Sony Ericsson Aino £424.99
19th Oct 2009 | 12:00
Will PS3 connectivity make this a mid-range media marvel?
Sony Ericsson Aino: Overview, design and feel
It's a mid-range effort, following just behind the Sony Ericsson Satio in the recent slew of releases from the brand, but it still tries to pack a wealth of functionality into its chassis.
The main talking point is the PS3 connectivity - but don't get too excited as it's not the PSP phone we've all been waiting for, more a device to make use of the considerable multimedia prowess of the PS3.
Beyond that, the phone is similar to the Sony Ericsson W995 in terms of specs - 8GB memory card, BBC iPlayer support, standard SE interface and so on.
But the shape is entirely different - it's a long device with a 3-inch screen and a slide out physical keyboard. Sadly it's only widescreen QVGA, meaning it won't give the best resolution for watching movies or viewing web pages.
The slide action is solid with a pleasant feeling both up and down - given that the likes of the Palm Pre and the Motorola Dext haven't managed to achieve such a thing with recent high-end devices, this is good to see.
The solid black chassis is a lot less button-full than the Satio, with a camera shutter and a volume/zoom rocker switch on the right-hand side. The left merely houses the standard Sony Ericsson port for power, USB and headphones (sadly no 3.5mm headphone jack here, despite SE debuting it on the W995).
The top of the phone hides the lock switch for when the phone slider is shut - because this phone has an odd double life. By day/when slid up, it's a meek Sony Ericsson phone with a slightly long screen - physical keyboard and the normal interface.
But by night/when closed, it morphs into a multimedia marvel, with a touchscreen activated by a slide up arrow. It's an odd scenario, and one we'll go into later in the review.
The physical keyboard is well laid out, with the important buttons all necessary. We're enjoying the rubberised and compact yet easy-to-hit layout, with the two softkeys flanking a circular D-pad and enter button, as well as a clear and running applications/notifications key below.
The rear of the phone houses the camera, an 8.1MP effort, with a single LED flash for both video and photography.
The battery is hidden below the snap on cover, which is a little tricky to replace and requires a user to push it harder than they'd probably like - we felt like we were going to break it.
The SIM and battery compartments are well laid-out, with the microSD slot at the top easy to use and the battery simple to remove to access the SIM card.
The design of the phone is interesting - with the lock key in a little bit of a hard to reach place and the phone not quite sitting as snugly in the hand as the Sony Ericsson W995. However, it feels solid and is impressive enough for the market SE is likely to be aiming for with it.
In the box
There's the usual fodder in the Sony Ericsson box for the Aino, with a couple of notable exceptions. There's, of course, the USB lead and charger (both proprietary) and some quick start literature.
It's devoid of a start up CD, and that's because Sony Ericsson has included the relevant software on the memory card. And for a phone that's supposed to be a media handset, SE has decided to give it a whopping 8GB card right out of the box, which we're very impressed with.
But the thing we love the most is the MH100 Bluetooth headset, which houses a 3.5mm headphone jack to allow you to use your favourite cans wirelessly (well, sort of).
This is a teeny tube with multiple LEDs on the front to show activity, with a touch sensitive slider on the side to control the volume. There are also track skipping and play/pause keys included, as well as a call/terminate button on the bottom, as the MH100 can also be used as a hands free kit.
You may have noticed we nabbed this for use when reviewing the Satio - it's a great addition to the package and makes the Aino a much more attractive proposition in our eyes.
The box also includes a charging stand - it allows you to watch movies without having to hold the phone, as well as including two charging ports so you can power up your phone and Bluetooth kit at the same time, which is another neat touch.
Sony Ericsson Aino: Interface
The talk about the interface will be divided into two sections, as the Sony Ericsson Aino technically is running two user interfaces, if not two OSes.
Non touch (keypad slid open)
Those of you familiar with the standard Sony Ericsson UI will either groan or squeak with delight when you power on the Aino for the first time, as it's the same interface that the company has been using for nearly eight or nine years.
This means a home screen with customisable softkeys and D-pad to use different shortcuts, and a grid/list menu system for delving deeper into the phone.
One interesting addition to the Aino is Facebook however - it has a customised portal in the applications menu, and a mini-mode that sits on the home screen.
This smaller option basically cycles through your Facebook friends' profile pictures, with new status updates shown in little speech bubbles. You can also go up and down to see notifications, such as pokes and requests, or look at and change your status.
Other than that, the Aino's home screen is leagues away from the heavily customised Symbian offering on the Satio, with things like the quick launcher (giving options on running applications, bookmarks and messages) giving a familiar, if functional, feel to the proceedings.
The media listings are slightly different though, using Sony's Xross Media Bar system (yes, we hate that spelling too - it's like renaming a packet of Walker's into Xrisps), which gives easy and well laid-out access to your tunes/video/radio.
It's a little hidden down the menu, as are a lot of cool applications, like remote play. We've already touched on how being able to connect to the PS3 is a fundamental part of why people will buy this phone, but you have to hit Menu > Entertainment > Remote Play to even start it, which seems a little odd to us.
We're also questioning the wisdom of switching off the touchscreen functionality when the slide-out keypad is used - what's the point in that? We know people would rather use a physical keyboard and the touchscreen is a little redundant at this point, but unless not using it saves huge amounts of power, we see no problem with it staying on.
Let's be honest - using elements like the internet browser are much easier when you can just poke the screen, so we hope this is something that might be changed in the future with a firmware update - especially as Sony Ericsson tells us that it is possible, it just chose not to do it.
Touch interface (keyboard closed)
The touch interface when the phone is closed is a whole new ball game. You shut the phone, and you're presented with a handset exclusively to be used in landscape mode. Dragging up an eject-style icon will give you access to a similar array of options to the Xross Media Bar, except this time you can touch the elements you want instead.
Each press will open a new range of icons in front of the former, so you can interact with the content chosen. The touchscreen on the Aino is bizarrely a capacitive effort, which is a little more expensive that a resistive choice - we can't see why you'd need to be accurate with this screen when the icons are so large, as accuracy is usually the reason for not going with a resistive screen.
When using media, there are limited options compared to the standard mode - you can set the Aino to shuffle and repeat, but you can't, for instance, edit or add items to a playlist. We don't see why there's not a small icon at the bottom to call up some basic options and settings - but this landscape media mode seems to be set up to be simple to use.
We've also got a couple of real problems with it - the lock key will shut off the screen, but it can be easily reactivated in the pocket and somehow the screen can be slid open, with all the icons easily pressed.
Twice in our tests the phone spontaneously fired up when sitting in the pocket - we have no idea how as we weren't even moving that much, but it's a poor showing that this is possible.
The memory card accessing is also terrible - the first time you put it in the phone will update itself, but after that it keeps re-updating for no reason when you fire up the media browser. This means you can't access your tunes for up to a minute - which can get very irritating.
The touchscreen also spontaneously kept shutting off when we were trying to use the media mode - this meant restarting the phone, which takes an age when all you want to do is listen to your tracks.
And both modes suffer horribly from lag when running multiple applications. Try using the music player and receiving a message - not only will the music stop for the message, only to restart a few moments later, but the phone will more often than not grind to a halt in order to have a think about all the tasks it needs to do.
We don't know if it's a substandard processor or just poor optimisation - either way it needs to be sorted if the Aino is to be seen as a true multimedia option.
Sony Ericsson Aino: Calling and contacts
Calling on Sony Ericsson handsets has always been fairly easy, and that hasn't changed on the Aino.
The caller lists are laid out in a simple to use and set up way - it's easy to scroll through and with the physical keyboard you can simply input the person's name and off you go.
A problem we've always had with Sony Ericsson handsets is entering text this way isn't displayed easily, so you can't always be sure which name you've entered. It is also very slow to react, so you can easily input the wrong letter than have to wait a second or two to change it.
That said, we're fans of simplicity when it comes to elements like this - touchscreens suffer with long lists, and being able to simply switch to the name you're after, or see a list of calls made, received and missed is a nice touch.
Adding a contact is as simple as can be too - simply type the number, select 'New Contact' and then put in all the information you need - you can go from just a picture to company details to voice command for automated calling. It might not sound like much, but in today's complex smartphone days it can be very easy to make even entering a new contact a very difficult experience.
Grouping is on offer too - pre-made groups such as family or business are available or you can make your own. It's a bit redundant as you have to negotiate a number of menu screens to access the group, but if you regularly send group messages, you'll be pleased to see this on offer.
There are two options for calling - video and voice calls, with the former only activated from within a sub menu of the contact. There's a reason for this - no front facing camera means video calling is more about showing your friend something from the main camera, or sharing a video or picture clip over the call.
Voice call quality is average, as in we sometimes struggled to hear people over the handset - it's not a deal breaker by any means, but we could have done with a little more clarity to make the Aino perfect in this respect.
The reception wasn't as good though - mainly with regards to 3G coverage, with the phone defaulting to GPRS or even GSM connections far too often. Not a major problem, but trying to call when on a moving train was a veritable nightmare. We're used to better from Sony Ericsson, which makes it odd that the Aino doesn't fare as well.
Sony Ericsson Aino: Messaging
Similar to calling on the Sony Ericsson Aino, the messaging experience is simple and easy to use.
The main texting option is as simple to use as you'd expect, and Sony Ericsson is also using an updated text input system to make things easier. It basically apes the simplicity of Nokia's Symbian OS, meaning the space key now lives on the '0' button, and the cycling through words is possible with the '*' key rather than just the down button.
Text messages are arranged into two options - the normal inbox/sent message format and conversations, which are thankfully under the messaging icon and not stuffed away in the applications section (we're looking at you, Satio).
Changing a message from a simple SMS to an MMS is an easy process as well, something Sony Ericsson has traditionally done well. You can simply add a picture, GIF animation, sound or video, with the Aino updating the message accordingly. It can cost more to send a message this way, so make sure you check your contract or PAYG deal to see if it will incur extra charges.
There's also a direct link to Facebook from within the messaging menu, but it's sadly not as good as on the INQ1, where FB messages are as easy to send as a text. You have to access the Facebook portal on the Aino, meaning an internet connection and even if you have that, you'll be waiting a while before you can update your messages.
Email support is also included on the Aino, but like many other devices, it doesn't play well with webmail. We used Gmail, as many others will we imagine, and went for a POP3 connection, as this gives a more instant update for emails in the absence of push.
The Aino asked for all our details, but unlike the Nokia 6300 Classic, the phone couldn't download the necessary Googlemail settings. This means that most users will probably give up at the thought of having to input the correct POP server, and those that don't will have to track down the relevant Google page (which is here, if you're looking for it).
Email also doesn't synchronise to the most recent mail either, and only a vast amount of playing and deleting will bring things up to date. While we like the option to have webmail on the phone, we recommend downloading the Google Mail Java application instead of relying on the inbuilt system.
We mentioned a serious amount of lag caused by an incoming message earlier - another problem is sending one too. After sending, the phone pauses for an interminable amount of time until the message is sent - it's been years since this issue has afflicted mobiles and it's very annoying.
Sony Ericsson Aino: Internet
The internet experience on the Sony Ericsson Aino is a little disappointing too - the browser is pretty basic and seemingly can't render sites with any kind of aplomb.
Well, that's not strictly true - it can, but Sony Ericsson has made a big play about the fact you can search on Google either right from the home screen or via the bookmarked home page. But on this handset, Google strips all the picture functionality away, leaving users with a basic text only version of the sites.
As far as we can tell full HTML is only a very last resort on the Sony Ericsson Aino - we were constantly redirected to mobile versions of sites, which is annoying when you need some functionality from a full site version.
One problem that had us truly stumped for a while is the lack of internet options or settings on the Aino. A touch on the softkey to open the toolbar gave only a few basic bookmarking options - it was only after hunting through nearly every menu on the Aino did we realise a secondary menu became available once the toolbar was enabled.
Perhaps that was just us being slightly slow on the uptake, but it's hardly the most user friendly option and placement.
GOOGLE'S CHOICE: How the search engine renders web pages on the Aino
Web feeds, such a great part of the Satio, have weirdly been integrated into the Xross Media Bar, rather than in the browser itself. We actually prefer them there, as more often than not we use RSS feeds to ignore the browser, not as a reason to use it.
Finding the feeds and adding them in is a little harder, but it's the same on most feature phones - and once you get them up and running it's a great little feature.
BACK AGAIN: And in 'normal' HTML mode
One problem, and one we touched on earlier, is connectivity to data is pretty slow on the Aino - both over 3G and Wi-Fi in fact. From two separate routers and the local 3G coverage we were left hanging waiting for websites to load on countless occasions - we're not sure why as once they render, the pages actually load pretty quickly.
The internet browser is pretty basic on the Aino. Most people will be used to the mobile internet on their phone, and will simply have a bog standard list of mobile friendly sites they like to bookmark.
But that's no excuse, and with the nice long widescreen, plus the media-centric nature of the Aino, we just expected slightly more from it in terms of web browsing - and not being able to use the touchscreen makes it all the more annoying.
Sony Ericsson Aino: Camera
Sony Ericsson has actually been placing some pretty decent cameras on its phones these days, and the Aino is no exception. 8.1MP, an LED flash and video light as well as some decent photography options - that's the top end of what nearly everyone will need. And those that yearn for 12MP and above - well, you're just being greedy, aren't you?
The camera has a range of functions, from being able to divide the screen into thirds for better pictures to a touchscreen focus mode, which will take a picture based around the point you've touched on.
This is a great way to work around the problems of not being able to focus on the elements you want simply by using the built-in hardware, and something we think should be integrated into all cameras.
The time taken from one picture to another is absolutely ridiculous though - we're talking up to 14 seconds to take another picture, and that's only with the camera on 6MP setting. We've no idea why it takes that long to save a photo, but it does.
The touchscreen borders on appalling in this mode as well - we lost count of the amount of times we tried to hit a pop up icon on the camera screen only for it to register no input - we assume this is down to the icons being too close to the edge of the display.
However, there are some nice tweaks like touch focus, geo-tagging, face detection, image stabiliser, smart contrast and red-eye reduction, all of which work well and do the job they're supposed to, which is what you'd expect from a camera using Sony tech.
Here's how the Aino stood up to the Olympus SP-565UZ prosumer camera. The Sony Ericsson Aino takes pictures in 16:9 format at 6MP, which we've used here to show how much more photograph you can get:
Sony Ericsson Aino - colours look a little washed out on the Aino, but overall reproduction is good:
Sony Ericsson Aino:
Sony Ericsson Aino - the macro mode is excellent at sharpening edges, but the Olympus is much more able to pick out detail:
Sony Ericsson Aino - both cameras are decent in direct sunlight - the Aino certainly holds its own and picks out a good amount of detail:
Sony Ericsson Aino - Face detection works well on the Aino, instantly bringing it into focus:
Sony Ericsson Aino - the LED flash on the Aino is better used as a torch - it's very poor in darkness, losing a lot of detail and colour compared to a Xenon:
Video is recorded in VGA and at 30fps on the Aino - which is very good indeed. It takes a lot less time to start up than the camera, and will save video files faster too.
And we were delighted to see NearHD video recording included as well - this allows users to record video that will actually look pretty decent on a large screen.
Video detail is satisfactory, and although boot up time is a little slow, leaving us all too often asking someone to wait while we started up the camera, it's passable for run-of-the-mill movie making.
Sony Ericsson Aino: Media
Media on the Sony Ericsson Aino is pretty darn good, as you can imagine. Well, it's not as good as the Satio, but the ability to listen to music in two different ways (when the phone is open and closed) is a pretty nifty feature.
We found ourselves mostly using the media player when the phone is shut, simply because we prefer touchscreens for this application. The capacitive screen was far from being as responsive as we'd hoped, but it was still slick enough when needed.
The music player was a good effort on the Sony Ericsson Aino, with easy to use controls and the MH100 Bluetooth headset making the experience very nice to work with.
The music interface was slow to react in portrait mode, although tunes sounded excellent over the wireless connection, and the whole thing sped along nicely on the touchscreen.
One major flaw was the inability to search for music to use on a playlist - we had to copy all the songs to a certain folder on the memory card in order to set them up to play continuously.
Due to the low resolution of the screen, the Sony Ericsson Aino isn't capable of playing a huge number of our videos we've encoded specifically for mobile phone use.
The only way through was to resize and convert them all using the PC software, meaning a couple of overnight jobs just to watch a movie on the 3-inch screen. The experience was again enhanced by the MH100, but not supported by an average resolution. We could understand these characteristics in a cheaper phone, but for something that's fairly pricey we're a little perturbed.
Video access was OK, especially in touch mode, and scrolling through and all the usual options worked well. We wouldn't use the Aino as a PMP regularly, but if you're willing to convert the files then you might enjoy the experience.
Witchcraft-alert - somehow the Sony Ericsson Aino asks you to connect wired headphones to act as an antenna for the FM radio, but pull out the Bluetooth headset and it will work fine. We can only assume that the MH100 unit sends the signal back for the FM radio to pick up - either way, it's clever and very much unexpected.
The radio is simple enough to use, and once again makes good use of the touchscreen for manual tuning (even if it did keep switching itself off).
YouTube and BBC iPlayer
You know how these work by now - we like the way Sony Ericsson packages them in the Xross Media Bar for easy viewing, and we imagine finding BBC iPlayer on board is a great surprise for some people.
SMILEY MILEY: Yes, that's a grainy Miley Cyrus. She's rapping about not being on Twitter any more. Kids these days, eh... back in our time, we'd have to phone people to tell them
We won't go into great depth, as both do what they're supposed to - YouTube mobile needs a wider range of videos, but BBC iPlayer brings a very solid mobile experience.
As we mentioned before, one of the big draws of the Aino is PS3 connectivity - offered both over 3G and Wi-Fi networks.
The set-up process is pretty convoluted, with codes having to be issued by the base unit to be synchronised with the Aino. It then asks for your PlaySation network user name and password, and the whole thing begins searching.
The first time we tried it over Wi-Fi it worked pretty well - OK it was very slow, but the movie did play OK. However, get a text or a call or anything else other than the connection and the whole thing starts to go awry, and the phone slows down so much you're forced to pull out the PS3 connection.
And it gets worse - it would not work for us over 3G no matter how many times we tried (and that was nothing to do with the poor reception this time). And when we tried to use it over Wi-Fi again, it didn't work.
We'd advise if you're really after remote play from your PS3, pick up a PSP Go - at least they work more often than not.
But weirdly, Media Home does work. Install the software to your PC, make sure it's switched on and let the phone find the content you've dubbed as share-worthy from your computer.
It's neat, and as long as you have Wi-Fi turned on (and the settings turned to auto-update) users can get easy and automatic access to their favourite content without having to mess about with connecting up the phone.
Why this is hidden in 'Entertainment' and not on the media menu we're not sure, but it's a decent application nonetheless.
Sony Ericsson Aino: Applications
The range of applications on the Sony Ericsson Aino is bewildering, simply because it seems the company has lumped every single one it could think of in there.
We'll take you through some of our personal favourites, although the likes of the torch (which turns on the LED flash) and the photo tutor (some basic hints on how to take decent cameraphone snaps) are worthy of honourable mention.
Anyone that knows Shazam how this works - hold the phone up to a speaker when an unknown song is playing and TrackID will perform music recognition magic for you. It will then send you to a portal where you can download the track -either from the Sony Ericsson PlayNow arena or your network provider's music store to buy the song in question.
TrackID also has searchable elements, an option to see the most listened to and downloaded tracks in recent days and an easy to use interface – but it can't work out what song your mate is trying to hum to you, sadly.
Seen the Nike+ iPod? This is pretty similar, as it works out where you are to help you train while running. The best thing is once your size and weight are calibrated, there's no need for a pesky shoe sensor - it can map your runs and give you detailed feedback at the end, complete with motivational voiceovers.
A cool game that's so addictive we nearly published this review later than we were supposed to. Basically you fire penguins at polar bears, and try and navigate the scenery to do so before you run out of winged ammo.
It sounds rubbish - but it's really not, and while it's not a reason to buy the phone alone, check it out if you do end up with the Aino.
While the likes of Apple, RIM, Nokia and friends are off making their own whizzbang application stores, Sony Ericsson, well, isn't.
PlayNow Arena is basically a store front to buy ever-so-slightly pricey games, ringtones, tunes and wallpapers, with an added applications section too. But most of the applications cost to buy - there are only two free, Snaptu and Fring, in the store. We don't know if the phone is incompatible or the library needs completing, but this needs to change soon if SE is to be a big player in the future.
Sony Ericsson Aino: Battery life and organiser
We feel like we're constantly picking at the Aino, which does feel like it should be a decent handset, but we've got another gripe - the battery life isn't good.
Sony Ericsson is touting standby times of up to 367 hours for the Aino - it's more like 20 hours in real use.
While the battery life can be extended to just about last a day when everything is turned off, the Aino is designed to be always on. You don't want to be turning Bluetooth on and off whenever you want to listen to music - and not least because it's hidden down in the settings menu (or the slow to launch QuickLaunch box).
And Wi-Fi is necessary for the Media Go application - so we can't see why the battery is a paltry 1,000mAh effort.
And while we did listen to a fair chunk of music on the phone, this was offset by not watching video and barely browsing the web, so in real terms it lags way behind its competitors.
As we mentioned above with the applications, the amount of organisational ability on the phone is impressive. It's not going to rival a Windows Mobile, what with its push email, calendar, contacts and whatnot, but it's got a stopwatch and a timer, and we can't tell you the amount of people who have told us this is crucial (OK, we can, it's eight. But they were adamant).
The calendar is easy to use, and now comes with a charming piece of artwork, and there are five customisable alarms with some lovely melodic ringtones to choose from.
There's not a lot more to say about organising yourself with the Aino - it might not be the Filofax replacement you've been after, but it will let you know when you're about to miss the footie (as long as you wrote it in there, of course).
Sony Ericsson Aino: Connectivity options
Connectivity is pretty much limited to the PC via the USB cable, although if you've enabled your computer with Bluetooth you can go nuts with that too.
The range of options on offer in the Aino is a full complement, with all working well. Wi-Fi sometimes struggles to get going, but on the whole, everything powers up quickly and works when it's supposed to.
We're particularly impressed with the GPS on board - assisted GPS (which uses cellular towers to triangulate your position) boots up blindingly fast, and GPS has a lock on you generally within 10 seconds. Good show, Sony Ericsson.
Bluetooth and the MH100 work together nicely as well, with the latter coming online as soon as it's switched on. The same can be said for a entering a zone with a paired Bluetooth PC - it connects nicely with the Aino and makes content sharing easy.
We also liked the Wi-Fi as it brought Media Go - the only downside to having constantly updated media is you're often left feeling like you don't own enough, so a few too many trips to online MP3 stores were necessary out of sheer fear of being uncool.
Similar to the Sony Ericsson Satio (well, it's identical in actual fact, we used the same PC software as it was included on both phones) the phone will connect effortlessly to the PC with a minimum of fuss (once everything is installed).
Once again, one of the attributes we particularly like is being able to save and view your text messages in an inbox/outbox format - meaning you can back them up for another phone in the future.
Media Go and the Sony Ericsson PC Suite offer you all the media options you need, such as converting video files and streaming media to the phone, and it's hard to find any fault with this setup really - the new Samsung PC Studio looks a bit nicer and the iPhone has iTunes' might behind it, but that's about it.
Sony Ericsson Aino: Hands-on gallery
Sony Ericsson Aino: Official gallery
Sony Ericsson Aino: Verdict
What is the Aino for? Is it a featurephone with smartphone leanings? Is it the PSP phone with some other functionality thrown in the mix? Either way, it's expensive - around £470 SIM free, or £170 for the phone on a one-and-a-half year, £25 a month contract.
We liked the simplicity of the layout and what the phone is trying to do - it's got a fairly solid build, although it feels a little long in the hand.
BBC iPlayer is always a plus, and the easy-to-use touch media interface is nice. We like the included stand and are big fans of the bundled MH100 headset, and the GPS system with a number of location based services is a nice touch.
Sadly we disliked a great deal more about the phone, from a laggy OS when multi-tasking to an odd touch/non-touch combination.
Elements like the touchscreen seizing up, the camera taking 15 seconds to move from one picture to another and the fact the PS3 connectivity doesn't work regularly make it hard to love this phone, especially when the battery dies for the umpteenth time.
We liked the Aino a lot when we got it out the box, and our opinion dwindled downwards from there. When the main selling point isn't fully functional (ie, the PS3 compatibility isn't up to speed) and both the camera and media player are slow to react, we're struggling to find a reason to recommend this phone.
The Sony Ericsson W995 has the same UI, but is a lot faster, and comes in a nicer chassis, has a faster camera, a 3.5mm headphone jack and crucially is around £120 cheaper to buy.
We would have given the Aino half a star less than we have, but we're still fans of the simplistic Sony Ericsson interface, and the overall package doesn't deserve to be among the worst phones of the year - we're just disappointed with the effort.