Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our review of the unlocked Xperia X10. We adjusted the score of this review on August 18, 2010, to reflect additional testing.
When we reviewed the unlocked Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 last March, we had a lot of good things to say about Sony Ericsson's first foray into the Android operating system. With its large display, loaded feature set, and agreeable call quality, the X10 offered much of what we'd expect from a smartphone, even if the unlocked price tag of $700 was hard to swallow.
Fortunately, price is no longer an issue now that the handset has landed in AT&T's lineup. Thanks to carrier subsidies, you can get it for a more reasonable $149 if you sign a new two-year contract. It's even cheaper for commitmentphobes, who will pay just $349. We're also pleased that with this version of the X10, data quality is a bit better and the virtual keyboard works across all applications.
Yet, even with those improvements we're not prepared to crown the X10 as one of the best Android handsets. For starters, it's stuck on Android 1.6. Though that was fine five months ago, it's not good when the rest of the Android family is moving to 2.2. Also, we remain wary about the Timescape application and Sony Ericsson's User Experience (UXP) interface.
Design and display
Though it now enjoys plenty of company in this area, the X10 remains one of the bigger smartphones around at 4.7 inches long by 2.5 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep. Sure, it makes for a tight fit in pockets, but the 4-inch display is perfectly appropriate for a touch-screen device and the X10 is lighter than you might think (4.8 ounces). If the bulk does concern you, however, the X10 Mini and the X10 Mini Pro offer many of the same features but in more petite designs.
The X10's rear face is purposely curved; Sony Ericsson does this so the device matches the natural curve of your hand. We understand any skepticism, but it's only the slightest bit gimmicky. Indeed, the X10 fits comfortably in the hand, but it wasn't a huge leap over other handsets. The curved back means, however, that when it's resting on a flat surface, the X10 wobbles if you try to tap at the screen.
With support for 65,536 colors, the display doesn't quite measure up to some of its Android competitors. It's still quite lovely thanks to its rich resolution (854x480 pixels), but you'll notice the difference when you hold the X10 next to a Droid device or the HTC Evo 4G. The touch interface was accurate and responsive, both when tapping icons and swiping through long lists. It even was responsive at the very edges of the display.
You get three home screens that you can populate as you please with shortcuts, folders, and widgets. Like all Android phones, other display options are limited to the wallpaper, brightness, and backlighting time; the menu font size and style aren't customizable. Our only real complaint about the display is that it shows smudges way too easily; we were wiping it clean constantly just to see it clearly. The display has the standard Android notifications bar, and the menu is accessible through the arrow at the bottom of the display. The X10 has an accelerometer, but not a proximity sensor.
Below the display are the X10's only physical controls. The Home key, back button, and menu control are large and tactile, so we had no trouble using them. On the left spine are the volume rocker and a camera shutter. The latter is a rather small, but it didn't pose a problem. On the top of the phone are the 3.5mm headset jack, the power control, and the Micro-USB port for the charger and syncing cable. Here, again, we give Sony Ericsson major points for ditching the proprietary connections and including a microSD card slot. The slot is located behind the battery cover, but we'll let that slide in this case since we aren't stuck with a Memory Stick Micro format.
The X10's virtual keyboard is very close to the standard Android design, but it offers a few unique elements. In landscape mode it takes advantage of the display's full size so you have plenty of room for typing. On the primary keyboard there are three rows of alphabetic keys with the space bar conveniently located in the center of the bottom row. You'll also find basic punctuation and a smiley key, but you'll need to switch to the numeric keyboard for other characters.
We also love the X0's autocomplete function and dictionary. Instead of just one possible choice when writing a word, the X10 offers up to 20 possible choices. For example, if you type "it" you get not only "its" as an option, but also "itself," "Italy," "item," and even "ignore." Even better, the X10 is adept at remembering previously used words and offering them as suggestions even if they aren't in the dictionary. After typing "kgerman" just once, we got it as a suggestion each time we started typing another word that begins with G.
As previously mentioned, the landscape keyboard now works in the messaging app. That's a huge plus over the unlocked X10, which made its landscape keyboard available only in the e-mail app. We never understood the reason for that discrepancy, but it's irrelevant now. We also liked the phone dialer, which has a simple, easy-to-use design.
As we said, it's a major bummer that the X10 runs Android OS 1.6. Though 1.6, or "Donut" as it's also known, looks particularly dated now, it was old even when Sony Ericsson introduced the X10 last December. At that time, the Motorola Droid had been out with Android 2.0 for a couple of months, so you'd think that Sony Ericsson would have come through with another update by now. Last we heard, the X10 isn't supposed to get Android 2.1 until the fourth quarter of this year. And even if that arrives on schedule, the X10 will be behind the crop of devices that are currently receiving Froyo.
Though Google always has said that manufacturers and carriers decide when a device receives an OS update, we've constantly implored those players to issue updates as soon as possible. Granted, some users may not care about Android firmware, but we can't imagine that there are a lot of them. In the end, the X10's popularity will no doubt suffer until it can catch up
Of course, you have to consider Sony Ericsson's UXP, which sits on top of the standard Android OS. Though customized user interfaces can be attractive, and UXP certainly is, they lose their luster if they interfere with Android's evolution. UXP was designed with 1.6 in mind, and it needs to be enhanced and formatted with each Android update. That's a big job, indeed. What's more, though UXP is user-friendly, and we admire the design work that went into it (see our slideshow for an in-depth look of UXP), we prefer to let Android be Android.
The X10 also features Sony Ericsson's Timescape, which combines your various messages, alerts, and contacts into a steady flow of communication. After registering your chosen accounts for e-mail, Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook, it displays your latest e-mails, text messages, and social media alerts in a flowing design that resembles a stacked deck of cards. To move through the deck, just swipe your finger along the display and the cards will fly by. Timescape also can display your latest social media alerts on the home screen, though we chose to remove that option. We just didn't need to see what was going on with our friends at every moment.