In the latter end of 2009 Sony Ericsson released the latest ‘flagship’ phone which was shown to the world with much gusto and promise, helped by a fairly universal advertising campaign (the one with the brightly coloured space hoppers) and it certainly looked like it could be very successful not only over the Christmas spending spree, but into the new year as well.
So over the seasonally-cold holidays I’ve had the pleasure (or not as the case may be) of putting the new Sony Ericsson Satio through its paces and seeing whether the real thing matches up to the promised article and whether there’s a world beating phone there – not just a pretty face and a world beating camera.
Design & Styling
So let’s start with the basics: Form. The Satio is most definitely a ‘looker’ with an undeniable sleek black gloss and metallic silver image with rounded corners that not only provide an aesthetic purpose but also make it feel a lot nicer. It’s hardly a small phone, but you don’t really notice it as it’s well proportioned and the 3.5” touch screen takes up most of the façade and it neither feels flimsy or overly weighted.
As far as buttons go it has the obvious three across the bottom which are surprisingly – and at times irritatingly – small but which I find on touch screen phones are mostly redundant (with the exception of the central menu one which you use continuously on the Satio, similarly to the single button on the iPhone).
They’re complimented by several more that sit flush to the side: a well designed screen lock, a large ‘take-picture’ camera which lights up in an attractive blue when in use, zoom/volume buttons and two completely redundant ‘media’ and ‘camera’ buttons. They are small and inconspicuous so it makes no difference that they’re there but the fact that the camera ‘starts’ automatically when you slide back the protector and the media is only one tap from the home screen it does make you wonder why they bothered.
Moving onto ergonomics and the Satio shone out here as well with a home screen that’s very easy to quickly navigate around to the essentials as well as the stuff you use most (i.e. the media, both in audio and picture form). On the whole I found it a lot quicker and nicer to use than the relatively painful LG version I have used in the past, and whilst getting to some of the more advanced settings can be a but cumbersome, you can’t deny that the customisable Contacts, Internet, Home, Photos and short-cut’s layout, which you can move between by swiping across, and the essentials lining the bottom is a system that really works well and despite my initial inhibitions I warmed to it.
However for all the apps, the screen and other nice additions the real selling point of the Satio is it’s camera – all 12.1 megapixels of it. Now as any amateur photographer will tell you megapixels aren’t the be all and end all, and the recent trend to pack as many in as possible hasn’t increased the quality of the cameras as much as you’d have thought as the picture quality often comes from the camera lens itself. But the Satio is brilliant.
For a start, and something that’s always nice however good/bad the camera is, it’s very easy to use and the aforementioned slider and automatic start-up lets you forgive the slightly slow shutter speed. The most used options (scenes, photo mode, flash and exposure) are all on screen and the one click ‘auto’ hasn’t yet failed me and continues to provide great shots. Some of the more complicated or less used options (white balance, self timer, geo-tagging, auto-rotate and the like) are all again just a couple of taps away. Much like the general menus the camera impressed me with the ease of which it was to use, and leaves most others in its dust.
And that’s not even considering the quality which as I’m sure you’ll agree (ignoring my dubious photography skills) is very impressive given the size of the camera, although perhaps not the price. Obvious comparisons to the LG Viewty Smart cameraphones can easily be drawn, but I think that as far as picture quality goes I have to say I think the Satio wins!
But a phone is not just a fancy menu and camera, and on a touchscreen obviously the quality of input device is integral – get the screen right and it can be a breeze to use, get it wrong and it will fail miserably.
You’ll be glad to know, unless you work for Nokia, that Sony Ericsson have got it right, and I found that both the full screen and even the half screen keyboard were perfectly easy to use (admittedly I do have small fingers though) and the haptic feedback was more comforting than I imagined, and brought touchscreen typing that step closer to the speed and ‘feeling’ of a physical keyboard.
Not only was the screen great for fingers but the handwriting recognition was surprisingly accurate and although it took a bit of ingenuity to work out what ‘space’ and ‘backspace’ were (as despite the o/s-map sized manual there was no mention of it in there) once you picked it up it was very natural and was far quicker than the standard alphanumeric pad. However I never used it. The reason: the stylus was a) detached and constantly waved around and got in the way of zips and things, and b) it looked exactly like some small lipstick, more so with the fortuitously hard to remove lid – so you didn’t lose it, a smart move.
For fear of ending on a negative note I’ll go through some of the worst bits now – and although they are few in number they are quite surprising. For a start I was amazed that there is not a stopwatch on the phone, and after literally half an hour of trawling through the phone (and even looking on the very limited array of apps available on the PlayNow service the phone uses) I couldn’t find anything which I have to say was a little bit odd.
Also whilst the screen looks very nice and is very nice to use it isn’t the most durable, the vast majority of the time the phone was spent on my desk but even with just the one or two days it spent in my pocket it started to show the beginnings of scratches and that was just from the stylus which irritatingly hangs off the bottom.
But really apart from those two relatively minor points, and the fact that the Micro SD card slot is very difficult to open (although how often do you have to do that?) this is a great phone.
Internet Connectivity & GPS
The GPS works brilliantly (apart from, for some bizarre reason, in my living room where it shifts my position 15 miles south) and both the Google Maps and Wisepilot are really useful for Sat Nav and general navigation usage.
All of this and I haven’t even mentioned the Internet which much like the GPS is a joy to use 99% of the time and is quick and easy to use – the zooming and moving around is very intuitive and although there is some unnecessary doubling up of buttons (I worked out about three ways to close the internet by just pressing the screen/buttons once) it is one of the best mobile internet browsers I’ve seen.
But just before I finish I feel obliged to mention the Satio problems that have previously affected the performance and stability of the phone: I personally had to download an update to ensure that the phone I was testing worked alright, and whilst that was far from inconvenient I’d much rather have not had to do it. But you’ll be glad to know that the problem has since been fixed, and any new Satio phones should be 100% OK!
So as you can probably imagine I really liked this phone – it really did well and I’ve got only a couple of minor qualms which are overshadowed by the things that the phone excels at including a load of things I haven’t had space to mention (like the ‘more than sufficient’ battery). Unfortunately it does come with quite a high price tag of about £400, and that is the only reason that I can think people won’t be rushing out to buy it, but if the range of apps can be improved then this really with be up there with the iPhone 3GS and the Nexus One!