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The Sony Ericsson Satio might have just been a concept phone at Mobile World Congress, but it's certainly real now. Available as an unlocked phone through SonyStyle, the Satio is billed as an entertainment phone, and it's certainly got the chops to back that up. The handset boasts a 12.1-megapixel camera and some of the most-advanced editing options we've seen on a camera phone. It's also got a Walkman music player to keep you entertained when you're not busy snapping photos. That said, as much as we loved all the camera options, in the end, we were slightly disappointed by the inconsistent picture quality. Also, we're none too pleased to see that Sony Ericsson chose to forgo a more standard USB connector and headphone jack in favor of its proprietary port. The Satio may be a fine multimedia phone, but it's not necessarily worth $649. You might lose some of those extra camera features, but you can get great results from some of our other favorite camera phones and for much less.
The Sony Ericsson Satio sports a look similar to a number of other touch-screen phones on the market. Rectangular in shape and clad in black with silver accents, the Satio's front side is dominated by the 3.5-inch display with just three small buttons at the bottom (Talk, End, and menu). The camera's protective cover on the back adds a bit of bulk to the handset and prevents it from laying completely flat on a surface. The Satio isn't what we'd call compact, but it's manageable at 4.4 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and 4.4 ounces.
The Satio has a resistive touch screen rather than capacitive, so it's not as responsive to touch. We had to apply a decent amount of pressure on the screen for it to register our command, so even something as simple as dialing a number or selecting a menu item wasn't always fast or easy. You'll get better results and save some frustration using the included stylus. We just wish the stylus holder was built into the device; instead, you have to attach it to the bottom of the phone via a strap, and when not in use the stylus just dangles there rather awkwardly.
On the brighter side, the Satio's screen is quite bright and sharp, supporting 16.7 million colors and 360x640 pixels. Images looked very nice on the display, and text was easy to read. There's a built-in accelerometer and a portrait and landscape keyboard. You actually get a choice of several keyboards, including a decent-size full QWERTY, an alphanumeric keypad, and even handwriting recognition. All that said, it is hard to view the display under bright sunlight. The screen tends to wash out quite a bit, which made it difficult to frame outdoor shots when using the camera.
The phone's user interface is, for the most part, pretty easy to use. The home screen features toolbars along the top and bottom that let you access apps like the browser, media gallery, dial pad, and messages. When you're working in a media app, however, these toolbars become contextual menus for the specific app. You can access all of the phone's apps by pressing the middle button below the screen, which will bring up a simple grid view menu. The Satio is a Symbian S60-based device, so like a number of Nokia's smartphones, there are some inconsistencies with the UI.
You use the touch screen for most things, but the Satio also has a number of physical controls to help you operate the phone. The right side features a volume rocker, which doubles as zoom buttons for the camera, a media gallery shortcut, a camera mode key (to switch between the camera and camcorder), and a capture button. On the left side, there's a lock switch, a microSD slot, and power/USB/headset connector. Unfortunately, when it comes to the latter, Sony Ericsson chose to go with its proprietary port, so if you want to get any extra chargers or cables, you'll have to make sure it has a compatible connector. It's a pain and we can only hope that the company moves to a more universal standard like Micro-USB and a 3.5mm headphone jack in the future.
The Sony Ericsson Satio comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, an 8GB microSD card, a stylus, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Like many of Sony Ericsson's phones, multimedia is a big focus, but first and foremost, the Satio is a phone and it's a well-equipped one at that. The Satio offers quad-band world roaming and supports the North American UMTS/HSPA 850/1900 bands, so you'll be able to get 3G speeds with an AT&T SIM. (Wi-Fi is also onboard.) The phone book is only limited by the available memory, and the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. The Satio also has a speakerphone, video calling, vibrate mode, stereo Bluetooth, and text and multimedia messaging. Unfortunately, there is no support for voice dialing.
The Satio supports POP3/IMAP e-mail accounts as well as Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync (e-mail, contacts, calendar, and tasks) through the DataViz's RoadSync app, which ships on the device. The Symbian 9.4-based handset also comes preloaded with the QuickOffice Suite (for viewing only; you'll have to upgrade to the Premium Edition for editing capabilities), a PDF reader, a Facebook app, a calendar, a notepad, an alarm clock, a unit converter, and a calculator, among other things.
In addition to 3G, the Satio includes Wi-Fi, so you have a choice when it comes to getting online. The phone's Symbian WebKit browser is pretty robust, offering such features as Flash, keyword search, bookmarking, and support for multiple windows. However, it's a little clunky to navigate. You get the option to view Web pages in full screen or in page overview, but the kinetic scrolling experience is choppy, so it hangs a bit when you're trying to navigate to a lower part of the page. Also, though you can double-tap the screen to zoom, there is no pinch-to-zoom support.
Now for the fun stuff: Like a number of Sony Ericsson's other multimedia handsets, the Satio features a Walkman player that isn't particularly flashy but is certainly functional. You can view your music by artist, albums, playlists, track, audiobooks, podcast, and recordings that you made yourself. The player offers basic functions like shuffle, repeat, and on-the-fly playlist creation, but we didn't see any type of equalizer or ways to enhance sound.
Instead, you get some extras like an FM radio, TrackID music recognition service, and PlayNow where you can download music, ringtones, games, and themes/wallpaper for your phone. The video player is also pretty basic and supports MPEG4, WMV, 3GP, and ASF video files. You can transfer media in several methods. When you connect the phone to your PC with the included USB cable, you can select the mass storage option and drag and drop your files. Alternatively, you can install Sony Ericsson's Media Go software. The Satio has about 68MB user-available memory and can accept up to 16GB microSD cards.
The Satio's piece de resistance, however, is its12.1-megapixel camera. It's probably one of, if not the, highest megapixel cameras we've seen on a phone, and it's got a load of editing options to boot. Not only do you get a Xenon and LED flash, 16x digital zoom, and autofocus, you also get five shooting modes, including panorama and BestPic (takes nine pictures in 1 second), face and smile detection, red-eye reduction, exposure settings, and image stabilization, just to name a few. In addition, the Satio's camera can record VGA video at 30 frames per second.
Picture quality was, for the most part, excellent, but a lot depended on the lighting conditions. The flash was actually a little too powerful and blew out indoor shots, and when we turned the flash off, some images came out hazy. The camera handled macro shots well, showing good detail and vibrant colors. We also had better luck shooting outdoors, as those photos had better color quality. Shots varied when taken in darker environments and at night. The flash proved very useful when we snapped photos in a darker room, but it struggled with actual nighttime shots. You can check out our slideshow for some photo samples. Video quality was fantastic.
Though we loved having all the extra editing options, truth be told, we've seen comparable picture quality from phones with lesser cameras, such as the Palm Pre and HTC Evo 4G. Video quality was fantastic, however. The clarity of clips was probably the best we've seen from a camera phone.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSPA 900/2100) Sony Ericsson Satio in New York using AT&T service, and call quality was decent. We could detect a slight hissing sound on our side of the call, but overall, voices sounded rich and clear so we had no problem carrying on with the conversation. Friends reported good things about sound quality. One caller mentioned a slight echo, but otherwise they had no other major complaints. Speakerphone calls were clear, but volume was a bit weak in louder environments, even at the highest level.
AT&T provided reliable 3G coverage here in Manhattan, and browsing speeds were quite good. CNET's full site loaded in just 16 seconds; CNN's and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 6 seconds and 4 seconds, respectively. YouTube videos loaded within a few seconds and played back without interruption, but quality was pretty bad to the point where it wasn't worth watching it. Our own MPEG4 videos played back beautifully, with clear images and synchronized sound.
We were generally impressed with the phone's audio. Despite having to use the uncomfortable earbuds included in the box, songs sounded rich and full with a nice balance of treble and bass. However, like the speakerphone, music played through the phone's speakers sounded a bit underpowered and hollow.
The Satio has a 1,000mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 11 hours (4 hours, 50 minutes over 3G) and standby time of up to 15 days. The handset was only able to give us 4 hours of talk time in our battery drain tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Satio has a digital SAR rating of 1.56 watts per kilogram.