updated 03:45 pm EST, Sun February 13, 2011
We test Xperia Neo, Xperia Pro live at MWC
Sony Ericsson had two phones besides the Xperia Play to show off at its event, headlined by the Xperia Pro. The device is a messaging-first phone intended for both frequent texters and workers with a sliding QWERTY keyboard that works intelligently. Popping open the keyboard will automatically queue up key events, such as replying to an e-mail message or typing out a message to a friend, Facebook or elsewhere at a new home screen widget.
Some apps themselves have been heavily customized to take advantage of the wider screen. E-mail now behaves much like it does on Android 3.0 or even an iPad with a customizable split view to show both the message list and the current message. Calendaring works the same way and shows both an overview of the month as well as the most upcoming events.
The phone has many of the same features as the Xperia Arc and Play, including a 480x854 screen, a 1GHz Snapdragon processor and Android 2.3 customized with the new Timescape UI. It borrows Sony's back-illuminated, CMOS based Exmor R sensor to better handle shooting photos in low light. HDMI output lets it show HD video and photos at closer to full detail.
Sony Ericsson is planning to launch the Xperia Pro in late spring and is planning a worldwide release, although it didn't name any carriers. Every version will come with an office suite to get business users started.
We tried the Xperia Pro ourselves in Barcelona and came back impressed with it as arguably Sony Ericsson's best phone so far for those who don't care about gaming. While the specifications are much the same as for other phones in the lineup, the keyboard was impressive both in feel and speed. We usually prefer good on-screen keyboards for speed, but we could type virtually as quickly here. The keys have a short but tactile feel and are well-spaced; unlike some phones, the top key row isn't blocked by the screen area and lets you treat all keys equally.
The smart keyboard is a definite seller if you message often. There's not much mystery to it, but as long as you remember that it exists, it can dramatically speed up how quickly you respond to an e-mail or text. We didn't have an opportunity to try the split views on mail and calendaring first hand, but we did get a much better video demo that showed what you'd hope for. Those who work in landscape mode will like the multitasking. There's not much of the mail list or message visible, however, so it's not for those who need to rapidly delete a large volume of mail.
As with the Xperia Play, our issues aren't major, but they do focus on software. Timescape can bog down in the pinch on the home screen, for example, and occasionally in some widgets. The contact carousel also still feels like a visual gimmick rather than a permanent addition. Even so, we're inclined at this early stage to recommend it as a text hound's first pick.