The official availability maybe some time off, however that hasn't stopped us from getting a hands-on with the Android sporting Xperia X10 for a second time (this time in New York) so we can bring you a First Look (over two sittings) of the new handset from Sony Ericsson. Will it be a game changer that will bring the company back into the spotlight? Read on to find out.
On the surface the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 is another Android 1.6 handset with a large screen and yet another user interface or User Experience (UX) as Sony Ericsson calls it, promising to improve the usability stakes over everything else.
The hardware sees you get a 4-inch touchscreen display that dominates proceedings. Beneath this there are three additional buttons that allow you to access menus, the home screen, and skip back a step, and in between this there is even two white tiny LEDs that give you notifications as to what is going on although you will no doubt loose track over time. A dedicated camera button and volume controls pepper the side.
Although impressive, specs are nothing out of the ordinary, certainly not for your top-of-the-range model and that means you get virtually every tech acronym you can think of including HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, DLNA, A-GPS, 3.5mm jack and Qualcomm's 1GHz Snapdragon processor. Storage is provided by an 8GB microSD card in the box and connects to your computer/charger via Micro-USB on the top. Unfortunately we weren't able to confirm what the storage allocation for applications is, but let's hope it is more than 256MB as with the Motorola Droid.
It is large, comparable to the Apple iPhone, but not as big as the HTC HD2. Underneath all that User Experience you get Android 1.6. Sony Ericsson are currently sending out mixed messages as to whether or not the handset will sport Android 2.0 when it eventually launches in February, with some spokespeople for the company saying it will and others not so sure.
What this means is that you will miss out on some features, like the ability to search the contents of your phone at the press of a button and Google Maps Navigation (US only). With a strong integrated interface in the guise of what Sony Ericsson is calling Nexus, you get, like the Sense UI from HTC, a lot more friendly functionality than Google offers as standard.
Of course you do get that "standard" approach. The Nexus UX Platform sits on top of Android 1.6 meaning you can run all the standard Android apps as well as apps designed for the phone and UX. Unlike Motorola and HTC, both of whom have also decided to customise the Android experience, Sony Ericsson is hoping for further development by releasing a WebSDK.
The move means that developers will be able to develop applications specifically for Sony Ericsson handsets (the X10 is the first of many) that work only for Sony Ericsson. It's a brave move and one that will be interesting to watch. As a developer are you really going to be bothered to develop an app for an as yet unproven smartphone when you've got Apple, Android, Palm's WebOS, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Samsung's Bada and BlackBerry to develop for as well?
Either way in reality it seems that Sony Ericsson are playing the "you can play with us too" card and regardless of this forging on with their own apps to impress and improve on the Android OS.
In steps Timescape and Mediascape. Timescape is a communications app, which aggregates email, Facebook, Twitter, IM, and SMS into one big lifestream that you can navigate through. Each "event" is represented by a tile, which you can tap to view in more detail, or long-press to get a preview of. The experience is very "Aero" from Windows Vista and in practice not the easiest thing to read.
Each tile has a button marked with an "oo" infinity symbol. Hitting that will take you to related content - which could be content from the person in question, or it could be web content related to whatever is on the tile. It's a bit like HTC's contacts feature that shows you all the contact you've had with that person, however it's no Xobni. The list can be filtered by medium, and you can reply to individual messages within the application.
Mediascape is the other "signature" application. It's built around music, video and images and organises all three on your device. It incorporates players for all three, too, and can hook into various bits of online content. YouTube was named explicitly, but we'd expect Last.fm and perhaps Flickr to show up here too with talk of Spotify being banded around at our briefing (something that might be harder to do than Sony Ericsson realizes thanks to Spotify's poor API).
Items in Mediascape also have an infinity button and pressing this will again summon related content. For a band, that could be songs on your device, YouTube videos, or even other artists that are similar to whatever you're listening to. The overlaid controls of this section looked quite similar to the Zune HD's UI, though that's only a good thing.
Then there is the image viewer in Mediascape that supports facial recognition. What this means is that you can tag up to five people in a photo and then the handset will attempt to identify those people in other images too - the more you tag, the more accurate it is, very much like Apple's face recognition feature in iPhoto. The feature can also hook in with your contacts list - you can tap a person in a photo to call them, for instance, however won't talk to Facebook or Flickr.
Those apps, and others for the Nexus UX, will be available from the PlayNow store.
Elsewhere and it's pretty standard Android fare for the handset. The software is, and acts, as you would expect for an Android 1.6 handset, however for some reason, one that continues to baffle us, is no multi-touch support. With a touchscreen so large with no keyboard we think it's a catastrophic move, but then hey, what do we know?
As for performance? Well it's a little too early to say. The models we looked at both in London and New York have all been pre-production, and early builds at that. It certainly wasn't as zippy as we would have hoped, certainly for a device with a Snapdragon chipset, but then its too early to tell whether this is just because it's early code, or because Sony Ericsson has baked in so many graphical, almost PS3-like niceties, that it's buckled under the weight. We expect it's the former.
So is this going to be the Android handset that you wish you waited for? At the moment it's too hard to say as the software wasn't (we hope) working at full speed. That said on the hardware front it really is just a screen with some buttons and every acronym you can think of, looks good and has the potential to perform well.
We get the feeling though, that as soon as HTC announce an HD2 with Android, probably called the HD3, that shininess – i.e., the 4-inch screen - will soon disappear.
So how can Sony Ericsson hope to win your hearts? By getting developers to embrace the Nexus UX platform or for Sony to roll out as many apps as it can including dedicated apps like a PlayNow store, PSP emulator and PS3 Remote Play. Now wouldn't that be nice?
The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 is expected to be available in February 2010.