Archive | December 2011

Walk This Ray

A
recent turn of good luck yielded me a 2011 Mini Pro from the good
folks at SE, and the wife managed to upgrade her handset to the
Xperia Ray. As she’s a fan of the Mini, having owned the 2010 model,
and I’m a fan of the Ray, we both readily opted to swap handsets.
This should in no way detract from the little pocket-rocket that is
the Mini; sporting a 5MP camera, 720p video and a 1GHz processor,
it’s no slouch. However the Ray suits someone like me down to the
ground as it packs a better camera, more memory, a slimmer build and
numerous other gadgety things more inclined for boys and their toys.
Although saying all that the Ray is being marketed more towards
females…hmmm.

Anyhoo,
as I’ve previously stated, I’ve been impressed this year by the way
SE have managed to cram everything from the Arc into the Neo (plus a
little extra) and then shoehorned the contents of the Neo into the
even smaller Ray, stripping out the almost non-essential things like
the HDMI-out (be honest – how often have you used it?!) but still
managing to deliver the same performance as the Arc
and
retaining the front-facing camera introduced with the Neo. The
progression is staggering, even if there are some slight problems
along the way with the design and UI in this particular model.
The
minimalist design of the Ray is, well, fairly minimal, right down to
it lacking a camera button. All the other handsets I’ve seen this
year have one, so it’s a little strange for it to be missing here;
the touch screen is now the sole reliance for using the camera. It’s
a minor gripe really as I use the touch capture far more than I ever
used the camera button on my other phone(s), simply because the
button can be irritating at times!
The
build quality is pretty good. Once again the matt finish utilised in
the 2010 X10 series and on this years’ Mini series tops everything
off, giving a decent grip in the hand, which is useful as this is a
super slim phone. Even if you have a penchant for uber-skinny jeans,
you’ll find the Ray is so sleek and slim it’s barely noticeable in
the pocket, which comes in very useful when smuggling the phone about
to use it discretely i.e. in the office. Of course this does make it
a little easier to misplace so top tip; don’t put it on silent unless
absolutely necessary!
I
had some reservations with the size of the screen, which as it turns
out weren’t completely unfounded; having had the Arc and Neo this
year already and been used to the acreage of their screens (in
particular the 4.3in Arc screen), dropping to the Ray screen was a
bit of a pickle initially. I use things like Swype for text input,
which here has been replaced by a keypad similar to ‘old fashioned’
phones.
Having
used touch screen input for a couple years, it wasn’t that big an
adjustment to make to switch back to standard T9 input, but I’ll be
honest and admit it did initially cause some minor frustration and
the occasional profanity to erupt from behind clenched teeth. Swype
is probably still available to use on this phone – I haven’t
checked yet – but I would imagine the keyboard for this would be
tiny!
Something
else that’s irked me, particularly with the Mini Pro and the Ray, is
the bare minimum of MicroSD memory being provided with the handset;
2GB with the Mini Pro and 4GB with the Ray. To me that just doesn’t
seem enough, particularly for what I use the phone for, and for a
phone offering high quality music playback (coming as it does with
the excellent LiveSound earphones, at least on unbranded handsets),
HD video capabilities and 8MP pictures, the minimum memory provided
should be 8GB. I’ve beefed up the memory on the Ray to 16GB, so it
now offers the same sort of space as my trusty (though ailing) iPod
Touch. With this improvement the Ray is now something of a powerhouse
handset that delivers pretty much everything I need from a media
perspective.
I
loaded Tron: Legacy onto the Ray and it looked pretty handsome; vivid
colours, great sound reproduction. Tron: Legacy really gave the
BRAVIA engine something to work on and it’s a pretty impressive
experience even on a smaller screen!
If
I had any other real gripes it would be with the touch response on
the screen; it’s a little flaky at times. Not all the time, but it
can miss a touch or two here and there, mainly when using pattern
protection to unlock the phone. The home button has a nice semi
circle of light around it, which also acts as a notification light,
but the back and menu keys are just keys, they don’t light up or
anything. Call me fussy but I think it would have given the handset
some extra oomph if they had. Again, it’s a minor gripe over a design
decision I had nothing to do with, one that really was probably
driven by cramming so much into such a small handset, so something
had to go!
In
summary then, the Ray offers the same performance and virtually all
the features of the Arc and Neo from earlier this year, while coming
in at a lower price. Get the phone off network and chances are you’ll
get the excellent LiveSound earphones included, saving yourself RRP
£60! It’s an excellent handset and represents SE’s 2011 progression
and dedication to their craft in a stylish handset at a very decent
price.  

Update: after tinkering with the keyboard input settings, T9 isn’t the only input option, the standard Android keyboard is also available! And comes with Ericsson’s version of Swype/gesture input, which ain’t too shabby!

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Xperia & 2012

Judging by the stories that have been leaking out from SE the past few weeks, about the forthcoming 2012
range of Xperia phones, the coming year
looks to be Sony Ericsson/Sony’s biggest year yet. I shan’t wade through everything that’s been
written, but the best of the handsets currently mooted really has the potential
to be something extra special; The Nozomi,
possibly to be named the Duo or Cloud on it’s release, sports a veritable slew
of features:

1.5GHz dual-core processor
1GB RAM
12MP
camera
1280×720 HD screen
32GB of onboard memory.


I’m sure there will be other features that are just
as amazing, but even if the above list is *all* we get, that’s pretty amazing.
Dual core has been asked about a lot on the SEUK wall really since the Arc was released and
there are members of the Test Lab who have been pushing for this
feature. The Arc S introduced the fastest
Xperia handset ever to the market, but those of us who’ve rooted and booted our
phones have been overclocking to 1.78GHz and beyond for months – although at a
detriment to the life of the 1GHz processor. At least it shows SE are listening
to their fanbase AND following market trends etc, so t
op marks then for
the 1.5GHz.


12MP cameras were first introduced with the
Satio, but sadly thanks to a shoddy operating system this phone was something of
a damp squib; it should’ve been a lot better. A real pity; one suspects if
the Symbian operating system was able to be replaced with Android we would have
seen a really good phone. Though it’s now
faded into obscurity, it appears it’s getting something of a resurrection – the
12MP camera at least – with the new phone(s).
I’m far more interested in the 32GB of onboard
memory, however. My trusty 2007 1st Gen 16GB iPod
Touch is really starting to show it’s age this last couple months, so I’ve
been utilising the phone music player a lot more. To this extent
I’ve also purchased a 16GB MicroSD card so I can carry more of my library
with me. Added to this I’m using the excellent Sony Ericsson LiveSound
headphones and things are looking and sounding (pun intended) pretty
good on the music front.


So, back to
the memory; the 32GB, although probably closer to 29GB after the filing
system is set up, should 
really give the Nozomi a chance to
compete with the iPhone, allowing users to carry far more of their
music 
with them, while still leaving room for 12MP pictures and a
few other bits and pieces. It’s a very, very generous allocation of
memory which neatly trumps at least two of the current iPhones
available.


For me it still would’ve been useful to have the
Micro SD slot on the phone, either to utilise the extra memory as an
expansion slot or to use it as a backup
for pictures and things like that. Let’s not forget; people don’t religiously
clear their phones out and if anything goes wrong with the memory, it’s not like
it can be removed (not that we know of) and replaced with another card – it’s
integrated into the phone, so the whole lot would have to go off to be
repaired/replaced. Still with cloud technology getting better and better, and
the likes of Box currently offering 50GB of online storage for free, there’s no
reason why we couldn’t be backing up our photos and personal bits and pieces
pretty much anytime, anywhere.


So the
Nozomi
should prove to be a game changer for Sony – if all goes to plan
it should piddle quite handsomely all over the iPhone 4S –  and
hopefully lightly tinkle on the feet
of 
at least a couple
other phone makers as well! Throw into the mix at least one other phone with
similar specs, a couple more handsets at least on a par with this years’
Arc…AND an upgrade for 2011/2012
handsets to Android 4.0 Ice Cream
Sandwich…it’s shaping up to be a bumper year and a busy one at that for Test
Lab. Roll on spring 2012!

Mini Pro – A thing for rubber.

Last summer, my wife upgraded her contract
phone to the X10 Mini. It’s a nice little phone, with some useful features and
proved a plucky little handset, given it’s 
initial Android 1.6 handicap. A few months
later, in January of this year (2011) 
and on
the basis of my wife’s satisfaction with her SE Android handset,
I
upgraded my contract phone to the X10i – specifically the HD variant with Eclair
2.1 on board. Also a great handset, limited again 
to 2.1 (or so we were led to believe) as it was
SE’s first foray into the broader aspects of the Android market.


Jump to
November 2011 and the kind overlords at SE have furnished me with another phone;
the 2011 Mini Pro...And a fine handset it is too. I first saw this little
beauty back in the summer and was immediately impressed with it. Sure it’s
stubby and a little chunky, but it sports some considerable heft in the
hand.


Fiddling with the
slide-out full QWERTY keyboard, I found this to be a much smoother experience
than when using the Play, which I felt had a slight ‘wobble’ to it, even when
tucked away under the screen. No such problems here, everything tucks away where
it should be with barely a rattle to be heard when it’s closed. Nice. Sturdy.
Solid.


The screen itself is
bigger than last years X10 screen and is a very nice screen to behold. It’s
bright, it’s vivid, it renders photos taken with the 5MP camera very well and
displays video taken with the phone quite handsomely as well. The BRAVIA engine
is onboard this phone so that does play a part in making things look better. The
UX for this phone has improved somewhat; the corner docks can now accomodate
more than just one app, I think you can have 4 apps in each corner which comes
to a grand total of 16 ‘bookmarks’ for your electronic delectation. Pressing the
menu button on the homescreen now draws up the same menu as seen on other
2011 Xperia handsets, which is something of a relief as the menu on the original X10
Mini was a nightmare!


I was disappointed
the phone only came with a 2GB card, personally I found this a bit mean,
especially considering phones like the Arc and Neo came with an 8GB card –
surely at least a 4GB wouldn’t have gone amiss? Not the end of the world though,
as Micro SD’s are easily replaceable and I seem to have a glut of 8GB cards
knocking about, so that’s that problem solved


And now we come to the point behind the curious
title of this post – rubber. The 2010 X10 series and the 2011 successor Mini handsets all have a fabulous matt
finish which is, surprise surprise, almost rubbery in places. I personally find
the finish to be of great use and value. For starters it makes the phone easier
to grip. I like the look of that finish compared to glossier finish of the
Arc/Neo, though I will admit they do still look nice, but the glossy finish does
tend to make the phones a little slicker if your hands are wet, for example. And
it does rain here in good old Blightly. A lot.


Anyway, fetishes
aside, the 2011 Mini Pro is a considerable improvement on it’s predecessor.
I’ve given mine to my wife in trade for her Xperia Ray, coming on contract this
week (review to follow soon!) but that should by no means suggest it’s a phone
for girls. Sporting a fine camera, a decent screen, sturdy build, a zippy little
processor and a respectable amount of RAM, it’s also running the latest
version of Android – with ICS right around the corner. In short, it’s a
great little handset and worthy of anyone’s attention.