In comes the phone call from Matt as usual, “I’ve done the unboxing, (which can be seen here) want to play with the Aspen?”, so I had a look around to make sure it wasn’t just another Sony Ericsson release, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a full fixed QWERTY phone that had passed me by. Being a fan of the HTC Snap, it looked interesting enough to have a play.
Will it shape up? From the off, it has to be mentioned that this is a prototype model and comes with no bells and whistles, not even any cables (I had to scrounge a microUSB off Matt), manuals, CD’s or anything, so forgive me if I miss any benefits that could be hidden as my usual trawl through the user guide is not possible at this moment.
I also would imagine that the final could well be tweaked and updated as time goes on towards the actual release date, which according to the Sony Ericsson website states that “You’ll be able to get your hands on the Sony Ericsson Aspen within 6 months”.
What’s in the Box?
As mentioned I have no box, but according to various sources that box is expected to hold
- The Aspen
- Mains charger
- Data cable
In the interest of the Green Heart Environmental Program the User guide will be web based only.
Have a look at Matt’s Sony Ericsson Aspen video for a detailed tour of the device.
Sony Ericsson Aspen specification:
- Windows Mobile 6.5.3
- 528 MHz CPU
- 256MB ROM / 256MB RAM
- 2.4" QVGA Touchscreen display 320×240 pixels
- Size: 117 x 60 x 12.45 mm
- Weight: 130 grams
- UMTS HSPA 900/2100
- GSM GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900
- 3.5 mm audio jack
- WiFi 802.11b/g
- 3.2 megapixel camera
- MicroSDHC memory card socket
- USB mass storage support
- FM Radio
- Google Maps
Starting at the top of the Aspen there is the power/screen lock button, alongside the 3.5mm headphone jack. There is also a 3 ¼” non-telescopic very thin stylus which fortunately there is very little need for.
Sony Ericsson Aspen top view
Down the left side of the device is nothing but the microUSB socket and one half of the battery cover release slot.
Sony Ericsson Aspen left view
There is absolutely nothing on the sloping bottom end.
On the right, there is the other half of the battery release cover and a volume up/down rocker.
Sony Ericsson Aspen right view
Around the back of the phone you can find the 3.2 Megapixel camera, with no flash or portrait mirror. Next to which is a speaker grill, and also the aforementioned stylus.
Sony Ericsson Aspen back view
The front of the Sony Ericsson is home to the 2.4″ 16 million colours, QVGA, 320×240 touchscreen, under which is the 4 way directional d-pad and enter button. This is flanked by the ‘phone answer’ and Sony Ericsson ‘Instant Access’ key on the left and the ‘phone end’ and ‘OK’ button on the right.
Sony Ericsson Aspen front view
All of this is on top of the 4 row fixed QWERTY keyboard.
Sony Ericsson Aspen keyboard closeup
- High Spec with a conscience
- GPS, 3G, etc
- Build quality
- White keyboard
- On board memory
- Screen brightness and vibrancy
Out of the box it is very much like seeing an old friend, being nearly identical in dimensions to the Snap, straight away I found the Aspen familiar and easy to use, I still have a very slight preference for the Snap as it’s slightly more curved edges and even the curve on the keyboard make for easy use and comfort.
It was interesting to see this advertised as ‘silver’ as it is definitely white, there is a silver trim around the screen and leading edge of the device, which swoops around the back forming part of the battery casing. Here I have to mention that the casing on this particular unit rattles, it has never fallen off or caused a problem by it is not as snug fitting as it could be, and an added issue is that you have to keep removing this rickety cover to access the memory card slot.
This is said to be the first windows mobile 6.5.3 phone to be released in anger, even if this is not quite ready to ship yet. On this prototype, this is typically standard on the Aspen, there is the addition of ‘Panels’ which I found to be very confusing and with further investigation, there doesn’t seem to be that much that can be downloaded at the moment anyway. It did remind me of the X1 which I used to own, which was fun for a while, but the novelty of the Panels soon wore off. I managed to find things like a Twitter Panel, as well as Facebook and Google panels which I never really got to work successfully, perhaps the missing manual could have can in handy here? Apparently there is a timeline feature within panels that means you can allocate panels to different days and times of day, the reason being that you can have a work set up or a home set up or a weekend set up, dependant on your requirements and moods, but as with the original Panels concept, very much over complicated for my liking.
The memory on the Aspen is somewhat confusing, SE state 100 MB will be available, the net memory left on this device was only showing as 62 MB storage and 176 MB program, therefore the Aspen was constantly flashing up with storage critical errors as no SDcard was provided with the test unit, I think we could do with some clarity on what the final release will offer, and if it is only 100 MB then SE need to have a word with themselves and sort this out, and an included memory card is a must. That said the included processor is certainly snappy enough, with no visible lack when flicking round screens and applications.
Omissions on this device where Facebook and Google maps, but these are supposedly included on the final version, I did download them anyway and both worked well, the addition of aGPS obviously aiding the navigation side of life.
Another feature included in the Aspen is Instant Access, a program which flicks you straight to a slideview of the most use applications such as email, text, Calendar, Facebook, media and panels.
The contacts added on the Aspen took some getting used to, with a black background and the contacts being segmented alphabetically, although on clicking the contact direct did bring up all the relevant information for each person.
That said, there is always the option of the standard, white, Windows contact list.
I found the call quality was good when either using the phone or the speaker was clear and loud, when watching YouTube this sound was also clear as well, although the screen is somewhat small for this purpose and as mentioned earlier not the brightest. Texting was a breeze with the use of the QWERTY keyboard, although I would definitely recommend using the black model, the white keyboard is white backlit, which renders it completely useless in certain light conditions, trying to pick out white letters on a white background was ridiculous. The backlight was also of poor quality, being brighter at the edges of the keyboard and dim to the point of nonexistent in the middle. I do think the black would not have the same problems. There is the option to use the touchscreen for your text input, but the only method I could find was the standard Windows ‘keyboard’ which really doesn’t work on this type of screen as it is far too small, but then why wouldn’t you use the physical keyboard? I did notice that when listening to the radio that the volume appeared to be either on and very loud or off, I couldn’t seem to find any middle ground.
I liked the touchscreen a lot, it is very responsive and a pleasure to use, coupled with the QWERTY keyboard, the associated buttons and directional pad, I found very little use for the included stylus at all. I did find that even when cranked up to the brightest settings that it still doesn’t seem that vibrant as the 16 million colours would suggest.
It was a pleasant change to have the option to touch the screen, having been a long time use of the HTC Snap and being used to scrolling around the screen it was great to have the best of both worlds, the directional pad works well and for added speed the ability to tap where you want to go was a very nice addition, and certainly made zooming around a web page easier than can be done on the Snap.
The camera, is, as always, the camera, it is 3.2 megapixel and added as a feeble bonus, it isn’t very good and from the home of cybershot, I would maybe have expected better, maybe on the final version…….? Lack of a decent zoom and no dedicated camera button (access is via the onscreen menu) make this one of the poorer inclusions on the Aspen.
Being a part of Sony Ericsson’s Green heart scheme this is a good option for those who would like to make a difference, Sony Ericsson are working hard to drive their sustainability and this phone has been designed to be built from recycled and recyclable materials and waterborne paint also. The overall objective, to reduce their impact on the environment.
Overall I have enjoyed my time with the Aspen, but being a HTC Snap fan, I didn’t take a lot of convincing. This is a very capable phone for business and for pleasure.
I would like to think that with the last minute tweaks that Sony Ericsson may have time to complete, they should consider a camera upgrade, they really need to sort out that keyboard on the white Aspen, maybe they could even take a look at the resolution and brightness of the touchscreen, that done this would prove to be a very worth device to compete with the likes of the Snap and perhaps even Blackberry.
This is also a shot across HTC’s bows as this device would, in theory, battle head to head with the HTC Trophy, should it ever emerge? And that would be an interesting comparison….
Now I have two options, option 1 is to paint my Snap white and send that back, hoping that no one will notice. Option 2 is to see if I can manage to swap the screens from each of these devices over to give the Snap the touchscreen, it might work as they are very similar, and would probably be the better option as I prefer the overall feel and design of my Snap but i do like the added functionality of the Aspen.
Review by: Steve