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I've been waiting for this phone to hit the shelves since I read a preview of the then titled Idou from Sony Ericsson. Promise of 12 megapixel smartphone goodness built on the Symbian operating system really caught my attention and it quickly became the logical choice for me as it's release came shortly after my contact was due for Upgrade.
So here we are, i've had the phone for a week now, and here are my experiences with the Sony Ericsson flagship phone, the Satio.
Straight away my first impressions are drawn to the large 3.5" widescreen touchscreen display which merges seamlesly into the black casing on the model I have chosen. Only three small buttons blemish the front, these are Call, Menu and Hangup. Round the back the phone is dominated by the bulging lens cover over the 12megapixel camera, sliding it back activates the camera and reveals the LED light and Xenon flash. Moving to one side of the phone we see the camera controls, zoom, preview, camera/video and the shutter button. And the other side has the SD memory card slot, the charger/headset connection and the lock button. Turning on the phone reveals the standby screen with five icons across the top, four across the bottom and a status bar for the music player. Across the top we have favourite contacts, internet shortcuts, home screen, photo album, and shortcuts. You can access these by either taping the icon, or by sliding your finger across the screen to scroll left and right which is a nice touch. At the botom you have icons for the phone keys, media player, messaging and search. Hitting the menu key at the bottom of the screen brings up the phone menu in a nce grid which is very similar in layout to previous Sony phones so those used to previous Sony's (like myself) will feel quite at home.
The main concern with a completely touch interface is how easy is it to input text for messaging. There are several options for this, a fullscreen qwerty keyboard in landscape mode with buttons large enough for the largest fingers to use accurately, a mini qwerty keyboard which is small, but I find easy enough to use for most messaging, there is an alphanumeric keypad similar to a standard phone, but as far as I can see with no predictive input which is a shame for people who prefer this option. If you want to carry the stylis around with you there is also a handwriting option. I haven't tried this much but it isn't forgiving enough to accept my scrawl anyway. In terms of messaging you have standard text and picture messaging along with a handy conversation feature which gives Instant Messaging appearance via SMS, even including your multimedia content in the conversation. TYou also have access to your pop email accounts, and I have set up my home, as well as my hotmail acount to be retrieved through my phone.
There is a full featured internet browser which while perhaps not a comprehensive in it's rendering as say the iPhone or Opera is quite adequate for most browsing tasks and is the standard browser for rendering HTML emails.
The media player as with previous Sony offerings is very good and fully featured for Pictures, music and video, with the high resolution (it's not quite HD but good enough for a screen that size) screen. The music player has many of the favourite featues, apart from a graphic equaliser which is a shame, and the single mono speaker isn't as good in comparison with Sony Walkman and Nokia N series phones. Perhaps they'll include the equaliser with a future software update.
Being a Symbian OS phone there are loads of applications out there the you can install on your phone, The Sony Play Now store has a good selection of applications and games, and there is loads of open source and freeware applications out there for most of your mobile needs. I've installed a couple of music applications such as a chromatic tuner and a metronome. Now for me with the good of Symbian comes the Bad. I like to customise the appearance of my phone and with Symbian comes a vast array of options to customise the appearance of your hand held environment. There are tools out there which allow you to create fully featured phone themes, but so far the process of Sigining the package for use on my phone has been a major stumbling block I'd like to be able to simply create a theme, upload it to the phone to try, and if something needs changing it's in the past been a simple process. Now with the requirement to sign the sis package it appears you have to put the package through time consuming and potentially costly signing process with the Symbian foundation just to install the package on your phone. This in my opinion is widening the gap between users and developers which for me has been something quite accesible in the past. You can use the built in GPS sensor with google maps to give you real time updates of where you are and with the included wayfinder software you can use the phone as a sat nav.
Ok now we come to the main feature of the Phone. At the moment the Satio is the only 12 megapixel phone available on the market at the moment, it has been questioned that given the size of the optics, is an increase to 12 magapixel in camera phones worth it? In my opinion, completely, yes. This is partly down to Sony's Cybershot system which manages to get the best out of the image that's put in front of it. When you slide open the nicely weighted lens cover the cybershot camera activates, even when the keys are locked so you can quickly take snapshot's without having to go into the phone menu's to access the camera. There are options on the screen for scene mode, shoot mode - including panorama, best pic, smile shot and the advertised touch focus, flash mode, exposure and auto configure which allows the camera to choose the best modes for you. It would be nice to have the focus options on this screen too rather than tucked away in the settings. In camera mode you can record in up to VGA resolution at 30fps and there are modes for QVGA and picture message . On the front screen you can set night mode on or off, microphone on or off and the light on or off and also the the exposure adjustment. There is again an auto mode which chooses the best options for you from what is being shot. Pictures can be edited on the phone where you can crop, resize, adjust the colour balance among other effects for use as wallpaper or contact pictures.
The biggest bugbear from me is battery life. I rarely get a full day out of it yet without it needing to go on charge at some point, I appreciate that there are alot of things that the phone's trying to do at the same time, wifi, bluetooth, gps, generally try and rule the world, but Sony should really have included a more powerful battery on this occasion. Perhaps this will improve as I use the phone, I'm not holding my breath though.
Edit - One year on or so.
Right, here's a mid term review of the Sony Satio. While it is still a very good phone, it's been right royally dropped by Sony. There has been one major software update which has fixed lots of the problems reported with this phone, but it's still a far cry from being perfect. And now Android has properly come into it's own, I almost wish I'd waited and got an Android HTC phone instead. Their user interface from the couple I've played with are so much quicker and intuitive. The biggest problem I've found with the Satio is it's lack of internal memory, once you get a couple of apps on there the 80Mb or whatever it has is quickly swallowed up and the phone becomes unusable. Browsing the internet grinds to a halt regularly and the phone needs a restart. The only real solution to this problem has been to reinstall the software from scratch and start again, which then poses the hassle of backing up your wanted data, and you invariably loose you applications and games, which is a major problem especially if you've paid for them. All the promise of a fast easy to use open source operating system, and I'm sure with a bit of work the Satio would be capable of most of that, and it's crippled because Sony have dropped it like a stone and quietly rushed on to their Android range without a second look back. I'm now left with an 'out of date' handset that's potential has been crippled with rubbish software. Yes the phone still has it's good points, mainly that stunning camera, but overall, this was a mistake. Until someone develops a port for this onto Android (which is highly unlikely as it's been locked down by Sony) it's just not a phone that you can get excited about any more.
Other points, the build quality is still pretty good, although I can feel the fast port connector slowly coming loose, and the lock slide button on the side is taking the brunt and is wearing quite badly, the rest of the phone however is pristine thanks to it hardly ever coming out of it's silicone case, and I've only replaced the screen protector once.