By June 28, 2010

Review: Sony Ericsson Aspen (Faith)

DSCN1240 The Sony Ericsson Aspen (Faith) is a new Qwerty flavoured smartphone running, of all things, Windows Mobile 6.5.3. I’m guessing this might be the last Windows Mobile device I will review before Windows Phone 7 comes. How does it measure up in the this Android/iPhone/Blackberry heavy world?

Picking up the device I was a little alarmed by the plastic feel of it. I honestly think the Palm Pre was given a harder time than necessary and the sort of grilling Palm got for shoddy builds should be redirected to Sony Ericsson for this. Its horribly flimsy. Those devices that require you to rip off the back to get inside are usually on the lower end of the market. I would expect to see this from Acer or Inq with a price tag to help make it worthwhile. Not Sony Ericsson. In fact the phone is so un-Sony Ericsson I struggle to imagine it coming from their production line. Sony Ericsson fail us on software, not hardware.


The top has the power switch and the 3.5mm headset jack. The stylus is also accessible here. The unit itself is in focus, my camera just doesn’t like photographing close detail.


On the right is the volume rocker. Clicky and responsive.


The left has a lowly microUSB socket.


The bottom has nothing but a stylish slope.


On the back is the hole for the 3.2 megapixel camera. A loud speaker grill and access to the battery compartment.


The front has, what seems to look like, a generous screen area, an ill conceived D-pad, menu buttons and a Qwerty Keyboard. The screen is the second big let down of the phone. Despite a large area the screen only manages part of this. There is a criminally miss used area underneath that would have useful for the Windows start menu bar and soft function keys. The D-pad is difficult to use, the thin plastic is sloped in an attempt to make it natural to the thumb but only manages this on the top side. The down button portion is touching the R,T,Y and U buttons and you will invariably press these when navigating. The Make and End buttons are handy enough with the End button performing a double function, when held down the screen locks. The OK button provides a double function also, sharing the selection button with a camera button after a long pause. 
The forth button here is a Menu button. Unlike other Windows Mobiles this seems to be a rogue button and I haven’t been able to pin point exactly where it takes me. There seems to be some different screens that randomly pop up when you press this.


You might see the Windows Mobile home screen.


Or you could see the SPB Mobile Shell screen.

Point is, the interface isn’t intuitive at all. The lack of the back button, or a button that simulates the action is sorely missed and can lead to some head scratching about how to get back to something you were using.
The Facebook Panel is also intensely annoying. I was constantly having to think "how do I get away from this?!" However, given how well thought out the Facebook Panel is makes me believe this phone is designed with the social networker in mind and not the business user.


As for the Keyboard, it’s rather nice. It looks like Sony Ericsson nicked it from the Nokia E range which is no bad thing. The look of this keyboard combined with the stylish slant were what made me pick this up. Tapping out a text is a doddle as the large keys are easy to navigate.


Oddly, under the menu is a Media option. The Icon for this media application is the same as the one on the hard menu button mentioned above … just to confuse things. Once you have opened this you will open the Media panel every time you press that big, hard menu button. From what I can gather, you have to go to a special panel selector option to change this.
There hasn’t been too much added to the phone by way of applications. Most of the standard Windows Mobile applications are present. The Media applications and the Facebook panel have had a good amount of work put into them and if mastered it could become very handy.


There hasn’t been enough emphasis put onto the D-pad when it comes to navigating. Clicking right can bring up a few options that you would logically think you could scroll across if the right key is pushed again, instead it take you onto something else, another function of the application. A Prime example is the Music section of the Media player. This will bring up four options, you can select one by touching it however if you try to cycle through them using the D-pad nothing will happen.

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The camera is simply passable. The colours are not particularly rich, but not as bland or washed out as other executive phones. There is some noticeable misting around the edges which I have put down to this being a prototype. The depth of field however does seem to be a little more consistent through a variety of different shots. Low level light shot are not worth talking about. I took a few and they were blurry messes.

Call quality was fine. I usually stress test the aerial however here I was presented with no significant problems. The reception and call quality was more acceptable that some of the more recent HTC models. This was a pleasant surprise, it’s not often you get a phone that works well as a phone.

I spent a good few days trying to like this and I had high hopes since it has taken a long time to get to this stage, I say that as I not sure that is has come to market yet. Corners have been cut, silly implementations have been made into the phone operation and in this day and age you shouldn’t have to struggle to learn how to use a new phone. For some it might come easily but for me, a seasoned veteran of Windows Mobile it was honestly a pain in the ass.

My excitement for the device was extinguished quickly and think this might be the worst excuse for the Windows Mobile phone about today. Windows Mobile 6.5.3 is now quite chunky when compared to Android or the iPhone, but it’s undeniably the best feature of the phone and this is me trying to put a positive spin on it. I take my hat off to Sony Ericsson for replacing Windows Media Player, a personal hate of mine, however that is like dropping a spoonful of whipped cream onto a rotting animal carcass and hoping people dig in.

Thanks go out to Clove who have supplied us this review device

Network – GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900, HSDPA 900 / 2100, HSDPA 850 / 900 / 2100
Size – 117 x 60 x 12.5 mm
Weight – 130 g
Display – TFT resistive touchscreen, 16M colors (65K effective), 320 x 240 pixels, 2.4 inches
Memory – 100 MB storage, microSD, up to 16GB, 4GB included
WLAN – 802.11b/g
Bluetooth -  v2.1 with A2DP
USB – microUSB v2.0
Camera – 3.15 MP, 2048×1536 pixels
OS – Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5.3 Professional
Radio – Stereo FM radio with RDS
Colors – Iconic Black, White Silver
– GPS  with A-GPS support
– 3.5 mm audio jack
– QWERTY keyboard
– XPERIA Panels
– Accelerometer sensor for auto-rotate
– Google Maps Latitude
– Skype, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter apps
– MP3/eAAC+/WAV/WMA player
– MP4/H.264/H.263/WMV player
– Pocket Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, PDF viewer)
– Organizer
– Eco friendly materials
– Eco mate application, SEMC Greenheart Panel
– Voice memo/dial
– T9
Stand-by – Up to 450 h (2G) / Up to 600 h (3G)
Talk time – Up to 10 h (2G) / Up to 8 h (3G)

Posted in: Phones

About the Author:

Seasoned tech blogger. Host of the Tech Addicts podcast.
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