Sony Ericsson P910i smart phone
The perfect phone and PDA?
Reg review Sony Ericsson's smart phone just keeps on getting better. A year ago, the P900 addressed  many of the P800's shortcomings  in a slick, business-friendly redesign. Now, a further 12 months down the line, the P910i smartens up the P900 and bumps up the spec. to boot.
First, the hardware. The P910i's memory has not only been upped to a nice 64MB - four times the P900's meagre 16MB - but a Memory Stick Duo Pro slot has been added to support more capacious add-in cards. Indeed, Sony Ericsson bundles a 32MB card. The handset's screen is the same 208 x 320 job as before, but now upgraded from 65,000 colours to 260,000. There's the same 24-voice polyphonic ringtone generator, and the P910i still provides infra-red and Bluetooth wireless connectivity, with a tri-band GSM/GPRS radio for WAN access. The digicam is still VGA resolution, and the handset's ARM CPU is once again clocked at 156MHz.
|The evolution of the Sony Ericsson smart phone: the P900 (left) and the P910i (right)|
The styling is slightly harsher, with the colour scheme more Terminator than before, a look enhanced by the new numeric pad that drops last year's slimline silver buttons for a grid of transparent perspex with angular, sci-fi lettering. It's an improvement, certainly, but not as much as the jump from the P800's up to the P900.
Opening out the keypad flap as far as it will go is now accompanied by a loud 'snap' as the flap locks into place. The reason for the lock is right before your eyes: the QWERTY micro keyboard mounted behind the numeric pad. Blackberry envy? Possibly, but the dinky keys address one of many users' issues with previous versions of the handset: the reliance on character recognition. CIC's JotPro is still there - and working as well as ever - but now it's not essential to fast text input.
Or so Sony Ericsson would argue - I'm not so sure. The keyboard can be used two-handed, with both thumbs typing, but it's a disconcerting experience. The flap feels too flimsy, and without the locking mechanism, the handset's top heavy body would simply fall forward over thumbs and keys. The act of moving thumbs around the pad tilts the phone back and forward, left and right as you struggle to do capitals and numbers, both of which use shift keys. Worse, spot an earlier mistake and you still have to whip out your stylus - Sony Ericsson neglected to add cursor keys.
It's easier to use with the phone held in one hand, while your press keys calculator-fashion with the index finger of the other, and it's faster. But it remains suited more to entering web addresses, SMS messages and the occasional diary entry. If you send a lot of emails, or plan to do work on long documents, you'll be better off sticking with character recognition. Or opting for a device with a bigger keypad.
The P910i runs Symbian OS 7, with a later, snazzier implementation of the UIQ 2.1 user interface that's more Windows XP to the P900's Windows 95 look and gets the Sony Ericsson UI much closer to Series 60. Using the 262,000-colour display to the full, icons have a more anti-aliased look.
The apps have been updated too. Email feels smoother, more responsive and easier to navigate, with attachments neatly opening in Quickword and Quicksheet, the two now-bundled Office-compatible apps which not only allow you to view files but to edit them too. There's an intermediate stage in which .doc and .xls files become the apps' own format. Quickword has a Send menu option which allows you to email the modified form of an email-enclosed file directly. This I did and got a .doc back that contained only minor formatting inconsistencies - extra spaces before each paragraph mark, mainly. Quicksheet lacks this facility, but sending a modified and saved spreadsheet file back via the Messages app yielded a .xls that was nothing but XML.
Incidentally, getting online proved easier than it did with the P900 a year ago, with GPRS connections being made smoothly and more trouble-free. MMS messaging has been enhanced with Sony Ericsson's QuickShare system that minimises the number of steps you need undertake to, say, send a photos and videos. And reception is better, too,
In addition to Quicksheet and Quickword, Sony Ericsson bundles PDF+, which displays PDF files, though with some quirks, I noticed. It makes a bold but slow stab at it, but with some graphically complex, multi-layered files, such as IBM PowerPC roadmaps, what you saw wasn't what you'd got. Quickpoint, a PowerPoint presentation viewer, is included on the accompanying CD.
Don't expect to find the promised Blackberry client software, however. It's not in the SIM-free box, and won't be appearing until networks add support for the device. In the UK, currently only Orange and Vodafone offer the P910i, and neither appears to provide Blackberry support on the handset, at least not to individuals.
Bluetooth worked a treat, allowing me to zap over a 3.2MB MP3 at roughly 170KBps. Not quite USB speeds, though the bundled docking cradle provides the requisite ports to transfer files that way. Unlike so many handsets, the P910i scores major kudos for supporting AAC files, meaning I can use it with all those CDs I ripped in iTunes. It also handles MIDI, WAV, AMR, 3GPP, iMelody, RMF, AU and a format mysteriously labelled 'Other'. Even better, downloaded tracks can be used as ringtones.
Syncing with a Windows PC comes courtesy of Sony Ericsson's own software. Mac users get to use iSync. Despite Mac OS X's Bluetooth sub-system deciding the handset won't connect to iSync, it did, first time, copying over 600-odd contacts and a stack of diary entries. Connecting my PowerBook to the Internet via the P910i and GPRS was similarly straightforward. The P910i paired up and worked happily with a Motorola HS820 Bluetooth headset, though I could only initiate calls on the handset not the earpiece.
Browsing on the P910i is reasonably nippy, and the bundled browser doesn't do a bad job of shrinking graphics and trimming redundant HTML down to fit the handset's screen. But if you prefer it, Sony Ericsson has included a copy of Opera 6.31 on the accompanying CD.
One area where the P910i isn't better than its predecessor is battery life. Sony Ericsson's quoted figures are down from 16 hours' talk time down to 13 hours, with stand-by time falling from 480 hours to 400 hours. Even so, they're still impressive. The big battery ups the P910i's weight, to 155g, but that's still less than the Treo 600, say.
Yes, the QWERTY keyboard's not really up to scratch, but the P910i provides potential buyers with plenty of other reasons to lay down their credit card. The much larger memory, more colourful display, scope for more capacious memory cards, superior numeric pad, much-improved software, better application bundle all put the P910i well above its predecessors. Is there room for improvement? Sure - the price, for a start. I hope the networks increase the subsidy - the P910i is an expensive product. But this is the first of its line for which I'd be happy to cough up the cash. ®
|Sony Ericsson P910i|
|Pros||— Better numeric keypad; generous memory; much-improved on-board software and UI|
|Cons||— Battery life could be better; flimsy QWERTY micro keyboard; expensive|
|Price||£500 without contract; around £200 with contract|
|More info||The Sony Ericsson UK P910i website |
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