Most Android manufacturers these days seem to be making handsets bigger and bigger. However, Sony Ericsson was one of the first manufacturers to buck the trend with the original X10 mini family – some of the smallest Android phones of its time. The newer Xperia mini and Xperia mini pro update the same concept to the latest tech, including 1GHz processors, marginally bigger screens and HD video recording.
Today we are reviewing the 3-inch Xperia mini pro (similar to the Xperia mini but with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard). This form-factor (small display tied to QWERTY keyboard) is one of the most unique in the Android world. Having spent some good time with the phone, we can see why it is an attractive option to many. Click through for our full thoughts on the handset.
Those of you familiar with the X10 mini pro shouldn’t expect any surprises. The Xperia min pro is the update to that phone that features a slightly larger display (by 0.4-inches) and comes with a QWERTY keyboard. The phone comes in a number of colours (black, white, pink, turquoise) and we were testing a black version.
Here you can see the handset up against some of the other Xperia line-up. From left to right we have the Xperia arc, Xperia X10, Xperia PLAY, Xperia ray and finally the Xperia mini pro. The mini pro is easily the smallest, but also the thickest too.
The width of the handset (53mm) is identical to that of the Xperia ray, although it is much smaller (92mm versus the 111mm length of the Xperia ray).
However, it is nearly double the thickness at 18mm (the Xperia ray has a thickness of 9.4mm). Not a surprise given the Xperia mini pro is packing a QWERTY keyboard.
Even with the keyboard extended, the Xperia mini pro fits comfortably in the hand. The keyboard itself is a joy to use, there is sufficient spacing between keys and the layout doesn’t throw any nasty surprises with all of the main keys where you’d expect to find them. They keys have good feedback and we were able to type very fast after a day or so to get used to it.
The black version comes with a nice matte back cover that means you’ll be exposed to only a few fingerprint marks. You’ll notice that the back cover has a 5MP camera sensor and LED flash.
The keyboard slide mechanism feels very secure, rolling in and out smoothly. We felt that the handset could be subject to some abuse without worrying about it breaking.
The front of the handset has one proper button in the form of the Home key. Like the Xperia ray, it has capacitive menu and back keys. We experienced no problems with these capacitive keys and found them to be responsive, but not overly so i.e. in terms of accidental presses.
On the top of the handset you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, power button and USB port with cover. The USB cover was a bit of hassle as it could be a pain to get off. In time we can see it looking quite knackered, we’d prefer to just have it off to be honest. We’re glad to have the headphone jack on the top of the handset and the power button was easy to press to lock/unlock the handset.
The side of the handset comes with a faux-chrome volume up/down rocker switch that matches the rest of the chrome trim.
On the right side of the volume switch you’ll find a dedicated camera shutter switch. A nice inclusion, especially considering it was missing in the Xperia ray.
The top of the handset includes the earpiece, ambient light sensor and VGA front facing camera.
Inside the box you’ll find the usual warranty paper, screen protector, wiping cloth, earphones and USB charger/cable.
The Xperia mini pro sports the smallest display size of the 2011 range of Xperia handsets, however the screen is larger than the X10 mini pro from last year. The display has moved from 2.55-inches of the X10 mini pro to 3-inches for the Xperia mini pro. Screen resolution has also been bumped up from 240 x 320 pixels to 320 x 480, this means you’re sacrificing less real estate when it comes to browsing and reading text. The picture below shows how much you can see on a typical web page versus the bigger Xperia phones which run at 480 x 854 pixels.
Despite this, pixel density in the handset is pretty poor with a PPI (pixel per inch) of 192. Compare this to the Xperia ray, whose display is just 0.3-inches larger and has a PPI of 297. The result is that pixels are noticeable when reading, although we imagine this is the trade-off Sony Ericsson took to keep costs down. Thankfully, the screen performs admirably when it comes to touchscreen sensitivity. We saw none of the response issues that plagued the Xperia ray that we recently reviewed. Screen legibility in the sunlight was also very good, something that has been seen across most of the TFT displays used in Xperia phones.
PERFORMANCE & BATTERY LIFE
Sony Ericsson has used pretty much the same Qualcomm chipset (MSM8255) across its 2011 Xperia range. The same chipset with Adreno 205 graphics appears in the Xperia mini pro, a nice power boost compared to the 600MHz MSM7227 chipset used in the X10 mini pro. The result is that menus glide to and fro with ease, with little or no glitches. Given the lower resolution, the processor has to do less work than say the Xperia arc with a screen resolution of 480 x 854 pixels. Games also played without any issues.
Battery life for the handset was very good, the handset ships with a 1200mAh battery. We were getting at least a couple of days of normal usage (50% display brightness, data and Wi-Fi enabled, no GPS or Bluetooth), before having to charge the phone. Only if the rest of the Xperia range had similar endurance we’d be much happier bunnies!
To keep costs down, Sony Ericsson decided to use a similar 5MP camera sensor in the Xperia mini pro as seen in last year’s X10 mini pro. The result is that whilst the photos are acceptable, don’t go expecting results anywhere close to the rest of the Xperia range that sport the 8.1MP Exmor R sensor. Whilst the camera sensor may not be as good, you do get a full suite of setting options as found with the other Xperia handsets. You can see some sample pictures below.
However, given the processor boost, you do get HD video recording, which is a nice boon on a handset of this size. However, as we have documented before, there is an electrostatic noise issue when recording videos. If you raise the volume of your video you can hear static. Read our previous post on this where we cover this in more detail. Sony Ericsson has said that this is a software issue which will be rectified in an update due next month.
One extra feature that you get with the Xperia mini pro and not seen in any other Xperia mini is the inclusion of a front-facing camera. This is a feature that should really be on all phones now, so it’s nice to see that you can take advantage of Skype of Google video chat. The front camera is only VGA resolution but is perfectly fine for those video calls, we noticed no problems when using Skype.
The loudspeaker on this device is excellent. It’s surprising how much sound can come out of such a small handset. You can easily hear audio if watching videos or playing games quite happily outside or if on the tube.
We do have to mention that we noticed electrostatic noise coming from the earpiece and 3.5mm headphone jack whilst the display was on. This is a similar issue as noted above and Sony Ericsson says that this is a software issue (due to be fixed next month) we’ll give them the benefit of doubt that this issue will be resolved. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t seem to effect when you are in a call, but only when the display is on and you put the phone to your ear.
Sony Ericsson has done some great work on the four corner shortcut user interface. Given the size of the display, Sony Ericsson has four shortcut placeholders in each corner of the screen.
Each of these can hold up to four different apps and will be displayed on any screen in your home launcher. If a shortcut has more than one app, then when you click on the shortcut you just need to tap again in terms of which app you’ve selected.
One problem with this is that it limits where you can put certain widgets. However, Sony Ericsson works around this issue by letting you place a widget over the corner in any of the homescreens. For example you could utilise all four shortcuts on the middle screen of the home launcher, but place a widget on the second home screen that covers up the top two shortcuts. It’s a very flexible system in practice and poses no problem in day-to-day use.
For all of our testing in this review we was using 4.0.A.2.368 firmware.
The Xperia mini pro is a joy to use. Yes, it may be chunkier than a lot of other phones on the market, but it feels great in the hand and build quality is very good. The slider mechanism is sturdy and the keys are a joy to type on.
Given that for a budget price you also get a handset with a 1GHz processor, decent camera performance (although by far from the best on the market), HD video recording, good build quality and a very snappy performance makes it all the more sweeter. There are a few bugs like the electrostatic noise issue that we hope will be fixed in the next weeks, but apart from that if you’re in the need for a compact QWERTY smartphone, we’d definitely recommend you look at the Xperia mini pro.