Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pureness review: I see through you

GSMArena team, 09 March 2010.
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Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pureness 360-degree spin

The typical expensive watch is big and heavy and a lot of the luxury phones live by that rule – they can’t help it with all the precious metal and gemstones.

The Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pureness on the other hand is tiny – it measures 112 x 43 x 13 mm and is an absolute featherweight at 70 grams.

Design and construction

When the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pureness is turned off it looks quite intriguing – the display is icy white, almost translucent. Below is a black plate with three small square knobs and four thinner strips with no symbols on them. Like an ice pop on a chocolate bar instead of a stick.

At this point it’s not easily recognizable as a phone, only the Sony Ericsson logo along the bottom at the front gives it away. A careful inspection of the Pureness reveals the hidden power key on the back.

Turning the XPERIA Pureness on is when the display magic unveils – in an instant it goes from solid icy white to near transparent. The strips of keys on the keypad are illuminated in turn from top to bottom, like a wave of light washing over the keypad.

Four white dots form a D-pad around the central square button, while the two on the side are bordered with a green and red light, so they’re instantly recognizable as call keys. The soft keys and Activity menu and backspace keys appear above and below the call keys.

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The magic starts to happen – the display turns transparent

A great first impression, isn’t it? Unfortunately, after the initial sense of wonder wears off (which happens quite fast) you realize that the display is 1.8” big and monochrome. And the strips of the keypad that look unusual and nice when the lights are off, are actually made of glossy black plastic that is cheap to the touch and wobble and screech when you slide your thumb down the keypad.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and instead get back to the beginning. Since it’s the centerpiece of the Sony Ericsson Pureness, we’ll dedicate a whole chapter of the review to the display. We just need to get through the usual stuff first.

At first, the plate between the display and the keypad appears flat with no functional elements other than the three square knobs. The tiny keys are raised above their surroundings, so even though they’re small they are easy to find and press.

But that strip actually has eight buttons on it – the four directions of the D-pad, the two soft keys, the Activity menu key and the backspace key. They are not touch-sensitive – the plastic bends as you press them and offers reasonable feedback. However, they are tiny and quite fiddly to work with.

And now we come to the very disappointing keypad – each row of keys is one single strip of bendy plastic and while it’s comfortable enough to type on, the plastic feels very cheap and the buttons creak as you push. That’s totally unacceptable for anything styling itself with the “luxury” tag.

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The keypad is a major disappointment

The sides of the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pureness have one volume key each – the plus key on the right and the minus key on the left. The right side also carries the SIM card slot, hidden under a plastic cover and the left side has… drum roll please… a Fast Port.

It’s left uncovered of course – after all, who wouldn’t want to see the exposed pins of an old proprietary port on the side of their luxury phone?

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Both sides of the Pureness, notice the stylish Fast Port

There’s a gap on each side of the Pureness - between the front strip with the D-pad and call keys and the metal strip from the back - which lets light spill through. While it may have some purpose, that gap doesn’t really give the impression of precision and craftsmanship.

The top and bottom of the Pureness are not very interesting – the bottom houses the loudspeaker and that’s it.

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The top and bottom are not particularly intriguing

There’s not much to note on the back of the phone besides the power key. The key itself is on a strip of black metal – shame that the designers didn’t use more metal around the phone.

There’s no battery cover here – the battery on the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pureness is non-removable. The black plastic on the back is good at hiding fingerprints, but the metal quickly becomes a smudgy mess. It’s a small piece anyway.

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Strangely enough, the power key is on the back

The labels that usually go under the battery are printed on the metal strip since there is no “under the battery” here. So, the back proudly bears the FCC number, the “Do Not Dispose of in Household Waste” symbol (which every luxury item needs) and so on.

The Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pureness is very compact and as light as a feather – it’s comfortable to hold in the hand and fits into any pocket.

What’s missing however is that intangible feeling of luxury, a shame really as that’s the market segment they are clearly aiming for. Now, a transparent screen is well worth the fuss. Our only point is the rest of the phone (keypad mostly) looks dirty cheap and about to fall apart.

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Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pureness in the hand

The see-through display

Now, it’s time to talk about the killer feature of the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pureness – the transparent screen.

While the phone is off (or locked) the screen has the appearance of frozen glass. When it comes on, the whole display becomes transparent, except for what’s drawn on the screen, which remains grayish white.

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The display becomes see-through when it’s on

Even when it’s ON, the display is not completely transparent (like a regular window glass) but is slightly tinted. The white pixels are not completely opaque either, so the contrast is quite poor.

Light backgrounds render the pixels on screen near impossible to see.The small font used in some parts of the interface doesn’t help either. Because the screen has a slight brown-yellowish tint, floors and furniture with a light-colored wood finish, for instance, make things on the screen almost impossible to view.

Screen legibility in bright light and in the dark is good, but on an overcast day things go down – there’s too much ambient light coming from under the screen and the illumination isn’t strong enough to make up for that. On sunny days however, the white pixels reflect plenty of sunlight so they’re easily visible.

Of course, the contrast is lower than on a regular LCD screen and at 1.8 inches, the interface is pretty cramped.

What could have made things a whole lot better for the XPERIA Pureness screen is a really strong screen backlighting.

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