- Elegant design
- Easy to use
- Excellent call quality
- Pricey apps
- Slow to operate
- Limited LED flash range
- 8-megapixel camera
- Capacitive touchscreen
- 3-inch screen
If the Satio is the big, brash, headline-grabbing, yet ultimately underwhelming star of the Sony Ericsson show, it’s the Aino that plays the more staid and modest yet ultimately more impressive supporting role. In other words, while the Aino doesn’t have an awe-inspiring 12.1-megapixel camera or a full touch-screen interface, it does make for a much better handset overall.
The first thing that impresses with the Aino is its build quality. It’s back and sides are finished in soft touch plastic that feels nice and doesn’t show up fingerprints and scratches half as much as the oft-preferred glossy black. The screen is also very tough so should resist scratches well. Sliding the phone open doesn’t reveal any weaknesses either thanks to a sturdy all-metal mechanism. All this strength does result in the phone weighing a fairly hefty 135g, despite relatively slim-line dimensions of 104 x 50 x 15mm, but we think it’s a small price to pay.
I also like the buttons that sit below the slide-out mechanism. Despite being quite small and low-profile, they are easy to locate and thanks to a short and sharp action they respond quickly. As a consequence, you’re always sure when you’ve pressed a button or not, which is great for typing speed and accuracy. In fact, the Aino’s numpad puts many full QWERTY and touch-screen-enabled rivals to shame.
Moving back to the screen, it’s not just its solidity that impresses, it’s also great to look at. While its resolution of 432 x 240 pixels is not the highest, it still provides ample room and can show enough detail to make browsing the web and checking email a non-too-laborious task. Moreover, due to very impressive black levels, rich colours, decent brightness, and class-leading viewing angles, it’s simply a joy to view. This makes every aspect of using the phone easier and more enjoyable, and obviously lends itself well to watching video, which the phone excels at (though you’re required to re-encode your files to a compatible resolution and format as with most handsets).
On top of this, the screen is touch-sensitive, and uses capacitive technology so responds to the lightest of touches, though doesn’t work with gloves on (as resistive screen’s do). However, bafflingly, Sony Ericsson has made it so the screen only works when the phone is closed. Not only that but, when closed, you can only use the media interface. This gives access to the camera, which likewise can only be used when the phone is closed, as well as to the music and video players, picture viewer, and FM radio. We can see that Sony Ericsson has decided not to have touchscreen enabled all the time to avoid confusion and also to prevent the need to completely overhaul the operating system and we certainly value the resulting simplicity. However, we’re pretty sure there could have been a bit more crossover without too much effort.
According to Sony, a major focus of the Aino is its use as a multimedia player. As such you get a rather nifty docking station and Bluetooth headset adapter in the box. The docking station holds the phone on its side ready for viewing videos – this is of course where the touchscreen comes into its own – and has plugs around the back for a charger as well as an AV connection, a cable for which is provided. Sadly said cable is nothing as fancy as HDMI but instead provides composite video and analogue stereo audio output. There’s also a plug on the dock for charging and storing the headset adapter so it should always be charged and ready whenever your phone is.
The Bluetooth headset adapter itself, which measures 63 x 16 x 19mm, has a call answer button on the front, music playback controls on one side and a touch-sensitive volume slider on the opposite side. A power button on the bottom and a 3.5mm jack on the top complete the button roster. A downward facing clip on the back makes it easy to attach the adapter to an item of clothing or bag strap.
Obviously the unit connects via Bluetooth and, when turned on, is instantly recognised by the phone. It’s very nice to use and provides great audio quality, though we’d rather have normal buttons for the volume rather than the touch-slider. Furthermore, the very short cables on the supplied headphones (42cm from the plug to the left, 80cm to the right) rather limit how you can wear the ensemble. This is a shame as the earphones are perfectly decent, feature good noise isolation and come with a selection of rubber tips in different sizes.
All told, the headset and dock combination is very useful and it certainly adds value to the package as a whole. However, we can’t help but think that an optional universal dock system like that used by Apple would be a more sensible solution. Not only could it make this phone cheaper, you would also be able use it with another Sony Ericsson phone further down the line (not that it doesn’t work with other handsets but they don’t fit properly on the stand).
As you will probably have guessed by now from all this talk of docks and headset adapters, the Aino U10i doesn’t have a normal 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead, it uses Sony’s long-standing proprietary charging/USB/headset socket. This can be found on the left edge whereas the right edge is home to the volume rocker and camera button. A lock button sits atop the phone while the microphone and loud speaker ports are on the bottom.
An 8.1-megapixel camera sits unprotected on the back and it has only a single LED for company – the lack of a Xenon flash marks this out as not being in the upper echelons of the camera phone fraternity. Nonetheless, it’s nice to use, thanks in part to the touchscreen, which not only provides quick access to the camera’s settings, but also an interface for selecting a focus and metering point in the scene you’re about to capture. There are also extras like face detection and geotagging. Operation can be a little slow and the LED flash only has a range of a couple of metres or so but for most everyday social photography the Aino is quite adequate. Video recording at resolutions up to 640 x 480 (30fps) is also supported and the LED can also be used as a lamp.
The Aino’s software is fairly simple but very capable and makes for a very easy user experience. Being controlled solely through buttons, there’s no attempt to make a particularly fancy interface and it’s all the better for it. Menus are simplistic but elegant and reasonably logically laid out, though having all the pre-installed utilities, including the calculator, torch, and file manager, in the organiser section is a little counter-intuitive. Most importantly, though, is the whole system is really fast as is nearly every aspect of the phone.
Particular highlights include the web browser, which also does a great job of rendering complicated web pages, though it’s not quite on the same usability level as those found on the best smartphones; and the media interface, which as on most of Sony Ericsson’s phones, takes on a PS3 style crossbar arrangement for quick and easy browsing through your extensive music, photo, and video collection. Games are also included in this section but only two come pre-installed, fun though they are. Others can be downloaded through the PlayNow web portal, along with extra apps and music, but only one is free and the rest all seem to be £5, which is a little pricey for such basic apps. A microSD slot sits below the back cover and it supports cards up to 16GB so there should be plenty of room for all your media.
As a messaging device, the Aino is reasonably accomplished with texts grouped in conversations and support for push email. Facebook also comes installed and it’s a very nice app to use, though contacts aren’t integrated into the phone like on the Palm Pre and INQ range (we don’t actually mind this omission too much). Wi-Fi is included to keep your data connection as speedy as possible when at home or work. It’s also a quad-band phone so should work throughout most of the world and the latest 3G networks are supported for speedy mobile browsing. Featuring GPS too, this phone ticks all the essential boxes, though you’ll struggle to use it as a proper in-car sat-nav. GoogleMaps and WisePilot turn-by-turn navigation are included, but they’re really only good for use on foot.
We found the Aino’s call quality to be excellent with plentiful volume and clear and crisp audio. Battery life also impressed with it easily lasting three days during our testing.
The Sony Ericsson Aino doesn’t have any major headline grabbing features but it certainly makes for a very accomplished slider phone. It’s well built, looks elegant, is easy to use, and has a multitude of features including GPS, push email, an 8.1-megapixel camera, and comes with a dock and very nice Bluetooth headset adapter. If you don’t want a fully-fledged touchscreen smartphone this is definitely an alternative to consider.
Score in detail
|Available Colours||White, black|
|Screen Size (inches) (Inch)||3in|
|Talk Time (Minute)||270m|
|Standby Time (Hour)||367hr|
|Internal Storage (Gigabyte)||0.055GB|
|Camera (Megapixel)||8.1 Megapixel|
|Front Facing Camera (Megapixel)||No Megapixel|
|3.5mm Headphone Jack||No|