Android gets a facelift with Sony Ericsson's 'Rachel'

Sony Ericsson introducing an Android handset on November 3 called "Rachel."

Sony Ericsson has developed a custom interface for Android dubbed "Rachel"

Sony Ericsson has developed a custom interface for Android dubbed "Rachel"

Sony Ericsson's rumored Android-based Xperia handset is expected to launch on Tuesday, with a brand new user interface codenamed Rachel. As we wait for the device to launch, two YouTube videos about the device have surfaced in recent weeks.

One is a promo for the new Xperia handset coming directly from Sony Ericsson (SE). The video carries the tagline "What's Next?" and shows off some carefully designed shots of the phone that don't reveal much about the handset's actual design. Another video supposedly shows off some of the features of the new Rachel UI, and looks very similar to a previous Rachel video that was leaked over the summer.

The Xperia

SE's new device is expected to be named either the Xperia X3 or X10, and will be launched on Tuesday, November 3. The new addition to SE's Xperia lineup should boast some impressive specs, including a 4-inch touchscreen, 8-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and GPS. We can also tell from the video that the new phone will have a USB port and what looks like a 3.5mm headphone jack.

When you first look at the video, the new phone almost looks like a standard flip phone, similar to how the closed position of Motorola's new Droid handset echoes the look of a Motorola Razr. But this is all just camera trickery on SE's part. Comparing the new video to previously leaked shots of the Xperia, you can see that the back will look a lot like a flip phone, but the screen should occupy the opposite side of the device, similar to the iPhone.

Rachel User Interface

At the heart of the new Xperia handset will be SE's newly-developed Android skin, codenamed Rachel. Based on the video, Rachel looks pretty slick and is optimized for a 480 by 584 resolution display. My immediate impression of Rachel is that it has a very Microsoft feel to it. Application interfaces are boxy with no contours, and there is a heavy emphasis on grid displays for photos, videos and album art, again with no contours.

The default start screen carries four touch-based menu items at the bottom of the screen called Timescape, Mediascape, Messaging, and Dialer. The rest of the screen shows the time and date, and what looks like a recently sent message, or possibly a social networking status update.

Rachel's Mediascape features integration with SE's Play Now online store, as well as media stored on the device and online content from services like Flickr.

It's obvious what the functions of Messaging and Dialer will be, but the video doesn't show off what Timescape does. My guess would be social networking integration.

The video below was released in July, and shows other features of the Rachel UI including a slick looking contact manager that displays details for each contact on a translucent business card. The video also demos a virtual keyboard, but it's unclear whether or not the new Xperia handset will carry a physical keyboard as well. There's also no word on which version of Android, Donut or Eclair, the Rachel UI is based on.

SE's announcement on Tuesday should be interesting, but I'm not so sure you'll be seeing this device in American stores any time soon. Even though there is a lot of interest in Android-based devices in the U.S., SE has a habit of releasing their best handsets in Europe and Asia first. So it's not clear when, or even if, the new Xperia handset with the Rachel UI will be U.S.-bound.

Connect with Ian Paul on Twitter (@ianpaul).

Tags Xperia X2Sony Ericssonmobile phonessmartphonesGoogle Android

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)

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