Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc review: Android de Triumph
User interface continued: Facebook integration
Update 20 July: Sony Ericsson recently introduced a new, deeper way of integrating Facebook in their recent Xperia smartphones (Arc, Neo, Pro, Play, Mini, Mini Pro, Active and Ray). We reviewed the Xperia Arc before that software enhancement was available, but now that we’ve updated our review unit, we finally went ahead and reviewed the changes. They call it Facebook inside Xperia and here is what it's like.
Now, Facebook integration is a rather loose term when it comes to mobile phones. It could simply mean an easy way for updating your status and a news feed widget on your homescreen or it can go deeper such as automatically having new fields in the phonebook or uploading a photo with the press of a dedicated hardware button.
Sony Ericsson's take on the Facebook integration is definitely something along the line of the second example. It's deep, deeper than on most other Android smartphones but if you’re not into Facebook, it's unobtrusive enough. Facebook inside Xperia brings features such as a Like button in your photo gallery and your music player along with the mandatory sharing via Facebook. There are also lockscreen notifications and a new widget called Media Discovery, which sums up all the posted music by your friends and puts it right there on your homescreen. In the Contacts app you can see your friends' interests and galleries plus your own Facebook albums are now integrated with the in-built Gallery app next to the Picasa ones.
To enable the extra Facebook functionality, you setup a dedicated "Facebook Integration" account on the phone, which automatically pops up once you enter your regular Facebook account. Now let's go through some of the enhancements.
Starting off with the Phonebook - the contacts in your phone, which you've linked with Facebook now have 3 separate panels. Swipe to the left and you'll see the contact's photo galleries on Facebook and another swipe takes you to the contacts likes and interests. It's similar to what we get on HTC smartphones with Sense UI.
Moving on to the music player, there you can now "Like" any song you're listening to. The info is automatically posted on Facebook wall where your friends can respond to it by liking it or commenting on it and sharing it.
Further on, once you log into your Facebook account via the dedicated app your Facebook galleries get downloaded to the photos app. So now apart from the galleries you have on your phone's memory and on Picasa, you now get the ones you have on Facebook as well.
In the gallery you can "Like" a photo again (yes, you can like your own photo) and see who else has done so. You can even read and write comments on a photo through the gallery.
The Media Discovery homescreen widget shows you all the music and videos your friends share on Facebook. Selecting "View more" opens the Facebook app itself where you get a look of all of your friends' videos along with likes and comments, attached to them.
Another thing, which is actually very old news, is the Calendar synchronization. Once you enter an event on Facebook it gets synced with the Xperia's calendar. Also all of the events yo have confirmed as Attending, will show up in your phone's calendar app automatically.
Finally, we get to the Facebook notifications in the lockscreen. It works somewhat similar to those on the latest iOS 5 beta and shows that you have a new notification inside a baloon. This is nothing special and it's even somewhat disappointing. On iOS you see what the notification actually is ("Dexter Labs has done this or that on Facebook"), whereas on the Xperia you only see that you have a notification. It would have been better if it saved you the time to look it up by just saying what it is.
Also the notifications on your lockscreen need the mobile data to be turned on even if you're on a Wi-Fi network, which is strange. If the mobile data is off you won't get any notifications whatsoever. And this goes for the entire Facebook integration experience - you need to have a SIM card in the phone all the time. Sounds like a bit of a bummer.
Overall, it’s a great idea to bring such deep Facebook integration to the Xperia smartphones and it should be well received by owners with "compulsive Facebook addiction disorder ". But it makes one think that such integration has been available for the most part on HTC droids (also Samsung's and others) for quite some time now. Is it a strong enough selling point all on its own for Sony Ericsson? Also users with X10s (the first Sony Ericsson Android device) are left out of the party for now as only the new line of Xperia handsets will get the magical Facebook treatment.The feature has been confirmed to arrive to the X10 with the Gingerbread update.
Still, the deeper integration is a welcome bonus for every user with a Facebook profile and Sony Ericsson has implemented it just right - it's clean and simple to use. And if you're not that into Facebook and don't have a profile, you can just skip the whole thing and use your Xperia smartphone just as you would in a world without social networks.