Sony Ericsson Xperia X1

Sony Ericsson′s first Windows Mobile device, the Xperia X1, got a lot of buzz last year for its slick and customizable software interface and stylish design. Although the Sony Xperia X1 is a feature-packed, well-designed handset with excellent performance, its assets don′t warrant its sky-high price. At $800 (unlocked), the Xperia X1 can′t compete with subsidized smart phones like the T-Mobile G1 or Apple iPhone 3G that offer the same features if not more.

The head-turning Xperia X1 is well-built and sleek. A brilliant 3-inch VGA touchscreen display takes up the majority of the handset′s face; six keys (two soft keys, Talk, End, Panels, OK) and an optical mouse lie below it. I didn′t like these buttons, though: They′re flat and a bit small, and not very clicky. Additionally, the small touch pad that you use as a mouse (Sony Ericsson calls this an “optical mouse”) is tiny, making it difficult to use. I can′t imagine someone with larger fingers using these controls very easily; my fingers are fairly small and I still had trouble.

The X1 has a reasonably slim profile for a handset with a slide-out keyboard. Measuring 4.4 by 2.1 by 0.7 inches, the X1 is about the same size as the T-Mobile Android-based G1. The X1 weighs 5.6 ounces, the same weight as the G1, but is about an ounce heavier than the iPhone.

The full QWERTY keyboard feels sturdy (some slide-out keyboards can feel flimsy, like they are about to detach at any second) and slides out easily. The keyboard is spacious, with large keys, though a little too flat for my liking. The X1 is ergonomically designed with a slight curve, making it comfortable to hold in your hand for long periods of time.

Call quality was consistently good over AT&T′s 3G network. I experienced no dropped calls and heard a faint hiss on only a few calls. Parties on the other end were very pleased with the call quality, reporting clear sound and little to no background noise.

Sony Ericsson states that the X1 has a talk time battery life of six hours, which is slightly better than the iPhone 3G. We′ll update this review with a final rating once the PC World Test Center completes its battery life tests. The X1′s Windows Mobile 6.1 overlay allows a wide range of customization options. You can choose from nine different “panels,” which are meant to represent the different facets of your life. You can use any of them as your Today screen, depending on what you prefer that day. The handset comes with seven preloaded panels: Microsoft Today, Sony Ericsson (two versions), Google, 3D Fish, Xperia Radio and Media Xperience.

My favorite panel is the 3D Fish, which looks a lot like the iPhone Koi Pond app. The panel shows you the date and time, while three or four fish swim around it. The fish represent some kind of notification, depending on their color. You can download more panel themes from the Sony Ericsson Web site for free, though the options are a bit limited. The only one I saw worth downloading was the Facebook panel, which would allow you quick access to your profile and your friends.

The biggest issue I had with the X1′s interface was its sluggishness — a common problem with Windows Mobile devices (although this was an improvement over vanilla Windows Mobile). Moving among panels could be slow and sometimes the touchscreen wasn′t as responsive as it should be. At times, it took multiple taps to get an application to open. The phone never froze up or crashed in my hands-on tests, however.

In my experience, many manufacturers that try to pack business and entertainment functions into one device often skimp in certain areas. The X1, however, is brimming with features. The X1 comes with the Microsoft Mobile Office Suite and support for Microsoft′s Direct Push Technology for real-time message delivery and synchronization with your Outlook calendar via the Exchange Server. It also supports POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts; and it comes with a PDF reader, a notepad, and a task list.

The X1 also bundles Internet Explorer and Opera Mobile. You can access Google features such as search, Gmail, and Google Maps easily through the Google panel. I browsed the Web over AT&T′s 3G network and via the integrated Wi-Fi and was pleased with the X1′s speed over both connections. I′m not a big fan of Opera Mobile, but I found surfing the Web easy enough.

The X1′s multimedia player impressed me. The touch-friendly player has a similar interface to the PlayStation and the PSP. The player is fairly basic, but has a playlist function and supports album art. I was disappointed that there was no equalizer, however. The media player supports MP3, MP4, AAC(+), WMA, WMV, MIDI, MPEG-4, WMV and many other video and music formats. It also has podcast support, an FM radio, a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack (which many handsets, like the G1, lack), and a streaming media player.

The 3.2-megapixel camera has a few advanced features such as auto focus, 3x digital zoom, three quality settings and five picture sizes. Image quality was good, with fairly accurate colors and clear details. But on a handset this expensive, I expected better specs and features, like Nokia′s 5-megapixel N97 (similarly priced, and sold unlocked, too).

The Xperia X1 is a solid, feature-packed handset, but unfortunately, it is not worth its $800 (unlocked) price tag. It doesn′t have the beefy multimedia specs to compete with other smart phones on the market with subsidized prices. If an X2 is in the works, I hope Sony Ericsson will find a carrier to offer it at a more reasonable price. In the meantime, consumers looking for an affordable touch screen Windows Mobile phone should consider the Samsung Omnia from Verizon, ranked third on PC World′s Top 10 Cell Phones.

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