Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 revisited: updating to Android 2.1

Sony Ericsson has made some fantastic devices in the past. In fact, our illustrious mobile phone ownership started with the likes of the Sony Ericsson T39 and T68i (with the clip-on camera module) and we’ve still got a T610 kicking around the office, not to mention the likes of the W995, perhaps the last great Walkman phone.

We’ve been firm with Sony Ericsson, especially in its line-up of Android handsets because the competition is so fierce. We were hard on the Xperia X10 because it failed as a flagship device: it didn’t have the sophisticated design, nor the rounded interface additions to make it compete, not to mention the small fact it was running an outdated version of Android.

We repeated the same treatment with the Xperia X8. Coming with Android 1.6, but pitched at the mid range rather than the top, the damage wasn’t quite so severe. Lower expectations go some way towards damage limitation.

However, before we had the chance to get our review device back to Sony Ericsson, it started to roll-out the X8 updates to Android 2.1, so we thought it was only fair to take advantage of this, update the phone and have a second look.

Updating the X8 from Android 1.6 to 2.1 is carried out through Sony Ericsson’s PC Companion software, which is all well and good if you have a Windows PC, but there is no support for Mac or Linux devices. Simply connecting the X8 to PC Companion alerted us to the update (following an email from Sony Ericsson’s PR, naturally).

The update process is simple, with clear on-screen instructions and there is a video for the update of the X10 on YouTube which also applies here. It takes about 15 minutes for the update to complete. We updated a phone that was empty (i.e., no content) so if you need to back it up first and then restore that content it will take a little longer. Of course, once the update was finished, we then had to set-up the phone and log in.

The first thing you’ll notice is a new unlock and silence slider on the lock screen, which apes the standard Android slider. It’s easy to use, with a nice smooth action.

Your Xperia X8 will essentially look the same, but head into the settings menu and you’ll find that things look different at the back. There are more options in the settings and things are more comprehensively laid out than in Android 1.6.

If you ask us, one of the most significant changes is the ability to have more than one Google account on your phone, which you couldn’t previously. Sign into a second account and you’ll get access to all that information too - your email, calendar and contacts can be displayed in addition to the primary account you set-up on the device. You can tailor what is sync’d and what isn’t if you need to.

It’s around contacts and email that you should see the biggest changes, with a combined inbox for your emails. Unfortunately Sony Ericsson has skinned the contacts list, so you don’t get the advantage of the quick contacts option that should come with this version of Android.

You’ll also find that you have a wider choice of apps available in the Android Market. You don’t quite get the full experience however, as some applications like the Adobe Flash player are limited to Android 2.2 and the X8 is probably not powerful enough to run it anyway.

However, having pointed out in our original review that our normal work around of installing the Skyfire browser to view online video content hadn’t worked, we now found that it did with a customary visit to Zero Punctuation on The Escapist, which makes it worth doing alone. You get better Bluetooth support now with the ability to send files too. 

When push comes to shove, the update to Android 2.1 doesn’t fundamentally change the Xperia X8. It does mean that the X8 is now only two updates behind the latest version and it's nice to see that Sony Ericsson moved relatively fast in getting the update for this device out the door.

The likelihood is, however, that most Sony Ericsson fans will be asking when the 2.3 updates are coming…