The Sony Ericsson Xperia Pureness is an odd one. We are presented with a phone that is in some ways novel, but in some ways prehistoric. Sony Ericsson is claiming to be challenging the "relationship with technology" that we have and that less can be more. Are they nuts?
When you buy an Xperia Pureness you get more than just a phone. Sure, we're used to that these days, you buy a phone you get a media centre and a GPS and everything else. But you don't get that here. You get a personal concierge service, 24 hours a day, for 12 months, as part of the deal. So rather than using augmented reality to find the nearest restaurant, you phone Jeeves and he books you a table. Simple huh?
Before you worry about Sony Ericsson going totally nuts, the concierge service is provided by Quintessentially, an existing provider of such services. What does the concierge offer? Pretty much anything, with offices worldwide to be at your beck and call. We checked the small print to find this nugget: "Pureness concierge member assistants can help with all manner of lifestyle-related requests, as long as they are deemed to be legal and moral". They can't help with handset problems, however.
If you spend your time away from home then perhaps a friendly voice at the end of the line to sort out all those little requests will be something you want, like a car from the airport or your next hotel booking. However you could just join a Concierge service, or head into the lobby of your hotel, and then opt for a phone that gives you a few more features. The concierge service will cost you £770 a year to renew, so one angle is that compared to the "normal" Quintessentially service, the Pureness Concierge is something of a bargain.
Sony Ericsson is pitching the Pureness as a phone for those who want something simple, who don't want to be bamboozled by technology. The operating system is typical Sony Ericsson stuff, but loses the usual grid in favour of full screen icons. Shortcuts can be quickly assigned to control keys, but it isn't the most accessible beyond the core calling and texting elements.
So what about the hardware? The Pureness is a typical Sony Ericsson candybar phone, albeit with a few twists. The top half features a novel see-through LCD display (more on which later) with a waistband of control buttons and finally the backlit keypad below.
In terms of design it is futuristic in its cut, with angles and edges making it look like the sort of handset that would fit right into a minimalist design space. It's eyecatching, not just for its novelty, but because it looks almost organic, like it's been hewn from anthracite. It hasn't of course, it's entirely plastic.
And that's something of a letdown, because it loses the premium effect as soon as you pick it up. It is lightweight (70g) and compact (102 x 43 x 13mm), but doesn't have the wow factor of premium handsets like the Motorola Aura, although in essence it is just as limited in features.
Sony Ericsson launched the Pureness with talk, text and time as a catchline and that's certainly true; it is reminiscent of phones of 10 years ago, which only offered basic functions. But you can set it to pickup emails, it has a radio and music player, with about 2GB of memory set aside for media, and no option for expansion. An external slot lets you insert you SIM card, but you don't get to see the internals of the Pureness.
Making calls though isn't the phone's greatest strength because that angular edge digs right into your ear making it uncomfortable. Call clarity and volume are sufficient however.
Of course in providing that clear LCD display, Sony Ericsson has had to use miniaturisation techniques to fit the rest of the tech into the handset. Not that there is much on offer here. You get HSPDA and Bluetooth, which you can use with the bundled HBH-IS800 Bluetooth headset, but you don't get Wi-Fi or GPS. You don't get a camera either and you don't get a colour display.
The display is 1.8-inches and when "off" is opaque, which looks great. Power it up, it lights up around the edge and your details are picked out. It works well enough and if all you ever do is read text messages and make the occasional call, then there isn't much a problem. But if you want to look at the latest picture of your grandchildren you'll be disappointed.
Take the Pureness online through the browser and you'll find that the screen obscures things, bringing a smoky quality to proceedings. If you've no interest in using the browser, perhaps this doesn't matter, but overall the pursuit of novelty degrades the experience. There's no camera either, but Sony Ericsson probably intend you to roll out your Leica M9 instead.
All these things can perhaps be forgiven, if you don't want technology in a phone. But at this price the functions you are offered have to be excellent. And that leads us on to the keyboard on the Pureness.
It is constructed from four strips of plastic with backlit numbers. When the backlighting is off it looks pretty slick, but once you start to use it, you'll realise that the Pureness keyboard doesn't really deliver. The bars roll and flex, giving a neat click for each button press, but also showing up the gaps and we found that a short fingernail would catch the bar above; the overall feeling isn't one of a premium handset.
Then you have the normal waistband of controls. This gives you no less than 11 different "buttons" within a 40 x 16mm strip (and two volume controls on the sides). This enables menu navigation, selecting options and so on. It clashes with the remit of being simple, because some of these controls are so small, that if you're a technophobe, you'll be just as lost here. You also need to have delicate fingers to hit the right buttons, so if phones aren't really your forte, we're sure it will be frustrating.
Addressing the core aims of the phone, to appeal to someone who doesn't want to be bogged down in technology, it's a surprise to find the bundled Bluetooth headset too. The headset itself is nice, but Bluetooth has never been the simplest of technologies. Ignoring that, the performance of the headset is pretty good, with a single button control letting you take calls or listen to music without the wires. A wired headset is also included, but there is no 3.5mm jack on the Pureness, so it uses Sony Ericsson's normal bulky connector.
Battery life is better than the current average, bringing back to what you'd expect from a phone a few years back, thanks to the limited hardware specs. You'll probably get a few days from it before you need to charge it.
So what you have in the Pureness is something of a mixed bag. Pitched to a narrow premium sector of the market, it won't appeal to gadget fans or those who like the latest bit of kit. But it doesn't offer the premium feel that the Motorola Aura does, or even standard handsets like the Nokia 6700, which keeps it simple whilst packing in a lot more options.
What you are left with is access to a service and potentially at a discount over the standard tariff. If that is what has been missing from your life, then take a closer look at the Pureness. Whether the concierge service will meet expectations is another matter and something that we can't really test, without heading off around the world and putting it to task.
If phones are generally just something you put in your pocket and use to call your mother, broker, accountant and lawyer, then perhaps the Pureness will be enough for you. But we have a sneaking suspicion that, even with plenty of cash in your pocket, you'll want a little more from your handset.
Still want one? You'll have to go to Selfridges then.