Although more than six months old, the Sony Ericsson Satio still holds the record for being the most pixel-packed camera phone in existence. It has a whopping 12.1 megapixels, a hundred pixels more than its closest competitors, the Samsung Pixon 12 and the just-revealed Nokia N98. The Satio would have held the record as the first-ever 12-megapixel phone in the market, too, if Korean electronics giant Samsung did not beat them to the punch by shipping their own 12-megapixel Pixon 12 a few months in advance. Despite this minor glitch, the Satio was able to maintain its lead as top-of-the-line camera phone for 2009.

The Satio is testament to the genius of the Cybershot camera range found only in Sony Ericsson phones. After all, the Cybershot has been a market leader in digital cameras for years now, so this should come as no surprise. The whopping 12.1 megapixels plus up to 16X digital zoom makes for really impressive phone photos, especially if you’re used to the grainy, distorted quality of images from most other camera phones. The lack of an optical zoom, however, makes images pixelated at full zoom and distorted at a distance. Widescreen photos are also limited to 10 megapixels, and the recovery time between taking photos may take long, especially for full-resolution images. On the plus side, it has lots of built-in tools like auto focus, touch focus (the camera will automatically focus on an object you touch on the screen), and an image stabilizer that comes in handy for everyday novice photographers. Like most other camera phones, it has a Xenon flash for photos and a LED flash for recording videos. The video recorder is also pretty impressive, with a resolution of up to 864×480 at 24 fps. Photos taken with the Satio are also automatically geotagged, and there are links to let you instantly upload photos and video to Picasa, YouTube or Facebook.

Unlike other 12-megapixel camera phone contenders with AMOLED screens, the Satio only has a resistive TMT touchscreen. This makes the touch-screen operation frustratingly unresponsive at times, especially for the thick-thumbed. Internet browsing was decent at most, with full HTML support but no smart-fitting of text and a quite cumbersome window-switching method. Like the Samsung Pixon 12, battery life on the Satio was disappointing. Who would use 1,000-mAh batteries on such power-packed phones? This means that the phone requires at least daily charging.

The greatest downside to Satio, however, is its problematic software In November 2009 two major phone retailers in the UK pulled out Satios from their shelves following mounting complaints from users about the phone’s penchant to randomly freeze and shut down. In December the company issued a software update for download on their site. There are reports, however, that the phones still continue to freeze and hang at random.

Despite its flaws, the Satio will still endure, at least for some months, as a top-of-the-line camera phone. To keep up with competition, however, Sony Ericsson should seriously look into stabilizing their software stacks in future mega-camera phone releases.