Let me premise this post with this one fact: I’m a confessed, huge, blubbering Sony fanboy. Ever since they suckered me in with the original Playstation I’ve been at early morning/midnight launch of their consoles, and I’ve happily parted with many dollars in order to get the console on the first day. I’ve never regretted doing this, especially with Sony’s habit of releasing consoles riddle with delicious exploits for the hackers to get their hands on. That, and they’ve now developed a nasty habit of removing features from their products in order to make them cheaper, something which I feel is a bit rough and doesn’t do them any favours PR wise.
So of course when it came time for work to replace my phone, you can probably guess who I turned to first to see if there was a suitable replacement.
Sony had decided that it needed to step into the arena of Windows smart phones and it’s first entry attempt is the Xperia X1 (which is sitting beside me as I type this). Sony can’t take all the credit for the handset however, as the internals of the handset were designed by smartphone giant HTC, who make pretty much every Windows smart phone you see despite the branding on the outside. This was a smart move by Sony as they whilst they have a small foothold in the laptop and UMPC market their experience with Windows based phones is nil, and established companies are typically risk adverse when it comes to cracking new markets.
They can take credit for a lot of other things to do with the handset. The overall design of the handset is stunning, with the body being mostly metal with plastic chrome flashing around the outside. This is one of the things that drew me to the handset initially, as it’s something different to the typical shiny black plastic you see on handsets these days. The arc-slider design, whilst by no means revolutionary, certainly adds a nice touch to the handset and helps to keep the device a bit slimmer then it’s counterparts.
Sony, as with most Windows mobile using companies, decided to rethink the default mobile UI and put their own system in. Traditionally this came as a re-skinning but many are now going for a complete overhaul of the default UI. The Xperia has a slight twist though, and that comes through the idea of panels.
The basic idea is that you can change between different default modes of operation for your phone. It’s actually not a bad idea and there are many panels out for things like Youtube and Facebook. They’re definitely a step up in terms of design when compared to the normal UI as they can take advantage of the IR trackpad at the base of the phone. The fish panel is a gimmick more then anything, but it’s a great thing to show people so they get a feel for what the phone is capable of.
What really suckered me in to this phone was is that everything just plain works. Every Windows mobile phone I’ve had has suffered from at least 1 or 2 shop stopping glitches that caused the phone to be next to useless around 50% of the time. My first ever phone, the O2 Atom Exec routinely suffered stability problems. After having it serviced (and the screen replaced, due to a drunken attempt at a commando roll) it would randomly turn itself off if touch, bumped or prodded. Something that was particularly distressing when you were on a call and needed to put it down to turn on the speaker. My most recent handset, the HTC Touch Diamond, did tick all the right boxes (size, weight, power, features) it also had a lovely habit of completely muting itself when someone rung, so that I could hear them but they couldn’t hear me. Several trips back and forth to the repair centre and online resources couldn’t turn up a fix. Pity I lost it as it would’ve made a great universal remote
The Xperia, whilst not a revolutionary piece of hardware or software does make some incremental changes that turn out to be a very usable phone in a delightfully sleek package. Sure it lacks an accelerometer and the IR trackpad, whilst a great idea, does turn out to be a bit lackluster but the build quality alone makes up for these lost features. Plus people won’t wonder why you’re so happy to see them when you put this phone in your pocket
Overall I’m very pleased with my purchase and I’d love to see what else Sony has in store for this market. Whilst at the RRP of over AUD$1000 I’m not suprised that everyone is rushing out to buy one of these, but for the business and “prosumer” market it’s definitely in the ballpark.
Most of the time when you’re buying the latest widget you’re buying it with a purpose already in mind for it. I know the majority of the things I’ve bought were initially bought to fill a need (like the server this web page is coming to you from, it was a testbed for all sorts of wonderful things) and then are left at that. But what about that hidden little bit of value that’s inside pretty much every tech purchase these days, can we essentially get more for money we’ve already spent?
With technology moving at such a rapid pace these days pretty much every gadget you can think of has what amounts to a small computer inside it. A great example of this would be your stock standard iPod, whilst Apple is always coy about what is actually under the hood in these devices a little searching brings up this list which shows that the majority of them run on a re-branded Samsung ARM processor. While this might not mean anything to anybody a couple intrepid hackers took it upon themselves to port the world’s most popular free operating system, Linux, onto this device. Whilst this at first might seem like an exercise in futility a quick glance at their applications page shows many homebrew applications that have been developed for this platform.
This is not the only occurrence of something being used way outside its original purpose. Way back in 2005 Sony released the Playstation Portable, an amazing piece of hardware that was basically a Playstation 1 console made portable. Thanks to my working in retail at the time I had one in my pocket the day it was released, but it wasn’t until a couple years later that I discovered the huge hacking scene that was behind this device. I then discovered that I could run emulators, media streaming programs (I was able to wow my housemates by streaming media over WiFi to my PSP), homebrew games and so much more. Sure, I was running the risk of completely destroying the device in the process but the additional value I got out of it was worth the risk. Well, it was out of warranty anyway
This kind of value-add is something I now seek in pretty much all of my technology purchases. Recently I bought myself a Sony Xperia X1 mobile, but not before hitting up my favourite HTC hacking site, XDA-Developers. A quick look at their Xperia section shows all sorts of wonderful things you can do with this handset. One of the most amazing things you can do is run Google’s Android platform on this handset, something which sealed the deal on the phone instantly. It’s things like this that help me justify such huge tech purchases (that and the fact that my work paid for the mobile ).
So I encourage you, look around your room and see if there’s anything there that you wouldn’t mind tinkering with and have a look around on the Internet to see what can be done. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.