Experiencing Sony Ericsson Xperia X8
Xperia X8 is the latest addition to Sony Ericsson’s Xperia family (as of Nov 2010). It is an Android powered smartphone, larger than the X10 Mini series and smaller than the X10. Without contract, it is priced at S$438 – not too far off from the X10 Mini series but much cheaper than the X10, which is selling at S$698. From a product offering point of view, X8 does fill the gap nicely, in terms of the form factor.
As seen in the photo above, X8 fits well on your palm with a thickness of merely 15mm and weights just about 100g. It comes with four trendy colors too. What I like most about X8 – besides its physical form – is the battery life. In one full charge, my X8 can last a good 10 hours. What do I do with the phone when I am outside? I browse the Internet often, especially the social media networking sites. I poll my Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo! mail accounts every 15 minutes. I switch on the Internet Messaging perceptually. I use it to make phone calls and I listen to music with my X8. I think I can be considered as a rather heavy user. If a phone can last 10 hours with one charge, to me, that is very good. And the best is that recharging the phone is surprisingly fast – less than an hour. I have used and seen phones that do not last that long during the day, take longer to charge in the evening. In short, I am delighted that I do not need to be chained by a USB power cable throughout the day.
The form factor is almost perfect except the little flip that covers the USB connector. I keep my fingernails short and I am finding it quite impossible to open it without the help of foreign objects such as tie clip or back of a stapler. You may wish to try opening the flip on a new unit and see if you are OK with it.
The Home Screen and Notification Panel
If you are new to Android, the home screen looks something like the above (left). To differentiate amongst themselves, Android phone manufacturers add an unique touch to the operating system. Sony Ericsson has added the customizable corners for easy access to frequently accessed functionalities. In my case, messaging, music, phone, and my address book. If you drag the status bar on the top of the home screen downwards, you would see the notification panel (image on the right). Incoming emails, messages, downloads, uploads, and etc. are displayed in this panel.
X8 has a screen resolution of 480×320 pixels supported by the capacitive touchscreen technology. For someone like me who is used to tapping the screen with my fingernails, it takes me a while to learn touching the screen with a much softer and gentle manner. The phone has 3.2 mega-pixel camera, with no flash. Snapping pictures is responsive, but the quality is so-so.
As of today, X8 is still running on Android 1.6 (some regions may be on 2.1 as of now). I read that the current version is 2.2 and am told that X8 will get an update to 2.1 some time later this year. The X10 family has already got the 2.1 update. For someone who has no idea what 2.1 and 2.2 offer, it hardly means much. I wish that Sony Ericsson can be a bit quicker to catch up with the latest version. Because for certainty, Google is improving the platform in neck breaking speed. Competition is intense.
Text input is an interesting topic. To be honest, I have struggled a great deal with the capacitive touchscreen as far as text input is concerned. My thumbs keep on hitting the wrong keys. Personally, I think inputting text via a virtual keyboard requires a great deal more concentration than say a physical one – even after close to a month of using the phone. I pass the phone to my friends who are used to virtual capacitive keyboard and they are at home with it. OK, they think that the response time can be improved and the screen size may be a little bit tiny for a QWERTY. But that is all the feedback I have. It works for them.
I have tried both the full QWERTY option and the 12-key PhonePad option. And I have also tried to turn on the predictive function. It does take a while to train the phone with words that I commonly use but do not exist in their built-in dictionary. Hence, initially, I keep on sending messages with the wrong words because the phone correct them automatically and at times, when I am too busy hitting the right keys, I do not notice the auto-change. And I do not wish to turn predictive text off because I do tend to hit the wrong keys. As far as I know, my friends who are using virtual keyboard keeps the predictive text on. And it is OK with them.
My conclusion is: You have to try this out to see if this mode of text input is your cup of tea.
The strength of an Android phone, I think, is its extensibility via the applications. Applications – free or paid – can be downloaded through Market. I have browsed through the catalog. It does seem vast and vibrant. I am a simple man and don’t really need many apps. Of the few that I have tried out, K-9 Mail is my favorite. It polls my emails from multiple sources. I have also tried out ShowNearby. It shows me the restaurants, petrol stations, car park, bus stops, ATM AXS machines nearby. It also supports location-based taxi booking. On a unrelated note, I think most of the popular apps these days support different platforms. So don’t be surprised if you can find almost-all-that-you-can’t-live-without when you switch from one phone model to another.
As a side note, on the topic of apps, the alarm will not go off if the phone is switched off. This may be good news to some, not too good news to others.
Timescape and Music Player
Another unique function to Sony Ericsson Android phones is the Timescape function (picture on the right, above). It shows a chronicle listing of all the Facebook and Twitter updates as well as the incoming and outgoing phone text messages and phone calls. The application supports kinetic scrolling. Touching onto any update opens up the content. It is a visually neat function. You can also put this onto one of the home screens (I am told that there is no limit to the number of home screens you can create).
On the left is the music player. I am a music lover so I am going to spend some time elaborating my observations. At first listen, the quality of sound coming through my earphones appears crisp. In fact, this observation is consistent with making phone calls on a X8. X8 must be one of the phones that has the crispest voice quality. When listening to music in a quiet environment, I cannot help but notice a continuous background buzzing sound that would disappears a few seconds after I turn off the music. This is strange. It could be due to the on-board sound processor that aims to enhance the sound quality. When I plug the phone to my car studio, I find that there is a lack of power. The music sounds thin, compares to other phones I have. Another thing I notice is that the only way to browse music is via the artists. If you wish to listen to a particular album (such as compilations and sound tracks), you have to first locate an artist, then look for the album. It is not something I am used to, to be honest. On a final note, making the album artwork works seems tedious. I prefer to drop the tracks directly into the phone via the Windows Explorer instead of via the Sony Ericsson PC Companion application. Much straightforward that way. I have tried a combination of restarting the phone, renaming album directories within the phone, and cleaning up the thumbnail directory in order to make the album artworks appear.
Apart from the above mentioned, the music player has an interesting feature. That infinity button above the album art. Hitting that button triggers an online YouTube search for relevant videos. I love this feature. To illustrate, when I tap that magic button, the search results are as follows.
Google Maps and Internet Browsing
X8 comes with Google Maps, which is handy if you wish to know where you are so long as you have a data plan (left image, above). As far as Internet browsing is concerned, X8 should be able to satisfy your basic needs (right image, above). It does not support Flash, nor pitch zoom. But by and large, it gets the job done.
As an entry level Android smartphone, Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 should satisfy your basic needs. Its strengths lie in its slim and light form factor, battery life, as well as the vibrant Android apps market. To visit the Xperia X8 homepage, please click here.