Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Sony Ericsson Satio Review – Full Hands On We Put the Satio Camera Phone Through its Paces – Just How Does the Satio Measure Up?

As regular readers may remember, back in December we advised that we d
received a Sony Ericsson Satio (following an update to resolve a
software issue) for review purposes and that we d come back to you with
our thoughts concerning Sony Ericsson s 12 megapixel touchscreen camera
phone " and, somewhat later than we had hoped (due to my trip
down-under) here it is. So, just what do with think of the Sony Ericsson
Satio?
My First Impressions Satio Unboxing
First impressions of the Satio at the point of unboxing were, it has to
be said, generally good. The Satio undoubtedly looks the business with
its large display and minimal button clutter (consisting, on the front,
of call, hang up and menu keys only) and is beautifully sized as well as
being surprisingly light " though, in honesty, its diminutive weight
doesn t make it feel substantial enough to be especially robust. In
fact, if I were to want to be especially harsh, I d say that whilst the
Satio s overall aesthetics are pretty much beyond reproach, in the hand
it feels, perhaps, a little cheap due to its overtly �light plastic
feel. I would have preferred a little more weight " as weight, in good
measure, would have served to reassure me that the Satio could withstand
the knocks and scrapes of general wear and tear perhaps a little more
than may otherwise transpire to be the case.
On the side of the Satio you ll find further controls such as volume
up/down (also serving a zoom control buttons), a photo playback button
allowing for immediate access to your captured imagery (in both camera
and standby modes), a video/camera toggle key and, of course, the camera
shutter key.
The back, as you d expect, is somewhat dominated by the camera with
comes with a sliding cover ensuring that the lens remains free of
contaminates such as dust, fingerprint smears, etc, hence resulting in
photos not being degraded, quality-wise, by a dirty lens " which a
welcome addition, especially when you're talking about a phone that,
arguably, could (and will) also serve as aย competentย replacement for a
dedicated compact point and shoot camera (more on that later).
So, in terms of the Satio s physical being, its all pretty much positive
and, considering the functionality on offer here, its nice to see that
Sony Ericsson have offered external controls and quick access buttons
rather than simply rely on the phones touchscreen for complete user
interactivity.
As far as the overall boxed package is concerned, along with the actual
handset itself you also get bundled headphones with a connector (which
is just as well as, annoyingly, the Satio doesn t feature a 3.5mm
headphone jack on the body itself,ย whichย is very disappointing), and,
in terms of quality, the supplied headphones are certainly usable (if
not spectacular) and it s a nice touch that SE have thought to throw in
numerous sized buds to ensure that their headphones will fit a wide
variety of ear sizes snugly.
You an also factor in a video out cable, allowing you to hook up your
Satio to external AV equipment such as a TV to view multimedia content
(such as movie clips, your photos, etc) and there s also a USB charger
and a decent stylus for use with the resistive touchscreen " which is
particularly handy when using the Satio s handwriting recognition
capabilities but, in honesty, you ll probably use the stylus somewhat
more than you d otherwise have hoped due to the nature of the Satio s
touchscreen.
The Satio In Use The Satio s Touchscreen Display
And here we hit what I d emphasise as being the first major issue "
that being the responsiveness of the touchscreen itself. Of course, as
just mentioned, the Satio s touchscreen is of the resistive (as opposed
to the capacitive) type and, accordingly, having got used to the
responsiveness offered by my iPhone s capacitive touchscreen, I found
the Satio s touchscreen a little frustrating to use. Indeed, even when
employing the supplied stylus, the degree of pressure I found myself
having to apply was a little more than I would have liked and, often, I
found myself having to re-click on icons and menus to get a reaction.
This, alas, gives the Satio an overall unresponsive feel that s pretty
hard to ignore but, if you re yet to experience capacitive touchscreens,
you ll doubtless not see this as quite as frustrating to use in practice
as I. If, however, you do have experience of capacitive type
touchscreens I suspect that, like me, you ll find yourself experiencing
moments of frustration as you try to gain a response from the Satio's
display.
It s not all so-so news when it comes to the Satio s display, however,
as not only is it particularly bright and clear it also offers up
brilliant, vibrant colors and, in this respect, the Satio s display
especially impressed me (notwithstandingย the responsiveness issues).
The Satio In Use The Satio s UI
The Sony Ericsson Satio utilises the Symbian S60 5th edition interface
and Sony Ericsson have tailored the interface specifically for the Satio
resulting in great, pretty much intuitive, usability. Here lays another
strength of the Satio as the icon based menus are beautifully laid out
allowing you hassle-free access to the wealth of features the Satio has
to offer. The use of a menu bar serves only to make navigating to what
will probably be the most used facilities easier still with the bottom
placed bar offering links to the phone dialer, messaging, media features
(photo, music, video) and Google Search which allows you to search your
Satio for just about everything from messages to audio tracks, pictures
to video clips, notes, calander entries and contacts. This feature is,
in practice, quite brilliant and a great time saver if you want to
access something especially quickly without running through other menu
systems.
Aside from the
lower placed menu bar there s also a quick access bar placed at the
top of the display offering immediate access various sites
pre-bookmarked on the net (all the usual suspects such as Facebook,
YouTube, MySpace, Picasa as well as other sites such as Lonely Planet,
Sony Ericsson s support page and, on my UK version of the Satio at
least, BBC News). You can also access stored photos directly and access
a number of settings (Bluetooth, WiFi) as well as the Satio s integrated
(and impressive) radio tuner, Google Maps, Conversations, Profiles and
Notes. You can, of course, tailor what s displayed here to your tastes.
Overall, though I remain scared for life concerning the Symbian OS in
general from back in the day when I owned an N80 (a terrible experience,
and the only phone to date I ve killed off with a hammer " yes, really
– due to absolute frustration), I was very pleasantly surprised at
how Sony Ericsson have worked their take on Symbian interface into the
Satio. It really is a joy to use and it takes next to no time to feel
that you ve mastered it in full (it really is that intuitive). This is,
of course, no mean feat and, in this respect, I would be surprised if
anyone, regardless of age or general experience with touchscreen phones,
would find the Satio s interface either perplexing or a chore to use.
The Satio In Use Voice Video Calling with the Satio
Again, though I came from a somewhat nonchalant perspective when
embarking on putting the Satio through its paces, I was impressed with
the Satio in its capacity of a phone (and there is so much on offer in
terms of features with the Satio its almost too easy to forget that it
does actually function as a phone as well " sounds daft I know). The
voice calls were of very good audio quality and the volume settings on
offer will cater to all hearing sensitivities. But where the Satio
really excels is in terms of video calling.
The Satio comes with a front mounted camera (VGA resolution) which,
unless you knew it was there you d be forgiven for missing, and whilst
this can be used for video calling you can, also, employ the back
mounted 12MP camera should you wish to. This works very well in practice
though there is a very slight, but hardly damming, lag when the back
mounted camera is called into action. That said, both the front and back
(main) cameras certainly offer up sterling performance as well as
impressive image quality " what with the Satio being a pretty high-spec
d camera phone the fact that we were pleasantly surprised by the phones
video calling capabilities indicates that SE have worked wonders here,
all things considered. I ve owned phones before that offered this very
same feature but, having tried it out, I never actually used it. With
the Satio its different. It works, and it works well enough not just to
be a side show.
Along with offering video calling end users also have to option to
employ a pre-captured still photo from the Satio s gallery as a video
image which, again, is a nice touch " especially if you d rather not
publicise what you look like after a hefty night on the town but still
want to introduce a personal nature to your phone calls.
We have heard that users have reported that video calling isn t quite as
fluid an experience for the recipients of their Satio based video calls
but, in our tests, we found the quality to be perfectly acceptable and
whilst there were the occasional drop-outs, considering the often
dynamic nature of network connectivity, we experienced nothing that
could be directly attributed to the phone (eith
er its hardware or software) letting us down.
The Satio In Use Text Messaging with the Satio
Up until now it has to be said that the Satio has made a pretty good
impression but, when it comes to text messaging on the Satio, some of
the glossy sheen wears off. In fairness, once again, this can be
directly attributed to the resistive touchscreen display utilised by the
Satio, but that doesn t change the fact that texting on the Satio is a
somewhat frustrating affair.
When texting using a touchscreen the responsiveness of said touchscreen
is an absolute key factor and, even when just using the supplied stylus,
I found that I had to repeat taps to register an input more times than I
would have liked. As a consequence I found myself tapping the screen to
call up characters with rather more vigour than I felt should have been
the case. Indeed, the degree of vigour I ended up employing in order to
get the screen to register a tap verged on physical abuse to the point
where I had to wonder just how much of said abuse the Satio s screen
could take before it decided to fake out.
This is a crying shame as, let s be honest here, texting is hardly a
cursory feature of any phone these days and so it would be wholly absurd
to overlook the issues that presented themselves due to the screen s
responsiveness issues. Indeed, having attempted to work within the
limitations of the display as long as I could I would even go as far as
to say that texting on the Satio verged on being an enormously
unsatisfying experience " to the point where it could actually serve to
steer big-texters away from owning this particular device.
Sure, its not unusable, by any means, but if you text a great deal I
would urge you to put a demo model of the Satio through its paces in
terms of texting functionality prior to making a consumer choice unless
you have a particular penchant for (at least feeling like) you re
attacking the device with the stylus.
Well okay, its not quite that bad, but, and it s a big but, you will
find yourself having to check that each tap has actually registered when
formulating words or you ll find the predictive text hitting you its
best guesses " assuming it can actually make sense of the characters
resulting from the taps that have registered (though, on the plus side,
the predictive text is pretty impressive in use).
Having said this, perhaps I am being a little harsh here but, as said
before, if you re used to capacitive touchscreens I suggest that you
may, in using the Satio s resistive touchscreen, actually realise that
you simply cannot live with a touchscreen that isn t capacitive in nature.
This is a crying shame as the responsiveness issues of the Satio s
display so obviously impacts on what is otherwise a particularly full
featured and, yes, beautifully designed handset.
The Satio In Use Browsing the Net with the Satio
Browsing the net on the Satio is a pleasurable experience and page
rendering, whilst not as fast as the iPhone, is still impressive in
terms of speed. Additionally the aforementioned clarity of the display
also makes reading web based content a breeze as text is clear and
sharp. If reading text on electronic displays is something you ve never
particularly warmed to (we are talking about older generations here)
then I suspect you ll find the Satio a revelation in this respect.
The only issue I would rise, were I to have to nit-pick, is that full
screen browsing is not as intuitive as it otherwise could be as you ll
find yourself going through menus rather more than you may, perhaps,
like. Still, this takes very little away from the overall experience of
browsing the net on the Satio which is, all in all, a very positive
experience.
The Satio In Use The Star of the Show " The Satio s 12MP Camera
(Stills Video)
Most people who consider availing themselves of a new Satio will
undoubtedly have done so, in part, due to the Satio s capabilities as a
pretty fully featured point and shoot camera in its own right and,
should you have made the choice to own a Satio based on this particular
feature I don t doubt that you have not, even once, regretted it.
In short the Satio s capabilities as a point and shoot digital camera
substitute are enormously impressive and, whilst it could be argued that
the Satio isn t quite as fully featured as the latest P S cameras in
actuality, for those that just want to literally point and shoot the
Satio certainly excels and, with features such as intelligent auto
included, it s not only a breeze to use but results are pretty
impressive (I may have knocked the responsiveness of the Satio s display
on account of being used to my iPhone but the Satio s camera undoubtedly
leaves even the iPhone 3G s camera in the dust " then again, with the
stark difference in sensor resolutions, this was hardly unexpected).
Points especially worth raising are the Satio s touch focusing feature
(just tap the screen on the image to be captured to get what detail you
want in focus and you re sorted) and, yes, as well as the aforementioned
intelligent auto feature you can also facor in BestPic (which, in
practice, works very well " serving to �save shots that would
otherwise fail), responsive face detection, anti-shake stabilisation,
sports mode (for capturing fast moving objects) and a shocking good
(considering this is a phone after all) macro mode that offers tight
focus and punchy detail. There s also a handy text capture feature which
is tailor made to allow you to gain crisp images of printed documents.
Example Images Shot with the SatioGeorge the Cat (in a stinking mood,
again)(See the full size image here – large file warning, please
allow time for the image toย loadย fully Training ShoeCanon 7D Detail
There are some slight nags, however. The first being that it can take a
while to save images captured at full 12MP resolution (though, to be
fair, we are taking about a great deal of data here) and the second
being that, whilst in 12MP mode, you re locked in at 4:3 ratio aspect
ratio " if you want to capture widescreen imagery you ll find the
camera dropping down the resolution to 10MP (meaning that resulting
captures are only widescreen thanks to being cropped in-camera) "
though this is hardly a colossal issue and, I suspect, few end users who
buy the Satio
primarily for its photographic capabilities could care a less.
But, the above slight criticism aside, the Satio s camera is impressive
and the quality of its images certainly far exceeded what I d expected.
Another bonus, of course, is the fact that the Satio comes with
integrated LED flash and, once again, in practice, I found this to be
particularly effective in low light situations with the flash unit
providing just the right amount of illumination to capture detail and
color well without over blowing highlights. For a phone camera the flash
offers beautifully measured lighting and would excel in situations such
as parties, evening/night outings, indoor shots, etc.
The Satio s video capture capabilities are equally impressive with VGA
resolution video being captured at a fluid 30 frames per second and,
again (no surprise) the Satio positively thrashes the iPhone in this
respect. And, not only is captured video fluid and big on detail, the
fact that the Satio s onboard LED flash can be used to illuminate low
light situations when capturing movies is a boon whilst the ability to
directly upload vdeos (as well as stills, of course) to sites such as
YouTube, Facebook and Picasa is more than welcomed " though, perhaps,
SE could have made the uploading rather less longwinded as you ll need
to trawl through rather more menus than I would have liked to have seen.
So, all in all, though I expected the Satio to make a particularly good
show of itself when it comes to capturing both stills and video I must
confess to being very impressed with what the Satio can deliver in terms
of goods. In terms of usability, features and results, the Satio s
camera actually blew me away " though not quite enough to see me sell
up my Canon 7D and collection of prime lenses. If, however, you re
looking for a pocket friendly point and shoot the Satio won t disappoint.
Our Verdict on the Sony Ericsson Satio Let s Cut to the Chase
Overall the Satio is undoubtedly a great and especially good looking and
well featured phone built around an impressive P S camera setup that
offers a true alternative to a standard (if not top of the range) pocket
friendly compact camera that also happens to handle both audio and video
with aplomb (audio quality verges on astounding, incidentally) but there
are issues " namely the responsiveness issues occasioned by the use of
a resistive (as opposed to capacitive) touchscreen display.
Texting on the Satio can prove to be an enormously frustrating
experience which, considering just how popular texting is, can hardly be
overlooked. Yes the screen is beautifully clear and crisp (making it
great for web browsing) whilst color rendition is vibrant and punchy
(great for images and movies) but the fact that I found my inputs, even
with the supplied stylus, going ignored more than occasionally,
resulting in me having to apply a little more pressure than I otherwise
would have liked, soured my experience of what is, otherwise, a damned
impressive handset.
I wanted to cherish it, to treat it with respect, perhaps even to the
extent of treating it with kid gloves (it looks that nice), but, all too
frequently, it forced me to abuse it with the stylus which, alas,
impacted on my user experience too much for me to just gloss over.
Pop a capacitive touchscreen on this baby and I d shout its praises from
the rooftops without restraint but, capacitive it isn t, resistive it
is, so I m afraid all I can do is whisper about it its highs whilst
trying, and failing, to ignore the lows.
The Sony Ericsson Satio verges on being marvellous " which makes its
poor touchscreen responsiveness all the more annoyi
ng. That said, if you can overlook the responsiveness issues (if, as
said above, you have no experience of capacitive touchscreen displays,
you ll be quite probably okay in this respect) then there s a great deal
on offer here.
Not perfect, the Satio, rather, offers up glimmers of flawed brilliance
that hints at what s to come once SE realise that resistive touchscreens
are doing them, and their users, no favours.
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