Sony Ericsson Xperia X10

For many mobile manufacturers, Android represents a tantalising lifeline after a prolonged period of dismal underperformance in the face of Apple and its popular iPhone.

Jumping on the Google Train has worked wonders for US firm Motorola, and now the struggling Swedish-Japanese giant Sony Ericsson has followed suit with its first Android-packing smartphone, the Xperia X10.

A new hope

The hype surrounding this most auspicious of hardware launches has been considerable: the phone was announced last year and has taken what seems like an age to actually get to market.

This prolonged gestation has resulted in some unwelcome compromises being made, but there’s still enough raw appeal here to ensure the X10 makes a lasting impression.

In purely physical terms the X10 is a revelation: the massive 4-inch FWVGA touchscreen display is the largest we’ve ever had the good fortune of prodding with our eager fingers and while it doesn’t use the advanced AMOLED technology which powers the likes of the Nexus One and HTC Desire it still looks excellent.

Naturally, such an imposing screen requires an equally sizable handset. The X10 doesn’t feel bulky but it does seem large when it’s in the palm of your hand. It’s actually quite thick as well – although it doesn’t necessarily seem that way because of the massive display.

The scope of ‘scape

Sony Ericsson has made a lot of noise about its proprietary software, which sits atop the slightly archaic Android 1.6 OS. Most of the differences between it and the standard Android package are purely cosmetic, but the big draw is the Timescape and Mediascape apps.

Timescape attempts to pull together elements such as messages, emails, Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, and other data, presenting all of this information in an animated stream of tiles.

It’s an eye-catching arrangement, but visual appeal aside there’s little justification for its existence. Despite the X10’s muscular 1GHz Snapdragon processor Timescape plods along, taking ages to load and offering disappointingly jerky animation between each element.

What’s more, the actual functionality is superficial at best: to reply to a Twitter message you’re forced to connect to the web-based site via the phone’s default browser. Why should this be the case when other phones have dedicated Twitter clients which remove the middle-man?

Multimedia revolution

Mediascape is a markedly more successful proposition, putting all of your media – both online and on your phone – in one convenient location. You can view photos, watch videos, and listen to music all from this one app. It’s even possible to link your Facebook and Picasa accounts and instantly view images from those sources.

The real problem with Sony Ericsson’s approach is one which has afflicted other Android handsets which boast unique interfaces. Just as was the case with the MOTOBLUR-touting Motorola DEXT, the various processes that run in the background hog valuable memory and slow down the performance of the device.

Downloading task management software from the Android Market shows a worrying number of applications operating at any one time, each one swallowing up precious RAM which could be used elsewhere.

It’s a shame because the aforementioned 1GHz CPU offers up some astonishingly fast performance: moving between apps such as text messaging and email is a breeze, and the phone’s web page-rendering is lightning-quick.

Touch me

Sadly the much-publicised lack of multi-touch capability is problematic and makes surfing the web harder than it should be. You’ll miss pinch-and-zoom if you’ve previously used an iPhone and this limitation also impacts the suitability of the on-screen keyboard, which is easily confused when you’re typing quickly.

This shortcoming also has a negative impact on the gaming side of things, as it's not possible to play anything which requires multi-touch input.

As it stands right now not many Android titles boast this anyway, but it could cause problems in the future as more and more developers jump over from the iPhone. The lack of a trackball or D-pad also means titles like Replica Island won't be playable on the X10.

Thankfully, the powerful hardware is capable of handling pretty much anything the gaming side of the Android Market can cook up: even the more demanding emulators – such as SNesoid and GameBoid – run particularly well.

Such issues are infuriating because the X10 is quite clearly the work of a company desperately trying to appease its fans. The external design is pleasing, the processing grunt is unquestionable, and the massive screen is a real head-turner: it’s just a shame that other easily-avoidable problems cast a shadow over these achievements.

Sony Ericsson is reported to be working on a significant software update for the X10 which is believed to bring with it Android 2.1 support and multi-touch. If this is true then the firm’s first Android challenger could move from being a likeable phone to a truly great one.

As it stands this is still well worth investigation but only if you’ve decided that HTC, Samsung, and Motorola’s Googlephone offerings aren’t for you.

Sony Ericsson Xperia X10

A curious mixture of gorgeous design and ill-conceived software ideas, the X10 is a noble attempt at breaking into a new market. Still, the limitations aren’t fatal and with proper support from SE this could make the Android first team regardless
Damien  McFerran
Damien McFerran
Damien's mum hoped he would grow out of playing silly video games and gain respectable employment. Perhaps become a teacher or a scientist, that kind of thing. Needless to say she now weeps openly whenever anyone asks how her son's getting on these days.