Digital life: Flagship mobiles ring a bit hollow
Sony Ericsson Aino, €250
Sony Ericsson Satio, €330
(each on cheapest O2 contract)
Some marketing whizz was presumably paid gazillions to come up with Aino and Satio. You might think the names would be more suited to a couple of puppies but, no, they're the new flagship mobiles from the Sony Ericsson stable.
At least Aino and Satio sound better than the phones' official code names, the U10i and U1.
Aino conceals a hybrid of touchscreen and keypad controls in its slim slider body. Satio is a purely touchscreen device, with a peculiar bulbous shape testament to its whopping 12-megapixel camera.
Let's run the rule over the Aino first. Built on the same solid foundations of several Sony Ericsson sliders before it, the Aino is a well crafted black (or white) oblong with a reassuring heft. The keypad that slides down from behind the screen feels a mite cramped.
Instead of the usual cornucopia of buttons, the phone relies on its three-inch touchscreen for extra functionality. You can navigate around your music, photos and videos purely using the keypad but flip the phone sideways and the touchscreen comes to life. Then you can select and play your media with a fingertip.
This hybrid experiment never quite gels because the touchscreen interface is somewhat clumsy and limited. Other features, such as the browser, are crying out for fingertip control where there is none.
Unforgivable for a music/video device, there's no standard headphone jack, with Sony Ericsson asking you to carry around a small Bluetooth transmitter that connects to any headphones you might want to use.
One other feature of note is the ability to view content stored on your PlayStation 3 when away from your living room. Over WiFi or the mobile network, it works acceptably well, even though it's not easy to set up.
The Aino doesn't lack for specification, with an eight-megapixel camera, FM radio and GPS. Battery life is commendably good and the Aino is a likeable if flawed all-rounder.
The Satio is Sony Ericsson's attempt to compete with, well, probably everybody actually. Described as bringing together the best of the company's music and cameraphones in one device, the raw specs look impressive.
The piano-black paint job and premium build quietly proclaim it a phone to be seen with. Were it not for the protruding 'nose' on the rear to protect the camera, the Satio could almost be described as sexy.
Dominated by the 3.5-inch touchscreen, the Satio uses the same menu system found on the Nokia N97. While Sony Ericsson has added its own flourishes, the user interface remains antiquated, sluggish and unable to keep up with the likes of the iPhone or Android.
The phone was briefly withdrawn in the UK before Christmas because some owners found the software too buggy.
But the killer blow is the eminently loseable little stylus required to peck at the slightly unresponsive screen. It can't just be me who sees a stylus as a relic from a bygone era.
The headline feature is the 12-megapixel resolution of the camera. Together with its powerful flash, the pairing produces fine photos in good conditions. But the usual caveats apply: the Satio doesn't deal well with moving objects or dim scenes.
In short, the phone that can replace a good camera doesn't yet (and probably will never) exist.
Like the Aino, the Satio is crammed with electronics, including, WiFi, GPS and FM radio. Sadly, too, the standard headphone jack is absent. But unlike the Aino, battery life is a constant concern, as it is with all big touchscreen phones.