Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro review: Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro

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The Good Fast, fluid performance; Slick user interface; Slide-out Qwerty keyboard is easy to use.

The Bad Below-par camera; Firmware has some bugs; Tiny screen; Short battery life.

The Bottom Line If you're looking for something smaller and more pocketable than the usual run of the mill smart phone, but don't want to compromise on speed and features, the Xperia Mini Pro is a good bet. The small screen, short-ish battery life and sub-par camera mean it won't be for everyone, however.

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7.5 Overall

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Last year's X10 Mini Pro was pretty well received, but it was criticised for its small screen, middling performance and use of an ageing version of Android. Sony Ericsson seems to have taken heed of what the critics said. The Mini Pro is still one of the smallest Android phones around, but it now includes a slightly larger screen, a speedier chip and more up-to-date version of Android.

With a price tag of around £240 SIM-free, it's significantly cheaper than the likes of the Xperia Arc. But how much have these changes added to the desirability of this rather dinky phone?

Should I buy the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro?

Not everyone wants a smart phone with a large screen, but usually you have to compromise on features if you opt for a smaller device. Despite its small size, however, the Mini Pro manages to pack in pretty much all the goodies you'll find on larger phones.

And those who spend a large amount of time using their phone for messaging -- whether it's tapping out SMS messages, sending emails or posting Facebook updates -- are likely to find the Mini Pro's slide-out keyboard hugely useful, as once you acclimatise to the small keys it's faster to use than most onscreen keyboards.

The tinchy screen does means this phone isn't ideal for Web browsing, however, as you have to do a lot of zooming-in just to be able to read normal text on websites. It lessens the impact of videos too. Also, the camera is quite poor -- not just for snapshots, but also for recording videos. The 720p HD mode, for example, doesn't produce videos that look anywhere near as sharp as what you'll get from the iPhone 4's camera.

You'll have to weigh up those factors, for and against, versus the phone's price. If none of the problems are a dealbreaker for you, this could be the pocketable Qwerty Android phone you've been looking for. Now, let's show you how we reached that verdict.

Operating system, apps and widgets

The Xperia Pro Mini gets off to a good start by coming with the latest version of Android for mobile phones -- version 2.3.3, or Gingerbread as it's commonly known. There isn't a huge difference between 2.2 and 2.3, but it's always better to start with the newest version of the OS, as manufacturers have on the whole been quite slow to bring out OS updates for their phones. 2.3's improvements include a slightly slicker user interface and much better text entry, thanks to the updated cut and paste features.

That said, Sony Ericsson hasn't just left you with the vanilla Android interface. Instead it's added its own UI enhancements over the top and they turn out to be pretty impressive.

The home screen now includes what Sony Ericsson refers to as 'hot corners'. These are basically four permanent shortcuts enclosed in a quarter circle at each corner of the display. The top right is home to the media shortcut button. Press this and it expands into three icons for the music player, media gallery and FM tuner.

The bottom right corner has a shortcut to the dialler, while the bottom left shortcut takes you directly to your contacts book. Finally, in the top left there's a shortcut that opens the SMS messaging app. These shortcuts aren't locked down, though, as each corner can house up to four icons. To add new ones you just go to the app drawer, tap and hold on an icon and then drag it into the corner where you want it to reside.

Hot corners
Shortcut icons are housed in what Sony Ericsson calls Hot Corners.

As with the plain version of Android, you still get multiple home screens that are accessible by swiping back and forth. You can populate these with a number of different live widgets and interestingly, if you place a widget near the top of the screen where the two hot corners are, they'll disappear from that home screen to clear the space for the widget, but will remain on the other screens.

Place a widget near the top of the screen and the hot corners disappear to make room for it.

Sony Ericsson has included a number of extra widgets alongside the standard ones that come with Android. These cover stuff like weather forecasts, data-usage tools and Sony's Qriocity video service. Some of these are more useful than others. The weather widget, for example, isn't a patch on HTC's.

Weather widget
The weather widget is distinctly underwhelming.

Tap the menu button at the bottom of the homescreen and you're taken into the app drawer, which has also had a make over. Apps are listed across a number of sideways-scrolling screens, with a neat transparent window framing each screen of apps. You can quickly change the sorting of the apps by tapping on a down arrow icon on the left-hand side of the display.

Apps can be shuffled into alphabetical order or listed by most recently installed. Tapping on the square icon on the right-hand side of the screen sets the icons jiggling so you can move them around into your own order, if you want. This is very similar to how it works on the iPhone.

The icons dance the samba to show you they're ready to be moved around.

The interface benefits from plenty of neat animations. When you put the phone into standby, for example, the screen folds together into a thin strip of white light, as if you were turning off an old TV. To take the phone out of standby you press the standby button at the top and then swipe sideways to unlock it, which is also very reminiscent of the iPhone.

Unlock screen
The slide to unlock system is nicked from an homage to the iPhone.

Naturally, Sony Ericsson has also added its own apps, including a much-improved music player and a media gallery that not only shows the pictures stored on the phone, but also drags in images from social-networking sites such as Facebook. In fact, the phone is more tightly integrated with Facebook than many of its rivals. Friends' birthdays and other events are automatically added from Facebook to your calendar, for example. You can also recommend music and videos to your friends from the Now Playing screen in the media player.

In the app drawer you'll also find the Timescape application. This is a sort of a unified inbox that brings together Facebook updates, Twitter feeds, text messages and missed calls in one place. It shows these as a stack of 3D tiles you can thumb through quickly. It looks cool, but if you open a message you just end up in the full Facebook or text-messaging app, so it's more eye candy than a time-saving tool.

Timescape widget
Timeline places messages in a 3D stack.

Other apps preinstalled include the What's App free text-messaging service, Sony's Music Unlimited service (which requires a subscription), the Neo Reader barcode scanner, which lets you search for products online via Amazon, Google or eBay, and the Play Now store, where you can buy games, apps, music and wallpapers.

Specs and performance

One of the first things you notice using the Mini Pro is its sheer speed. There's no hanging around waiting for menus to appear and no jerky, sluggish animations. Everything moves along at a cracking pace. This is mainly due to the processor's speed being upped from the 600MHz chip used in the X10 Mini Pro to a second-generation 1GHz Snapdragon processor. This is backed up by a fairly generous 512MB of RAM.

Internal storage isn't that large, with only 320MB to play with. As you would expect, the Mini Pro has a microSD slot to allow you to bump up the amount of space available for videos, music, photos and other files. Unfortunately to access this you have to take the battery cover off, but at least you don't have to remove the battery. Our model came with a 2GB card preinstalled, but the slot can accept cards of up to 32GB in size, so if you buy a larger card you'll have plenty of space available.

The phone has all the usual connectivity options, including HSDPA, wireless-n Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth 2.1. A DLNA media server means you can connect other devices in your network, such as a PS3 or HDTV, to the phone to view videos and photos on a bigger screen.

Media server
Using the media server you can stream video and so on to other devices via Wi-Fi.

Battery life

Power comes from a 1,200mAh battery, which is pretty much the same capacity you'll find on larger handsets. Unfortunately, the fast processor seems to be relatively power hungry, because battery life is certainly not one of the Mini Pro's strong points.

We found we'd be lucky to make it through an entire day without having to recharge the phone. If you make a lot of calls we reckon you're going to find yourself having to top it up in the evening if you don't want to completely run out of juice before the day is done.

Battery life
Battery life is disappointing, but at least you can see what's doing the damage.

We've got no complaints about call quality, though, but you do have to be careful about where you place phone when you're holding it against your ear, as the sweet spot for the earpiece is relatively narrow. In part this because of the phone's small size and after a while you do get used to it.

Wi-Fi and other bugs

Wi-Fi is more problematic though, as reception was weaker than on most other smart phones we've used. It had problems retaining a signal in an upstairs bedroom when connecting to a router downstairs in a fairly standard London terraced house.

It's also worth pointing out that during our time with the phone it completely crashed and rebooted itself on three occasions, which is not something we've had happen with other Android phones recently. It looks as though Sony Ericsson still has some work to do on this phone's firmware to fix a few bugs.

Design and feel

The Mini Pro definitely lives up to the Mini in its name, because at least in terms of height and width, this is a very dinky phone. It stands just 92mm tall and 52mm wide, and next to something like the HTC Incredible S it looks absolutely tiny.

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