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Review of Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 (E15i) GSM/UMTS Phone
Live photos of Sony Ericsson Xperia X8
Sony Ericsson wanted to become the dominant player on the Android market as early as at the beginning of the year 2010, which however wasn't possible without inexpensive solutions. The company was naive enough to think that its rivals would not go in the same direction and back in the summer, announced the Sony Ericsson X8 with an estimated retail price of EUR 220 and expected availability by the end of the year. Nearly five months have passed since the announcement and a lot of competing models have appeared on the market to date yet the company decided to stick to the original pricing policy.
The plan for the model was simple. It was supposed to arrive on the market together with the X12 Anzu and the X10 was supposed to have become one of the most popular models of 2010. The Sony Ericsson X8 would then make a good choice for those not able to afford either flagship. But it all didn't work out. Although the model had a familiar look (akin to the X10 Mini and X10), for about a month it has been shipping with just Android 1.6 until it was finally updated to version 2.1 in November. And that is exactly why this review has been delayed. I wanted to take a look the device with the new version of the OS and not the older 1.6 firmware. Unfortunately, Sony Ericsson is not likely to provide any further upgrades for this model, which automatically makes version 2.1 the best you can hope for. Even if such an upgrade becomes available eventually, that isn't going to happen sooner than in a year, that is, the device will have become obsolete by that time. Why am I spending so much time discussing all these Android versions, you may wonder? The thing is I have spent quite some time trying to decide how this handset should be treated. The default option is to consider it an Android smartphone, which it really is. Yet the core of a smartphone is its OS and the X8 neither has a standard interface nor gets firmware upgrades quickly enough. From this point of view, the device is in a peculiar situation, albeit all Android software titles are still available to the users. On the other hand, a capacitive screen usually implies that multitouch is supported out of the box yet Sony Ericsson's interface frivolities are such that it effectively isn't there. Is it a minus? Not really, especially if it is a phone, not a smartphone, that you are shopping for. And now it's about time we discussed the positioning of the X8.
Naturally, the device is being positioned as a smartphone, which is quite logical. Yet in my opinion, it should rather be considered the first Android phone instead – i.e. a model based on Android that is purchased to get to know the platform, to understand whether or not it suits one's preferences. The device is superior to the regular phones but simply can't be on the same terms with other Android smartphones due to the reasons mentioned above.
From a positioning like that, it follows that the X8 is not for those who seek the latest versions of the OS, regularly upgrade their phones – in a word, it's not for those trying to keep up with the progress. For them, the device will soon become a thorn in the flesh, with software upgrades for other handsets being constant reminders of their having chosen poorly. And that is not something one can live with.
On the other hand, the device will make an excellent choice for the ordinary customers who are not familiar with Android, who want to have a sensor screen and don't feel like comparing it to other devices all the time. Feel the power of dialectics, so to say. To put it short, the Sony Ericsson X8 is an excellent opportunity to get to know Android provided you are satisfied with the basic functionality and don't really want to push the limits.
Unfortunately, the manufacturer's perspective is somewhat different and that is going to have an adverse effect on the sales. Effectively, the device is being targeted at the first group and as you already know, they will not to be thrilled by what it has to offer. The exploitation of the Xperia brand name looks like some cruel joke to me as the X8 doesn't have a sound equalizer and the early units with Android 1.6 onboard were not able to send pictures and video over Bluetooth, etc. But again I would like to point out that all this critique applies only if the device is being compared to other Android smartphones. On its own, it is a decent, nice looking handset with a touch-sensitive screen and Android inside.
The model looks similar to the Sony Ericsson X10 but because of the smaller size, it appears neat and compact and feels good in one's hand. The physical dimensions are 99х54х15 mm, and the weight is 104 grams. I like the way it looks and I also like the fact that the device comes in two colors: white and black. Initially, it was available only in white but now you can also have it in black.
Surprisingly, until the very end, the company wasn't going to offer additional color designs. Even today, you can only see the white model in the official images.
Regardless of the color design, the back panels, both the main and additional one, have gradient finishes. Also, the panels look very much alike. In fact, it is only the owner who will be able to tell which is which. Therefore, the extra panel is more of a spare part than a variety bonus.
The phone has three hardware keys (Menu, Home and Back) on the front panel. Everything else needs to be done with the help of the screen. On the top, you can find a microUSB port with cover. That cover is secured to the casing and feels somewhat too tight unless you give it enough exercise. Right next to it, there is a power/lock button. Prior to the upgrade to version 2.1, you could also use it (as well as the Menu key) to unlock the screen. The only way to do it now is to swipe the screen, which is a significant change in the overall ergonomics. It is also unclear why the button has an unlock symbol on it if it doesn't do the job.
The audio jack has been specifically designed to be used with a remote control but will also accept your regular 3.5 mm headset or headphones.
On the front panel, there is a proximity sensor and a hidden charging indicator. The microphone can be found on the device bottom, close to the lanyard hook. You can also notice a logo islet without the actual logo there. Personally I find this way of saving money pretty weird.
On the right-hand side of the device, there is a volume rocker and a camera button. The camera lens and loudspeaker are located on the back.
In terms of built quality, the model is adequate and quite typical for its class, doesn't have any serious problems.
For its class, the phone has an excellent screen, which is 3 inches wide and has a HVGA resolution of 320x480 pixels. Although the display is capacitive, multitouch is not supported. Probably, they have installed a cheapo controller module that doesn't support multitouch, just like it was with the Sony Ericsson X10. The flagship did receive a driver upgrade that enabled the functionality after nearly a year's work, though. But I am very skeptical about the chances of that being done for the inexpensive model.
The display type is TFT and up to 65K colors are supported. That, however, isn't bad at all, as the picture is fairly bright and vivid in reality. It is very unlikely that the screen will be used for video playback, and as far as other applications are concerned, it is quite good. In direct sunlight, it bleaches out but remains readable because of the diagonal.
The default screen fonts are not that large and it would be nice to be able to change their size in every application. On average, 18-20 text lines can be displayed at a time but once again, the fonts are relatively small.
The screen is very responsive and comfortable to work with. The manufacturer says it has a glass coating to it but the protective layer is in fact made of plastic as glass cannot be scratched with sharp objects.
The model features a 1200 Li-Pol battery EP-500. The manufacturer claims up to 4.5 hours of talktime and 430 hours on standby.
In real life the phone worked for 1.5 days under normal conditions (up to 1 hour of talktime, 30 minutes of gaming, 20 minutes of browser use and several hours of music playback). Full charging requires 2 hours (or 1.5 hours to 80% of the capacity). The result is decent for an Android smartphone, which makes it convenient to use. Those who don't use data transfer can get 2 days of guaranteed performance from one charging.
130 MB are available to users and in the box comes a 2 GB MicroSD card. Cards are hot swappable and you can support cards of up to 32 GB (and more when appropriate ones appear). The card is under the battery cover.
Inside we have Qualcomm MSM7227 600MHz, which has been already used in X10 Mini. In majority of cases the performance is fine, but sometimes the phone lags behind, especially if you start moving between apps and access recently used applications. I could not find typical actions that trigger the issue as they change from time to time. You cannot label the phone very slow and the video shows it well. Upgrade to 2.1 slowed down my sample. On the other hand ordinary users will be satisfied and its speed is not critical. We have 128 MB of RAM too.
During USB connection you are mandatory asked whether to choose access to memory card files (Mount/Unmount). The speed of data transfer is no more than 2 Mbps. Different USB settings for network access are available and the phone can be used as a modem.
2.1. Bluetooth supports EDR and in the menu you can select the mode of advanced energy efficiency. A2DP is also supported and you can use wireless stereo headphones. Data transfer speed reaches 100 Kbps.
WiFi. b/g version works well and has no problems whatsoever.
Camera is the weakest link here. 3.2 MP module without the autofocus gives decent pictures in daytime outside, but inside the situation is much worse. The phone records video in VGA (up to 30 frames per second). Sample pictures and video are given below.
Samples of photos:
In the box you can also find a headset with the remote. This accessory enables full management of playback - Play/Pause, FF and REW, volume control. There is a fast forward option inside a track, but it is not really fast, but rather slow. The remote suits not only the standard player, but a radio as well. If you download a third party player too, the original player may not start when you press Play. That is why I advise to use what has already been installed. At the same time many require numerous formats than are currently supported by the OS plus equalizers, etc. Decide for yourself!
The phone has a Sony Ericsson interface, which cannot be disabled. For you to assess all features of the model we made a video and screenshots of all of them. We are not going to describe them in detail and will concentrate only on differences with the standard Android.
On the desktop we have a 4 corners interface with buttons for dialing, SMS, phonebook and music player situated literally in four corners of the screen. If you wish they can be customized. If you drag the screen up you get to the main menu containing pages to navigate horizontally. I think this kind of menu with apps is convenient and offers better value than traditional large page typical of all Android handsets.
Album – you can watch video and photos without any additional features. You cannot even send files from the album to another device, which is so old-fashioned. It is a part of SE shell. Why not to use Gallery from Android?
Backup&Restore – a utility to archive your data and it can follow a schedule.
Timescape – a joint venture between Twitter, Facebook, SMS in one place. This client is very inconvenient and attracts only with its looks. On the other hand you may like the app if you follow no more than 1 or 2 people online.
WisePilot – navigation software with a 1 month license. Not many will purchase a full version as Google Maps is still going strong.
FM radio enables playback without recording. The interface is nice though.
The games are not numerous. These are predominantly demo versions of good offerings.
The phone has no issues with the sound quality, voice reproduction, etc. Ringtones are loud and are heard well, especially if you select them properly. The vibro is decent.
The model costs around €160-170 and differs from other low cost Android solutions by the screen size and resolution. It is one of the first in its class to offer similar features. At the same time Motorola QT5, LG Optimus One P500, etc. are being released. In terms of software Sony Ericsson is still an outsider, as Optimus One is already on sale with Android 2.2. on board.
Unfortunately, lack of interest from programmers makes it impossible to complete good solutions. This is visible in the shell. For example, the gallery is too simple and loses out to the standard one in Android 2.1 (why disable that?). All manufacturers offer over the air updates, but in X8 you have to use the PC only. Such trifles are many and it shows that SE cannot create new features fast enough. One year was not somehow too little to add equalizers to the player. Subsequently, you have to be careful while choosing this handset. If you like what is inside today – go ahead, but do not expect updates and other related things. If they are offered you will be happy, but do not expect them to arrive soon.
In the coming months we will see many Android models with similar price and features. On the positive side we have to name an original design of X8, which is bright and attracts attention. In the box you get a remote and quality headphones. I could not add anything else. The handset can be purchased as an ordinary phone to get the first taste of Android, if you really want to waste money in the next couple of months. It's a pity, but this model will be popular only for a very brief period to be supplanted by other heroes. It had a potential, but it was not fulfilled in terms of price and features.
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Published 07 December 2010
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