Although it’s not the smallest, it is the baby in the Xperia smartphone family. The question is, has Sony Ericsson cut too much?
Sony Ericsson is one of the many phone makers that has given strong support to Android, with a number of handsets using Google’s operating system. However, it has been slow to keep up with the rapid progress of the OS, and the X8 initially began shipping with the ancient 1.6 version – like its predecessors.
Fortunately, the review unit we’ve received has been upgraded to 2.1, but this is still two revisions behind the latest version. The question is, can 2.1 still cut the mustard? Well, for the most part it can, especially as Sony Ericsson has made a few tweaks of its own to enhance the user experience.
Unlike the current flagship, the X10, the X8 uses the same four cornered user interface first introduced on the X10 mini and mini pro models. It was especially important for the small form factor of the mini models, but still works well on the X8 despite it having a larger display and a higher resolution (320×480 instead of 240×320).
As with any Android phone, you are free to change this to a more traditional launcher (with multiple icons and widgets on the home screen and a scrollable ‘app drawer’) but you may not wish to rush to do this as Sony Ericsson’s system works quite well, even if you do only get one icon or widget on a single screen (something that seems like a huge waste of the bigger screen).
At the touch of a finger
For one handed operation, having your most commonly accessed apps in the corners makes the phone very easy to use, and for entering text there’s now a virtual QWERTY keyboard instead of the T9/predictive text system on the X10 mini.
The camera has its own dedicated camera button, something missing on many top-end Android models, but Sony Ericsson has slashed the camera quality by going for a, frankly, lousy 3-megapixel sensor without autofocus or a flash.
It has the same interface as the X10 mini models and it is very easy to use, especially to change camera modes or view your previously taken photos, but the pictures aren’t very good quality and way below the standard we’d expect from Sony Ericsson – normally the experts in mobile imaging.
It’s not really clear why Sony Ericsson opted to do this, except to save money. The result is that they’ve really missed a trick, as the higher resolution display could have swung people from the mini models to this.
Easy to get to grips with
The X8 certainly isn’t difficult to use, but to help you get going there are a number of user guides on the phone, along with video tutorials that show you how to get the most from Android and Sony Ericsson’s own service, Timescape. This is the integrated app that can collect data from a range of sources, from Google to Twitter and Facebook, then combines it with other data (new photos, incoming text messages etc) to show in a series of cards. It will also pull down status updates from your contacts and show them within the phonebook.
It’s not anything that you can’t do with a range of alternative software from HTC, Samsung, Motorola and LG, plus having it updating at regular intervals impacts the battery, unlike Motorola’s MotoBLUR software that does all the data gathering remotely and pushes it to you in one quick update.
Timescape can be disabled (or updated only on demand), but you can also just use the official Twitter and Facebook apps, which are equally good at keeping you updated with what your friends and family are up to.
With the latest Android 2.1 update, and the new-look Android Market (which has been rolled out to everyone), the phone functions pretty much the same as any model with 2.2 or 2.3, including support for Live wallpapers (although there aren’t any installed on the phone). Although 2.2 and 2.3 do offer new features, they’re not as big as the jump from 1.6. It’s also important to point out that the X8 won’t get any future OS updates.
You can let apps automatically update, but not install them on the SD Card. Given the inability to install apps anywhere but on the tiny internal memory, it won’t take long to fill up the phone – regardless of how big a memory card you might add.
An even bigger problem is the lack of multi-touch, which makes playing Angry Birds a total nightmare, and has other downsides when it comes to zooming in on images in the gallery or getting the most from Google Maps.
All in all, the X8 is a mixed bag. It’s neither a cut-down X10, nor a step up from the X10 mini.
It’s position is as an entry level Android smartphone, and it is now available on Three for £100 on prepay, yet the vastly superior display (compared to the mini models) seems wasted on a phone that relies more on its looks than its performance.
The X8 is a nice looking handset, and the ability to change the rear cover allows a nice level of personalisation. The screen is a big improvement on the X10 mini models, but the camera is a big drop in quality and expectations. The lack of multi-touch support, as well as a miserly amount of internal memory, also restricts the potential of this phone. However, having only Android OS 2.1 isn’t an issue and the unique Sony Ericsson UI does make the phone appear a bit different to the usual run-of-the-mill Android devices on offer. Sadly, it isn’t enough to make this a hit.
Ratings (out of 5)