We found Xperia X10 Mini smaller in size, but in no ways smaller in might. If its small size and alphanumeric typing does not bother you, go get this phone.
Unboxing – surprises await
The 'Mini' (as we call it from now) came in a beautiful red box. Unboxing it lead to some very pleasant surprises. Even though we had a little hands-on with the phone earlier, seeing the phone again brought a smile to our faces. But our silly grins didn't fade there, as we were surprised to find three different additional back covers packed along. This is something very rare these days, but it's nice to pimp our phone with a red, grey or white cover, once in a while. Although the front remains black, the different avatars suited the little Xperia. The bundled headphones were also our favoured, in-ear plugs. And they had extra changeable plugs too. It is very easy to lose these plugs, so the extra pair was a boon, also because they are a different size from the default ones. A microUSB data cable is bundled, along with an AC-to-USB adaptor. A full look at the accessories pointed to some very considerate measures by Sony Ericsson. We hoped for more of the same as we cradle the phone in our hands.
Form factor – the tiniest Android ever
The form factor of the device is, without doubt, its USP. For quite a while now, the smartphones have been following the upward path on the size chart, though there has been an effort to make them thinner. This is where the Mini is path-breakingly different, and that was the cause of our joy when we saw it. We just got so used to big bulky smartphones that this 83 x 50 x 16mm phone was a welcome relief, especially considering the fact that it is an Android phone. It is in fact the smallest Android phone yet! But it is no wonder with its size, that the screen size is a paltry 2.5 inches, which renders the phone useless for movies and many games. Also, its resolution of 240×320 is poor. The shape of the phone is again the 'human-curvature' design that SE has been using recently in many of its phones, including the Vivaz and the Xperia X10. The front panel has the piano black finish of the X10, while the back panel is matte-black. The additional back panels are all glossy. Below the screen are three buttons dedicated buttons for 'options', 'application menu' and 'back'. The back panel of Xperia X10 Mini is relatively easy to remove, a problem we have faced with many recent phones. Beneath the hood was another surprise. The battery of the Mini is non-removable. That might be a problem if are one of the few who like to carry additional battery packs, but we are happy because this makes both the microSD(2 GB bundled, upto 16 GB supported) and the SIM hot-swappable! Although we feared it might happen, the phone didn't hang up even once during the review, else we might have had to get out our screwdrivers. The volume rocker and the camera button are at usual-SE-position on the right edge. The power/screen lock button is on the top, while the microUSB charging point is on the lower edge, along with a 3.5 mm audio jack, with support for proprietary headset, similar to the one in Sony PSP.
While unveiling the phone, SE touted the phone as "one-handed compact touch" phone. This claim was ringing in our minds as we dived into the interface test of the phone. Our interface test is next….
Interface – the snappy performer
The interface is nearly the same as that of the Android 1.6 based Xperia X10, with little changes here and there to complement the size of the mini version. The lack of multitouch remains though. The homescreens in mini support one widget each. So the number of homescreens you get is equal to the number of widgets you keep adding. Various widgets including search, clock, calender, power control etc., can be added to the homescreens. Four most accessed applications can be put in the four corners of the homescreen for quick access, and they do not change with different homescreens. We really loved these 'corner controls' (as we call them) because they are all accessible while operating the phone single handedly. A small arrow at the bottom can be clicked or dragged up to pull out the 'Application menu', while Android's usual information bar is on the top of the screen. We love this little bar since it eliminates all irritating pop-ups by diplaying small icons to notify messages, or completed downloads or any other alert. This can be pulled down to reveal detailed information. Neat!
SE has done a great job with the interface. When we started exploring the phone, we felt just one thing in unison – "This phone is super snappy". The operation is quick and the transitions are beautiful. Everything has been tastefully done. For instance, the way the 'corner controls' appear as the homescreen opens, or the way they leave the screen while you leave the homescreen. There are a lot of little animations throughout the operation of the phone, and they seemed smooth throughout the review, even after loading the phone. All of it suggests attention to detail that we really appreciate. The snappiness of the interface remains even after we loaded the phone beyond what a normal user would. It must be added here that the phone would receive Android 2.1 upgrade in Q4 2010, which leaves us all excited at the prospects of more functions on the already loaded Mini. But like its bigger cousin, the Mini wouldn't get multi-touch support either. But now after spending a few days with the phone, we are sure that we wouldn't miss multitouch, because the capacitive touchscreen of the Mini is simply awesome! We were completely floored by it. Consider this: the Mini has alphanumeric-type keyboard (we didn't expect the tiny thing to have a QWERTY, did you?). Now while typing fast on any alphanumeric keyboard, you need to rapidly click a single digit. (eg. press the '7' key four times to type 's'). Any other lesser touchscreen would have lead to terrible typing experience in this case. But the touch in Xperia Mini is responsive enough to handle this very well. We experienced no problem in typing, and after a little while, we actually liked the old-school one-handed typing experience. The Mini also uses three different panes for 'alphabets', 'numbers' and 'symbols' switchable by horizontally scrolling the keypad, which aids the typing speed. If, however, you are a compulsive texter, you might as well wait for the Xperia Mini Pro, which is coming out in about 2 months' time in India.
Out of the many features of this fully-loaded tiny monster, the most impressive is no doubt its social networking capabilities. The message inbox is threaded and it comes loaded with SE's social networking app, Timescape. Timescape basically brings all updates from your friends on Facebook, Twitter and the phone (messages, missed calls) into a beautiful vertical-cover-flow type of display. Clicking the update takes you to the browser, which is a bit of a turn off, always. We would have really called this application a killer product if it had allowed little functions like 'comment' and 'like' on Facebook or 'reply' or 'retweet' on Twitter, without the need of a browser. We always set the bar of expectations a little high, but the application is still pretty good. It also allows you to link any of your online friend with a contact in your contact book.
Here, the 'infinity' function would need a little introduction. At many points in the Phone, you would find a '∞' button, which find all available information about that Artist/Contact/Song/Album from the phone and the web and display it you. It neatly collected all messages, tweets and Facebook status updates when we clicked the 'infinity' button on a contact of ours that was linked via Timescape. SE have done some good work to make sure their Xperia series stands out in the social networking abilities and we'd say, they have succeeded in doing so.
Bundled Apps – little phone, huge resources
Like all Android phones, you get the bundled Google apps like Google Maps, Gmail app, Youtube app and Google Talk messenger. The bundled RoadSync software provides MS Exchange support. A trial of Navteq's Wisepilot navigation software is also bundled. Want more? Not much of a worry when you have the 'Android Market', the Android app store. This is where the power of 'small wonder' really shows. It's small, and has a huge app collection. If you know about the Android Market, you would know that most of the apps are free. We were initially worried that the apps in the Market might not be compatible with the small screen of the Mini. But of all the apps we checked, we didn't face any problem as the apps were neatly scaled down to fit the screen. It might have been a problem in the past, but most of the popular apps in the Market have been updated to support multiple screen resolutions. 'Labyrinth', the motion sensing game, worked fine with good sensitivity, but the low resolution of the screen was really apparent here as edges were jagged in most games we tested. Puzzle games like Bejewelled were a pleasure when played on the Mini, thanks to its one handed operation. So depending on the game, the Mini might even be a better gaming experience than other 'bigger' smartphones.
Browser – SE saves the day
Browsing on the phone is also a good experience. Our initial feeling was that we may face a little trouble with zooming because of the absence of multitouch, but SE have done a some good work by providing tiny buttons for zooming on the screen. One unique feature we discovered in the browser was that it tried to auto-complete the addresses, that we had never even typed before! Looks like there is some sort of URL database in the phone. It is certainly a great help, as it auto-completed most of the common sites we began typing. Plus points.
One of the glitches we noticed while testing the browser was the poor Wi-Fi connectivity of the device. Often the phone would show 'not available' while being right in full coverage area. The device failed to catch our network again and only discovered it after we restarted the Wi-Fi through settings. This seems like a software bug and must be corrected by the company.
So does the tiny Mini do justice to music, videos and more. Find out the multimedia tests and our VERDICT next…..
Music – masterful musician
The music playback of the Mini is awesome. But the ability to add songs to the current playlist is a notable absence. FM player is a useful addition, especially with its auto-scan and favourites features. The earplugs are simply top notch. When we tested phones last month, only the earphones of Sony Ericsson W995 were of this high quality and SE has shown its music prowess again in Mini. The extra changeable plugs are a bonus. Syncing with PC is easy, as the PC Suite comes bundled within the phone. The SensMe function the media management application 'Media Go" is a useful edition. It categorises the songs according to their tempo and on a scale of 'happy' to 'sad'. However SensMe playlists can be created only on the PC and not on the phone. We are not complaining much because this little feature has made the 'Media Go' the audio player of choice on our PC too.
Video Playback – the size bites back
If you like watching videos on your phone, the Mini is not really recommended for the same, all thanks to its small screen and poor resolution. Although it may suffice the casual video junkie, especially with its good Youtube integration. Transferring the videos from the phone looks like a small matter of drag and drop, but it is very erratic. The speed of encoding is unexplainably low and somehow the space required to transfer the video was that of the original larger video, and not the smaller encoded video. We'd rather use a 3rd party software like Super to convert videos.
Camera – Mini is no Cybershot
When we saw Sony's Walkman expertise reflected in the music ability of the Mini, we expected Cybershot talents too. But that was not the case as the phone's 5 MP sensor reproduced the colours well, but picked up a lot of noise, especially in low light areas, with the little flash being of no help. The blurriness we saw in the pictures was also a cause of concern. Only settings available are the four scene modes of Auto, Macro, Twilight and Sport. We expected better really. The videos follow a similar trend, showing that SE needed to do some more work with the camera.
Navigation in the phone is handled by the excellent Wisepilot software (30 day trial). The maps have moderate detail, but the turn by turn navigation is excellent with the A-GPS providing good satellite connectivity. Google Maps is also bundled with the Android OS as a free alternative, and a very good alternative at that.
E-mail is configurable easily but there is support for only one account, which is a let down.
The battery life of the phone is decent. It easily withstood about 6 hours of near constant fiddling by the reviewer. We expect it to last you a full day of normal usage.
We posed many critical questions earlier in the review, and the still growing grin on our faces answers them all. We found Sony Ericsson's Xperia X10 Mini smaller in size, but in no ways smaller in might. Yes, the little warrior didn't buckle under the weight we put on its tiny head, and it justifies the tag of one-handed operation. So much so that we found the phone a little difficult to be used with two hands. The biggest strength of the phone is also its biggest weakness: its tiny size. If upon seeing the phone, you don't say stuff like, "this phone is too small for me" or "its screen is too bad for my movies", we recommend it. If you were looking for a small pocketable phone that also had the required muscle, don't look elsewhere, especially at this price. Go pick up this cute little Android.