The wait for Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X1 has been so long we’ve all grown ZZ Top beards and built an actual size Lego Death Star since it was announced. Its rivals have been busy too: Samsung’s i8510, Nokia’s N96 and Apple’s iPhone 3G have all stormed the smartphone palace and set up residency.

But, finally, Sony Ericsson’s first Windows Mobile phone is here. Early pictures of the premium handset suggested it might be a brick-sized Nokia Communicator, but those fears are immediately dispelled on first meeting: the X1 is compact, robust and pleasingly weighty in the hand. Think an armour-plated, double-decker C902.

Windows dresser

The presence of clunky old Windows Mobile might provoke groans in certain quarters but, like HTC, Sony Ericsson has dressed up the stale UI with its own ‘panels’ interface.

You get a selection of seven of these tiles (you can fit nine on the homescreen and more will be available to download), with each giving one touch access to features from Google services to your onboard media. There’s also Sony Ericsson’s own widget, and a very strange fish application.

Panel interface

Switching between these panels works quite well, although it’s not as efficient or slick as we’d like. The Windows OS has always been a tad disjointed and the panel system certainly helps, feeling more intuitive and enjoyable to use than HTC’s TouchFLO 3D.

Of course, the 3in, wide VGA quality touchscreen is central to the operation and, while the front end is finger friendly, you’ll be grabbing the stylus to work through Windows’ more intricate menus.

Like the i8510, the mechanised five-way navigation pad also doubles as an optical joystick and this certainly helps when scrolling through web pages.

Finger friendly

The X1’s spacious, thumb-friendly QWERTY keypad is by far the best for drafting and writing emails. But the Windows OS still offers a myriad of stylus driven techniques like handwriting recognition, virtual keyboards and even a transcriber.

Bypass Internet Explorer for the embedded Opera Mobile 9.5 and web browsing is fantastic over HSDPA and especially Wi-Fi. Full fat web pages are displayed in all their glory on the widescreen display and the X1’s touch dynamics suddenly blossom. Double taps for zooming in, iPhone-esque finger-dragging – it’s all there, and works smoothly.

Touch to focus

The 3.2megapixel camera, complete with autofocus, seems tame compared to the five and eight megapixellers doing the rounds, but it has some nice touches. The touch-focus is particularly neat, letting you focus on a specific subject by tap the area on the screen and picture quality is decent enough.

After stalling at QVGA level for ages now, it’s great to see Sony Ericsson finally step-up to VGA quality video at 30fps. You’ll definitely notice the smooth transition. Similarly, the integrated 3.5mm headphone socket is also a boon, considering the manufacturer’s reluctance to include a jack on its Walkman or Cyber-shot phones.

Review continues after the break...

With support for A-GPS and Google Maps onboard, the X1 is nicely geared for basic navigation and location-based services and the GPS fix from a cold start proved relatively speedy.

So can the X1 hold its own amongst the smartphone glitterati? With the exception of its middle of the road snapper, we would say just about. Although the Windows Mobile OS isn’t ideal and its panel interface still a little unconvincing, the XI is definitely the friendliest Windows Mobile phone we’ve handled.


Stuff says... 

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 review

A great all round smartphone but hobbled by that blasted Windows Mobile engine