Sony Ericsson U10i Aino
Back at Mobile World Congress 2009 Sony Ericsson introduced us to the concept of Entertainment Unlimited, typified here by the Aino. The phone drops to the Walkman and Cyber-shot branding, but punches hard in both the camera and multimedia sectors, including Remote Play on the PlayStation 3.
Out of the box you get a slider handset measuring 104.0 x 50.0 x 15.5mm. You'll find a 3-inch widescreen display with a 432 x 240 pixel resolution. The screen is touch-enabled, but the Aino is a hybrid device, meaning sometimes you can touch and sometimes you can't, which we'll come to later.
The design of the phone is pretty sleek: the front is free from buttons with the screen closed and moving around the body the only other buttons are the lock on the top and the volume rocker and camera button on the right-hand side.
Slide the screen up and it opens with a nice crisp action, exposing the 12-key keypad and usual range of control buttons across the middle. The keyboard is pretty average for Sony Ericsson's handsets, giving a reasonable response, but not the best for fast action messaging. It does feel like a good quality keyboard and feels like it will last the length of your contract. Our review version was finished in black throughout and it looks like a cool phone overall.
The menu system is typical Sony Ericsson stuff, with a main menu divided into icons giving you access to all the main areas. It is looking a little tired, as essentially the layout and content of these menus hasn't changed over the years, it's just expanded. With Apps now taking centre stage on many phones, Sony Ericsson still has "Applications" languishing in "Organiser".
You get the feeling that things are no longer cohesive: you have Entertainment, Media, Music Player menus, but they don't contain all the options for media control. The main media menu employs Sony's XMB, which is great to use and mirrors the PSP and PS3 layout.
You also get a separate media interface that is operated by touch control when the phone is closed. This is the only time that the Aino does accept touch however (except to take incoming calls and set camera controls), and gives you access to the camera, photos, music, video and radio. Sadly, this touch menu has its own design, dropping the XMB, but it does give you access to media without opening the phone.
It is a shame that you can't do more via touch. Whilst being able to access your media and use the camera is nice, it seems like a missed opportunity not letting you browse your messages for example.
Our Aino came with an 8GB microSD card in place, so it is ready and willing to get funky with all your tunes on the move. It is perhaps a surprise to find that the Aino doesn’t feature a 3.5mm headphone jack given that it is pitched squarely as a multimedia beast. But our rage was thwarted by the inclusion of the MH100 Bluetooth adapter, meaning you can simply plug your headphones into the Bluetooth dongle and stash your phone in your pocket. The MH100 even gives you volume controls, play/pause and track skip functions and a mic for when you need to make a call.
The bundled headphones can be bettered if you have a decent set of your own, which will really get the most out of your music, but the bundled set aren't too bad. Taking things a step further you also get a neat dock to sit both the handset and the MH100 on, meaning you can charge and sync your phone with your PC with minimal hassle.
One of the big headline features in the Aino is the PS3 connection. In reality it isn't that exciting and isn't very reliable as you are given little guidance for configuration. However, once you have made your connection you can connect over 3G or Wi-Fi. You don't get to remote play games, but you can access content on your PS3, if you have any, or drive PlayTV whilst you are away from home.
You can also connect up to UPnP servers to play music over a network, if you have such a service available. The handset is DNLA certified and also supports BBC iPlayer, so you can download programmes you've missed and watch them on the train, or stream them.
The second big headline feature of the Aino is an 8-megapixel camera. But hold your horses and remember that 8 is just a number and not a gauge of performance. In fact, the 8-megapixel sensor here inhibits the performance terribly.
The camera interface is fairly clean, with controls selected through on-screen options. You can capture an image either through the button, or by pressing the screen, which in reality is a bit of a pain, as the slightest touch and you'll be taking a picture of something you didn't want.
Writing a full-resolution file to the memory card takes about 10 seconds, so this is time you'll just be sitting and waiting. Better performance is offered by turning the thing down to a more reasonable 3-megapixels, which will save you standing around for such a long time waiting, at least. Unless you have perfect lighting and a perfectly still subject, it isn't worth using the full resolution anyway as there is a lack of detail to offer opportunities for large scale prints or cropping, so best to stick with something more manageable.
The camera suffers not only lag on buffering, but also in the shutter, with noticeable delay. The shutter speeds are often slow, even with the LED "flash", so any movement in low light, or even average lit indoors scenes, result in blur and high contrast scenes attract a great deal of fringing around edges.
Video is offered at a top setting of 640 x 352, giving you a widescreen aspect, or 640 x 480 for 4:3, captured in MPEG4. The results aren't too bad, but there is a noticeable lag on the display when filming. It captures at 25fps, so copes with moving subjects better than some but low light shots can be very noisy. Given the phones media "sharing" angle, we'd have expected a higher video resolution, but as it is it performs well enough.
In terms of data you get HSDPA and Wi-Fi, so you can enjoy the rich media experience whilst on the move or at home. There is a GPS too with Google Maps doing the usual business. The browser does leave you wanting however, so if browsing the Internet is high on your list of priorities, you might want to look elsewhere.
The Aino doesn't really step to the plate against smartphones. It doesn't give you access to thousands of applications to further expand what the phone will do. You do get a Facebook app pre-installed, with Facebook links appearing in photos and messages for example, and a homescreen status update "widget" that although nice, took about 3 days before it would show us any info.
We also found that the battery life was surprisingly poor for a slider handset. We found ourselves charging it every day during testing.
The Sony Ericsson Aino offers features galore, but fails to wrap them into a package that really wows. There is a lot on offer here, but you feel like you have to work for it at times, finding the best route to get to the content you want. The link to the PS3 is a nice addition, but doesn't feel like a reason to buy the phone.
The same can be said for the 8-megapixel camera offering. It is just a number and comes with limitations not found on your compact camera, so don't choose the Aino because you think it will replace your compact camera – it won't.
The Sony Ericsson is something of a premium handset too, because it comes in a quite a price, comparable with smartphone rivals, which will ultimately offer greater flexibility and a better user interface.