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Sony Ericsson P900 smartphone

The P800 updated at last

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Talking to the PC and the Mac

On the plus side, Windows users can browse the device from Explorer (the System folder remains hidden). The P900 is bundled with synchronization software that merges notes, tasks, contacts and email synced with Outlook and Notes, over Bluetooth, infra red or the supplied USB deskstand. It also supports over the air synchronization. There's no Mac software, but this isn't bad as it may appear. Apple provides its own Calendar and Contacts applications, which are a welcome relief from the bloated Outlook, and Apple has worked hard to develop its own iSync software. On the Mac, I found that using the latest version of iSync failed to take all the fields to the device; most crucially phone numbers weren't sync'd. (iSync only supports one Symbian device at a time, so I had to delete the Nokia). But given the Cupertino Strangler's affection for the P800 and Apple's strong commitment to Bluetooth, users should feel confident that the bugs will be fixed. Eventually.

As PC users are likely to use the deskstand the most (as it doubles as a charger), the drawback here is the speed. While subsequent incremental backups are rapid, the USB connection needs to be much faster for transferring large files. Over on the Mac, I barely achieved 20 kb/s on Bluetooth transfers, and rued that iPhoto doesn't (yet) integrate with the P900's camera. And Symbian really must fix the dreadful application installer, which looks like it dates back to Windows 3.0 and worst of all, appears to install applications twice. (It installs .SIS to the phone, then installs them on the phone. Someone must have has a good explanation for this confusing behaviour, but we don't want to hear it).

Bundled applications

The software suite is largely untouched in the P900, although the built-in messaging client has been improved. It now allows headers, or the first few kilobytes of a message to be delivered, and the display shows subject as well as sender. In practice I noticed an annoying screen redraw, as the display flickered about a dozen times when opening my email inbox (but not, curiously, the SMS inbox) in both flip open and flip closed modes.

Sony Ericsson lists seven corporate email solutions in its Enterprise white paper for the phone, and while it's true that smartphone business users will rightly be steered towards a RIM or Good setup, professional consumers will be a little disappointed by the offering.

The already excellent MMS composer in the P800 has got even better. The P900 handles vector-based SMIL presentations.

The built-in viewer handles Microsoft formats, PDF, and the usual graphics suspects. To edit Office documents, you'll need the venerable QuickOffice. The browser is unchanged, but most people will load up Opera as soon as the battery is charged: until Nokia unleashes its Series 90 next year, Sony Ericsson has best mobile browsing experience in Opera by a wide margin.

More significantly for developers, the P900 features MIDP 2.0, which promises to take Java out of the dark ages with support for messaging and graphics.

Who needs one?
The jostling for position amongst the smartphone vendors is intriguing. All want a slice of the consumer market while stressing their business credentials. The P900 is a terrific multimedia device, but alas as a music player it's hampered by support for the expensive Memory Stick Duo, and only Sticks of 128MB at that. With 1GB memory cards common next year, this is a short sighted move. Hardcore gamers may find the hardware interface restrictive (not enough buttons, and the jog dial is far from optimal), but given that the processor has plenty of power and a glorious screen, the potential remains.

Curiously, for all its whiz-bang features, the P900 could appeal to conservative buyers from both markets. With its 6600, Nokia has adopted a similar low-key styling, and both designs are about taking the 'geek' out of smartphone. SonyEricsson's gamble is that there are users who want a phone first and who want rich access to rich Web and PDA, but don't want to be reminded of it (the bulkier RIMs, Treo and Nokia Communicator are the reverse: they're messaging devices first) all the time. Here's where the pen and flip design that Ericsson has persisted with for so long finally comes into its own. The P900 is the easiest phone I've used one handed and the flip doesn't compromise viewing richer material. That's quite a nice place to be.

It's also a niche that Nokia wants to be with its 6800 series, the scissors phone that has a fold-out keyboard, that Nokia positions as a corporate messaging device. And it's also a market that cheaper smartphones running OpenWave's impressive V7 and Picsel's quite amazing browser/viewer suite can target.

(For Sony Ericsson to succeed, the price needs to drop still further to match the latest competitive discounts on the Treos. The greatest competition for the P900, and the Treo, is Sony Ericsson itself: as P800s are available on some networks for free with a new contract).

The market is vast enough to support lots of interesting form factors - for example, I'm a died in the wool keyboard user - currently with few options. With PalmOne largely abandoning the pen niche (although we really do hope to see a smaller Treo without a keyboard) Sony Ericsson has a great opportunity to convince phone owners that they just need a little more data under the lid, or in this case, the flip. ®

Sony Ericsson P900 smartphone
Pros — Graceful balance between phone and computer
— Excellent display
— Probably the best mobile web companion for your money
— Reliable, good multitasking
Cons — Offers only incremental improvements for P800 owners
— Removable storage capped too for MP3 use
— UI needs a buff
Price around £300 with contract
More info The Sony Ericsson web site

Buy the Sony Ericsson P900 or the PalmOne Treo 600 from The Reg Mobile Store.

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