It seems that everyone is going gaga over the latest phones like the latest Samsung Galaxy S3 or even the coming iPhone. Nothing wrong with that since it pushes technology forward. But with my recent phone acquisition, I looked more on the practical side of things. I wanted a phone that can I travel with, a hardware that can take a beating from the elements yet smart enough to be connected and do more task than just the usual call and text. That’s where I took notice if the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active, a model released mid 2011 that promises to keep up with anyone who’s got an active lifestyle. I’ve always been the market for niche phones like this (I had the Siemens M65/75 series before) and its been a while since I have a sturdy phone. I took a dive and got myself a Billabong Edition of the Xperia Active that comes with a LiveView. After more than a month with the phone, here’s what I have to say with it.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Active came with a small box with a Billabong branded cover. Despite the box size I was impressed with the contents, it’s like opening a box of treats. Here’s what’s inside:
- 3 Rear Covers (2 white Billabong Branded and 1 SE black)
- 1 LiveView device with wrist strap + dock and clip
- 1 Charger with detachable USB cable
- 1200mAh Lithium Ion Battery
- 2gb Micro SD Card
- 1 lanyard
- In-ear headset with optional ear-hooks (includes spare earphone cover and hooks)
- Xperia Active Phone
I thought it was pretty packed for a small package. The LiveView device is a nice add-on which I’ll discuss later. Personally, I just used the black rear cover and replaced my 2gb MicroSD with an 8gb one. The detachable charger is ingenious and economical. The spare hooks and earphone covers were a nice touch. I like that they now use a conventional 3.5mm jack for the headset. The last SE phone I had still uses their proprietary connection.
Tough Nut to Crack
The Xperia Active is a small and compact phone not even bigger than the palm of my hand. Though it’s not really a thin phone since an additional layer or protection inside the rear cover adds to the thickness.
On hand, the phone feels really solid and the additional lanyard adds on the handling if you want it to be secured on the arms. It also serves as a lock for the metal plate and the rear cover. There are three rubber buttons on the side and they feel very responsive.
I have yet to fully test the phone to its IP67 limits (besides this is a personal phone not a demo) but my unit had a chance to experience torrential rain, being submerged in an aquarium and also falling less than 3 feet and gone unscathed. The capacitive screen also responds to wet fingers which is cool feature.
Better with Ice Cream Sandwich
I won’t be delving much into the technical specs or full feature of the phone as you could find them on several sites already like GSMArena. What is new though is my update to Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). The unit has the Android OS 2.3 Gingerbread when I got it. With GB, I thought the phone was already capable of what I need – a decent 5mp camera (though not as good as my Nokia N8), responsive UI, good social media integration, Google Account Sync, cool Apps I need, but ICS made things better with a little compromise.
When I saw that my SI number was already included on the official Sony Ericsson ICS update, I decided to give it a go. There was no problem with the update process from my computer but what I didn’t expect was the wifi compatibility on some routers. At first I thought it was a driver bug as wifi at home was working well with GB and at ICS it only goes through a cycle of connect and disconnect. I even visited the service center to check but everything seemed to work well there. I tried on other routers and networks like the public malls or my friend’s house but it connected easily WPA or not. It seemed my old router (which is b+g only) is the problem. But it still sucks ICS wasn’t backward compatible as my other devices can still connect even with the latest firmwares.
With the wifi issue on the side I did appreciate the major enhancements and changes on Ice Cream Sandwich. After the initial boot-up and mounting of the SD Card, the UI was a lot smoother and quicker. The interface tweaks made the settings accesible and it takes up less resources in terms of disk space on the phone. The 512mb internal memory on the phone was a major downside for me who is an app-addict. I always have to keep watch of my app downloads and move them to the SD Storage when possible.
Better Music Player, Lock Screen and Screen Shot
I liked that the Music Player now has controls on the lock screen. ICS also has a built-in pattern lock so I don’t have to install the Maze Lock App. The screenshot option when holding the power down was no longer there, but I found out later that holding the Power button + Volume down simultaneously for a sec will capture the screen.
Messaging, Telephony and Calendar
It’s really convenient to have Google Sync on Android phone though I wish they improve more on the calendar options, more comprehensive like the Symbian Calendar on Nokia with color coded agendas. Messaging is okay and takes some getting used to. I just wish that they automatically open on the new message so I don’t have to navigate and find the new SMS in the inbox. I do like that ICS has a built-in keyboard gestures like SWYPE so I didn’t have the need to install that app as well. Calls were not a problem, call reception most of the time was clear. I did notice the signal reception isn’t quite as strong as my other phones.
Task Switcher, Browser and Camera
The ICS also introduced a better task-switcher. Holding the home button for a few seconds would show the last few active apps open. One can kill the app by simply swiping them to the left. The native browser feels also a lot faster and supports flash enabled sites. The native camera also improved but I found the icons far too big to use. I prefer the ProCapture app than the native camera.
Water Resistance Warning
Whenever charging or adding a headset on the phone, the device would warn you of loosing its water-resistance capabilities when opening the lid for the USB and 3.5mm jack. It also reminds you to close the lids after use.
The LiveView Watch is an accessory included in the Billabong Edition that can be bought separately for P2500. It works on some other Android Phones as well. The concept is nice, acting as an extension of the screen phone and a remote. It is connected via a bluetooth through the Xperia, once paired SMS, Calendars and Phone Call notifications will be displayed on the watch screen and alerted by a flashing green light on the power button and a vibration. SMS can be read there but not replied. There are plugin options as well to extend its capability like the Sporty Pal App or some 3rd party Music players. I do like the native music player controls as I can skip tracks, pause or play or control volume just by swiping the screen. It’s nice a nice accessory if you have your phone in a bag or don’t want to take them out in public areas. I do find the implementation could be better. Sometimes connection with the phone would get lost. There’s also something wrong with the ergonomics of the wrist watch dock as you can’t charge the LiveView when placed on the strap. And the initial placement of the LiveView is challenge to pop-out and remove. A nice concept but something I can live without and use as a novelty.
The Sony Xperia Active is a niche phone! It’s not the most high end right now in terms of features but it serves its purpose, a capable rugged outdoor and travel phone that can take a beating and comes out in style. The ICS upgrade was also a welcome enhancement making use of the phone much easier and feature rich. Sony Ericsson already announced a couple of successors to the Xperia Active for 2012 but the ICS refreshes this 2011 model.
What I liked
- Rugged construction (IP67) that can immerse underwater and take a fall
- Feature rich Android 4 ICS update enhancements
- Packaging bundle including the LiveView accessory
- Compact and light
- Good quality capacitive screen with wet-fingers support
- Support for ANT+ devices
What I didn’t like
- Battery life is mediocre (probably could go a day or two on regular use)
- 3″ screen can feel cramped
- Signal reception not as strong
- Wifi backwards compatibility on old router when updated to ICS
- LiveView ergonomics
The SRP for the Sony Xperia Active Billabong Edition is P12999 in the Philippines.