As Android continues to expand, most handset manufacturers are pushing the envelope of just how big a smartphone can go. HTC's recent Evo 4G sports a record-breaking 4.3-inch display and Motorola countered with the equally expansive Droid X. But not everyone is jumping on the "go big" trend. Shortly after it introduced its massive Xperia X10, Sony Ericsson decided to trim the handset rather than enlarging it even further. It was a curious move, and when we first handled the Xperia X10 Mini at the 2010 Mobile World Congress, we were skeptical that Sony Ericsson could pull it off.
Now that we've spent time with the X10 Mini, we're a bit more confident. It's still too small for our use, but we realize that other people may appreciate the compact purse and pocket-friendly size. Sony Ericsson's User Experience interface remains accessible and attractive, performance is mostly respectable, and we're glad that the X10 Mini doesn't cut too many features to save space. On the downside, we still have our misgivings about Timescape and we miss a full QWERTY keyboard, but you can get the latter with the X10 Mini Pro. The unlocked X10 Mini should cost about $350.
"Small" is the first thing that comes to mind when holding the X10 Mini. At 3.3 inches long by 2 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep, its size is more akin to a prepaid handset than a feature-packed Android smartphone. It's so small that it fits squarely in your hand and it could even get lost in a large bag. What's more, at 3.1 ounces, you might even forget that it's in your pocket.
Of course, the small body means that the display is equally minute. Though it has a rich resolution (16.7 million colors; 320x240 pixels), it measures just 2.5 inches. On a standard phone that's fine, but it's another story on a touch-screen handset where the display is the primary interface. It's convenient for scrolling through the menus and most basic features, but you use an alphanumeric keypad for dialing numbers and typing messages. We also found that other features like the Facebook app and the Timescape feature don't look their best on such a tiny display.
To be fair, we get what Sony Ericsson is trying to do here, and we respect its efforts to offer customers an Android handset that won't weigh them down. On the upside, the touch interface is quick and responsive, and Sony Ericsson manages to surface a lot of options up front. After several hours of use, however, we grew tired of pecking away at something smaller than a credit card. Also, because the accelerometer only works in select applications (mostly the media options), we weren't able to use the landscape orientation to its full advantage. We realize that you may feel differently, but the X10 Mini is just too small for us.
Below the display are physical controls for accessing the main menu, the home screen menu, and moving backward through a menu. On the right spine you'll find a volume rocker, and a camera shutter. They're a little thin for our tastes, but you can find the rocker when you're on a call. The power control sits on the top of the phone and the 3.5mm headset jack and Micro-USB charger port rest on the bottom. We thank Sony Ericsson for ditching its proprietary connections.
On the back of the phone are the camera lens and flash. They're in a convenient place as long as you remember to keep your fingers out of the way when snapping a photo. The microSD card slot is stashed behind the battery cover, but we realize that Sony Ericsson had few alternatives on such a small phone.
Interface and Timescape
As mentioned, the X10 Mini offers Sony Ericsson's User Experience (UXP) interface, albeit on a smaller and slightly revamped scale. You can find a full description in our related slideshow or in the X10 review, but we'll recap the highpoints here. On the home screen you'll find four feature shortcuts in each corner of the display. Touch a corner and you'll jump instantly to the related feature (messaging, the music player, the phone dialer, and the phonebook). It's a nifty and user-friendly touch. The main menu is accessible via the arrow at the bottom of the screen. Due to the screen's small size, you'll need to cycle through multiple menu pages, but that's a minor point.
In standard Android fashion you can populate the home screens with folders, shortcuts, and widgets. It's important to note that UXP masks the standard Android interface to some degree. Normally, we prefer that manufacturers let Android be Android, but we approve of Sony Ericsson's subtle and attractive touches here. On the other hand, we don't like it when a custom interface interferes with Android updates. Indeed, the X10 Mini remains stuck on Android 1.6 even months after 2.0's release.
Like its big brother, the X10 Mini features Sony Ericsson's Timescape feature, which displays your latest e-mails, text messages, and social media alerts (Facebook, Twitter) in a flowing design that resembles a stacked deck of cards. The concept is very similar to MotoBlur in that it combines all of your e-mails, messages, contacts, and their status updates into a steady stream of information. As we've said earlier, it can be a bit much, and it's even more overwhelming on a smaller display (see the X10 for more information).
Contacts and calendar
The X10's phonebook size is limited by the available memory. As on other Android phones, you can add multiple fields per contact plus a photo and a ringtone. You can save contacts to groups and sync them with various Google services.
The calendar app has the UXP skin, but it still has the basic Android design. Of course, you can sync with your Gmail calendar after you register your Google account. If you don't have a Google account, you can create one right on the phone. You also can sync contacts and the calendar with the Sony Ericsson Sync service.
E-mail and messaging
Besides Gmail and the usual text and multimedia messaging, the X10 Mini is capable of syncing with POP3 and some IMAP4 accounts. It's disappointing, however, that like on the X10 we weren't able to add our CNET Outlook Web Access account (OWA) using the standard e-mail app. Instead, you must the included RoadSync app to get both your e-mail messages and calendar appointments. The experience might be better, but we'd appreciate a native app.