Sony Ericsson Aino - First Look review

Wouldn't it be good if you could catch up on all the video content on your PS3, even when you aren't there? You've been able to do that for some time on Sony's PSP, but Sony Ericsson has now taken the Remote Play feature found in the PSP and brought it to mobile phone customers.

The result is the Aino (pronounced I no), a semi-touchscreen mobile phone that gives you the ability to stream content from your games console at home anywhere around the world over Wi-Fi or 3G.

If it sounds very much like SlingPlayer App for the iPhone, that's because it's the same principle, but in this case it lets you have remote control over the content on your PlayStation 3. Users of Sony's Remote Play will be familiar with how the system works. You connect to the console from your phone, the PS3 interface is then shown on the phone's 3-inch screen and using the d-pad you can scroll through the media bar selecting files to watch.

Any content, bar games, on the PS3 is supported on the handset meaning you can watch video clips, movies or TV shows you've downloaded from the PlayStation Network as well as controlling PlayTV and watching live TV or programmes you've recorded. Furthermore if video isn't your thing, you can opt to stream music files instead.

Testing the process at the launch of the phone in London over Wi-Fi, the connection seemed fast and quick. We didn't experience any lag jumping through the menu system or when loading the files and although in our demo you could also see what was happening on the television screen, a spokesman for the company confirmed to us that this wouldn't be a feature in the final version.

Of course the dilemma here isn't the technology, or what to watch, it's whether or not you are happy to watch your video content on a relatively small screen. The Sony Ericsson Aino offers a 3-inch screen, with a resolution of 240 x 432 pixels and 16 million colours: it's not AMOLED at QHD like the Samsung i8910 (Omnia HD)'s 3.7-inch, nor is it as big as the iPhone's 3.5-inches making the experience, well, just not as good on the video that we watched streamed from the PS3.

To stream all this content as you would expect you get Wi-Fi and HSDPA connectivity as well as Stereo Bluetooth (A2DP) thrown in for good measure so you can ditch the wires completely. You actually get a set of wireless headphones in the box.

Making sure it gets the most out of that Wi-Fi connection the Aino comes with Sony Ericsson's Media Go software that in short means you can transfer music, photos, videos and podcasts from your PC to your phone via Wi-Fi via a docking station in the box.

Looking like something from Sony's Cyber-shot camera range, the docking station makes it easier to charge your handset, but also to see what's happening when it's on the desk.
 
Aino also introduces Media Home, an application that pulls media content from Media Go on your PC, over Wi-Fi again, to your phone automatically. Sony say all users have to do is just insert their Aino into its charging stand and it automatically synchronises with all the latest media content on their PC, just as iPhone users have been able to do for over 2 years.

Get past the "connectivity" elements of the handset and although this isn't a Cyber-shot branded handset that hasn't stopped Sony Ericsson packing in an 8.1-megapixel camera around the back. The lighting conditions at the UK launch were awful, however the camera appeared to work well, being quick to respond to our requests. Like other models from the Swedish company, the camera comes with a number of tricks including face detection, Best Pic, Geotagging thanks to the on-board AGPS, touch focus via the screen and 16x digital zoom. There is a flash for those dark pub moments.

With plenty of features you would expect it to be the size of a house, luckily that isn't the case: the Aino is slim and small. That 3-inch semi-touch screen is perched on a slider, meaning the phone isn't anywhere near as large as the iPhone (it's 104 x 50 x 15.5mm in size and weights 134 grams).

We say semi-touch screen because you'll only be able to use it in the multimedia elements of the phone, so touch focus on the camera and selecting certain bits in the video playback, but when it comes to scrolling through menus and the like, forget it.

As for the keypad, it's fairly straightforward, unadventurous and therefore fairly easy to use. The keys aren't prickly like previous handsets from Sony Ericsson - a good thing in our minds.

For those who can't decide whether they like black or white, the phone will come in either Obsidian Black or Luminous White, and there is of course a microSD slot (there is an 8GB card in the box) to store all that content you'll be side-loading into it via your PC or the company's PlayNow kiosks slowly rolling out around the world. The microSD slot is a good thing too, as the phone only comes with 55MB on-board.

It being a crowded launch, we weren't able to test battery life (too many people wanting to look at it after us). Sony Ericsson is claiming 13 hours talk time over GSM and 4.5 hours over 3G while video talk time comes in at 1 hour 40 minutes. Music fans will get 31 hours if they do nothing more than just listen to music and we are betting that time doesn't include Bluetooth connection to a wireless headset. Will make sure we'll test this properly when we get in a review sample.

Verdict

Sony Ericsson claim that when the Aino comes out it will offer unrivalled entertainment on the go, and while we wouldn't agree that it is totally unrivalled, we would agree that it's fairly comprehensive.

The Remote Play is by far the biggest sell here and while it won't let you stream games (that would be cool) it will let you get the most out of your Sony PS3's hard drive capabilities from the other side or the world or just another room in your house.

The catch, however, appears to be that beyond this the entertainment isn't that unlimited, there isn't app support, although that is supposedly coming. Rather than run the Symbian S60 OS like the Satio (formerly the Idou) your growing options are going to be limited.

Although we weren't able to get really down and dirty with the phone, the Aino looks and feels like it competes with the i8910/Omnia HD from Samsung and the LG Arena. But this looks to be a good alternative rather than one that really stands out.

The Sony Ericsson Aino is due out at the end of the year.