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Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 (AT&T) review: Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 (AT&T)

Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 (AT&T)

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
12 min read


Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 (AT&T)

The Good

The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 has a user-friendly design with a brilliant display. The feature set is generous, the internal performance is fast, and call and data quality are satisfactory.

The Bad

The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 runs Android OS 1.6. The Timescape application has its faults, and you must use a third-party app for Outlook calendar syncing.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 offers a slick, user-friendly design with a solid feature set and good call quality. We lament, however, that the device is stuck on Android 1.6.

Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our review of the unlocked Xperia X10. We adjusted the score of this review on August 18, 2010, to reflect additional testing.

When we reviewed the unlocked Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 last March, we had a lot of good things to say about Sony Ericsson's first foray into the Android operating system. With its large display, loaded feature set, and agreeable call quality, the X10 offered much of what we'd expect from a smartphone, even if the unlocked price tag of $700 was hard to swallow.

Fortunately, price is no longer an issue now that the handset has landed in AT&T's lineup. Thanks to carrier subsidies, you can get it for a more reasonable $149 if you sign a new two-year contract. It's even cheaper for commitmentphobes, who will pay just $349. We're also pleased that with this version of the X10, data quality is a bit better and the virtual keyboard works across all applications.

Yet, even with those improvements we're not prepared to crown the X10 as one of the best Android handsets. For starters, it's stuck on Android 1.6. Though that was fine five months ago, it's not good when the rest of the Android family is moving to 2.2. Also, we remain wary about the Timescape application and Sony Ericsson's User Experience (UXP) interface.

Design and display
Though it now enjoys plenty of company in this area, the X10 remains one of the bigger smartphones around at 4.7 inches long by 2.5 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep. Sure, it makes for a tight fit in pockets, but the 4-inch display is perfectly appropriate for a touch-screen device and the X10 is lighter than you might think (4.8 ounces). If the bulk does concern you, however, the X10 Mini and the X10 Mini Pro offer many of the same features but in more petite designs.

The X10's rear face is purposely curved; Sony Ericsson does this so the device matches the natural curve of your hand. We understand any skepticism, but it's only the slightest bit gimmicky. Indeed, the X10 fits comfortably in the hand, but it wasn't a huge leap over other handsets. The curved back means, however, that when it's resting on a flat surface, the X10 wobbles if you try to tap at the screen.

With support for 65,536 colors, the display doesn't quite measure up to some of its Android competitors. It's still quite lovely thanks to its rich resolution (854x480 pixels), but you'll notice the difference when you hold the X10 next to a Droid device or the HTC Evo 4G. The touch interface was accurate and responsive, both when tapping icons and swiping through long lists. It even was responsive at the very edges of the display.

You get three home screens that you can populate as you please with shortcuts, folders, and widgets. Like all Android phones, other display options are limited to the wallpaper, brightness, and backlighting time; the menu font size and style aren't customizable. Our only real complaint about the display is that it shows smudges way too easily; we were wiping it clean constantly just to see it clearly. The display has the standard Android notifications bar, and the menu is accessible through the arrow at the bottom of the display. The X10 has an accelerometer, but not a proximity sensor.

We thank Sony Ericsson for giving the X10 standard headset and charger ports.

Below the display are the X10's only physical controls. The Home key, back button, and menu control are large and tactile, so we had no trouble using them. On the left spine are the volume rocker and a camera shutter. The latter is a rather small, but it didn't pose a problem. On the top of the phone are the 3.5mm headset jack, the power control, and the Micro-USB port for the charger and syncing cable. Here, again, we give Sony Ericsson major points for ditching the proprietary connections and including a microSD card slot. The slot is located behind the battery cover, but we'll let that slide in this case since we aren't stuck with a Memory Stick Micro format.

Virtual keyboard
The X10's virtual keyboard is very close to the standard Android design, but it offers a few unique elements. In landscape mode it takes advantage of the display's full size so you have plenty of room for typing. On the primary keyboard there are three rows of alphabetic keys with the space bar conveniently located in the center of the bottom row. You'll also find basic punctuation and a smiley key, but you'll need to switch to the numeric keyboard for other characters.

The X10's virtual keyboard works across all applications.

We also love the X0's autocomplete function and dictionary. Instead of just one possible choice when writing a word, the X10 offers up to 20 possible choices. For example, if you type "it" you get not only "its" as an option, but also "itself," "Italy," "item," and even "ignore." Even better, the X10 is adept at remembering previously used words and offering them as suggestions even if they aren't in the dictionary. After typing "kgerman" just once, we got it as a suggestion each time we started typing another word that begins with G.

As previously mentioned, the landscape keyboard now works in the messaging app. That's a huge plus over the unlocked X10, which made its landscape keyboard available only in the e-mail app. We never understood the reason for that discrepancy, but it's irrelevant now. We also liked the phone dialer, which has a simple, easy-to-use design.

As we said, it's a major bummer that the X10 runs Android OS 1.6. Though 1.6, or "Donut" as it's also known, looks particularly dated now, it was old even when Sony Ericsson introduced the X10 last December. At that time, the Motorola Droid had been out with Android 2.0 for a couple of months, so you'd think that Sony Ericsson would have come through with another update by now. Last we heard, the X10 isn't supposed to get Android 2.1 until the fourth quarter of this year. And even if that arrives on schedule, the X10 will be behind the crop of devices that are currently receiving Froyo.

Though Google always has said that manufacturers and carriers decide when a device receives an OS update, we've constantly implored those players to issue updates as soon as possible. Granted, some users may not care about Android firmware, but we can't imagine that there are a lot of them. In the end, the X10's popularity will no doubt suffer until it can catch up

Of course, you have to consider Sony Ericsson's UXP, which sits on top of the standard Android OS. Though customized user interfaces can be attractive, and UXP certainly is, they lose their luster if they interfere with Android's evolution. UXP was designed with 1.6 in mind, and it needs to be enhanced and formatted with each Android update. That's a big job, indeed. What's more, though UXP is user-friendly, and we admire the design work that went into it (see our slideshow for an in-depth look of UXP), we prefer to let Android be Android.

The X10 also features Sony Ericsson's Timescape, which combines your various messages, alerts, and contacts into a steady flow of communication. After registering your chosen accounts for e-mail, Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook, it displays your latest e-mails, text messages, and social media alerts in a flowing design that resembles a stacked deck of cards. To move through the deck, just swipe your finger along the display and the cards will fly by. Timescape also can display your latest social media alerts on the home screen, though we chose to remove that option. We just didn't need to see what was going on with our friends at every moment.

Timescape shows you a lot of information. It might even be too much.

On the upside, Timescape is slick and pretty, and it offers a wealth of features. For instance, tapping an individual card or tile will display that message or update in its entirety with the source (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and the contact's photo. You'll also see an infinity symbol in the upper-right corner. Tap that and you'll see a list of all communication between you and that contact. You also can use the touch controls on the bottom of the display to sort the feed by the source and set your status for Twitter and Facebook.

On the other hand, Timescape can be a bit much. Yes, we said this when we first saw MotoBlur on the Cliq, but the X10's busier design makes it even more overwhelming. For example, when you switch between the different feeds, the old tiles fly out to one side and the new tiles fly in from the other. It's rather like you were playing a game of poker and a disgruntled opponent took the playing cards and threw them in the air. The effect is exciting the first few times, but then it just gets a bit disorienting.

Contacts and calendar
Like with other Android phones, you can sync your Gmail contacts instantly. The size of the X10's phone book is limited by the available memory, but each entry can store multiple fields for phone numbers, street addresses, work information, e-mails, URLs, instant-messaging handles, nicknames, and notes. You also can add a photo and see a friend's Facebook and Twitter status if he or she has an account with either service. But the X10 doesn't stop there. When viewing an individual contact, you can see the call log between you and that person and a list of all text messages. That's a nice touch.

The calendar app has the UXP skin, but it still has the basic Android design. Of course, you can sync with your Gmail calendar after you register your Google account. If you don't have a Google account, you can create one right on the phone. You also can sync contacts and the calendar with the Sony Ericsson Sync service. Unfortunately, the X10 doesn't offer direct Outlook calendar, notes, and contacts syncing. Instead you must use a third-party app that comes preinstalled on the phone. It works well enough, but we'd prefer not going through a middleman.

E-mail and messaging
Besides Gmail and the usual text and multimedia messaging, the X10 is capable of syncing with other POP3 accounts. But like with some other Android phones, we weren't able use the easy setup method to add Yahoo accounts. We were successful when we used the manual setup, but that requires you to know information like the incoming and outgoing server settings. And if you need more ways to communicate, there's a dedicated instant messaging app.

For corporate e-mail, AT&T's X10a comes with an integrated Work E-mail application from FutureDial. At first, we didn't understand why Sony Ericsson used a third-party solution for Outlook mail rather than using the Android's standard e-mail app. On closer inspection, however, we approve of the move. Work E-mail performs quite well and we had no trouble syncing our Outlook Web Access account. It offers a wealth of features including two-way syncing for calendar, contacts, e-mail, and tasks. You can't sync notes, but that's an omission we've seen on other smartphones. IT departments can use remote wipe, and the app offers Global Address list access. For other Android phones, that feature is available only through Froyo.

The X10 has an 8.1-megapixel camera. You can take pictures in four resolutions and choose from a variety of "scene" modes (night, portrait, landscape, etc.). Other camera options include face detection, autofocus, a macro setting, a flash, a photo light, a self-timer, four white-balance settings, spot metering, an image stabilizer, geotagging, a brightness meter, smile detection, and a digital zoom. There's almost no shutter lag if you press the control firmly.

The X10's flash and camera lens sit on its back side.

Photo quality is decent, though not a sharp as we'd like. Photos were rather dim so you should use the flash whenever you don't have optimal lighting. There also was a bit of image noise. When you're done shooting, you can transfer your photos off the phone or store them on the handset's internal memory. You get a very respectable 1GB of shared space and the X10 will accommodate microSD cards up to 16GB (an 8GB card comes with the phone). And for viewing stored photos, we like the "filmstrip" interface.

The X10 offers acceptable photo quality.

The camcorder shoots clips in five resolutions including a wide VGA and a format for uploading to YouTube. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 14 seconds, but you can shoot for longer in standard mode. Editing options are similar to the still camera. Video quality is fine, but not amazing.

The music player is accessed through the X1's Mediascape app. Similar to Timescape, Mediascape displays your photos, videos, and music tracks in one convenient place. The infinity feature also works here, though it shows all the photos and videos shot on the same day and all music tracks by a single artist. The interface is attractive and easy to use, and a bit less busy than Timescape.

The music player is improved over other Android phones. It displays album art and you can access shuffle and repeat modes, set favorites, send the track in a message, and designate a track as a ringtone. Loading music on the phone is quite easy whether you're using a USB cable or a memory card. Thanks to Android's efficient USB transfer/storage and PC syncing support, our PC recognized the X10 right when we plugged it in. Music quality is admirable. The external speaker gets loud enough, but the sound gets distorted the higher you go. We recommend headphones for the best experience.

Google and other features
The X10 includes a calculator, a full duplex speakerphone, GPS, A2DP stereo Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. A helpful electronic user guide is accessible through the main menu, and we're thrilled that the X10 has an OfficeSuite file manager. The browser has a standard Android design, and you can replace it with another browser, if you'd like. Voice dialing is onboard as well, but keep in mind you need Froyo to get hands-free dialing with Bluetooth devices.

You'll find the full slate of Google applications like YouTube, and Google Talk. Google Maps offers the standard features, plus a variety of map layers (traffic, transit lines, etc.), a link to Wikipedia, and Google Latitude. Outside of Google, the X10 comes integrated with MobiTV, a calculator, a dedicated Facebook app, a Mobile Banking service, Yellow Pages Mobile, and Where Mobile. Of course, you can get more titles and games through the Android Market.

AT&T also puts its own stamp on the phone with a number of carrier-specific applications. You'll find AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Hot Spots for finding Wi-Fi locations, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Maps, AT&T Mobile Video, and AT&T Radio.

Thanks to the X10's 1Ghz Snapdragon processor, the handset is very fast. There was no lag when opening most applications, accessing menus, and pulling up the main menu from the home screen. The Timescape feature can take up to 4 seconds to get started, but that's to be expected on such a graphics-heavy app.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 world phone in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was no different from the unlocked version, which is to say it's generally admirable. The signal was strong and clear, the volume was loud, and voices sounded natural. At the higher volumes there was a slight audible hiss on some calls, but it wasn't a big problem.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. Most could tell we were using a cell phone, but we didn't get many complaints outside of the hiss that we also heard. A couple of our friends said that unless we spoke directly into the microphone they had trouble hearing us when we were in noisy places. As such, the X10 has a sensitive sweet spot. Speakerphone calls were quite good with loud volume and little audio distortion. We also had a good experience with a Bluetooth headset.

Fortunately, the AT&T offered faster data performance than the unlocked model. It still wasn't as zippy as most of the Android handsets from Sprint and Verizon, but busy Web sites like Airliners.net opened in about 30 seconds. Cleaner sites won't take as long, but some sites with more graphics may require more time. Also, Timescape appears to suck a lot of the phone's energy so we were glad that you can set the frequency of Timescape updates. The X10 supports worldwide 3G bands (UMTS/HSPA 850/1800 in North America), so it is compatible with AT&T networks.

The X10 has a rated battery life of 10 hours 2G talk time and 8 hours 3G talk time. Promised standby time is 17.7 days. In our tests, we had a talk time of 9 hours and 2 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the X10 has a digital SAR of 1.43 watts per kilogram.


Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8