Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 review: Sony Ericsson Xperia X1

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1

Bonnie Cha

Bonnie Cha

Former Editor

Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.

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10 min read


Sony Ericsson Xperia X1

The Good

The Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 features an interactive panel interface that lets you customize the smartphone to your wants and needs. The Windows Mobile device also has an attractive design and a full QWERTY keyboard.

The Bad

Without U.S.-carrier backing, the Xperia X1 has an exorbitant price tag. The navigation controls are difficult to use, and the Web browsing experience wasn't the greatest.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 is a well-designed and fully stocked smartphone that offers great customization through the interactive panel interface. However, with its high price tag, the X1 will be a hard sell for most customers and will be a purely luxury item.

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.

For a device that has a slide-out full QWERTY keyboard, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 is quite a compact handset.

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.

The Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 allows you to customize your smartphone with nine interactive panels.

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.

Below the touch screen, you'll find a navigation array, which includes the X1 panel key, but we found these buttons small and stiff to press.

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.

The X1's full QWERTY keyboard is spacious and easy to use.

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.

The Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 2GB microSD card, a wired headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

Behind all the flash of the panel interface lies another Windows Mobile smartphone. The Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition, so you get the full Microsoft Office Mobile Suite and support for Microsoft's Direct Push Technology for real-time message delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. In addition, you can access any POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts that you have; we configured our review unit to get our Yahoo Mail by simply entering our log-in ID and password and we were set up in just a couple of minutes. Other PIM tools include a task list, a notepad, a calculator, and a PDF reader. For added functionality, you can always download more applications, and there's even a shortcut included to the Handango store.

For Web browsing, the Xperia X1 ships with the Opera Mobile Web browser, in addition to the default Internet Explorer Mobile. There's also Windows Live integration and the aforementioned Google panel, which gives you quick access to search, Gmail, and Google Maps. On the Sony Ericsson panel, you can get Web feeds from up to 10 of your favorite sites, and you can choose how frequently you want to receive updates. As far as connecting to the Web, the smartphone offers integrated Wi-Fi and 3G. The X1 supports the 850/1900/2100 UMTS/HSDPA bands, which means to get the 3.5G speeds in the States, you'll need an AT&T SIM card. You'll still be able to make calls and surf the Web with a T-Mobile SIM, but it will only be on EDGE speeds since the carrier's 3G network runs on the 1700/2100MHz bands.

The Xperia X1's phone features include quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging. The phone book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts), and there's room in each entry for multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, instant-messaging handles, and birthdays. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a picture, one of 41 polyphonic ringtones, or a group ID. Bluetooth 2.0 is also onboard for use with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, and dial-up networking.

The smartphone also comes equipped with assisted GPS. To speed up the process of determining your location, the X1 also includes a utility called QuickGPS that we've seen on a few GPS-equipped smartphones; it downloads the latest satellite information via an Internet connection. While Google Maps for Mobile comes preloaded on the X1, you will only get text-based driving directions from the app. For real-time tracking and voice-guided prompts, you'll need a location-based service or online application like Wayfinder Navigation, which is provided on the software CD.

Sony Ericsson makes a big deal about the Xperia X1 being an all-in one device for both work and play, so it's no surprise there are a number of multimedia goodies. The X1's media interface is built to resemble Sony's other consumer electronics, including the PlayStation, the PSP, and the Bravia TV line, so it may look familiar to any owners of those products. The media player supports MP3, MP4, M4A, AAC(+), WMA, WAV, MIDI, MPEG-4, WMV and other music and video formats. Other goodies include podcast support, a streaming media player, and an FM radio, though you have to use the included headset for the latter. The X1 has about 400MB of onboard memory, and the expansion slot can accept up to 16GB cards.

On back, you'll find the Xperia X1's 3.2 megapixel camera and flash.

Finally, the Xperia X1 comes equipped with a 3.2-megapixel camera with a number of advanced features. The camera's interface is based on Sony's CyberShot camera. For still images, there are five picture sizes, three quality settings, and six shooting modes. In addition to face detection, you can tap on an object on the screen to focus on it. There are also white balance options and various effects. These tools are also available for videos, and you have two scene options and two shooting modes.

Photo quality was decent, with rich colors and good object definition.

Picture quality was pretty good. Colors looked almost true to life and while we thought there was a bit of softness to the image, we were still able to clearly identify objects in the photo. Video quality was also good. There was minimal pixelation, even during scenes were there was a bit of movement and action.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSDPA 850/1900/2100) Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 in San Francisco using AT&T service, and call quality was good. When making calls, we could hear a slight background hiss that subsided when our friends picked up. Audio was clear and there was very little voice distortion, and we used an airline's voice-automated response system with no problem. We also didn't experience any dropped calls during our test period. Friends had positive comments, saying that they couldn't tell we were using a cell phone and there was good sound.

Unfortunately, the speakerphone quality wasn't the greatest. Voices sounded a bit garbled and volume was weak. We were able to pair the X1 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones. Using AT&T's 3G network, the X1 took about 40 seconds to 1 minute to load graphics-intensive pages like CNET.com, while mobile sites for CNN and ESPN took about 10 seconds. As for multimedia performance, we watched a couple of WMV clips, which looked excellent on the X1's sharp display. Playback was smooth as the images and sound were synchronized, and there was minimal pixelation to the picture. Of course, it helped that we played high-quality video. As with most smartphones, we weren't particularly impressed with music playback through the phone's speakers. Songs sounded very brassy, but we suspect many users won't be listening to tunes this way, which is why we're thrilled to see the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack. We plugged in a pair of Shure E3s and enjoyed great sound quality.

Overall, the Xperia X1 was a responsive device. There's a slight lag when you activate a new panel, and some sluggishness when we had numerous applications open--typical Windows Mobile behavior. No system stalls or crashes, however. Despite the HSDPA support, we found the Web browsing to be a little pokey compared to other smartphones.

The Xperia X1 has a rated battery talk time of 6 hours on 3G and 10 hours on GSM/EDGE and up to 20 days of standby time. The Xperia X1 knocked out an impressive 9 hours of continuous talk time in our battery drain tests.

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