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Sony Ericsson S51SE ("Mini")

Time marches on, and eMobile's Pocket WiFi S has been replaced with a second version, and now with the new Sony Ericsson Mini.  Other models (Such as GP-02) also exist, not we view the Mini as a more natural successor to the Pocket WiFi S II based on it's physical size, and simple low-end design.

Tech Specs:
Firstly, while the Mini has nothing on the Galaxy Nexus, GS02, or the high-end phones by the Japanese makers in terms of specs, it is fast enough to be very usable.  The Pocket WiFi S was slow enough to slow down internet routing, and had a small enough screen that many applications would refuse to install.  The battery was small enough that it ran down very quickly when tethering.  The Mini is conceptually similar in design, but it's a bit less of a compromise.  This is partly because it is a slightly more expensive product from a more premium vendor, but mainly because it's newer.  A low end Android phone now is what a mid-range Android phone would have been a year or so ago.

Pocket WiFi (Portable Hotspot) Use:
Since many people will want to use this phone as a portable hot-spot, we will cover that first.  Perhaps the first thing to note is that the battery life is much better than the Pocket WiFi S, and seems to be competitive with the dedicated Pocket WiFi Router units.  Secondly, the speed is much more reasonable.  The theoretical speed of this HSPA model is 14Mbps down and 5.8Mbps up.  Though this falls short of the GS-02, it is fast enough for most purposes in practical use.  

Typical Speed Test Results:
Speed Test Results

We achieved results of over 5Mbps from various speed test utilities, which is respectable.  More importantly, though are the Real World Use test cases:
1.We streamed TV shows from Hulu Japan's website on a laptop in a stationary location with it for several hours with no issues at all.  The Mini was plugged into the computer for charging during this test.
2.Our second test involved a moving train.  Aside from some slight re-buffering glitches around Shinjuku, there were not major problems in our three hour test ride.The Mini was running from battery power for the duration of this test.

The "Pocket WiFi" feature is actually just a standard Android feature that eMobile left in and branded.  It works, and it works well, but it's no frills.  There are no options to change the network settings, turn on port-forwarding, etc.  You'll need one of the dedicated Pocket WiFi routers if you want those options.

Data vs. Voice SIM
eMobile doesn't block their data SIMs from working in their phones and vice versa - in fact, they make it easy by putting the required APNs in the menu.  That said, they don't allow you to purchase a smart phone as an equipment upgrade for a data plan at this time.  There are two easy ways to bypass this restriction:
  1. If you have both a smart phone and data card through eMobile, you could just "upgrade" your phone and use your data card in it.
  2. You can easily buy the Mini from elsewhere for cash and use it.
There are several reasons to prefer the data SIM route:
  1. The Data SIM cards as don't slow down nearly as much when they have reached their daily bandwidth quota of around 300MB. (As compared with SmartPhone SIMs).
  2. Data SIM cards are assigned a publicly routeable external IP address. (Helps with some applications).
  3. You might not want the voice/SMS (EMNet) Service anyway.
  4. You might want to continue your data contract instead of starting a new voice one, and/or use the same SIM card in multiple devices.
Actually, eMobile doesn't require you to pay any extra for voice service on smart phone plans if you don't use it, so really only points 1, 2, and 4 are at issue.  If you do use an eMobile Data-Only SIM Card and select the appropriate APN, Android will display a warning that there is no service, but there is service (and the tethering works just fine, as indicated by the tests above).  There is no known way to turn the warning off at present, though it doesn't cause any problems.

To Lock, or not to Lock
Actually, you don't have to worry about it - because just as with the Pocket WiFi S, eMobile has taken the enlightened view that locking is usually bad, and the phone is completely unlocked.  We verified this by making calls with an NTT DoCoMo SIM Card.  The phone supports 1.7 and 2.1Ghz, so it should also work with overseas carriers where one of those is supported.  

Android Version
There has been one update released so far, however both the original version and the update are based on Android 2.3.4 with some Sony Ericsson customization.  It is a little disappointing to see this handset released with v2.3 when v4.0 is out now, but it seems likely that Sony Ericsson will decide to update it, since Google is pushing for longer update policies.

We tested both Skype and 050plus with this phone, and both worked relatively well.  One problem with Skype (which is not specific to this phone) is that when you restart the phone, Skype is not running at startup.  050 Plus will be running.  Even after leaving the screen off for several minutes, it immediately picked up on incoming calls (made from DoCoMo, Softbank, and eMobile) in every case, so it seems reliable enough.  Android 2.3.4 also has a built-in SIP ("Internet Call") feature, which we haven't tested yet.

There are huge practical advantages to using something like the Mini for VOIP instead of using a combination of a separate Pocket WiFi Router and something like an iPod touch:
1. The Mini is a phone, so it has a normal mike and speaker. (Devices like the iPod touch or Sony Walkman may not)
2. With a router, you need to leave the 3G and WiFi on at all times to receive a call, which makes for short battery life.  With the Mini, you can turn on the Hotspot feature when you need it, and turn it off the rest of the time - it won't stop you from receiving calls.

Headphone Slot
This warrants special mention, because iPhone style headphones will not work.  In fact, not only will the microphone not work, but the speakers won't work either.  The phone attempts to detect what accessory is plugged in, and gives a message such as "Unsupported Accessory" after some clicking sounds.  This is a bummer if you want to carry one set of headphones for your laptop, iPod, and Mini.

The camera quality isn't fantastic, but it's reasonable for a phone in this price range.

Japanese Features
Basically, none.  No Osaifu Keitai (Mobile Suica), No 1seg TV, No IR, No special applications like Japanese to English Dictionaries, QR Code readers - none.  According to eMobile, is basically because Sony Ericsson is not Sony Japan, and thus don't have any experience or know-how with domestic features.  The one thing it does have that is (sort-of) Japanese specific is that it has an FM radio, which supports Japanese frequencies.

Some of these features can be solved by installing extra software.  Some, such as the lack of Mobile Suica, can not.  Then again, the high-end Japanese phones cost 60,000 yen or more new.  The mini costs around 25,000 even without contract.  (You can of course use it to tether to a higher end Japanese Android Phone with no data plan).  Another option for those wanting to use Japanese phones with eMobile might be DoCoMo's 2011 line-up, which is said to be unlockable - just make sure to be sure the phone supports 1.7Ghz and allows you to modify the APN.

Japanese language support is of course standard in Android, and some of the pre-installed apps go slightly beyond that.  The built-in IME is called "POBox", which I have never seen before.  (I suppose it was better than the stock Android Japanese IME, and cheaper for SonyEricsson than ATOK).

Overall Impression
Our overall impression of the Mini is very good.  Though it doesn't do everything, it's small, cute, zippy, and it works very well for what it does do.  If you want a small phone for phone calls, and as a router for your computer, (and 14Mbps is enough for you), we think the Mini fills the role nicely. What's more, if you want a phone to use for VoIP, the Mini won't disappoint. Even if you don't need the tethering at all, the Mini makes a good starter Android phone.  It is inexpensive enough not to break the bank, but not so weak so as to frustrate the user.  In fact, we found it quite snappy for most operations.  If you are a serious data consumer looking for a combination phone/hotspot through e-Mobile, then we suggest you look at the GS-02 instead, or wait for the LTE line-up to appear. 

Wikipedia Japan Link: