone. The music player compares favorably with dedicated Walkman phones, with features like airplane mode, an equalizer, playlists, stereo widening, clear bass, and shuffle and repeat modes. Aside from music, you can also easily sync with your favorite audiobooks or podcasts. Perhaps the thing we like most about the music player is the fun and playful user interface. Not only is the menu really intuitive, the different equalizer settings have different art icons, and you can choose from a variety of visualizer animations. There's even a SensMe option that lets you assign moods to songs. Like other Walkman phones, the Aino also has a Shake control that lets you shuffle tracks just by shaking the phone. Other music-related functions include an FM radio, which requires a headset to act as an antenna, and TrackID, a song-identification application.
Also impressive is the video player, which supports MP4, 3GP, ASF, WMV, and Real Video formats. You can use it to watch regular video clips as well as video podcasts. A nice bonus is the YouTube application that lets you watch streaming video from YouTube. The Aino has a roomy 55MB of internal memory, but you'll want a microSD card to load all your media. Thankfully, the phone comes with an 8GB microSD card to help you get started. If you don't want to load your media to the card, you can also access your media files remotely if you have a Sony PlayStation 3 thanks to Aino's Remote Play compatibility. Another option is to transfer files wirelessly via Sony's Media Go application.
We were also quite impressed with the options available with the 8.1-megapixel camera. You can take pictures in five resolutions including a full HD 16:9 option. Settings include a self-timer, flash, macro focus, autofocus, an infinite focus mode that ignores the autofocus for longer distance shots, and geotagging. You can take photos simply by tapping on the screen, which also helps to focus in on whatever you're tapping. There's also a unique face-detection mode that will automatically detect and focus in on a subject's face right before you snap a photo. After you take the photo, you can make it black and white, or you can fix any red eyes via the one-touch photo edit tool.
The camcorder is quite good as well. You can record videos in three resolutions (16:9 HD, VGA, and 4:3 MMS) and you can toggle the night mode, the LED light, the microphone, and the image stabilizer. There's a self-timer option as well. Photo quality is quite good--pictures looked sharp for the most part, but we did wish the colors looked brighter. Video quality was okay. Video looked rather pixelated and washed out at times, but they're decent enough for short clips to share with friends.
The Aino comes with a surprising number of applications. They include AccuWeather, Bluetooth Robot, Music Quiz, Photo Mate, Wisepilot, and the aforementioned YouTube. There are also dedicated applications for Facebook and Twitter. The Aino has a few games as well, like Crazy Penguin and Quadrapop. More options are available via the Web browser, as are additional graphics and ringtones.
We tested the quad-band Sony Ericsson Aino in San Francisco using AT&T's network. Though it is unlocked, the Aino supports AT&T's 3G network, but not T-Mobile's. Call quality was very good on the whole. On our end, we heard our callers loud and clear without much distortion or background noise. Their voices sounded natural, almost as if they were on a landline.
Callers reported similarly excellent call quality. They reported little to no static, plenty of volume, and a very natural sounding voice. Automated voice systems responded to our voice without issue as well. Speakerphone calls were quite good--callers said they could hardly tell we were using a speakerphone, as there was hardly any echo effect at all. On our end, we heard them clearly enough via the phone's speakers.
Audio quality was really quite good, even via the phone's speakers. Though a little on the harsh and tinny side, you could still make out the differences between equalizer settings. When heard via a headset though, the audio sounded superb without any tinny effects at all. The bass equalizer setting, for example, really amplified the bass of the songs.
Video quality was quite stunning as well. We weren't able to test out the streaming video quality from YouTube, but we did test it out with a few sample video clips. They look really sharp and colorful, thanks to the nice display.
The Sony Ericsson Aino has a rated battery life of 13 hours of talk time and 15.8 days of standby time. Our tests showed a much lower talk time of 5 hours and 55 minutes. According to the FCC radiation tests, it has a digital SAR of 0.88 watt per kilogram.