Turn the X8 on and, though somewhat lacking in contrast and punchiness of colour, the screen looks rather nice. With 320 x 480 pixels packed into its 3in frame, it’s sharp and can fit a surprising amount of detail in, and viewing angles are very good too.
However, there’s no getting away from the size limitation. Clearly it’s not going to be the best choice for watching video but most crucially the onscreen keyboard suffers. It actually seems to be a combination of the size of the screen and its sensitivity (or lack thereof) but, regardless, it doesn’t result in a great typing experience. We reckon we were typing at considerably less than half the speed we normally would to get a reasonably accurate response, and even then it was still more error prone than we’d like.
What makes up for this issue, however, is that you have a surprisingly powerful, fully-fledge Android smartphone at your fingertips so browsing the web, checking your email, finding your way, and playing games are all activities that this phone is surprisingly good at. What’s more, Wif-Fi, GPS, a digital compass, and 3G are all onboard so you’re not left wanting for these core features.
With only a 600MHz CPU (as opposed to the 1GHz+ chips used in most larger rivals) and 168MB of RAM (512MB is more common on larger phones) onboard, it’s not the fastest phone going but the majority of games still work and thanks to Sony Ericsson’s interface tweaks, the phone feels reasonably nippy. Start running lots of apps at once and it does start to slow down – indeed the low amount of RAM means these slow downs kick in earlier than most devices – but this didn’t happen so frequently as to be a significant annoyance, and if it does happen you can just close the offending app.
Where the interface tweaks are most noticeable is on the homescreen. Gone is the option to add multiple grids of shortcuts to your favourite apps to be replaced by just four shortcuts: one in each corner. These can be easily customised and you can access the rest of the apps by pressing the menu button or swiping upwards but it’s obviously a bit limiting.
Filling the centre of the screen can either be nothing or you can add a single widget. Swipe left and right and you can add multiple further widgets (we got up to 11 before giving up).
As with the X10 mini and X10 mini pro these changes makes navigating the small screen that much easier, so the limitations don’t feel too restrictive. However, while the X10 minis seemed that much more worthy of the compromise, due to their particularly small size, the X8 isn’t quite small enough. Its squat design means it only really has an advantage in height over much larger-screened devices. At 54mm wide, it’s little narrower than most, and its 15mm thickness is positively tubby. That said, it’s also worth remembering that this is a budget phone as much as anything else.