At 117 x 60 x 12.5 mm, the Sony Ericsson Aspen is well within limits for a QWERTY messenger candybar. It fails to match the strong presence of the Nokia E71 but affordability is not the only explanation for the plasticky finish. The Aspen is a GreenHeart phone and it means it.
The touchscreen obviously suffers the form factor limitations – it’s too small and low-res. On the other hand, the D-pad is very comfortable and covers almost all of the touch navigation. We’ve come to judge touchscreen user-friendliness by whether or not it rules out stylus use. Ironically, the Aspen does better than most phones with a resistive screen. A D-pad and a couple of hardware buttons are obviously not the right reasons but still.
The Sony Ericsson Aspen is a scaled up Elm and the plastic outfit is quite alright. Recycled materials and shipping-optimization are what GreenHeart is all about. And come to think of it, affordability is a welcome side effect.
The human curvature design is a lot less prominent than on the Sony Ericsson Elm and Hazel. We found it to give the other phones in the lineup a very secure and comfortable grip. But it would’ve been a hurdle in the Aspen, which is meant for two-handed use. The weight balance is still perfect though: the keypad sticks to your thumb.
Sony Ericsson Aspen uses a 2.4" 65K-color TFT resistive display of QVGA resolution. Now, this size hardly implies thumb-friendliness but that’s not our main gripe with the screen. The excellent D-pad more than makes up for it. We know it’s arguable whether this phone needs a touchscreen in the first place. The poor sunlight legibility and contrast is the first thing to worry about here, but that’s common for this type of displays.
The earpiece is placed dead center at the top of the front panel. A little to the right is a status LED. What we do miss is a proximity sensor to lock the screen during calls.
Below the display is the main bank of control and navigation keys and the QWERTY keyboard. The D-pad is excellent to work with and you can use it throughout the interface to select/confirm. The Call/End knobs, the XPERIA panel button and OK key are all large and comfortable, with very solid press.
The QWERTY keyboard uses a four-row layout and there is no dedicated numeric row – which we don’t mind. The numpad is centrally placed, numbers sharing keys with some of the letters.
Actually Aspen’s keyboard is almost the same as that of Nokia E63/E71, in both layout and design. The keys are tiny (save for the massive space bar), but thanks to their convex shape are easy to hit.
The right side of the handset hosts the volume rocker, which doubles as a zoom lever. There is no dedicated camera key but the D-pad serves a triple purpose. The confirm key snaps the photo, left/right sets exposure compensation and up/down switches between the still camera and the camcorder.
The microUSB port is on the left.
At the top are the Power/Lock key and the 3.5 mm audio jack. In the top right corner you will find the stylus compartment.
The rear side of the handset features the 3.2 megapixel camera lens and the loudspeaker. The battery cover is partly made of aluminum and has the Sony Ericsson logo. There is no protection for the camera lens, except that it’s slightly sunk. No need to fuss anyway over a 3 MP fixed focus snapper.
Removing the battery cover unveils the standard Sony Ericsson BST-41 Li-Po battery with a capacity of 1500 mAh. We can’t be too specific but it looks like you can count on above-average battery performance given the small and low-res screen on the Aspen.
Also under the battery cover is the hot-swappable microSD memory card slot.
We have no reason to question the build quality of the Sony Ericsson Aspen. It is not the kind of handset to turn heads but has enough character and seems quite durable too. The Aspen handles nicely – depending on how you feel about the whole touchscreen / QWERTY combo. We guess some people will be glad to have both touch and D-pad navigation. Others will just see no point in such a small and low-res touchscreen.