Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro £240
5th Sep 2011 | 16:43
A QWERTY Android phone for little typists with little thumbs
Overview, design and feel
So, just as Sony Ericsson accompanied its X10 Mini with the X10 Mini Pro in 2010, this year's excellent new Xperia Mini is now accompanied by a heavier, sturdier model of the same size, the Xperia Mini Pro.
If you're in the market for a new smartphone, you can check out our quick video guide to what to look out for:
The new smartphone also has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard for those of you still stubbornly refusing to go 100% touchscreen.
The internal hardware has been updated from last year's X10 Mini Pro, with three fairly big specification upgrades. The Xperia Mini Pro now features a larger 3-inch screen, a 1GHz processor powering the mobile phone, plus the up-to-date Android 2.3 operating system.
There's a small price premium for the QWERTY keyboard. While the Xperia Mini is currently selling SIM-free for around the £200 mark, the Xperia Mini Pro is on offer from £240.
So is there any point in paying the extra cash for a very, very compact QWERTY keyboard?
When the keyboard is slid away out of sight, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro looks exactly the same as the Xperia Mini.
The three physical buttons of last year's X10 Mini Pro have been replaced by one bigger, chunkier Home button, with new capacitive touch buttons for Menu and Back either side of it.
As with the Xperia Mini, it's a change for the better. The Home key is big enough to find without fumbling, while the touch buttons are sensitive enough to work every time, also without fuss. The change makes the Mini Pro look a little more stylish than the X10 Mini Pro, too, with the glass of the screen extending right down to the base of the phone.
There's one extra bit of functionality revealed by the front face of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro - there's a second front-facing camera in here, producing low-res video and stills for web chats.
The connectivity options have been jiggled about to accommodate the sliding QWERTY keyboard. The top of the phone has the USB connector, which is covered by a little plastic stopper, plus the power and headphone jack, leaving the bottom of the phone completely featureless.
The right-hand edge houses the volume up/down rocker, while there's a nice, sensitive, two-stage shutter button for controlling the camera at the bottom.
The back is the same as the Xperia Mini. The snap-on cover has a matte, rubberised finish, making it easy to grip in the hand, plus the silver logos, trim and 'HD' text give it a nice designer appeal.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro features the same Bravia Engine and Reality Display combination as the Xperia Mini, with the result being a sharp, bright display running at 320 x 480 (HVGA) resolution.
Text is readable and icons clean and clear, while it's perfectly usable outdoors if you shove the brightness up to maximum.
As you may have noticed, the word "pro" is mobile phone manufacturer shorthand for saying "has a QWERTY keyboard", so there is... a QWERTY keyboard.
The keyboard's sliding mechanism is solid, with the phone snapping open and shut in a reassuringly stiff manner. The keys are backlit, featuring a similar rubberised coating to the back of the phone, so they have a rougher, grippier feel to them than the ones on last year's X10 Mini Pro.
There's a useful selection of alternate characters accessed by pressing the blue button, plus you can pull up a selection of awful smiley faces and the even more special special characters by tapping the Sym button.
There's also a four-button cursor key array, a shortcut to the keyboard settings menu and a tiny status display in the Android notifications bar, alerting you if Caps Lock is on or if you've double-pressed and therefore locked the alternate character function.
As for the phone as an overall package, it's heavier than the Xperia Mini, which is no bad thing, plus the screen feels solid, is responsive to the touch and very well balanced for easy one-handed use.
The QWERTY keyboard is small, and you certainly won't be teaching Mavis Beacon any lessons when it comes to word-per-minute output, but the impression of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro is of a solid, well-made phone, brimming with features.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro runs Android 2.3 with exactly the same slick, simple and stylish Sony Ericsson user interface overlay that we saw in the Xperia Mini.
This means you see the same corner-based user interface that also worked to such good effect in last year's X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro, with the addition of a landscape view when the phone's keyboard is slid out.
As well as your five standard Android home screens, each page comes with a customisable icon in the corner. You can stick anything you want in here, simply by long-pressing on the corner or dragging a shortcut in from the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro's main applications screen.
Of course, when the smartphone's keyboard is pulled out, the home screen and everything else automatically flips to landscape mode, making the 3-inch screen feel roomier.
New and exciting for 2011 is the addition of multiple icons in the corners, so you can have up to four items in each slot. This is a really nice system. We were oddly compelled to organise everything nicely, creating one corner for camera, gallery and imaging apps, another for calling functions, plus one containing web apps and social applications.
Also, it's now possible to add icons and shortcuts to the home screen itself – standard Android style – something last year's X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro didn't include due to their absolutely tiny screens.
If you need a better look at everything on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro, a two-fingered pinch of the screen explodes your widgets out into a very nice floating overview mode. Pressing again on one of the
If the Sony Ericsson blue is starting to bore you, there's a selection of themes to apply. As well as changing the home screen wallpaper, these also alter the backgrounds of the many Android menu screens, jazzing up what was a rather bland system when it first arrived on the company's original X10.
Sony Ericsson is still sticking with its Timescape widget as its main social network tool, but it's interesting that the big, flickable widget hasn't been pre-installed to take up any of the home screen widget slots. It's
Sony Ericsson has also jumped into the crowded weather widget scene with a simple weather station of its own, which streams in AccuWeather data and provides a simple three-day forecast when tapped.
As for organising everything, the main app menu on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro can be sorted alphabetically, by popularity or date installed, or users can touch the little grid icon to the bottom-right of the list to detach all the icons so they can be dragged around and organised to your own preference.
Contacts and calling
The Contacts system on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro is precisely the same as the one seen in the Xperia Mini, with Sony Ericsson giving it a simple text interface and adding some ingenious Facebook integration.
As well as importing all of your Facebook chums when or if you sign in with a Facebook account, the phone also adds an entirely separate Facebook page to the Contact data. From here you're able to browse other people's Facebook info and interest pages, and their photos also pop up.
If you're not into all that social networking business you don't have to use it. And if you'd rather not see your internet acquaintances staring out at you, there's the option to filter the Contacts section to stop Facebook people showing at all.
In terms of fiddly fun stuff, you're able to allocate separate ringtones for each contact from the Edit Contact page and send people you hate straight to voicemail. Plus there are fields for instant messaging details, websites and an internet call option for using the emerging SIP Wi-Fi calling features.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro's regular old dialler is a simple option, with shortcuts for your call log, Contacts and Favourites along the bottom.
There's also a useful Save button that automatically pops up with the Contacts list if you'd like to associate the number you've just dialled with an existing friend, or to add a new person to your phonebook.
The on-screen numeric keypad disappears if you pull out the QWERTY keyboard, as the Android smartphone assumes you'll want to press the physical buttons if you're using it that way.
Call quality on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro is every bit as good at it was on the standard Xperia Mini. The speaker is exceptionally loud and really sharp. We got through calls with its volume set to less than half its maximum, so there's absolutely no chance of this one being thought of as too quiet.
In hands-free mode, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro is also one of the loudest phones around. Calls and media blast out impressively noisily.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro's text messaging app is pretty straightforward, with Sony Ericsson not doing much more here than styling up the usual Android SMS interface.
There are plenty of tiny little options to discover, though. Long-pressing on the text of an SMS enables you to copy it to your clipboard, forward it or delete it, plus the system supports multiple recipients, photo, video and audio attachments.
Sony Ericsson has pre-loaded the WhatsApp cross-platform messaging app, which is a rather basic internet messaging app that exists in its own world. It's probably best ignored in favour of one of the many alternatives on the Android Market.
Thanks to the Xperia Mini Pro's larger screen, there's now a QWERTY option in here too, which is the simple Android standard option.
But you're much more likely to do your typing on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro's QWERTY keyboard. This is small, obviously, given the phone's 3-inch screen, but what you lose in space is made up for in functionality.
The blue button to the left gives you access to the alternate characters on most keys, making it very simple to use the full range of grammar, punctuation and pound/euro signs in your messages. If you like to type all proper, it's great.
The keyboard's backlit, which makes sending sexy texts from under the duvet easy. You also get four PC-style cursor keys, which are excellent when it comes to editing text.
But the size is undeniably a compromise. While the keys are rounded and separated, their tiny size means typing speed is severely limited. We found ourselves typing with our fingernails most of the time, so it's not a good choice if you have big hands.
For coping with typos and predicting words, Sony Ericsson provides a few options on the Xperia Mini Pro. There's a selection of Quick Fixes to remedy common errors and automatically insert some punctuation, plus the word selection and spelling options may also be toggled.
You can turn Word Learning off, too, if you'd rather your mobile phone didn't keep track of your bespoke vocabulary.
One new Sony Ericsson feature is its Type & Send app, which is one huge text entry box with a few buttons beneath it.
Type some sort of witty comment on the day's news and it brings up the search or share buttons. So you can use Google to see if anyone's already made your clever joke about Colonel Gadaffi, then share it on social networks and via your installed messaging apps if not.
It's a rather large widget that takes up a big chunk of the home screen, but it does make firing off rapid notes easy, so is worth the space sacrifice if you're a prolific status-changer.
Email is handled by a standalone app, which manages POP3/IMAP and MS Exchange ActiveSync accounts. You can have as many of these accounts as you like, with the app creating its own combined inbox if you have numerous email accounts to manage on your Android smartphone.
There are options to set the checking interval if you don't want it annihilating your Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro's battery, plus there's an excellent sliding preview pane that makes quickly scanning messages a breeze.
Just like the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini, the Xperia Mini Pro 1GHz processor makes the miniature phone a surprisingly competent performer when leafing through the internet.
The packed TechRadar home page loads fairly quickly, and with full pinch-zoom support is easy to navigate.
Text reflowing is another useful feature within the Android browser, with a double-tap of any text field automatically zooming in on a lump of words and jiggling them about so that they fill the available space. It happens quickly and is something you'll definitely do.
Thanks to the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro squeezing a 1GHz processor into its tiny chassis, you also get full Flash player support in the mobile phone.
Obviously this has some drawbacks, with web pages that are particularly full of Flash content and animating banners starting to slow down a little and grind away.
But, as is usual in Android, there's an option within the browser menus to have this content only loading on demand, when you click the box it should be in, or to not have it load at all.
The bookmarking system is untouched by Sony Ericsson, which leaves us with the simple Android setup. There's an icon beside the URL bar that opens up your bookmarks area, which is broken down into sections for your Bookmarks, History and Most Visited sites.
There's none of the advanced management or tagging options we've seen of late by phone makers such as HTC, but long-pressing on a bookmark entry brings up a menu that enables you to share a URL, open it in a new tab, copy it to the clipboard or, very usefully, send it to the home screen as a quick launch icon.
You have to press the Menu key, then press again to bring up a text list of open windows. It's not a huge inconvenience, but given the attention that Sony Ericsson has lavished on other areas of its Android skin, it's a shame that this area is left rather bland.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro has a couple of nice extra little internet usability features. Scrolling up and down with the cursor keys takes you between hyperlinks on web pages, making it easy to select links in tight text lists.
There's also a collection of keyboard shortcuts, which control everything from bookmarking sites to page sharing. This is much easier than fiddling about with the browser's menu pages.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro features a 5MP camera with LED flash that's also capable of recording 720p HD video clips. It's exactly the same as that found on the Xperia Mini, and also includes a front-facing camera for video chatting.
There aren't many fancy options on the phone's camera, with the majority of the scene modes hidden away. The default setting is to have the Xperia Mini Pro automatically detect scenes, which can lead to some interesting choices, especially in low-light conditions.
Pressing the Capturing Mode toggle enables you to choose from nice pre-determined scenes the usual standard modes including Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sports and Party.
The camera's very quick to use, firing off sequences of shots rapidly without getting bogged down in any way. The physical camera button itself is a nice feature, too, with Sony Ericsson sticking on a nice, soft button that's sensitive enough to shoot without making you jerk the phone around.
Camera output is OK. Photos at the highest 5MP setting come off the phone at 2592 x 1944 resolution, and are certainly bright and colourful. In fact, it's actually a little too trigger happy with the colours, as bright reds and greens really explode and are quite exaggerated.
OUTDOOR:Ask it to capture red, greens and organic detail and you're given a bit of a blotchy end result. Images are colourful enough to get away with when used at small sizes, but the full-size originals look slightly odd
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INDOOR:Under decent light, indoor photos without flash are very nice. The camera's tendency to over-egg the colours seems to calm down a bit away from the glare of the sun
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MACRO:Macro mode is great, doing an excellent job of enabling you to get around six inches away from the subject
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FACE DETECTION: The Xperia Mini Pro also features face detection, which kicks in the portrait mode when it sees something with eyes and a mouth. Again, shots are super-colourful, so it's down to personal choice whether you can live with this or not
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DIGITAL ZOOM #1:There's a very quick and responsive digital zoom available when taking still shots...
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DIGITAL ZOOM #2:...although you probably won't actually use it, because there's a hefty loss of detail once fully zoomed
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BACKLIGHT:Evening shots often see the camera engage what it calls Backlight mode, which tries to maintain brightness levels without exaggerating the brightness or contrast too much. It creates very nice shots that are indeed pretty representative of actual evening conditions
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FLASH: Just like the Xperia Mini, the Mini Pro has a decent flash. But when it automatically engages Night Portrait mode and lengthens exposure time, getting a non-blurry photo can take some time. You might find it quicker to wait until morning
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FRONT CAMERA: The Xperia Mini Pro also has a whole extra camera. It comes with a front-facing secondary sensor, which takes shots and video at 640 x 480 resolution, so you can enjoy the futuristic pursuit of video chatting
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The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro can record clips at up to 720p resolution, saving its output as MP4 format files.
The camera app doesn't have much at all in the way of options when recording clips, with the same selection of scenes on offer as when taking still shots.
What is welcome is a choice of auto-focus options, with the camera coming with Face Detection, Infinity and Single Auto Focus options.
And it's rather good. The app is fast and responsive when recording clips. The auto focus takes a second or two to adjust, but you may find that preferable to one that's too quick to respond and leaves you with clips that are constantly being adjusted.
There's a digital image stabilisation tool in here, a self-timer, manual white balance options and the option to toggle use of the touchscreen as a shutter button on and off.
There's no digital zoom when recording video, though, but you can select the LED flash to stay on permanently, as a little night time torch.
Videos recorded at 720p resolution feature a solid frame rate, with our sample clips registering 29-30fps.
Detail isn't that great. Clips are pretty soft, with a kind of pastel blurriness.
Indoor footage under average light comes across as washed out, with the image over-saturated and lots of noise.
The Reality Display and Mobile Bravia Engine don't really bring any obvious benefits when viewing your clips on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro's screen.
The viewing angle is good and the phone plays back clips at a solid frame rate, but there's no noticeable improvement over what you see on the screens of similarly-sized smartphones.
The music player on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro is a quite simple option, but you do get a few nice custom interface features, a home screen widget and comprehensive playlist creation and management options.
Sadly there's no lock-screen music control, nor is it possible to control music via the pull-down Notifications menu. What you do get are a couple of Sony Ericsson additions in the player itself.
There's a Like button that will ping out the details of what you're currently listening as a Facebook status update. Plus there's the Infinite button, which performs a YouTube search using the artist details and returns a list of related clips, or searches Google for lyrics, or Wikipedia to see if the band is still going and how the drummer died.
Playlist support is good. You can create them on the fly or have the smartphone compile lists of newly added tracks, your most played selection or take the risk of going through the songs the phone thinks you've never played.
There's also a search bar along the top of the playlist screen, which is very useful if you've got a bursting SD card.
There's also an FM radio in here, which cleverly integrates with Sony Ericsson's TrackID system. If Zoe Ball turns the world on its head by playing a song you actually like, hitting the TrackID button records a sample and pings it off to a server for identification.
As for video playback, the options on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro are sadly quite limited. The Android phone only supports MP4 video files, and refused to play any of our standard selection of AVIs, WMVs and a hopeful MKV.
As with the likes of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, the PC Companion tool will offer to convert your videos into the correct format when copying them across, but this turns a three-minute job into a 30-minute chore.
The video player itself is one area where Google and Sony Ericsson haven't really bothered.
It's hidden from view with no direct icon to open it, and when you do click on a video that the phone supports and can open, you're greeted by the familiar grey slab design. You can play. You can skip. You can pause. That's it.
With regard onboard memory for storing all of the above and more, the Xperia Mini Pro comes with "up to 320MB" of internal memory. Our phone currently says it has a respectable 262MB free, even after installing our standard day-one phone reviewing favourites.
Battery life and connectivity
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro features a 1200mAh battery, which is the same as in the Xperia Mini and at the lower end of what we'd expect to find in a modern smartphone.
Sony Ericsson itself rates the battery as good for up to five hours and 40 minutes of talk time, or around 330 to 340 minutes of standby time.
In the real world, obviously the Xperia Mini Pro has a smaller screen to power then most, and that is reflected in its battery performance. We managed a good two days of light use from one charge, with the phone also easily surviving for a full day of pretty heavy web, Twitter and camera action.
You'll still need to be careful if you're planning on going too far away from the comforting hum of the national grid, but the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro is unlikely to let you down.
In standby mode, with GPS switched off, it barely registers any power drain at all over the course of a few hours.
Internally, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro supports sharing media via its Connected Devices DLNA app, which is a simple tool to turn the phone into a media server via a Wi-Fi internet connection. This worked well, with the smartphone easily pairing with another DLNA mobile in a few seconds.
Plus, as with all modern Android phones on a decent version of the operating system, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro can be turned into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot or used as a tethered USB modem, which is ideal for hooking a laptop into the 3G network.
Maps and apps
As expected with Android smartphones, you get the full range of Google apps on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro.
This means Calendar support, Gmail, YouTube and Talk included, plus the mighty four-pronged Google Maps app suite, which consists of separate tools for Navigation, latitude, Places and Maps itself.
Navigate is always the first toy to play with when using a new Android phone, with Google's free sat nav app as superb as ever. It's integrated with the standard Google Maps app incredibly well, enabling you to select your own location as a start point and specify your destination. Then Google does the rest.
For turn-by-turn voice navigation you need the voice data pack, which is a free download from the Android Market. It has everything you need to bin your existing sat nav.
OfficeSuite gives you the ability to manage and read Word documents, but it'll prompt you to pay for the Pro version if you want editing and file creation abilities on your phone.
Sony Ericsson's Get Games app also includes a home screen widget, which is a rather odd link that simply takes you to the Android Market listing for the promoted titles.
If you'd like some legitimate music, there are a couple of choices on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro.
Music can be purchased through Sony Ericsson's PlayNow app, where you're able to buy music for a ludicrous £1.50 per track plus a possible mobile data fee. Expensive, yes, but it's good to see Sony Ericsson at least giving users the option of an official MP3 shopping service.
There's also an 'app' representing Sony's Music Unlimited service on the phone, but it's really just a web link to a site with more information, and an encouragement to download the proper app from the Android Market.
One other interesting Sony Ericsson addition is its Friends' Music & Videos app, which encourages the stalking of your Facebook mates by pulling out all the music and video links people have shared on the social networking site, also letting you read the comments and Like the results.
It's a bit of an odd thing to focus on, that, but probably better than paging through the Android Facebook app.
There's also a version of the McAfee security suite on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro, giving users access to back-up tools and remote-wiping functions. It even goes so far as to enable you to create a Buddy List of people that can be notified in the event that your phone is stolen.
We've seen a few people on the internet complaining that this means the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro is therefore full of the sort of "spamware" that bloats many new PCs.
However, what you get here is actually the full McAfee product, registered for use for an entire year, so there won't be any aggressive nagging for credit card details after a month. And it's a useful tool, so we have no complaints at all.
The collection of PopCap game trailers, Qriocity apps and more are a little less welcome, though. You might want to spend 10 minutes deleting stuff to free up space.
The new QWERTY accompaniment to the Xperia Mini, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro, is a very nice, solid, well performing little smartphone.
Sony Ericsson's user interface is simple and fast, building on Google's 2.3 version of the popular Android mobile operating system to offer a slick and very user-friendly mobile phone experience.
Sony Ericsson's user interface makes some excellent tweaks to Android, filling the smartphone with subtle Facebook integration, nice animated icons and a giving it a generally stylish look and feel throughout.
Internet use is good. The tiny phone's 1GHz processor and Flash Player support means it can handle virtually all web tasks quickly and without grinding to a halt, with multi-touch and text reflowing to makes pages easily readable.
The QWERTY keyboard is great for those who like sending grammatically correct text messages. Alternate character selection via the specific button is simple, and text editing is made easy thanks to the cursor keys. There's no excuse for sloppy text speak now.
The corner-based icon system helps get the most out of the phone's small 3-inch screen, meaning you can easily access a huge number of apps through the phone's home screens.
While the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro's keyboard has some good functionality, the size is an obvious limitation. You end up typing with fingernails, it's so small.
If having a QWERTY keyboard is your number one phone-buying criteria, you'd be better off with a big one like the ones on the HTC Desire s or Motorola Milestone 2.
The camera is the same slightly disappointing unit as in the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini. This means still shots feature over-emphasised colours, while 720p video output lacks detail and comes across rather blotchy and blurry, despite its HD claims.
Quite a lot of junk is pre-loaded. There's some serious cross-promotion going on here, with Sony offering UEFA football apps, tennis apps, Qriocity audio and video apps, a PopCap demo gaming app and much more.
McAfee is genuinely useful, but the rest take up valuable bytes.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro's £240 price tag is relatively high in this age of budget-busting Android phones, but you are getting a lot in the package.
Performance is good, the phone's quick and responsive throughout, with apps installing and opening as fast as they do on today's high-end, dual core monsters.
The screen is responsive and bright, with text and photos looking sharp.
For the money, you could get a phone with a bigger screen, but there's nothing else that packs Android 2.3, a QWERTY keyboard and a totally smooth user experience into such a tiny bundle.
The camera is just about good enough for daily use, web browsing is excellent and Sony Ericsson's user interface is slick and smooth in operation. Plus there's a physical keyboard.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro pretty much has it all, as long as you can cope with the very compact format.