By February 21, 2011

Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 review

Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 reviewThe Xperia X8 was unboxed a good few months ago, but now here is the review with one small but important difference. It’s now running the 2.1 Éclair update which may not be the latest but it’s still better than 1.6 was. That has now brought it up to scratch with other options for cheapish midrange Android handsets, but it’s not alone – the likes of the Wildfire and the San Francisco sell like hotcakes, a trend which Sony Ericsson would no doubt like the X8 to follow.

The X8 slots in somewhere in-between the daddy X10 and the X10 mini & mini pro but with specs more like the minis, its actually a very similar experience but in a slightly larger form factor and that could well be a good thing. The X10 minis received excellent reviews with the main criticism that it was too small – but the X8 is the answer to that call.

Does it have enough to compete? Read on to find out!

 

 

The 10 Second Review:

  • Product: Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 (E15i)
  • Price: £199 unlocked/sim-free
  • Summary: A budget Android smartphone with some great features
  • Best of: Snappy performance and above average battery life
  • Worst of: Awkward to hold, low screen responsiveness
  • Buy it now from: Expansys

 

What’s in the box?

  • X8 Device
  • 1200mAh battery
  • Screen protector
  • In-ear headset with inline mic
  • USB to micro USB cable
  • USB wall charger
  • Manuals & documentation

 

Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 Specification:

  • Dimensions – 99 x 54 x 15 mm
  • Weight – 104g
  • Display
    – 3″ TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours
    – 320 x 480 pixels
    – Accelerometer sensor
    – Timescape UI
    – Scratch-resistant surface
  • Camera
    – 3.15 megapixels
    – 2048 x 1536 pixels
  • Memory
    – Internal: 128 MB
    – External: Up to 16GB microSD
  • Processor – 600 MHz
  • Operating System – Android OS v2.1 Éclair
  • Connectivity
    – 3G HSDPA
    – Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g
    – Bluetooth v2.0
    – A-GPS
    – microUSB 2.0
    – 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Audio/Video formats
    – MP4/H.263/H.264/WMV (Video)
    – MP3/eAAC+/WMA/WAV
  • Extras
    – Stereo FM
    – TrackID music recognition
    – Preloaded Google products
    Facebook App
    – Doc viewer
  • Battery – Standard Li-Po 1200 mAh battery

 

 

General

At the top, there’s a small power/lock button in the middle and a 3.5mm headphone jack to the left and the micro USB sync and charge port on the right. The headphone jack has an extra slot for an optional headset with inline remote, and the port is protected by a small flappy plastic door to prevent it clogging up with lint and dust.

Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 review

 

On the bottom, there’s a small microphone hole and the loop for attaching a lanyard or phone charm.

Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 review-bottom

 

The volume rocker lives halfway down the phone which makes it slightly awkward to use, but at least it’s nice and clicky. The dedicated camera key is also just as easy to depress. Both are made from chromed plastics.

x8-right

 

There’s nothing on the left, but where you can really see the curved back of the phone. Sony Ericsson call it their ‘Human curvature’ design but it basically is just a curved back like the other Android Xperia phones.

x8-left

 

On the back, there’s the camera lens (no flash or mirror) and a slot nearer the bottom for the speaker. The actual camera lens is recessed by a good millimetre or two so the chances are your lens will stay scratch free.

x8-back

 

Turning over to the front, there’s the 3 inch screen and three slim Android buttons below; menu, home and back. Above that are your usual array of sensors and the earpiece.

x8-front

 

 

Review

After catering for the high end with the X10, and the lower, compact end with the X10 mini and mini pro, Sony Ericsson have put out the X8 to round off the family of Android Xperias. From taking it out of the box, it’s clear that it takes its design cues from the X10 phones. It looks pretty neat, but holding it in the hand is where I see (or feel) the first problem. The shape of the X10 and the X10 mini doesn’t really carry over to a mid sized device very well as it makes it pretty difficult to hold comfortably while thumbing around the touchscreen. The curved back works well for the sides but the wedge like shape makes it slightly awkward to hold with your pinky supporting the bottom. Obviously it doesn’t have to be held like that, but coupled with a slippery back cover, it’s easily dropped.

Aside from that niggle, the X8 is still a solid phone. There are no creaks and it generally feels pretty solid. Being fully plastic, it could probably take a few drops (not without scratches though) but it’s best not to test these things. The whole phone covered in a metallic semi-gloss paint which hides fingerprints almost entirely. Unsurprisingly, the same can’t be said for the screen. Despite the fingerprints, its pretty good. The 3 inch size doesn’t seem too small and the HVGA resolution is fine for the size. There are two issues with the screen though – at full brightness it just doesn’t seem enough. Indoors the brightness is adequate, but when you step outside, it could really do with a brightness boost. The other issue is screen sensitivity. It is of the capacitive type (like the iPhone) but it isn’t as sensitive. It didn’t interfere much during the usual fiddle, but when typing you’d a letter totally missed out pretty often. That is probably the only major concern with the hardware but I got around that by installing Swype (which is brilliant).

Just like its mini brothers, the X8 hums along on a relatively slow 600MHz processor but the end performance isn’t bad. It doesn’t zoom around like a Nexus One but it’s no slouch either. All apps open pretty quick and menu scrolling is snappy with only the occasional hiccup which is to be expected. Chances are everyone considering this phone will find it plenty fast.

x8-angled-bottom

Being an Xperia phone, the standard Android interface has been heavily customised into the ‘Timescape UI’. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on personal preference, but it did turn out pretty well on the X10 minis especially at making full use of such a tiny screen. That doesn’t apply much here anymore though with the X8’s 3 inch screen. While the Timescape UI hasn’t really slowed the phone down or limited functionality, it doesn’t feel as if it has added anything to the stock user interface. The corner shortcuts were good on a small screen but here there is space to have the usual Android homescreen shortcuts. There’s still also the limitation of one widget per screen – with extra screen real estate, there’s no reason why we can only have one per screen. All in all, Timescape still isn’t worth your time but it shouldn’t detract you from the X8 either. Being Android, there’s plenty of homescreen replacements like LauncherPro if Timescape isn’t your cup of tea. But let’s take a look at what the software has on offer.

timescape widgetpower control

One widget per screen

 

Starting with the lock screen, there’s the usual slide to unlock and slide the other bar to silence the phone. This brings us to the homescreen with app shortcuts in the four corners. By default, they are Messaging, Music, Dialer, and Album but you can change them to anything including apps from the Android Market. As mentioned earlier, LauncherPro is a solid alternative to Timescape which I preferred thanks to it’s stock Android-like functionality. It also allows for multiple widgets on the homescreen and more app shortcuts than just four in the corners.

lockscreenhomescreenmenu

Default Timescape UI

launcherprolauncherpro2

LauncherPro

 

Timescape

Timescape is not just a name – it’s also an application that aggregates your social connections in one place. The Timescape app and widget are both present and support Twitter, Facebook, text messages, and missed calls. You can pick and choose which services you want to enable in Timescape and tapping a message in the feed will bring take you to the related app (or in Twitter’s case, the mobile site) so you can reply or view more. While Timescape certainly works, it’s hard to see anyone using it regularly  – going to each dedicated Twitter, Facebook or messaging app is hardly a chore and you would get a better experience from those dedicated apps anyway.

timescape

 

Browser

There’s not much to say here for the browser since it’s standard Android the browser is pretty good. Pages were quick to load over WiFi and 3G, and scrolling and zooming speed are just what is expected from a 600MHz processor and 168MB of Ram – definitely usable but not buttery smooth. Browsing in landscape is fine and the accelerometer allows for automatic screen rotation.  The one gripe with the X8’s internet browser is the lack of multi-touch – pinch to zoom is not supported so the inconvenient zoom bar has to be used instead.

browser landscapebrowser portrait

 

Camera

The X8 has a budget price tag for an Android device, and so some corners had to be cut. The camera is one of them, as the X8 is equipped with just a 3MP fixed-focus camera and no flash. Like the X10 minis, calling the camera interface simplistic would be an understatement. The only option you have for the camera is the scene mode – Auto, Beach/snow, Twilight, and Sports. Apart from those presets, you can’t adjust anything. The button in the top corner switches to video camera mode which records 30fps VGA video, and just like the pictures, it’s nothing too special. Anything below bright lighting conditions results in grainy video but it does fair pretty well during the day. It would be fine for quick clips but it really is quite basic. Again, the pictures are more of the same story – they are fine for the odd snap here and there but the lack of autofocus does affect the quality and sharpness slightly. If you’re looking for a good camera phone then the X8 isn’t it unfortunately.

cameracamcorder

Camera                                                                   Camcorder

rubiks-cubeoutside

 

Keyboard

The X8 has the stock Android 2.1 keyboard which usually is pretty good. But this is another negative for the X8 though – there are two problems that bring the usability down somewhat. The first is the screen itself – at 3 inches, each key is small and it’s not very responsive either. Some taps go completely unregistered as the screen, while capacitive, isn’t very sensitive so sometimes you have to apply pressure with your tap and not just a touch. Granted, one could probably get used to having to have pinpoint accurate hard taps over time but it’s definitely not as enjoyable as Android ‘boards have been. Turning over to the landscape keyboard eases the space constraints but the sensitivity doesn’t get any better. There is light at the end of the tunnel however – Android has plenty of keyboard replacements, and the one that really works well here is Swype. As you swype in words instead of tapping keys, screen sensitivity matters a whole lot less and you’ll find yourself pumping out messages much faster than the stock keyboard after a bit of practice.

keyboardswype

Stock                                           Swype

 

Music

Android phones in general have always had pretty basic music functions. Sony Ericsson have skinned the UI and added some extras. You can view your songs as a track list, through playlists or through smart playlists like Newly Added. TrackID can identify the track that’s playing and search online for more information for you. In terms of sound, it’s pretty decent. The included in-ear headphones are much better than average, and music is well balanced with good bass and treble. Playing music through the speakers isn’t bad either. As expected, it’s a little tinny though speakerphone calls are loud enough to be heard in a well populated room. The FM radio app also works as expected, and as with other phones you have to plug headphones in as an antenna. Reception is dependant on your location and the headphones but on the whole, the X8 can certainly take on musical duties.

musictrackid

 

Other apps

Along with UI tweaks and Timescape, Sony Ericsson have preloaded some other interesting and useful apps such as the Backup and restore app. More and more people are using their phones for more and more tasks so it makes sense that you can backup your data just in case. Bookmarks, call logs, contacts, Market applications, system settings and text messages are all backup-able and you can choose what you want to save. Pretty nifty if you ask me. The backup files is stored on the micro SD memory card though and not in the cloud so unless you have a spare one to back up to, the Backup and restore won’t be of much use if your phone is lost or stolen.

backupbackup2notesalbummessagestaskswitcher

                         Backup/Restore                                                           Notes                                           Album                                       Messages                                   Task Switcher

 

Wisepilot is preinstalled on the X8 although it’s a 60 day trial. It’s large buttons and clear interface make it quite user friendly especially when you need to concentrate on the road. There are traffic and road work updates with Wisepilot too. Google Maps Navigation is also on the device if you prefer that (a free voice-guided version of Google Maps). Both need an internet connection though so using it abroad would be expensive and not that reliable if you happen to go into a no-signal area.

wisepilotwisepilot2

 

Oh, and there’s PlayNow – Sony Ericsson’s app store with extortionate prices. Avoid.

playnow

 

x8-front-angled

Conclusion

On the face of it, the Sony Ericsson X8 doesn’t seem like a great phone. It has outdated specs and a few issues like the screen sensitivity that, if you’re a speed freak, will leave you tearing your hair out. However, price is a factor that must be taken into account and for the X8, it’s a big one. It’s around £130 on pay as you go and the X8 offers a lot more than £130 would suggest. The X8 is just about average in every aspect, a middle runner. It doesn’t have any killer features, but what it does have is balanced and usable, and at the current price, it is one of the best ways to gain access to Android and the Android Market (the X10 minis and the Wildfire for example have QVGA screens which limit app choice). Is it recommended? That’s a tough one. While it works fine, it’s not going to blow away anyone and there’s always going to be a new cheap Android device around the corner. But it would definitely be a phone to consider if you’re on a budget except for one thing – the San Francisco. It does everything the X8 does but better and with a smaller price tag. That would be the one to get. Unless you’re a diehard Sony Ericsson fan.

 

Reviewed by: Vince

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