The original X10 Mini Pro suffered at the hands of Sony Ericsson's early attempts at skinning Android as well as being massively underpowered.
The slideout QWERTY keyboard has now made a return in the form of the Xperia Mini Pro (minus the X10) and comes complete with improved processor, better screen, camera and all the other Android tricks Sony Ericsson has in its current handset lineup.
On paper everything points to Sony Ericsson putting together an decent recipe for an affordable Android handset, with the addition of the Bravia engine display tech (normally reserved for flagship models) being an added bonus.
Has Sony Ericsson come back to play with a decent rethink for the X10 Mini Pro? Or is this new QWERTY-packing handset as frustrating as its older brother?
The Mini Pro itself is relatively tiny, much smaller than the majority of QWERTY-boasting Android competitors. At just 92 x 53 x 18mm in size however you would expect the included slideout keyboard to feature keys only useable by lilliputians.
This, however, is not the case. Sony Ericsson has managed to cram a totally useable full size QWERTY setup onto the Mini Pro, as well as a clever symbol and blue button combo to save on space and unnecessary keys. Somewhat confusingly, the symbol button actually brings up nothing when typing normally, instead you need to hold the blue button to input any symbols written on the keys. It is a minor niggle and something we definitely got used to very quickly. But we can't help wonder why they weren't swapped round.
The decent sized space bar and emphasis on Android running in landscape made typing quickly on the Mini Pro very easy indeed. The keyboard itself is well made and doesn't feel like it could lead to any sticky keys issues even after the most prolific of texters have subjected it to the keypad bashing treatment.
One last thing worth mentioning about the keyboard is that sliding it out automatically switches the handset into landscape. While this may initially seem extremely logical (which it is), what is not so smart is that text boxes then fill the entire screen. Given you can see what you are typing in front of you, why not allow previous conversations to be read in the messaging app rather than leaving a huge white space above what you have written. These are all of course very minor problems but all in all we can't see anything wrong with the Mini Pro's keyboard.
Hardware and design
The biggest problem we have with the Mini Pro is in fact just how mini it is. This may seem slightly bizarre given the handset is obviously designed for those with something teeny in mind, but rather than feeling small it is actually slightly chunky in the hand. Imagine taking a handset like the Xperia Arc and squashing it, the phone would end up smaller but much thicker. This is essentially the Mini Pro.
While it only ways 136g and boasts a relatively small 320 x 480 3-inch screen, it feels bizarrely chunky. This is most likely due to the inclusion of a physical keyboard, which for those who are after one, will easily overlook the slight blob feel you get when picking up the Mini Pro.
Blob problems aside, the design of the handset itself is actually very good. It feels nice and robust in the hand as well as having a satisfyingly smooth slideout keyboard. The physical home button and two touch sensitive back and menu keys all work very well as does the on off/hold switch on the top.
The Xperia Mini Pro we had on review was a white and silver model which felt slightly more bling and shiny than the other colour alternatives. You can alternatively opt for a pink, turquoise or black version all of which use the same materials and feature the slightly shiny approach to plastic. We definitely like the build quality but can't help but feel Sony Ericsson should up its game a tiny bit in the materials department. They seem to continually build nice handsets and then wrap them in slightly cheap feeling plastics.
Screen and Camera
Sony Ericsson had already proved it knew how to make a phone screen with the Xperia Arc. The Bravia engine technology used was nothing short of brilliant when it came to playing back video. Thankfully they have made the decision to include this in the Mini Pro and it makes a serious difference.
The 3-inch screen itself is LED backlit and appears to have better viewing angles than its bigger Arc brother. Colours are nicely balanced and well saturated and it is very responsive when it comes to touch inputs. We could have done with a bit more screen size to play with rather than such an emphasis on the shiny Sony Ericsson and Xperia logos but its not a massive problem.
The reason we have included the camera in this section of the review is that most video viewed back will likely have been shot by the handset's camera. Essentially while not quite being of the quality of its Exmor R sporting brethren, it is more than good enough for a small handset cam. 720p video is particularly good and the front facing camera also performs very well. The decision to include a dedicated camera button on the side is also a welcome one.
Inside the Mini Pro is a 1GHz Scorpion processor as well as an Adreno 205 GPU. Also included is the much improved and much rethought Timescape UI, which does wonders for the Mini Pro's performance compared to the previous generation of handsets.
Sony Ericsson has really rethought its approach to Android and it shows in just about every one of its current handset releases. The Mini Pro is no exception, gone is the lag and slow chugging along of applications, replaced by a smooth and responsive home screen as well as native apps that load quickly and perform unobtrusively.
The four corners found on the home screen are similar to the original X10 Mini Pro albeit they perform a lot better and a lot smoother. They are like tiny app drawers and allow you to stick up to four different applications in each. Once you tap them they pop open and you can then go into the respective app. It works well and definitely makes the most of what screen estate you have without being overbearing.
Things like the Facebook and music applications all do well to bring a decent enough twist to conventional Android. Personally we rarely used all the Facebook functionality, finding it easier just to use Facebook's own app. Music however and the social network stream Timescape (a bit like HTC's Friend Stream) is a nice bonus.
Some widgets to appear slightly too tiny on the 3-inch screen and the amount you can cram onto each of the five pages is deceptive. Large widgets like weather can fill up an entire page whereas two or three landscape offerings can easily fit on. There is nothing to suggest that Sony Ericsson hasn't made the most of the screen size however and not once did we find it to be a major problem when using Android.
Sony Ericsson has done a good job with the Mini Pro. The company has clearly gone and learnt some pretty serious lessons from mistakes made with prior hardware releases. Just about every single niggle and problem the old Xperia range had has now been cleared up and Sony Ericsson now finally has a few decent handsets to be proud of.
Those in the market for something affordable, fun and QWERTY-packing can't go wrong with the Mini Pro, it performed admirably in day-to-day Android tasks. We can't help but feel, however, that Sony Ericsson now has too many value-orientated handsets in its lineup. Short of wanting a physical keyboard, it is difficult to know why exactly you would choose the Xperia Mini Pro over any of the other similarly performing and priced Android offerings. The handset feels slightly like part of a larger, feature phone family rather than something unique. We think that if Sony Ericsson had really devoted lots of time to the Mini, it could have been a really brilliant and affordable piece of hardware.
The Mini Pro comes so close to being one of the best affordable Android phones out there. It's a shame then that it falls short in the materials and design department. Things are just the wrong side of plasticky and the handset itself needs to go on a bit of a diet in order to feel like it is truly mini.
Faults aside though, the keyboard is great and those in need of a device with a proper physical input could do a lot worse than the Xperia Mini Pro.