The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro may look like a bit of a rehash – the original X10 Mini Pro launched more than a year ago – but don’t be fooled. This itsy bitsy, teeny weeny smartphone mops the floor with BlackBerry’s messaging rivals.
With a 3-inch screen and a 92x53x18mm profile, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro is a wee bit bigger than its predecessor, but it’s all for the better. In your hand, you don’t notice the difference, and it’s not too heavy at 13g. Everything seems reasonably placed, from the headphone jack and micro USB port on the top to the volume rocker and camera shutter button on the right hand side.
It’s not going to win any wards for design anytime soon (it still reminds us ever so slightly of a stubby toe), but we’re big fans of the fingerprint resistant rubber backing, and it’s nice to see an LED notification on the front, alongside a front facing camera for video chats.
Our one real gripe? There’s no search button below the screen, and the home button in the middle isn’t capacitive like the menu and back keys, which creates some tactile confusion. We’ll live, and we think you will too.
Pop that slider open though, and you’re presented with a full, four line keyboard which hasn’t changed much since the X10 Mini Pro – to be honest, it didn’t need to. While landscape keyboards are traditionally slower than portrait ones on mobile for typing with two thumbs, the Mini Pro is small enough to make this a non-issue, and the buttons are well defined, with a nice give.
It could still be better though. That dedicated language change button by the cursor keys seems like a waste of space, and would have been better put to use had it acted as a search key or shortcut button instead. Sony Ericsson’s auto-correct software isn’t quite up to scratch either: where as a BlackBerry will automatically insert apostrophes correctly for you in most words, it won’t. For grammar obsessives, it’s a minor annoyance, but HTC ChaCha aside, this is the best Android keyboard we’ve used yet regardless.
On the one hand, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro’s 320×480 resolution 3-inch capacitive touchscreen is a blessed relief. Its predecessor, the X10 Mini Pro, was largely undone by its 320×240 resolution, which many Android apps didn’t support. The HVGA resolution now means almost everything works just fine – save for high-end games, which really are hit and miss (Gun Bros for instance gets as far as the level load screen before crashing.) It’s sharp enough on 3-inch screen to make reading long web articles near enough to pleasant too.
But as with the Xperia Play, the quality of the screen really is disappointing. This is no “Reality Display”: even with brightness cranked to the max, it’s really dim, and whites are closer to beige than anything. It’s visible in daylight, just, but it leaves something to be desired compared against the best Samsung and even LG have to offer.
At its core, there really aren’t too many surprises here: to all intents and purposes, Android 2.3.3 on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini offers the same feature set as it does on the Xperia Arc and Neo – the helpful Facebook photo gallery syncing, the not so helpful Timescape widget and media curation app. In other words, you’ve got countless apps to tuck into, and plenty of flexibility with Android. If iOS doesn’t float your boat, it is the best thing out there today, period.
Instead, we’re focusing here on the changes to Android required by the small screen and lower resolution.
By default, the Xperia Mini Pro’s home screen is a bit unusual: you get a 9×9 grid for shortcuts and widgets, with four persistent corner pockets that can hold up to four icons in a tray. This is rather convenient, but the trade off is that tiny grid only really allows for one widget per home screen, in practice.
When the keyboard is shut meanwhile, the on-screen QWERTY that pops up is a slightly frustrating 0-9 predictive numberpad, as Sony Ericsson thinks this screen size is too small for a full QWERTY. Having tried out a few, we disagree.
The good news is that you can get rid of almost all of this if you don’t like it though: installing LauncherPro gives you back a normal 4×4 grid homescreen, and you can pick and choose virtual keyboards from the Android Market. The only real issue we suffered with Android on a small screen is that Gmail really isn’t optimised for it: you can’t see much of a message at one time, which may lead you to try out the other Email client that comes preloaded instead.
That aside, we have no real gripes with the software on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro: for once this is a tiny Android phone with few compromises.
Ho hum five megapixel shots – if a decent mobile snapper is what you’re after, you’d be better off with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc instead. More surprising is the pleasant 720p HD video it grabs – we’re pretty sure this makes it the world’s smallest HD phone, until the Xperia Mini comes along in a few weeks anyway.
Speed and peformance
1300 score in Quadrant? Smooth Flash video performance? Damn. The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro truly is first in class for a phone of its size. The 1GHz processor paired with Adreno graphics might not be cutting edge on a phone the size of the Xperia Play, but powering a small 480×360 screen, it’s more than enough. Every console emulator we’ve managed to get up and running on a powerful Google Nexus S works almost as well here, including *gasp* PlayStation emulators. If you know where to look, it’s a proper little retro games machine, only really inhibited by high-end Android games’ lack of support for the HVGA resolution, rather than anything else.
Call quality was reasonable, but battery life naturally wasn’t quite as impressive as that of some Android rivals running Qualcomm’s 7227 600MHz processor, such as the INQ Cloud Touch. It will still get you through a day of use with syncing on, however, and for most, that should be just fine.
In the absence of a new iPhone so far in 2011, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro is quite possibly our second favourite smartphone of the year so far (after the Samsung Galaxy S 2). This is a corking little messaging phone, with powerful innards that put most other mid-range Android phones to shame. If you’re not fussed about playing the latest HD Gameloft titles, snap this up pronto.