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Sony Ericsson flagship sprouts 3G, Wi-Fi

P990 unveiled

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Sony Ericsson has updated its flagship P-series smartphone line by announcing a model with 3G, 802.11b. The manufacturer has also beefed up the camera and display, and finally added BlackBerry Connect and VoIP support in the bundle.

In its P800, P900 and P910 incarnations, this has become the single most popular smartphone design in the world - thanks largely to its unobtrusiveness and ease of use as a plain ol' phone. A flip means that the data part of the deal - the PDA and browser - can be accessed and put away very quickly.

Despite its beefier specifications, the P990 is the same weight as the P910i it supersedes, and only a millimeter larger all round.

In the latest model, the fifth generation of this design in as many years (if you count 2000's R380), Sony Ericsson has shrunk the physical dimensions of the screen while increasing the number of pixels on offer. The P990 uses the 320x240 resolution originally touted for UIQ. This was judged too wide for screens available back in 2001, and "Thin Quartz" was subsequently developed; this is the version used by subsequent P-series phones. The smaller screen allows room for a QWERTY button board (we hate to call these things keyboards) on the body of the phone itself. Last year's minor P910 revision added QWERTY buttons to the flip - but in practice, this caused problems balancing the unit. (See our review).

Sony Ericsson P990

So the P990 sports a 35-key button pad: comparable to the RIM's 33-keys and the Treo's 35-keys. Not everyone will appreciate the decision to shrink the physical screen to make room for the QWERTY keys, but the screen can be tipped into landscape mode, allowing Opera to view widescreen web pages.

But Sony Ericsson is serious about tackling the BlackBerry market, where some kind of keyboard is de rigeur.

As expected, the P990 comes with the UIQ 3.0 user interface, optimized for one handed use. By popular demand, the 'bar' style phone keypad introduced in the P900 but dropped in the P910 makes a welcome return.

The P990 boasts 80MB of RAM and Memory Stick Duo Pro cards up to 4GB a piece. Sony Ericsson will launch a variety of models in Q1 of 2006, although there's no word yet of a model that supports the 850MHz band for the Americas.

Sony Ericsson P990 - click to enlarge

For more obscene close-ups like this, click the Sony Ericsson site here. ®

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