Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 First Impressions

Sony Xperia X10I’ve got my hands on a $1100 Sony Xperia X10 for a couple of weeks. I was pleased and excited when the PR person offered me this device to review. The Android market in New Zealand has stagnated for a long time, but finally I thought we were getting some of the latest and greatest Android devices in-country.

Initial thoughts after 10 minutes: what unadulterated, utter crap. Seriously. Sony are harming the Android brand by leaving this device on the market with 1.6.

Plug in baby

First thing I need to do is plug in the charge cable. This requires me to use my fingernail to pop open a cheap, floppy flap on top of the phone, which doesn’t cleanly fold out of the way. I have to hold the phone in one hand, then use a finger to hold the flaccid flap out of the way while I plug the cable in with my other hand. Or perhaps I need three hands? Why the fuck do people put up with this bullshit? As far as I can tell, the only reason for this waste-of-space flapped plug on top of the phone is so that the equally useless lanyard loop can be elegantly centred on the bottom of the phone, where the charge port should be.

Witness the comedy live (well, kinda). Use your imagination as I try to open the flap, then plug in the cable, then open the flap, then open the flap again, then finally hold it open with one finger while trying to plug in the cable with the other hand.

I sit down to get on to the corporate WiFi network. Firstly the scrolling behaviour of the list of available WiFi networks is totally weird. It starts slow then speeds up when you let your thumb off, meaning things go flying off the end of the list. Then apparently I need to root the phone and have the SDK to be able to add a 3rd party root certificate (a very common setup for corporate networks)? Compare this to the iPhone, which just prompts once for the option to accept the unknown root cert.

The keyboard is an abomination. It’s unresponsive, and half the time won’t go away when I finish text entry, thus obscuring the “Done” button on the page I’m using. If I want to insert an exclamation mark inside a word I have to tap the “?!” button twice!? How intuitive is that? My experience is identical to Engadget’s review from a few months ago:
[quote]Keyboard input — a pretty important topic, if you ask us — was a surprisingly big problem on the X10. First off, you can’t consistently use the back button to clear the keyboard like you can on virtually every other Android device we used — here, it deletes everything in your current text field and keeps the keyboard up on the screen on occasion, thought we can’t nail down the pattern of the behavior. Much, much more dangerous, though, is the fact that we’re seeing all sorts of missed inputs. You’ll press a letter (and you get the character pop-up, so you know the keyboard has registered it), and maybe somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of the time, it won’t “take” — it just won’t go into your input box, which makes entering almost any text a maddening procedure.[/quote]

Let’s see how far we’ve come

Conclusion: 30 minutes with this device reminds me how far we’ve come since this sort of half-arsed attempt at interface wankery was accepted as “awesome”. I’m sorry but it’s true. I feel sorry to the PR person that sent me this phone, and I can’t wait to send it back.

Maybe the X11 will come with Android 2.2 and a less bullshit interface. But since when have Sony done anything as intelligent as that?

Vodafone XP3 Enduro

Feature-wise, the Vodafone XP3 is notable for items that are absent. It doesn’t do 3G, it doesn’t have a camera, and for the life of me I couldn’t find a vibrating ring option anywhere. On the plus side, the ring volume was ear-splitting, so you won’t be needing a vibrate option to avoid missed calls.

So what you end up with is a sub-NZ$200 phone costing NZ$800 (less with a plan). You’re paying something like $600 for durability. Is it worth it? Probably. I can see this phone quite easily out-lasting four $200 phones, even if you’re an accident-prone plumber working around raw sewerage. Seriously.

Here’s a quick few seconds of XP3 abuse. The phone still works. Note: the quick cuts are not hiding anything, it’s just that my gimpy camera cut off the last couple of seconds of each video when I stopped recording.

So I leave it to you. I wouldn’t buy the phone, because I work in an office and stick a screen protector on any phone I buy. BUT, if you work outdoors and constantly break phones, the XP3 might be a valid investment.

Vodafone NZ HTC Magic – With Pseudo-code

(If you just want the quick version, skip to the decision code)

Pricing has now been revealed. Vodafone wants $1099 for the phone outright or $649 and below on a plan. This puts it within $50 of the 16GB iPhone 3G (not S). I know which one I’d choose.
The launch party has been dated to the 24th of June 2009. I presume this is on or very close to the day of public availability. Will update when I know more.

HTC MagicWhen the iPhone slid on to the scene, it didn’t so much displace any current phones; it created an entirely new market segment. It decimated the status quo, and it has taken a couple of years for competitors to catch up.

In the intervening time, I’ve fondled and fumed over more phones than you could shake an accelerometer at. None has come close to the usability of the original iPhone. When you combine that usability with the the feature set of the latest 3G S revision, Apple might as well just provide me with an industrial shredder in which to toss each phone I’m sent to review.

So you could say my expectations of Vodafone’s HTC Magic were modest. The Magic is the second hardware revision from HTC to run Google’s Android operating system. The first one – the G1 – was not widely released outside of the USA, and was subject to some faint praise. By all accounts, the 1.5 version of Android – cutely codenamed Cupcake – is greatly improved over the 1.0 version. Combined with this new OS, the HTC Magic is the first phone I’ve reviewed that comes close to competing with the iPhone for usability and sheer fun.

Continue reading “Vodafone NZ HTC Magic – With Pseudo-code”

Nokia E71: Speed Metal

Nokia E71There are two things you need to know about the Nokia E71. They are:

  • It’s very fast; and
  • It’s very metal.

It’s sad that I describe a phone as fast simply because it responds the way you would expect: you press a key, and stuff happens. It’s not like most other smart phones in that respect. I’ve come to expect slow interfaces from these phones as a trade-off for advanced features in small packages. My iPhone for example: press the contacts icon then count to 5 while you wait for the contacts app to load and be ready. The E71 on the other hand responds like a well drilled soldier, snapping to attention at the slightest prodding.

And this phone is metal. Not metal in the Vim Fuego, “Hello Castle Donnington!!” sense, but real, physical metal. Even the battery cover is a not insubstantial sheet of aluminium. The build quality is flawless, without the usual rattles and creaks that you get from plastic phones, and the design looks a lot better in person than in photos. The metal does give the phone a fair weight. Not in a bad way, but rather a good “I could chuck this phone through a window in an emergency” kind of way.

Update: someone commented that I make the E71 sound heavy. It’s not. The E71 is 127 grams compared to the iPhone’s 133. I just feel that if you threw an iPhone at a window it would bounce, whereas the E71 would plow on through. Look, honestly, I don’t know why I went down the whole window-breaking metaphor route in the first place, but now I’m stuck here. Help. I’m stuck in a metaphor and I can’t get out!

I won’t go into detail on the features and capabilities of the phone. If you want that information, you can read any number of super in-depth reviews of the phone, or for that matter just about any other S60 phone, because the features are largely the same across all Nokia S60s. It does have the usual bevy of features you’d expect from a high-end smartphone:

  • Speedy 3G: Quad-band GSM, UMTS, HSDPA
  • GPS (including A-GPS)
  • Bluetooth (including stereo A2DP)
  • WiFi (802.1b/g)
  • IMAP, POP, and MS Exchange email connectivity
  • 3.2mp camera plus front-facing VGA camera
  • FM Radio with RDS

I understand it is de rigueur these days to compare any new smartphone with the one true smartphone. In this case the E71 holds up pretty well. By my reckoning the iPhone outsmarts the E71 in only two areas: web browsing and application availability; while the E71 simply stomps all over the iPhone in terms of user interface speed. The web browser is adequate, but nowhere near as easy to use as Safari on the iPhone. On the application front, there are thousands of applications available for the S60 platform, but the lack of App Store, and the generally average design of S60 applications let the side down. Once again His Jobsness has outsmarted the incumbents by routing around existing business models: the closed, proprietary App Store has (by virtue of the developer business model) attracted a higher class of developer than Nokia could ever hope to attract to the S60 platform.

Still, for your enterprise user, or perhaps a dedicated Nokia user, I’ll say quite happily that the E71 sits squarely at the top of the qwerty phone pecking order. Get one.

Sony Ericsson W980 First Impressions

W980_2_product_quality_image_1 Straight up: this is a very sexy looking phone. SE call it ?Piano Black?, and it sure does have that deep glossy black look. The screen and buttons on the front are hidden behind a reflective cover and are invisible until they are needed. The clear Perspex block at the bottom of the cover glows with a cool white light when text messages are received.

Flipped open, the W980 looks just as good. Individual round buttons and a large, sharp screen draw the eye.

The walkman experience is good, with the navigation using Sony?s now-standard XrossMediaBar. Finding artists, albums and genres is a cinch.

Menu navigation, SMS, internet, etc. is all standard SE flavor. The addition of a physical keylock switch is nice, especially given the sensitive touch buttons on the front.

Audio output via the included headphones is sublime. Unfortunately the lack of 3.5mm headphone plug means you need to use the giant proprietary headphone adapter (which you?ll note is conveniently left out of any product images). I haven?t yet tried the FM transmitter, but expect it to suck about as badly as any 3rd party FM transmitter.

The ?shake? control is nothing more than a gimmick, but at least they?ve also used the accelerometer for screen orientation.

So, first impressions:

  • Pros: awesome audio, gorgeous looks, and a very useable phone.
  • Cons: headphone adapter, no expandable memory