Why I wouldn't buy a Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 (even though I really like it)
Right now, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 is one of the hottest high end Android smartphones. It's not available yet but will be soon on Rogers in Canada and hopefully in the US as an unlocked (no contract) GSM phone. We just reviewed the pre-release X10a with 3G HSDPA 7.2 Mbps on the US ATT bands and found a lot to like. It has a 1GHz Snapdragon processor like the Nexus One and HTC HD2, and that's currently the fastest CPU available for a phone. It has a 4" capacitive touch screen, bested only by the HTC HD2 in terms of size. But it's not yet multi-touch (no pinch zoom) because it runs an older Android OS that doesn't support this feature. It has an excellent 8.1 megapixel autofocus camera, WiFi, Bluetooth and a GPS. Pretty nice. Add Sony Ericsson's tasteful Android enhancements, Timescape and Mediascape, and you've got an interesting, powerful and fun phone.
Here?s the deal: for an unlocked phone that will likely cost big bucks (at least $500), I expect a lot. Money doesn?t come easy in this recession, and you probably feel the same way, especially with our US carriers finally getting a clue and offering highly subsidized cool phones like the Motorola Droid, Nexus One (if you?re a T-Mobile customer), HTC HD2, HTC Hero and others. When it?s $200 or better yet BOGO (buy one get one free), we forgive shortcomings. When it?s full price fare, we don?t want to have to overlook too many shortcomings.
Amid the high end specs and truly lovely display, camera and software, the Xperia X10 has its faults. Now some of these are due to pre-release firmware, and the final product will hopefully remedy growing pains. We?re not going to focus on bugs and needed tweaks because those may indeed be fixed by release. Sony Ericsson told us we?ll get to review the final release product, so we?ll keep you updated on these issues that include an incredibly annoying on-screen keyboard, the unlock screen from hell and occasional slowdowns.
The real problem? A very high end phone shouldn?t be shipping with Android OS 1.6 Donut when the Nexus One had OS 2.1 in early January 2010 and the Motorola Droid had 2.0 in late 2009 (the Droid received an over the air update to OS 2.1 last week). Granted both those phones run vanilla Android, so there aren?t boatloads of manufacturer customizations to test, but to our eyes, Sony Ericsson?s customizations aren?t that deep compared to something like MOTOBLUR or HTC?s Sense. SE has come through in a few areas; for example you do get Google Maps with spoken navigation despite the older OS, but the more usable Android Market isn?t there, nor Google?s advanced voice input. Perhaps the biggest loss is multi-touch for pinch zoom and easier keyboard input. This requires OS 2.1 or custom drivers. The Nexus One, Motorola Milestone and Moto Droid (via OS update) have it as do several HTC Android phones like the HTC Hero and HTC Droid Eris since HTC (clever folks) wrote their own multi-touch driver for older Android versions.
But there will be an update to 2.1 for the X10, you say? Sorry dude, Sony Ericsson tells us that it won?t be available until Q4. The end of 2010. Ouch, by then the next major release of Android will be out, Froyo, if not something even newer. It hurts when your otherwise brag-worthy top dog Android phone is so behind the times. Now OS versions and these features aren?t everything, especially when the hardware is so darned compelling. And believe me, the Sony Ericsson has darned compelling hardware and good software. It even has software that compensates for the older 1.6?s shortcomings like lack of Exchange support with Moxier, a great third party ActiveSync Exchange app. But top dog, pricey unlocked phones are the domain of geeky early adopters; notoriously demanding folk who want the latest and greatest OS. Oops.
OK, enough about the OS. The hardware is great in terms of specs and the casing is nice but not ?whoa?. The Nexus One, HD2 and Motorola Droid have an enticing combo of sturdy plastics and metal. That gives you that Porsche feel and a sense of hardware confidence, neigh, even pride. The Xperia X10 is unabashed plastic. It doesn?t feel or look cheesy but it won?t make you feel like you bought the best. Honestly, we miss the sexy metals and super-solidness of the mostly metal and stainless Sony Ericsson Xperia X1a.
Have a crush on the Xperia X10? I can?t blame you, so don?t cry in your beer. There?s a lot to love from what we?ve seen so far and it?s still one of the better Android phones on the market (or soon to be on the market). But gadget lust can take hold like a sticky Best Buy salesman, and we?re here to remind you that not every rose in the tech garden has a perfect set of blooms.
-------------------- Lisa Gade Editor in Chief, MobileTechReview