Spend just a few minutes with Timescape and again the Active's healthy focus resurfaces. Preloaded applications include WalkMate, a pedometer, and iMapMyFITNESS which tracks nutrition, workouts, running routes and will even connect to compatible heart rate monitors. Yes these apps can be attained on other devices through the Android Market or the Apple App Store, but they are thoughtful additions and their ubiquity (which includes a centralised home online home) simply makes them easier to use from multiple sources.
The Active's focused attention also sees nice little extras such as its LED notifications which can be tied into these fitness apps to visually alert you when completing set goals. Another are the bundled MH650 earphones which use their single button mic to make/end calls, stop/start music and double click to skip tracks. None of this is rocket science, but for bundled earphones they produce reasonable sound quality with decent bass to compliment this handy functionality. Meanwhile a bulge on the bottom of the Active lets you attach a bundled rubber lanyard, useful if you plan to use it in such extreme situations as in the video below.
Less impressive is the camera. Sony Ericsson has a strong reputation for its camera phones, but the five megapixel auto focus shooter on the Active is distinctly average. Results are good in perfect conditions, but the LED flash is weak, making photos look dull indoors and noticeably noisy in low light. On the plus side the Active does shoot in 720p HD video and while it isn't always smooth (notably when panning) it is a cut above what we have come to expect from rugged devices.
What stops the Xperia Active scoring even higher, however, are two significant flaws: call quality and battery life. The former we found muffled, even in areas of good reception, and particularly prone to wind and environmental noise. The latter stems from the relatively low capacity 1,200mAh battery (quoted at 4.5 hours talk time) and Android's notoriously power hungry requirements. Treat your phone like a phone and it will get you through the day, but use it for its primary purpose (running with the GPS tracking and some motivational music blasting) and you'll be need to charge it midway through the day.
All of which could be more damaging if it wasn't for Sony Ericsson's keen pricing. The Xperia Active retails from just £239.99 SIM-free and for a device that's likely to last far longer than your average smartphone, that makes it a bargain.
After a number of years in the wilderness, Sony Ericsson (soon just Sony) is finding its feet again. The Xperia Active is a well-made, carefully thought out, specialist smartphone for those who love the outdoors. It is rugged, portable, comes with an excellent bundle including a runner's armband and has snappy performance which belies its run-of-the-mill specifications. Pricing is also very competitive with only the sizeable caveats of call quality and battery life dragging down an otherwise excellent smartphone. The green shoots of recovery continue.