Since Sony Ericsson showed off the ‘Idou’ at Mobile World Congress in February, a lot has happened – including a rebrand of the company, a new marketing strategy that saw Cyber-shot and Walkman branding being removed from top-end handsets in favour of ‘Entertainment Unlimited’ and then the renaming of the handset to ‘Satio’. If both Idou and Satio sounds rather meaningless, you can refer to it by its actual model number: U1.
Also back in February we were being told that it would pioneer the first release of Symbian’s long awaited new OS. Sadly, it soon became clear that it would in fact just have the same version as the Nokia 5800, N97, Samsung I8910 HD and other Series 60 5th Edition products. My heart sank, knowing that S60v5 isn’t exactly up there with the new boys in town, especially now Android is really taking hold.
Fortunately, Sony Ericsson has done the same as HTC on a Windows Mobile device, by adding its own standby ‘theme’ that hides most of the OS from view and gives easy access to your favourite contacts (in a much more user friendly fashion than S60’s somewhat fiddly phonebook), web bookmarks, favourite applications and your media.
What it doesn’t do, for some odd reason, is display upcoming appointments. Sony Ericsson also uses the bog standard S60 email client, which suggests the emphasis is purely on multimedia – not as a possible business device. A copy of RoadSync is included for users of Microsoft Exchange, but it’s already out of date and so far there’s no sign of a free update to fix known bugs.
Perhaps, after having alienated business users with a string of disappointing UIQ devices, Sony Ericsson is concentrating on what it’s good at.
Ironically, UIQ was in many respects a better operating system than S60, especially for touchscreen. With the use of a resistive screen on the Satio, it was always going to be a bit harder to use than the Samsung I8910 HD (or the forthcoming X6, Nokia’s first S60v5 device with a capacitive screen), but the OS doesn’t do itself any favours either. Menus are hard to scroll through and the on-screen keyboard needs very firm presses to respond.
The on-screen keyboard is easier to use in landscape mode, although there is a mini-QWERTY keyboard mode for portrait, but you’ll need to use the supplied stylus if you want any degree of accuracy. If you use SMS a lot, there’s an alternative messaging app that shows threaded conversations, and another to display incoming texts immediately on the screen. It’s a shame these features weren’t in the standard messaging application in the first place.
The phone is fast and once you learn to press the screen instead of simply touching it, it responds well. Getting a GPS fix is incredibly quick too (it’s hard to imagine the days of waiting 10 minutes to get a fix, now you’ll see 8-10 satellites in a matter of seconds) and besides Google Maps, the phone also comes with Appello’s Wisepilot navigation software that gives full turn-by-turn driving instructions.
On the media side, there are significant improvements over other S60 devices, thanks to the inclusion of Sony’s XMB (Cross Media Bar) software to manage music, video, images and podcasts. The video player plays most video formats (including specially encoded movies that can be ‘side-loaded’ from the PlayNow movies website) and it will also remember where you left off for later viewing – a feature that was lacking on the Samsung I8910 HD (and on Android devices until you download a decent third-party player).
High level management
PC and Mac users can each manage media, but PC users get a better deal. While Mac users can install Media Sync, which allows you to sync podcasts and playlists from iTunes, PC users get MediaGo; software that syncs music, videos, pictures and podcasts over Wi-Fi. You can also manage media in the traditional drag and drop fashion, using the phone as a mass storage drive.
On the side of the phone is a manual keylock switch, but the phone doesn’t make it that obvious when it’s locked and when it isn’t. It merely dims the display and shows a lock symbol in the status bar. In the end, I turned off the auto keylock feature and tried to manually lock and unlock; like you would with an iPhone.
It would be wrong of me to ignore obvious comparisons to an iPhone, but I’ll make it quick; this isn’t an iPhone killer. It doesn’t have a slick app store and there aren’t loads of fun and innovative apps. However, what it does have is that 12.1-megapixel camera and a decent media player, even if managing content isn’t quite as easy as using iTunes directly.
Flip the phone over and you can’t miss the bulge needed to accommodate the large image sensor and Xenon flash (as well as an LED for video recording). When you slide open the camera, the 3.5-inch display comes into its own, and you can capture in 4:3 or 16:9 modes. There’s an 8GB card bundled with the phone, and each photo will come out at around 2-2.5MB each. It soon adds up.
There are a number of preset scenes, including BestPic (nine individual shots) and a panoramic mode that automatically stitches together multiple shots, plus an auto mode if you trust the camera to get things right on its own. Geo-tagging records your exact location, via GPS, too.
You can choose between a traditional two-step shutter release, or use touch-to-focus where you simply press on the screen at the point you want to focus on.
In video mode, you can record in VGA (640×480) resolution at 30fps, but with no trick features like slow-motion as with the Samsung I8910 HD.
When you’ve taken some photos, you have an excellent screen to view them on. The TFT screen isn’t as high contrast as Samsung’s OLED display (the upside is you can see it in sunlight), but it still shows off colours beautifully. You can also send photos easily to a computer, via USB or Bluetooth, or upload to Picasa or an Google eBlogger account.
On a monitor, the 12-megapixel images look stunning, although a little noisy in low-light. More pixels don’t automatically make better pictures, but Sony Ericsson’s sensor is on a par with the equally impressive Samsung Pixon12 and, to be honest, there’s not much to tell one from the other. That leaves you to consider whether you want a smartphone like this or something more simple.
Symbian is getting a bad rap of late, justifiably so in my opinion (the web browser is basic and there’s little consistency from one application to another), but thanks to the extra features added by Sony Ericsson, it squeezes more life out of the platform before Symbian releases its all-new OS next year.
Personally, I’d have been happier if this had been running Android, as well as holding a larger battery (1,000mAh means you’ll get little more than a day between charges) but there’s no denying that the Satio is still a very enticing offering.
Like the Samsung I8910 HD, the handset is worth persevering with if you don’t mind making a few compromises. The Satio leads the way as an all-round multimedia phone with amazing imaging capabilities.
In view of this, I can’t help but recommend the Satio, even though you must prepare yourself for a few upsets along the way.
It’s quite tough to review a phone that offers so much, yet sits on an operating system that has had a bad ride throughout 2009. S60 never really worked in touchscreen form, but Sony Ericsson has attempted to hide some of the worst deficiencies with some excellent software of its own – including a great standby menu system and a very respectable media player. And then there’s the amazing 12.1-megapixel camera, plus decent video capturing. The resistive screen is its Achilles’ heel, and battery life isn’t great, but the whole package is still extremely enticing.