Like a politician, I feel obliged to declare an interest in the Xperia mini pro, after I came to love the original X10 mini pro last year on a European road trip.
With plenty of high-powered smartphones to choose from, it may sound like an odd choice but its tiny size made it ideal for summer travelling. It enabled me to take decent photos, send messages without fiddling with on-screen keyboards and use a range of Android apps to make the trip pass off without a hitch.
Despite its small screen, the phone served me extremely well. The only significant disappointment was its small battery that made it hard work to keep it going a full day with fairly high usage. Oh, and it was quite slow. However, the main consideration was portability and this is where it excelled.
With the new Xperia mini pro, there's no need to accept compromises as the spec has been hugely bumped up.
Design & build
Sony Ericsson's new 'mini' phone has a much larger screen (relatively speaking) and a higher resolution. Instead of 240x320 pixels, you have 320x480 and it makes all the difference. The Mobile BRAVIA Engine also adjusts the contrast and sharpness of pictures and videos in realtime, although the screen isn't anywhere near as bright as the Xperia arc.
Of course, making comparisons with larger-screened devices is missing the point. This phone fits easily in a pocket and will appeal to anyone wanting something more like the non-smartphone it may be replacing. Not that this means compromising on the OS or the range of apps. The Xperia mini pro is running Android 2.3 and nearly all apps will run as they would on models with bigger screens.
The phone has grown in size slightly, to accommodate the bigger screen, but this is a good thing given it also allows for an extra column of keys on the slide-out keyboard. It offers four cursor keys instead of two, as well as a better positioned backspace key. The keyboard is clearly the mini pro's key feature, but a thinner model without a keyboard is available too (as the Xperia mini).
One of the reasons for liking the first mini pro so much was for its camera. It's still 5-megapixels this time around, but it has a better sensor, vastly superior camera interface and it can now record HD video (720p). A dedicated camera button ensures you can launch the camera quickly, while the LED flash is surprisingly bright.
On the front you'll find a second camera for Skype or Google video chat, which seems to be back in fashion. It will probably be a function that is never used, but it's there if you're the one person that actually uses video calling.
The Xperia mini pro feels nice in the hand, is very solid, and despite being a little taller and wider, hasn't become any thicker. It's no accident that Sony has influenced the design, with the front matching many of its recent Walkman media players. The back, on the other hand, looks like it was thought up in about ten seconds.
The battery is boosted from 930mAh to 1,200mAh, but it's still less than most smartphones coming out with at least 1,500mAh. Despite having the same 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor as other new Xperia models, the phone does have a smaller screen (the main drain on any battery) and a number of power saving benefits introduced in Gingerbread (2.3).
You'll probably still need to get used to regular charging, but unless you opt to watch movies all day at full brightness, you should safely get through a whole day and into the next before you've got no choice but to seek out a source of power.
Given there aren't many HVGA resolution (320x480 pixel) screens with a 1GHz processor, the Xperia mini pro is very fast. With less for the graphics co-processor to do, Qualcomm's own Neocore benchmarking tool saw the Xperia mini pro max out at 67.1 frames per second; making it the most powerful Sony Ericsson handset available so far!
It leads me to fantasise about what could be possible if Sony Ericsson opted to re-release this phone with a gamepad replacing the keyboard, as a cut-down PLAY. In fact, I hope they're reading this...
With a smaller display than most smartphones, Sony Ericsson developed a home screen that put app shortcuts in each corner for easy thumb launching. Now you can put more apps in each corner by creating folders, which expands when selected to make it easy to click an app within.
This front-end won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it does give easy to access your most commonly used apps. By default these are set to messaging, contacts, phone, plus a folder holding links to the music player, gallery and radio. If you can't hack it, there are third-party launchers to give you a normal Android-like look and feel.
The new software also introduces changeable themes, so you can finally change the colours within the menus, along with other new features like Facebook inside Xperia, which integrates Facebook within your inbox, contacts and media applications. xLOUD boosts the audio output, without distortion, while the Type & Send widget lets you type in a single box to do a search, or post messages to your favourite social networking services.
For entering text without pulling out the keyboard, you can now select between a portrait-QWERTY keyboard or a traditional T9 keypad for anyone that has been more accustomed to predictive text.
Time for Timescape
Timescape is an app attracted a lot of criticism when it first rolled out on the Xperia X10. It was slow, clunky and it drained your battery at an alarming rate. It also hindered timely updates of the OS, which is why Sony Ericsson has now made it a standalone application and widget.
The functionality has improved considerably since its first iteration, and you can now add many more sources of information to your feed, beyond missed calls, incoming texts and Facebook/Twitter updates. There is now third-party support for services including Gmail, BBC News, Flickr, Foursquare, YouTube, Google Reader, Tube running info and even feeds from popular forums.
It does still put a drain on your battery, but it has evolved into something that is now extremely powerful and worth trying.
Other preinstalled apps include McAfee WaveSecure, Sony's music and video streaming service, plus a free copy of PopCap's Chuzzle and trial versions of Plants Vs Zombies and Peggle.
The next update for the phone will add in support for the LiveDock, which allows the connection of USB flash drives, keyboards and mice. Facebook inside Xperia will also be enhanced to improve sharing of content.