Sony Ericsson Xperia X8
19th Nov 2010 | 11:30
Sony Ericsson moves on the Android mid-ground with its 3" compromise phone
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Overview
We've got exactly what we wished for. After being rather impressed by Sony Ericsson's ultra-small Xperia X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro, we couldn't help but wonder what Sony Ericsson's heavily customised Android OS would look like on a phone with a middle-of-the-road screen that sits somewhere between that of the monster X10 and the tiny X10 Minis.
And that's exactly what we've got here. The screen of the Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 is three inches in size, so slightly smaller than the 3.2-inch norm as seen in the likes of the HTC Legend, LG Optimus One and many, many more Android phones.
The good news is the X8's touchscreen uses capacitive technology, so it's immediately more usable than other entry-level Android phones like the LG GT540 and Vodafone 845, which use the cheaper, less sensitive resistive technology. And don't work.
The form factor of the Xperia X8 is identical to that of the X10 Mini – only bigger. Which means a curved back with easily removable cover, three silver buttons beneath the screen – Android-standard Menu, Home and Back – along with the camera and speaker around the back.
The top edge of the phone features the micro-USB connector, which has been covered by a little plastic stopper to stop it accumulating handbag dust. Also here is the power socket in the middle and 3.5mm headphone jack.
Down the right-hand side sit the metallic-effect volume rocker and physical camera button. Sadly, as with the Xperia X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro and many other new entry level Android phones, there's no optical or physical trackpad on the X8.
And that's your lot. The phone itself feels solid and well-made, especially considering its £140 SIM-free asking price, with tough buttons and a solid screen.
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Interface
Here's where the Xperia X8 differentiates itself from the Android crowd – Sony Ericsson has included the same incredibly customised user interface as the one found on the Xperia X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro.
This means a unique Home screen that only features one big, central widget, accompanied by four customisable icon shortcuts to your most-used apps in each corner. While this system worked perfectly well and made great sense on the tiny screens of the Xperia X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro, on the larger three-inch screen of the Xperia X8 it seems like a bit of a waste of space.
Do we really need one massive Google search box in the middle of a three-inch screen? The OS is still just as fast and smooth to operate and navigate as it was in the X10 Mini and Mini Pro, but this feels like a needlessly hobbled way of doing things on a larger screen in this age of multitasking superphones.
Still, once you've arranged your four favourite app links in their corner slots it's a workable system – fast and intuitive, and ideal for mainstream users. Android fanatics won't enjoy the limitations of this layout – or the 1.6 version of Android it's built upon – but we doubt many Android fanatics will be eyeing up the X8 anyway. Problem solved.
Sony Ericsson has also supplied a healthy collection of custom widgets, with a couple that are of great use. The Data Monitor keeps track of how much mobile data you've transferred, which will be extremely useful if you're on a restricted monthly quota.
Also, there's a specific widget dedicated entirely to turning all data use on and off, making it simple to make sure you're not getting financially crippled thanks to a rogue app deciding to sync your entire music collection over-the-air while you sleep. Very useful little touches, these, especially when the X8 is likely to be sold on unlocked packages with SIM cards that come with strict allowances attached.
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Calling and contacts
The actual phone functions of the Xperia X8 are pretty much the same defaults as found in other Android 1.6-powered phones. Only given a big, blue-tinged visual makeover.
Calling is simple, with the dialer opening up a keypad with separate tab for keeping track of the call history. The Contacts list is accessed separately, and consists of a list of names with a separate tab for those you're starred and set up as your favourites. It works, but you won't be impressing anyone with it.
Customising contacts with photos is very easy. Through the X8's photo album you're able to open up a shot and attach it to a Contact, with this photo representing your friends on the favourites tab.
Also, Sony Ericsson's Timescape social networking tool helps bring Android's dull Contacts lists to life. When viewing a message posted by someone on Twitter or Facebook in the Timescape aggregator app, there's an option to link the person to a contact. Press that, choose one of your contacts, and the links pair up – enabling you to page through all social network messages posted by that one person. It's a great tool for popular people.
On the hardware side of things, the mic is clear and the speakerphone is great. Call volume is loud, and when using the speakerphone it's louder still – and this speaker is also used to great effect when playing music.
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Messaging
The keyboard is a full QWERTY, which is a step up from the numeric keypads offered in the Xperia X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro – with only a few minor customisations made to the bland stock Android keyboard by Sony Ericsson.
The X8 enables users to turn spelling correction on or off, automatically add words to the dictionary and even suggests the next word it thinks you may type – although this never actually happened at all during our time with the phone. It was definitely ticked in the options.
The keyboard really isn't up to much when compared to modern text input systems such as Swype and SwiftKey. Also, the Xperia X8's rather unresponsive touchscreen means you have to press harder than on most other capacitive phones, which hinders accuracy quite a bit.
Plus using a QWERTY keyboard on a three-inch screen in portrait mode was never going to be easy to begin with. You'd be best advised to install a custom keyboard from the Android Market if you plan on using the X8 for anything more complex than sending smileys to people a couple of times a week.
Email is supported via both Gmail and POP3, with the X8 featuring the same limitation on additional email accounts as found in the X10 Mini and Mini Pro. The phone's email app only lets users set up one email account, so you're stuck with that, plus Gmail.
Exchange is supported, but only via the third-party RoadSync application. It's not a great solution, with the X8 not offering an easy way to integrate all your email accounts in one place.
Text messaging is again the Android 1.6 default, only blue. Pick a contact, type a message, attach a photo and send. That's it.
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Internet
There's no multi-touch support here, so page zooming uses the old Android technique. You press the page, then zoom in and out with the magnifying glass, or use the magnifying tool to highlight particular areas.
It's not as glamorous or user-friendly as the modern pinch-to-zoom style found on other cheap Android phones such as the Orange San Francisco and would be a right pain were the X8 not a very capable device when it comes to moving web pages around. Pages scroll around very quickly, reducing the potential for browser rage significantly.
The 320 x 480 resolution is the most common screen format out there in Android world, and on the X8's smaller three-inch screen this makes web text very sharp and readable. The Xperia X8 manages to display text much more sharply and legibly than the competing budget LG Optimus One, despite the physically smaller screen.
The only problem here is with the options and general age of the browser. There's not much in the way of customisation or features, with just your standard Bookmarks and History options accessible through the Menu button. You can't copy text from pages, either, although it is possible to share URLs via the Android sharing options.
You can send shortcuts to the app drawer and Home screen, though, which is useful. Links to specific pages appear as icons you can slot into any of the phone's app slots for easy access to favourite sites. That's the only decent feature of a very basic, but fast browser.
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Camera
The X8's camera spec has been busted down to a three-megapixel model, without flash or autofocus, plus Sony Ericsson has also removed huge chunks of functionality from the Camera app that worked to such good effect in the X10 Mini and Mini Pro.
The camera comes with, er... four options, and they're only simple scene filters. Although, you can obviously switch between video and camera recording, which technically takes it up to five options. And, on start-up, users are prompted to allow or deny the geotagging of shots. So that's a whole extra option. It's not a great camera, given Sony Ericsson's past expertise in the area.
The phone's basic photo gallery also betrays the X8's Android 1.6 roots. The ageing version of Android featured a super-simple list of your pics – and that's all you get here. Disappointing.
The only option on the Album screen itself is to delete several, - so you can ditch unwanted photos. Press a photo bring it up fullscreen and the standard Android sharing options then appear in one of Sony Ericsson's corner units – where you can upload it directly to Facebook, push it through any installed Twitter apps or Gmail it to whomever you like.
This advanced social integration is one area where Android excels. The sharing menus make struggling to get pictures off your phone a thing of the past, and even with the outdated Android 1.6 at its core, the Xperia X8 is a great phone for boring people on the internet with photos of your everyday life. Such as...
Pictures emerge at 2048 x 1536 resolution and picture quality is quite poor. They're incredibly compressed down to between 250KB and 500KB file sizes, resulting in some major JPEG noise and artefacting.
Indoor photos of bright things are a little better, but there's no focus or macro mode on the X8's camera, so there's not much room for anything fancy.
They'll work as proof you went to a certain place, but that's about it.
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Video
Videos come off the camera at a decent 640 x 480 resolution in 3GP format, although the frame rate isn't that smooth.
Video quality is good, though – certainly better than the blocky mess produced by the equally cheap Android-powered Vodafone 845 – and you could definitely live with the results.
The one extra video option is the chance to record smaller clips for sending via MMS. It's about as entry level as a camera can get, this.
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Media
The Xperia X8's music player is based around the simple Android default, only with a comprehensive visual skin that goes a long way to making it look and feel a little better than Android 1.6's standard.
The big addition here is the Infinite button, which, when pressed, performs a little automatic internet search for media related to the artist that's currently playing.
It's a bit of a novelty, but if you're listening to a song and fancy having a quick watch of the video, it's a useful shortcut and will bring up a list of YouTube clips on a separate screen for you – and the option to buy it via Sony Ericsson's PlayNow shop, if it's in the catalogue.
The video player is disappointing. Our stock collection of review AVI and WMV files in various Xvid and DivX formats all refused to play, with Sony Ericsson requiring all video to be stuffed on the phone's SD card in a specific MP4 format.
So while music playback is good and the supplied headphones loud and capable, the X8 can't be recommended as a full media player. Having to re-encode videos for mobile use is not what people want from a player in this day and age.
Sadly, with the Xperia X8 being based around the 1.6 version of Android, you're stuck with using the older version of the YouTube client. But it works well enough, with the phone able to handle pausing and skipping with ease.
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Applications
Google apps are well represented on the X8, with Maps, YouTube, Gmail, Voice Search and Google Talk all on here from the outset. But with only 128MB of internal RAM for users, you'll need to be rather selective about what you stick on the X8 – a few of the more memory-hungry apps will soon have you running out of space.
There's an odd selection of extra apps pre-loaded on the X8, such as the Wisepilot sat-nav tool – a completely pointless addition when the all-powerful Google Maps Navigation is on here, and doesn't require payment to use.
Elsewhere there's Sony Ericsson's own TrackID system for identifying (then buying) music you hear, plus its PlayNow shop and casual gaming service – the latter is rather useless when the Android Market's on the phone, but both will no doubt find a home with casual users.
Elsewhere there's the standalone Facebook app if you don't want to use the Timescape widget, a few free game demos, plus a Notes app that enables you to send shortcuts to the Home screen and set little alarm reminders for things.
But there's one much more important question we must ask – can it run Angry Birds?
Yes. Thank God for that.
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Battery and connectivity
As with the superb little X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro, the X8 is a great performer when it comes to battery life. The low-spec 600MHz processor and small-ish three-inch screen keep power use low, so as long as you're not GPS-ing your way around the country, it'll last.
Connectivity is impressive for a phone in this price range, although well within Android standards. You get GPS support, with the X8 hooking onto your satellite position and starting up quicker than most phone sat navs we've used. It's hard to believe that your £140 gets you a fully featured GPS device, thanks to Google's incredible Maps Navigation app.
There's an FM radio, Wi-Fi connectivity (which was super-reliable and quick to connect), Bluetooth, micro-USB connector and seamless operation as a mass storage device for dumping your files onto its memory card.
The phone comes with Sony Ericsson's PC Companion suite on the 2GB microSD card, designed to simplify the stuff-putting-on process, which is amazingly unnecessary, since the phone identifies itself as an external drive in standard Android fashion.
The PC Companion also enables you to sync your phone's content, another needless duplication of Google's Android backup system, plus there's Sony Ericsson's Media Go tool for music organisation. But you'll be best off not using any of it and just chucking all your tunes in big a folder and letting Google handle your Contacts.
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Hands-on gallery
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Official gallery
Sony Ericsson Xperia X8: Verdict
Android enthusiasts won't like the fact that the Xperia X8 is based around the old Android 1.6, but for the mainstream user this won't be a problem – or even something they're aware of.
Yes, a few popular Android apps do require later versions of the OS, but 1.6 is still enough to get most jobs done, and £140 on a SIM-free basis is a good enough price for a solid phone.
Despite the small three-inch screen and low-end processor, the Xperia X8 did a good job of handling web browsing and every Android app we threw at it. Also, Sony Ericsson has created one of the few user interface skins that genuinely adds a lot of interesting features to the standard Android experience.
Sony Ericsson's user interface isn't just a few widgets and a different-looking dock – it's a total reworking of Android. The 'four corners' design makes great use of the smaller three-inch screen, and the larger widgets are easy to use. It's a bit restrictive, but will have its fans.
The fact that you get a three-inch capacitive touchscreen makes the X8 one of the better-specced Android phones at its price point, with the £140 price tag meaning you get a decent display for your money.
The battery life is good. Lay off the GPS and you'll easily get a full two days of use from the X8, while in operation the phone is fast and glitch free. Even when you've got 10 widgets stacked up on Home screens and a few apps on the go, there's no crunching. Sony Ericsson's got the X8's 600MHz processor working well.
Sadly the X8's screen isn't very responsive. The usually reliable capacitive technology isn't working too well here, with very firm prods required to register touches. This ruins typing accuracy, making it a pain to use for messaging.
The fact that this is based around Android 1.6 means a few flagship apps are either missing or running older versions. Mainstream users won't understand why the official Twitter app isn't visible on the Android Market when using the X8, for example.
Visually, the user interface customisations look bland. It's the default Android 1.6 made blue, and that simply isn't very exciting in the face of today's sizzling smartphone competition.
The camera is a bit of a disaster and a massive step down from the one Sony Ericsson put in its own Xperia X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro. Sure, the X8's quite a bit cheaper, but you'd be better off breaking the bank and getting an X10 Mini if you fancy using your phone for taking photos.
The result of Sony Ericsson's Android skin is a phone that doesn't really feel like any other Android phones out there – it's more akin to using an older 'feature' phone from Sony Ericsson.
Also, there's no ignoring the recent arrival of some significantly more impressive Android phones at this cheaper end of the market. The Orange San Francisco blows the X8 away in terms of power and screen size, while somehow also managing to be cheaper. The LG Optimus One offers the modern-day thrills of Android 2.2 and a bigger screen for a similar price.
As a result, the X8 finds itself in a bit of a bad place where it's outsmarted on all fronts by other models – even Sony Ericsson's own X10 Mini is a better option. If you're not concerned about having the latest (or even a particularly recent) version of Android, the X8 will do, but it's hobbled by an unresponsive touchscreen and the many difficulties that brings.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 works as a phone and is good for music and web use, but offering an out-of-date version of Android and an unresponsive screen it's best left to bargain-hunters only.