Review: Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro

 
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Review: Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro

Highlights

  • The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro which is neither the smartest, nor the sleekest, nor the fastest but that does not mean is a below par device, actually its quite the opposite.
Back in May, we reviewed the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc which was the pinnacle of mobile technology at that time. At least, it was in the highest echelon of Google's Android kingdom. It was smart, sleek and fast. Now, four months later, we have the Xperia Mini Pro which is neither the smartest, nor the sleekest, nor the fastest. But this is not a bad thing, and we'll explain why in this review.

Packaging and Content


Most top tier smartphone companies offer rock solid packaging nowadays and the same holds true for Sony Ericsson. The package is very neatly designed with the phone safely cradled in the package and all standard content hidden beneath. In keeping with the current conventions of the smartphone industry, the Xperia Mini Pro comes with a USB charger which also doubles as the USB cable, and a pair of earphones. Interestingly, Sony Ericsson also provides a scratch guard, which is a first.  While it's always nice to have a scratch guard, more often than not it ruins the touch feedback on a capacitive display. On the whole, we were pretty satisfied with the content though, instead of the scratch guard, we would have preferred a case which would have served the device better.

Hardware and Styling

Sony Ericsson has always been a hardware and design powerhouse. Before Apple's second coming, it was Sony's hardware that ruled the roost in terms of sex appeal. The company may not have that aura anymore but there is no doubt that they have a strong legacy of quality hardware. In fact, Sony Ericsson's problems have never been on the hardware front. The company has released a myriad devices in all shapes and sizes but most of them have suffered from poor software, be it Symbian, Windows Mobile, or even Android. Consider, for instance, the Xperia X8 which was living in an Android cupcake world while everyone else enjoyed the goodness of Gingerbread.

But, in terms  of hardware, Sony Ericsson has been the market leader and the same holds true for the new Xperia line up. While the Xperia Mini Pro is a mid-range Android device, it does not have any of the disappointments we have become accustomed to while using mid range smartphones. The Xperia Mini Pro is a high quality product. It features a slide-out landscape keyboard, which at times reminds one of the Nokia N97 mini. The slide-out mechanism is super silky and the keys offer a supple tactile feedback. On the whole, typing is a breeze on the Xperia Mini Pro, which is an area where most Android devices lag behind.  Having said this, we have also come across users who say the slider becomes a tad loose after extended use. We tried to replicate the problem but in our experience everything was smooth sailing.

The slide-out keyboard means it is not the most anorexic device in the market. It's no way near as slim as the Samsung Galaxy S2 and is actually almost double the thickness at 18mm. It may be a tad chunky to hold but on the whole the Xperia Mini Pro is quite a compact device thanks to its 3-inch Bravia LCD display, which has a resolution of 320x480 pixels.

Sony Ericsson has put a lot of thought into designing the Xperia Mini Pro. The rear of the device has a very nice rubberized matte finish, which provides an impressive grip, in the process eliminating accidental slips thanks to sweat. In the rear we also get a 5 megapixel camera along with an LED flash.

The sides of the Xperia Mini Pro are lined with a faux chrome finish, which looks impressive over the black. We are not too sure how it looks over the white variant.

On the right hand side we get the standard volume rocker and also a dedicated camera shutter button. Sony Ericsson has been regularly providing camera shutter buttons on their Android phones unlike companies like Samsung or HTC. The missing shutter button is a constant irritant in Android devices and we hope soon other Android smartphone manufacturers will follow suit.

The top of the device houses the 3.5 mm audio port, the USB charging port which also has plastic flip-out cover and the main power button.

Overall, in our opinion, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro boasts of sterling build quality, which is even better than the one found on the current Android top dog - The Samsung Galaxy S2.

                                                                               
Interface

The Xperia Mini Pro comes loaded with Android 2.3 Gingerbread from the offset, but Sony Ericsson as usual adds their on customizations on top of stock Android. With the Xperia Mini Pro, the company uses their corner interface system, which was first seen in the Xperia X10 Mini.

The corner interface has a simple philosophy - it eliminates all standard icons on the bottom end of the home-screen and relocates these to the corners. This way we get the illusion of more screen real estate. Sony Ericsson has also managed to upgrade the interface as now it supports dragging and dropping of apps from the app drawer.

This interface does take some getting used to, but it works pretty well on a device with a small interface such as the Xperia Mini Pro.

Apart from this, Sony Ericsson arms the Xperia Mini Pro with its standard set of embellishments such as flipping gallery widget, a custom music player widget and a sideways scrolling app drawer. For some reason, Sony Ericsson limits the home-screens to a maximum five rather than the standard seven.

Sony Ericsson has even customized the leap view, which appears when we pinch on the home-screen. All the homescreens appear in the leap view with a neat bouncing animation, but this probably draws a teensy bit of extra processing power, which is rather unnecessary.

Unfortunately, Sony Ericsson has not included a quick dial option in the dialer so finding contacts can be relatively slow, but that can be overcome easily via the full QWERTY keyboard.

On the whole, Sony Ericsson has not tinkered around a lot with stock Android interface which makes the device a delight to use.

Multimedia

It is pretty clear from the start that the Xperia Mini Pro is not the most advanced smartphone on the planet. It's no multimedia monolith like the Samsung Galaxy S2. However, the device is no slouch either. In fact, we would go as far to say that it is the best media device in the sub 20k bracket if a large display is not a must.

Frankly, we found absolutely nothing to crib about. It has a nice MP3 player, a nice camera and even a nice display, which is only restricted by its size.

Sony Ericsson has customized the stock Android MP3 player, something it's in the habit of doing. Obviously, the company brings its audio know-how to the table with the Walkman having been the biggest audio brand before the birth of the iPod.

While there are no cover-flow like interface garnishes, we do get a very nice graphic equalizer and navigation enhancements courtesy the corner UI seen before on the homescreen.

Another functionality we like a lot is the infinite button, which has been seen before on Walkman phones. It allowed us to find song lyrics on Google, YouTube videos, artist information on Wikipedia and even YouTube Karaoke videos.

We even get a Facebook 'Like' button. Twitter integration is missing but, nonetheless, the MP3 player is very feature rich.

Features aside, it even sounds good via the supplied earphones and on the loudspeaker. Of course, not in terms of audiophile standards but in layman terms. The supplied earphones too are of decent quality, which is now becoming the norm with most top-tier manufacturers.

The camera on the Xperia Mini Pro is more than adequate. While it does not boast of the stellar image quality of the iPhone 4 camera, it surely is better than most 5-megapixel snappers on the market. The pictures were pretty clear sans the unwholesome graining we see in most camera phones. The pictures generated fairly low noise. What we did not like was the fact that the colors were over saturated as if someone had treated the picture with Adobe Lightroom. This is a constant annoyance with Sony Ericsson camera phones as they attempt to add an extra layer of flourish in the images, which just looks unnatural.

As far as HD recording went the Xperia Mini Pro could shoot at 720p like the Xperia Arc but it came without the Exmor-R technology, which is supposed to enhance low light image quality. Luckily, we did not miss the technology too much as the low light recordings and still photographs came out pretty good. Frankly, the Exmor-R sounded more like a marketing gimmick rather than an enhancement on the Xperia Arc and this theory was proven on the Xperia Mini Pro as it produced a fairly comparable set of images with a lower resolution sensor and minus the Exmor-R branding.
                                                                                            
With its rather small 3-inch display the Xperia Mini Pro might not be the most ideal portable media player, but if one can get past the screen size it does a pretty decent job of things as it managed to handle most common codecs such as .Avi,. Xvid and Mpeg-4. Unfortunately, it failed the .MKV test but then again more expensive devices have also failed this test.

On the whole, the rather low resolution of 320x460 was more than adequate for the 3-inch display, which was also armed with the Bravia Engine moniker. The blacks were deep and the viewing angles were quite impressive, on the whole the petite display was quite impressive.


PC Sync and Market

The one area almost each and every operating system falls short is PC Sync. Symbian suffers from it, iOS suffers from it, BlackBerry suffers from it and so does the erstwhile Windows Mobile platform. The problem arises because no one really has the time to synchronize their device each and everyday to keep all data updated. This is where Google's cloud computing strategy really shines. There is no proprietary PC sync software to speak off.  The moment we sign in to our Google Account everything gets synced, it's as simple as that. All this happens via Google Contacts, which stores all our contacts in the cloud. But the real beauty about Android is that it gives us the option to store our contacts directly on Google Contacts rather than our device, meaning we do not need to keep our content updated.

As far apps go, Android, at least for smartphones, is in a very strong position. There are 300,000 odd apps to choose from and, while most of them might not be as good as their iOS counterparts, they are nevertheless very good. But the best part is that Android offers more free applications than any other platform.


Essential Apps

Sony Ericsson has loaded the Xperia Mini Pro with a plethora of apps, which frankly borders on bloat-ware. Nonetheless we were able to find a few apps, which were moderately useful.

As usual, we get Sony Ericsson's Social Aggregator called Timescape. It's not the best one in the market though it does score 100/100 on the cool quotient with its totally whacked out flip scrolling widget, even though it reminds us of HP's ill fated webOS. It combines all our Facebook and Twitter feeds in one interface, but the information is not well organized and it looks a tad mucked up. For instance, if there is a Facebook status update we get to see the user's profile picture in the background and all the information above that, which is neither clear nor well organized. We definitely prefer HTC's implementation on their Friends Stream social aggregator. We would rather do without Timescape and install the standard Facebook and Twitter apps, which are of very high quality.

The Track ID app is very similar to apps like Shazam and Soundhound, but with very limited functionality. One can only detect song names and artist information, which is pretty disappointing as even the free versions of Shazam and Soundhound do more by offering YouTube links and lyrics.

We also get an app called Friend's Music and Videos, which basically shows all the videos posted, by our friends on Facebook. Nothing special out here apart from the fact one can view all the YouTube video seen by our friends in one singular window.

Next up is Mcafee Virus Scan; But Sony Ericsson fails to provide a full version of the app. An Anti-Virus is handy but less so if it only works for 15 days.

Like all Android smartphones, The Xperia Mini Pro comes with a dedicated Office Suite but, again, we only get a trial version of the software. Why? We have no answer. We wrote about this issue in our Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review too, but looks like Sony Ericsson wasn't reading.

Performance

Performance is one area, which makes or breaks Android devices and, thankfully for the Xperia Mini Pro, it passes with flying colours.
In fact, performance-wise it is so good that at times it eclipsed the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S and the Xperia Arc.

Powered by a 1 GHz QUALCOMM Snapdragon, the Xperia Mini Pro was a delight to use. Flipping between home-screens was seamless, and the same held true for multitasking. Besides the 1 GHz single core processor, Sony Ericsson also provided 512 MB of RAM, which was ample for regular usage. The experience was so nice that we could hardly make any discernable difference between our trusty Samsung Galaxy S2 and the Xperia Mini Pro. Admittedly, most Android apps cannot utilize dual-core processor architectures, and the fact was emphasized by the sterling performance of the Xperia Mini Pro.

We ran our standard set of benchmarks and not surprisingly the Xperial Mini Pro fared pretty well in comparison to its elder sibling the Xperia Arc, which also featues similar internals.

On the Quadrant test the Xperia Mini Pro scored a stunning 1455, a whole 100 points ahead of the Xperia Arc.

Again on the Browsermark test the Xperia Mini Pro came up trumps with a score of 40592 while the Xperia Arc lagged behind with a score of 37033.

Surprised? Wait, we have more.

The Xperia Mini Pro even managed to calculate the BenchmarkPi faster than the Xperia Arc. It calculated the Pi in 982 milliseconds while the Arc calculated Pi 1016 milliseconds. A marginal difference perhaps, but not when you consider how much cheaper than the Arc the Mini Pro is. So much for Sony Ericsson's so called flagship!

Finally on the Linpack Pro test the Xperia Arc managed to pull up its socks. It scored an impressive 37.943 MFLOPs in 2.21 seconds while the Xperial Mini Pro lagged behind with a score of 29.446 MFLOPs in 2.85 seconds.

As far as battery life went, the Xperia Mini pro performed very well. For a change we used an Android smartphone, which got through the day on a single charge. Obviously, our regular usage included Wi-Fi, a couple of calls, a bit of music and 3G usage when we were on the move. So it even passed this test. This probably happened due to the relatively low-resolution 3-inch display, which makes it less susceptible to battery life issues than larger displays.

As far as call quality went the Xperia Mini Pro was right up there with the likes of the Nokia's and BlackBerries and was way ahead of the woefully poor calling capabilities of the Samsung Galaxy series of smartphones and Apple's leviathan, the iPhone.

Verdict

If you are looking for an Android smartphone in the range of 15k then without any hesitation we would recommend the Xperia Mini Pro. It boasts of the silky smooth performance we expect of the top-end smartphones and it combines this slickness with the finesse of a full QWERTY keyboard, crisp display and good battery life.
              
We actually can only think of only one reason not buy it, which is its rather small display, that's about it.

Henceforth, we bequeath upon the Xperia Mini Pro the title of "Paisa-wasool Android"!

Price- Rs 15,768

Pros
Stunning Performance
Affordable Price
Stellar feature set
Slick QWERTY Keyboard

Cons
Small display
Bloat-ware
Office suite not free
A tad bulky

Ratings
Performance: 5
Price: 4
Ease of Setup: 5
Ergonomics: 4.5
Wow Factor: 4

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