Xperia X10 review

The Xperia X10 is a continuation of every smartphone aficionado's love-hate affair with Sony Ericsson.  It's a combo of exceptional hardware and build quality, with poorly implemented software that is taking far too long to get updated.  By the latest standards, it's no powerhouse, but the specs are still good and were top of the line when we first saw it at CES in January 2010.  But the software.  Oh the software -- especially the fact that it's still running Android 1.6 is so hard to swallow.  Hit the break, and have a look at the impressions, both good and bad, that AT&T's version of the X10 left on me.

The first thing you notice when you pick up the X10 is the build quality.  It's truly a beautiful phone, very well made and has a touch of class that you don't get from most black slabs on the market today.  You can tell the designers put a lot of thought into it, and it's very enjoyable to use as a phone.  The call quality was adequate -- nothing good or bad stood out, but it feels very nice and comfortable in the hand, more than other phones like the Evo or the Droid X.  The 4-inch screen seems to be the perfect mix of usability, both as a media and messaging device and as a phone.  Of course your mileage may vary, but to me, it's a perfect blend.  It's also very difficult to put a finger on exactly why.  The materials are nothing special, plastic all around (including the trim and buttons) with a unique coating on the larger parts to give a tiny amount of texture.  Again, credit to the design team goes here as well.

There is one thing about the hardware that drove me nuts.  There seems to be a coating on the glass that makes it very smooth under your finger for gesturing and swiping, which also smears horribly during use and give off a very annoying glare -- to the point where you have trouble in bright light.  Keep a cloth handy with this one.

For a look at the exterior hardware a little more, check out the initial hands on with the X10 we posted a while back.  There's not much more to say about the build.  The specs, as mentioned aren't dismal:

  • 1 GHz Snapdragon CPU
  • 1 GB ROM
  • 512 384 MB RAM
  • 4-inch capacitive touchscreen
  • 8.1 MP camera with LED flash
  • the usual array of WiFi (b/g), GPS and Bluetooth
  • 1500 mAh battery

Battery life was fair.  In the phone's defense, it was roaming most of the time because of my area.  The 1500 mAh battery still lasted through a day's use under average conditions.  The camera was spectacular.  Even hampered by less than optimal software on Android 1.6, taking pictures and video was easy and they turn out well, even in the hands of a relatively unskilled photographer like myself.  The video is clear and crisp, and even during a windy day in the mountains there was no "whistle" from the wind during filming.  Here's a sample of raw video capture, at 640x480 resolution and in .mp4 format (default high quality settings), followed by some still shots taken in an abandoned apple orchard. 

Youtube link for mobile viewing

The Software

This is where things start to go downhill.  When you take fast hardware and match it with a fast OS, things are nice and zippy.  That's what we are all used to with 1 GHz processors.  When you match it with older and slower versions of the software, it's barely passable.  And when you toss in an incredibly complex and graphic rich user interface, it's a trainwreck.  I'm talking about TimeScape, of course.  What could be the shining spot of the X10 is it's Achilles' Heel. 

Youtube link for mobile viewing

I can't help but wonder how well TimeScape could run if it were on Froyo and a bit more optimized.  I do know it's almost unbearable on Android 1.6.  Everything works, and the OS is surprisingly bug-free, it's just too much at once for the phone to handle, I think.  Having said that, I couldn't fault anyone willing to give up some speed and fluidity for the eye candy -- it does look beautiful.  And as shown above, the phone itself isn't too terrible using a third party launcher, so go ahead and try one if you've picked one of these up.  The X10 isn't too saddled with bloatware, but does have AT&T Family Locator, AT&T Maps, Where, AT&T Navigator and AT&T Radio pre-installed.  No Yahoo or Bing, and those apps are likely useful for many.  Here's a slew of eye-candy stills, and the ubiquitous benchmark results.

X10 incoming call

X10 lockscreen

X10 messaging

Timescape music

Timescape feed

X10 pictures

X10 Linpack

X10 Quadrant

It's all very glassy and modern looking.  It's really a shame it runs so laggy, as it's both beautiful and elegant -- much like the X10 itself.  And the benchmarks show that there's potential there, this is Android 1.6 remember.

In the end, would I recommend anyone buy the X10?  That would be a yes.  If you value style over function (and many of us do, there's no denying) this is the phone for you.  Sony Ericsson has promised an update to Eclair, and I even held off on this review for two weeks on a tip that it may be available soon that turned out not to apply to AT&T branded phones.  An OS update and the more optimized TimeScape that's sure to be in the works to go with would do wonders for this phone.  Also, those of you on AT&T looking for sleek and sexy hardware and have plans to follow the dark path and root the darn thing have one hell of a canvas to work with here. But if you're like most, and want an Android phone that offers a great Android experience out of the box, I would recommend you look long and hard at all the models AT&T is currently offering and weigh your decision carefully. 

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • For a Sony product the hardware is not up to snuff. I had some good time to play with it and didn't feel like the build quality was that good. As far as Donut goes? Oh Boy... Coming from 2.1 and especially 2.2, 1.6 seems light years behind
  • Meh
  • If you value style over function, better buy an HTC Legend. Looks great, performs amazing and without any serious bugs and will be upgraded from 2.1 to 2.2 soon (hopefully). ;)
  • after using a powerhouse Android phone (i.e. Nexus One 2.2.1) this phone is impossible to use! its wayyyyyyy too slow! i tested it vs. the G1 and the G1 beat it! lol! all in good time though! it will get better, i guess???
  • Be careful recommending the X10 to people looking to root and "follow the dark path," because there's not much they can do. The thing is locked down incredibly hard and even though they've gotten root on it there's still no custom ROMs after seven months of work. In fact, there's a $10,000 bounty on XDA simply for a working build of Froyo for hacked X10s: Also the international version of the phone has 384 MB RAM. Did they change it to 512 on the AT&T version? Anyway, the whole thing makes me really bitter. I preferred the X10's hardware aesthetic to the Nexus One's, and it was my early pick during 2009 for a smartphone with some legs because of how quick SE was on the scene with a Snapdragon device. But man, they just really do not want this phone to be successful. Repeated delays, "held hostage" (as you so eloquently put it) to 1.6, and awful lockdown of the hardware just to make developers doing work on it for free miserable all adds up to a the spitting image of how hardware partners are wrecking Android for customers. And hey, no multitouch either!
  • If you are on AT&T, buy the Cappy, people.
  • There is one thing about the hardware that drove me nuts. There seems to be a coating on the glass that makes it very smooth under your finger for gesturing and swiping, which also smears horribly during use and give off a very annoying glare -- to the point where you have trouble in bright light. Sony Ericsson ships the X10 with one (in somecases even two) screen protectors.
    Pay attention to the edges and you will be able to remove it. Once you do that the touchscreen is a joy to use.
  • I own the X10. My second most function for a phone is the camera. Must say X10 camera one of the best if not the best on the market. Phone feels and works well. Sorry to say if you want apps Apple still has Android beat probably for one maybe even two more generations of phones.
  • Really? Where did you read that? Because from what I'm seeing, Apple is already starting to slip behind Android in terms of active handsets, and the App Market is showing steady growth, so it shouldn't be long before even more developers start releasing apps for Android and help the market grow even larger and faster than before. Android Market now has over 80,000 applications
    Android is showing unprecedented growth
  • I had a 2nd look at this phone last week at the local AT&T store. What a turd. Its a nice looking phone for sure but was so slow it was painful. And trying to get anything done on it was akward. I couldn't even set a desktop background from within the photo viewer.... On a side note, the AT&T sales drone asked me if I needed help. When I asked if the phone was running 2.2 he mumbled something and then walked away. Classic.
  • I do not understand why you would recommend this phone to anyone? I agree its a sexy piece of hardware and crippled by the OS but still there is a better Android on AT&T (read Captivate) which is sexy and is already on Eclair, and provides better features (except camera) than X10. Another thing is, this will never get to 2.2 and does not have multitouch support. Samsung Captivate costs almost the same as X10 unless you go for the non-commitment pricing ($500 vs $350).
  • They may cost about the same, but Sony Ericcson doesn't offer as much as Samsung does, plus it still runs 1.6! I had a poke at this Xperia X10, feels too proprietary and sluggish in some places. HTC & Samsung are probably the best choices now.
  • I'm jealous my 8 megapixel incredible can't touch those 8.1 megapixels
  • Its a great phone, i have had mine from the day they were available in the UK. The only thing that got to me was the blue skin of the OS so i developed a set of themes for it. You can find them on this link if you are an X10 owner wanting a change