First Looks: Sony Ericsson Aspen
In the Green Business
How does one define an eco-friendly device? Based on the energy savings, or the creation process? Going green is truly hard, but that's what Sony Ericsson is aiming to do with its Greenheart project. To date, there have been a few devices under the Greenheart portfolio introduced into the market, most of which are equipped with the basic features of a phone. One such device is the Sony Ericsson Aspen, one of the few devices in 2010 that runs Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.5.
The most noticeable aspect of the Aspen is its thickness, which won't be its most appealing factor. Our adequately-sized hands handled the Aspen with ease, but we can only imagine the difficulty it will pose to those with smaller palms. What caught our attention next is the physical QWERTY keyboard, which is seemingly compact and won't be friendly for chubby fingers.
True enough, touch typing can be difficult, with our fingers unintentionally hitting the wrong keys that resulted in lines of gibberish in our messages. Nonetheless, if you were to pay close attention to where your fingers, or to be precise, your fingernails are going, you'll get impressive typing speeds. This is mostly due to the raised keys that differentiated itself easily as we moved our nails across the keyboard.
The usual shortcut keys are located just above the keyboard, surrounding the five-way navigation pad. The Call/End and OK buttons are self-explanatory, with a little mysterious button at the bottom left that's not the Start button, but Sony Ericsson's Xperia panel. The said button brings up a basic, but very practical sliding user interface known as SlideView.
What makes it useful is the fact that only the nifty features, such as Messages, Facebook, Calendar, Media and Panels are displayed. Each section is split further into sub-menus. For example, going deeper into the Messages menu reveals SMS/MMS or your various email accounts, from which you can compose a new message. Unfortunately, that's where the fancy and useful UI ends and the stock Windows Mobile UI returns to the scene.
Navigating the menus can be done via the five-way navigation pad, which was what we did during our testing period. However, should you prefer a more personal approach to the user experience, do note that the Aspen is also a touch screen device, albeit on a small 2.4-inch screen. Due to this limitation, we had some trouble hitting the various icons which were too small for our thumbs or fingers.
Alternatively, you can opt for the stylus that's tucked away at the top right corner of the device. But what are the chances of you prying the stylus free from its holder, tapping on the screen and having to type a message on the keyboard with a stylus in the hand? Minimal, as we have discovered our activities to be mostly contained within the keyboard and navigation pad, leaving the touch screen alone unless we needed to hit the Start button.
Loaded within the Aspen is a 600MHz processor, working in tandem with its 512MB ROM and 256MB RAM. While you might experience sluggish responses from the touch screen's lack of sensitivity, if you do manage to flick through the menu with the hardware keys, you'll find a smooth experience waiting for you. To satisfy the 600MHz processor's power needs, the Aspen is equipped with a 1500mAh battery. Based off our daily usage of calls, messages and internet activity, the Aspen managed to hold out for nearly two days.
With its lineage of Walkman and Cyber-shot phones, one might have great expectations for the Aspen's multimedia capabilities. We would advise you to keep your hopes in check, because what we have on the Aspen is a fixed-focus 3-megapixel camera without an LED flash. Imaging quality isn't as spectacular, with the loss of details and a lackluster color reproduction across the images. Its 2.4-inch screen and a low resolution of 240 x 320 simply doesn't cut it if you're looking for a decent video experience. The audio playback also doesn't have much going for it, especially so with the lack of an equalizer to boost audio quality.
So how does the Sony Ericsson Aspen stand as a phone? That really depends on what you need in a mobile device. Those who wish for a physical QWERTY keyboard will find the Aspen to be a good fit for their messaging needs. But with its limited screen size, and somewhat chunky profile, it pales in comparison to most other smartphones. To redeem its shortcomings, the Aspen does have an impressive battery life, and a reasonable price tag of S$488 for the budget constrained.