Dual review: Sony Ericsson X10 Mini & X10 Mini Pro

In an era of growing specs and expanding screens, it seems like the “bigger is better” mentality has taken the mobile public by storm. Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G, with it’s 4.3″ display, measures 4.8″ tall and 2.6″ wide. The Motorola DROID X on Verizon also packs a 4.3″ display. AT&T is about to launch the monstrous Dell Streak, which features a full 5 diagonal inches of screen real estate.

These enormously popular and buzzed about (in the case of the Streak) flagships represent the cutting edge of Android progress, and very likely the near future for a multitude of follow-ups and direct competitors on the mobile stage. The line between tablet and cell phone has been blurred – nearly into non-existence.

As obvious and readily accepted as this trend towards tall and wide but thin mobile gadgets is, those giant glowing slabs aren’t for everyone. When I first got an EVO 4G, I thought the thing was just too big; partly because I would prefer a higher resolution and a smaller rendering of pretty much everything on the display. However, I have adjusted and the old Android standard of 3.2″ screens feels absolutely tiny. Not tiny enough for some folks, I should add, who will be absolutely delighted with the smallest Androids to date: Sony Ericsson’s X10 Mini (unboxing) and X10 Mini Pro (unboxing). (cont.)




As much as I love giant touch screens, there is something to be said for the cute little gadget that can sit virtually unnoticed in your breast pocket or unobtrusively in a change purse. I think there is a large market for products like this, and while the Minis aren’t right for me as full-time daily drivers, I have enjoyed using them. I received the Mini a couple of weeks ahead of the Mini Pro and I was disappointed with my text input options. While SE has done well with the space they have to work with, I simply can’t – at this stage of mobile evolution – revert to T9 text input; even with the Mini’s nifty sliding panels for special characters and emoticons (cont.):



The compromised typing situation was enough to leave me avoiding the X10 Mini in favor of some other devices I had on hand for testing. I decided to wait on my review until SE could get me the hardware keyboard enhanced micro-droid, the X10 Mini Pro (cont.):



Those keys made all the difference in the world for me. In fact, having a hardware keyboard on a device with such a diminutive screen has me viewing the Mini as a feature phone and the Pro as a smart phone. Now this isn’t a fair or accurate classification of the devices, which are virtually identical in terms of their capabilities, outside of the QWERTY. It’s more a matter of practical usage. I simply don’t bother with the features I consider characterizing of a smart phone with such limiting text input options. That isn’t to say that the Mini is unusable; just that I have a strong aversion to digging into the OS and typing emails, calendar events, and even text messages via the tedious ten key the Mini offers up. (cont.)



The X10 Mini Pro, on the other hand, invites you to type. It takes a bit of practice to become proficient with those four little rows, but I have to say that SE’s engineers put together a very usable keyboard considering the area they had to work with. I wouldn’t type out an entire post on one for fear of cramps, and that manifesto you’ve been churning around in your mind could result in wrist surgery. But for text messages and quick emails, the X10 Mini Pro’s keyboard is just right. And it’s enough to fill that input gap left by the Mini standard.

But enough about keyboards. The Mini and the Mini Pro have plenty more to offer, not the least of which is a sleek, functional media player. And if there’s one role these gadgets fit perfectly into, it’s “cutest music player ever.” O.K., maybe not the cutest ever, but the cutest that I would be caught dead with.

In line with the Mini & Mini Pro’s home screens, as seen at the top of this page, the music player features shortcuts in the corners of the screen, which, again, is an efficient use of limited space. Nearly every aspect of these devices is an example of space economics. There was only one realm where I felt the management of space could have been handled better: widgets (cont.):



Only one widget per screen leaves a lot of empty room on the display, but this is a minor complaint. The interface – once referred to by SE as “The Nexus UX” and now encapsulated by the Timescape launcher – lets you swipe left and right for widgets, up for applications, and presents handy buttons in the corners of the screen. The animations are snappy, and I found the software much more responsive than the early, full-sized X10′s I was able to test when the product was sent out running not-ready-for-primetime software.

The cameras on the X10 Mini and Mini Pro are acceptable. Considering the size, I feel comfortable saying that they perform very well…sometimes. After testing, testing, and testing some more, I discovered that results were a bit unpredictable. Below are some still and video samples that are representative of my overall experience. Stills were scaled from 2592 X 1936, and like the videos, were shot at the highest quality settings. Pay special attention the video shot in complete darkness with the LED acting as a torch. Stylistically, I find the noise pleasing, and could envision shooting one perspective of a horror movie character with the Mini Pro, but that’s probably not what you’re looking for. Nevertheless, it’s good enough for casual snaps and clips. (cont.)

Inside at dusk:



Dusk before automatic adjustment:



Dusk after automatic adjustment:



Pitch dark, with flash:



Orientation assignment problem:



Video samples:





As for call quality, I found incoming audio to be sharper than outgoing. Despite testing on numerous devices in various locations, I’m reluctant to say the phone has a bad mic or any kind of reception issues. Overall, call quality was acceptable.

Conclusion:

With Android 1.6 on board, the X10 Mini & Mini Pro are in the same boat as T-Mobile’s Garminfone. Android fanatics just don’t seem to be interested. And I can’t say I blame them. WIth the exciting new features and killer optimizations found in Android 2.2, Foroyo, The ol’ Donut feels outdated. But what the X10s and Garminfone have going for them are cool custom interfaces that the average consumer is likely to find aesthetically and technically appealing.

With 2.55″ screens at 320 X 240 resolution, the target audience here, again, is not the hardcore tech geek, but the mainstream public. Both devices feature the prerequisite specs to compete in the mind of the average consumer in today’s market: WiFi, A-GPS, 3G, 5MP cams with auto-focus and flash, and a 3.5mm audio jack. But tomorrow’s market is another story. The 600MHz processor keeps this phone snappy enough to sit next to the other Androids currently selling, but not for long; Sony Ericsson will have to revamp their Android line very soon because by the time Gingerbread (Android 3.0) is released, very few people will be excited for 2.1 – the upgrade we’re expecting for the X10 family by the end of the quarter. And with many Androids seeing 2.2′s performance boosts in 2010, 2.1 and lower devices are bound to appear progressively more sluggish in the very near future.

See the specs for Sony Ericsson’s X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro.

While the original X10 could be launching on AT&T in the next few weeks, no plans have been announced for launching the Mini and Mini Pro on a carrier in the States. The Mini just dropped on Rogers wireless in Canada, available in several colors.

For information on the original X10, see my unboxing, my Q&R (1, 2, 3, 4), and the root announcement. Also see this post on the X8.

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