Been looking at the Sony Ericsson Aino and wanted to know what it is like in use? Read below to find out.
I am going to try hard here to set aside my preference for smartphones and consider the Aino by merit on its own. It is far too easy to compare it to smartphones like the HTC Hero and iPhone 3GS and then wonder why it is priced at near £400, but not every phone needs to be a traditional smartphone, whatever that really is, and the quality of the components must also be taken into account.
Camera phones still dominate the mass mobile market and being able to sell a unit on Mega Pixels alone is often enough to have Joe Public salivating over the idea and shelling out hundreds of pounds for the privilege of having a good camera in a good phone which does little else very well. Did that sound patronising?
The Aino actually does do a lot very well, which I will come to later, but you can see from the main features listed above that it is aiming for the mass market in every single step. Remote Playstation 3 play, free movies from PlayNow and the camera are obvious nods to what more people may want than the average smartphone buyer. The goodness does not end at triviality though because Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync in included alongside a bizarre touch interface which only works in the media application. Why would anyone include touch functionality and limit it to a select few apps?
The Aino is complete from a specifications point of view and like many feature phones rivals the feature set of smartphones in almost every respect. The fundamental difference lies in the implementation and how Sony Ericsson is expecting users to use these features. Specific features like the camera, which is very good by the way, are pushed to the front and the underlying excellent of Activesync and the like are there as afterthoughts presumably because most users will not use them that often.
The interface is typical Sony Ericsson and requires manual button navigation, but it is a system which is easy to understand once you have played around with it for a while. There is a lot of functionality hidden beneath the twelve icons on the front screen as can be evidenced by the number of functions under the Organiser icon; Alarms, Applications, Media Home, File Manager, Calendar, Tasks, Notes, Video Call, Synchronisation, Timer, Stopwatch, Torch Calculator. Phew! Location Services contains NearMe, Google Maps, Navigation, Tracker and My Favourites and so the list of features goes on and on and on. It includes a diverse range of functionality hidden beneath a feature phone layer and this will appeal to people who prefer the more simplistic interface this type of design offers. Strangely shutting the keyboard will bring up a touch interface again which can be used to manage media- it’s all rather strange and I can’t quite work out why it has been implemented this way.
Media is catered for very well and the stand out feature is sound reproduction in my opinion. The external speaker is simply wonderful and by far the best I have heard to date, but the included headphones also do a good job of bringing the sound home (useful because there is no 3.5mm jack here) and thus I have no complaints about the Aino as a music phone. Sony Ericsson has chosen its standard music player interface which is of course superior to most and you will find yourself skipping through tracks in no time at all.
Photo management is also slick and easy and the accelerometer takes care of viewing photos in portrait or landscape. I have to say that the screen works perfectly in all weather conditions and plays back movies exceptionally well. TV is catered for with a pre-defined link to BBC iPlayer and the surprising aspect here is how poorly it works. Video quality is akin to what you would expect from TV services over 3G and is simply not good enough. Hopefully this can be resolved because all other aspects of the video experience, such as YouTube, work extremely well.
General speed is an issue when you are doing multiple things at once. I noticed music stopping when a new message was received and sometimes things just stop.
Eventually the Aino gets itself in gear and starts again, but it is a less than satisfactory experience when you consider how many features are included here. The processing power may also explain some lags when using the camera- you can use the touch screen to focus on a particular point which is great, but the Aino can take forever to save a photo before you can take the next one. Strangely the video recorder is very fast and is capable of near HD quality recording so maybe there are some software tweaks needed to make the Aino feel like a finished product.
For a phone that can do so much battery life will always be important and the Aino falls down here. With light use I barely managed a day’s use and this could be a problem. New batteries do take time to bed in, but it does look as though the physical power side is not as strong as it could be.
I could talk about the Aino for a long time because there is just so much crammed into what is undoubtedly a beautifully made piece of hardware, but that will tell you nothing you cannot read from the spec sheet. It is an expensive feature phone for sure and I can’t quite see who it is going to sell to. Would people really stump up £400 for a feature phone out of contract or would they pay over £150 for it on an 18 month contract? I have to say that I cannot see either happening because it does not fit into either market segment at its current price point.
The inclusion of a Bluetooth headset and charging stand are useful and it would be nice to see similar included for most phones, but it is not enough to make up for the laggy OS and poor battery life. I am not completely discounting the Aino because it has some features which show the others what is possible, but some software tweaks are needed to make the experience as good as its potential would suggest.