I've been wondering why there hasn't been drooling, crazy-eyed hype for Sony Ericsson's Xperia X10, which sounds like a wet dream on paper: Android, 1GHz Snapdragon processor, awesome 8-megapixel camera, massive 800x480 and a very pretty interface. I know now.
Well, rather, I know that it's definitely something about the phone itself. It's missing that spark, the emotional drippings of OMG, that say, the Droid has. The X10 is perfectly fine. It's just that everything outwardly belies the specialness of what's going on inside. The all plastic-build feels just slightly better than cheap, the shape is kind of awkward unless you have gorilla hands, the design — it all just feels, well, incredibly ordinary.
What stood out in terms of hardware was the screen (at four inches, with a resolution of 854x480, it's big), and the camera, which borders on amazing for a phone. The extra betaness of the software meant we couldn't really get a grasp on how deadly the 1GHz Snapdragon processor is, since while things were quite speedy, the phones also froze a lot, apps crashed or wouldn't start, etc.
Sony Ericsson's approach to customising Android with its own Nexus interface is mercifully respectful of your boundaries. That is, if you don't want to use their TimeScape or MediaScape UI for managing your contacts and media (though you probably want to in the latter case), you don't have to — the default android contacts app is still there. The only thing you can't escape is all the blue. If you take Windows Media Center and imagine it ported to a phone, that's pretty much the Xperia X10. But with more "infinite buttons".
MediaScape actually feels like Media Center, the way it arranges and presents your photos, music and videos. The concept behind TimeScape should be pretty familiar at this point. Everything from a contact, like Facebook, emails, Twitter, photos, text messages, calls, whatever are integrated into a single interface, so you can check their status updates or get a hold of them however you want. That infinite button is what coagulates all of the services into a cohesive contact.
For the most part, I think the Nexus interface works (even as crashy as it was today on these pre-production phones). It's easy enough to navigate, it stands out against the other custom Android interfaces with lots of bright colours and transparencies and it's not bad too look at. More than that, you only use it as much as you want. (Some people might want a more complete Android UI overhaul, and that Nexus doesn't quite deliver.) I don't see how Sony Ericsson is going to get developers to put out apps just for Nexus, though I'm not sure how much that matters. It's an example of Android's potential in the hands of phonemakers who actually know how to design interfaces.
Sony Ericsson's always had trouble getting their smartphones to crack the US, since they haven't had carriers footing the bill for phones to make them actually affordable. It seems like they're trying to make that change with the X10, saying it's "our desire to have a carrier relationship for this product." So you might actually get to use one. It still doesn't set my pants on fire like the Droid did, at least not yet, so I'm not sure how much you actually want to. But maybe it just needs more time.