As I mentioned earlier I used Gingerbread 2.3.4 on this phone which came with a set of improved updates. Like the other Xperia phones the Active uses Sony Ericsson’s Timescape UI above the standard Android interface. On the whole the Active’s UI is no different to the Pro or Arc S however due to the smaller screen some modifications were necessary. With a smaller screen the Active can’t fit the Timescape widget on a homescreen with other widgets so you have to use a whole screen for that on its own unless you find a smaller widget. The Active uses a similar UI as the Mini where the four corners of the screen have shoulders with a cluster of apps in each. By default only the right hand top side shoulder has more than one app but you should be able to add or remove these as you see fit. If you install a big widget near a shoulder the shoulder and its apps get removed from that homescreen but can be accessed on other homescreens.
The top left shoulder holds the messaging app, the bottom left your contacts and the bottom right is the dialer. The music player on this phone is the same as the other Xperia phones which is somewhat disappointing as the player does not have lock screen controls. I am told these will be available with the 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update coming next year but I don’t see why they couldn’t have included one here. While using the armband and working out I don’t want to have to use the flimsy unlock button and have to slide the notification screen down and click on the music in order to access the music player to change a song or playlist.
Google maps on the Active comes with the ability to prefetch data which helps while you’re not able to connect to the net but need to use the GPS. The GPS without internet was able to grab my location within 30 seconds and if not for the smaller screen, GPS would have been top notch on this phone. I played Tank Hero and Riptide on the Xperia Active and while the graphics were smooth I found myself touching the capacitive buttons under the screen. This phone while capable of playing some of the best Android games out there is handicapped by the smaller screen and the buttons under it. However I would guess the target audience for a sports phone won’t be playing many games. As I had mentioned earlier this phone is water resistant and I can vouch for that. I was able to call the phone while it was immersed in a glass of water, the sound from the loudspeaker was somewhat muffled but it was perfectly operational when I took it out. As long as the 3.5mm and microUSB connectors are covered the phone is water tight. You can also use wet fingers on the phone’s capacitive screen without any issues; the capacitive buttons under the screen weren’t as water friendly. While they too are water resistant they required a more firm touch in order to operate properly. The phone also comes with Walkmate and iMapMyFITNESS+ apps to track your workouts and exercises.
Battery life was very good and the phone comes with a decent battery to help it out. The included 1200mAh Li-ion battery was able to keep the phone usable for just over 2.5 days while the screen was on full brightness, WiFi was on with constant updates from Facebook, Twitter and some internet browsing; also Walkmate and the music player were used for about 2 hours a day.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Active may not appeal to everyone but it does target a niche audience and it does that very well. It looks good, has high end specifications, a decent display, and excellent sound quality and can withstand the elements to a reasonable degree. It appeals to the sporty adult or the young teen that keeps scratching his phone or dropping it in water. It can do everything a high end phone can do and more but you do have to sacrifice as well. The Active does not come with a front facing camera or a high end smartphone screen size but holds its own in every other category. It may also be one of the fewer mid-range smartphones that will get Android 4.0 on it so it has the potential to run with the next generation as well as compete with the current big boys.