Sony Ericsson M600i smart phone
Sony Ericsson challenges RIM's BlackBerry
Review UIQ never really took off as an alternative to Nokia's Series 60 Symbian user interface and only Sony Ericsson and Motorola UIQ devices have ever made it to the European market.
But Sony Ericsson has finally brought its first UIQ 3 device to the market, the M600i. This is the first of three new UIQ 3 smart phones to arrive this year from the company, although all three phones are very different in terms of the functionality they offer...
Features-wise the M600i has the least on offer of the three devices, but this doesn't mean that it's feature-free. The M600i looks very different from previous Sony Ericsson UIQ devices, such as the P900 series. First of all, it doesn't have a traditional keypad and as such it resembles a BlackBerry more than the P900. Even the keyboard bears more than a slight resemblance to those on the smaller Blackberries, with two letters per key, but it doesn't work the same way.
The trick to the M600i's keyboard is that it's not of the multi-tap kind, but rather each letter is typed by rocking the key left or right. It only takes about five minutes to get used to. The keyboard offers the usual QWERTY layout, but it's been modified to suit the M600i. This means that to access certain characters you have to press the Alt key, which is also used to select the numbers when you're in text-entry mode.
The M600i makes texting both quick and easy, although I'm sure I'd be beaten by many teenagers with normal mobile phones. But the M600i also offers email functionality and it is even compatible with BlackBerry Connect. That said, the RIM application doesn't ship with the M600i, though you'll soon be able to download it direct to the phone via Sony Ericsson's website.
Besides the keypad, there are three buttons scattered around the phone's edge, as well as a jogwheel. However, don't mistake this for the excellent wheel on the P910i, as the one on the M600i only allows for up and down movement - it can't be moved sideways, although it can still be pressed inwards for menu selections. Sony Ericsson has also placed the back button here, but in such an awkward location that you have to move your thumb quite far down from the scroll wheel.
The other problem I found was that when you're using the keypad, there's no alternative back button here, which means you have to reach for the side of the phone to exit the application you're in.
On the top of the phone is the power button, which also allows you to put the phone in flight mode. The infra-red (IrDA) receiver is also located here, right next to the power button. On the right-hand side is a small button labelled with an @ sign. By default this will launch the web browser, but this can be changed. Just below this is the memory card slot, which accepts the new M2 - aka MemoryStick Micro - format. It's very difficult to insert and remove the memory card as the slot has a cover that doesn't open very far. A 64MB M2 card ships with the M600i as standard and you should be able to pick up a 512MB card for around £25.
At the bottom of the M600i is the latest generation of Sony Ericsson data/charger connector, and a USB cable as well as a travel charger is supplied with the M600i. However, the M600i doesn't charge over USB, which I think is a major omission, as it's the ideal way to charge your phone if you have a notebook with you.
By now you're probably wondering about the camera. Well, there isn't one. The M600i is a business device and as such doesn';t need a camera, or at least that appears to be the reasoning behind the omission. It also cuts cost, which might not be a bad idea. What the M600i does have around the back is a rather loud speaker.
At 10.7 x 5.7 x 1.5cm and 112g, the M600i is quite wide, but thin, so it fits neatly into most pockets. The problem is that the screen tends to pick up quite a bit of sweat on a hot day when you hold it to your ear for any length of time, but this is a common problem for PDA-type phones. The 2.55in, 240 x 320 screen is quite bright, easy to read and can display 262,144 colours.
Using the M600i as a phone is a rather strange experience, as you end up using the touch screen most of the time. Sure, the stylus is pretty good - it's located at the top left corner - but it's annoying not having call-make and call-break buttons. It's quite frustrating having to tap the screen all the time to get into your contacts and to initiate and end calls. There's plenty of space just below the screen where three soft-menu buttons could have been placed to correspond to the three options that are listed on the default menu screen. This would've made it much easier to use the M600i without having to use the touch screen all the time.
With the new scroll wheel, it's not as easy to navigate the M600i's menus as it was with the P910i. There was also lag using the scroll wheel on the main screen, as the text wouldn't appear until you've already moved past the icons you didn't want. This is a minor issue, but it makes you wonder how much extra processing power the M600i has.
However, once you've fired up an application there are no noticeable slowdowns, so this seems to be related to navigating the menus and might be something that Sony Ericsson will fix in a future software release. The good news is that the M600i, as with previous UIQ devices from Sony Ericsson, can be updated over the internet, so you don't have to send it off to a service centre.
It's really disappointing that Sony Ericsson didn't fit Wi-Fi to the M600i as a device like this is made for wireless networking. Unless you&'ve got a genuinely unlimited 3G data tariff, you're likely to miss the lack of Wi-Fi, but the M600i is really fast in 3G mode, although it doesn't support HSDPA, but it will fall back to GPRS if there's no 3G coverage. It also Bluetooth with A2DP support, so it can be used with stereo headsets.
You can select to view the main menu as a grid - much like any other Sony Ericsson phone - or as a list like the P900s present. The standard menus are the same as those you'll find on most Sony Ericsson phones as well, with the possible exception being the Office menu. By default the M600i doesn't come with a wealth of applications, but you do get a version of Opera built in, which is the main web browser. You also get Quickoffice which allows you to access and edit Word, Excel and Power Point documents. There's also a PDF viewer and a basic notepad application.
Useful things such as a calculator, a multi-format unit converter, timer and stopwatch also come as standard, as well as a media player and an RSS reader. Two games are also included: Vijay Singh Pro Golf 2005 3D and QuadroPop.
UIQ 3 now has a full-function, Windows-like task manager which allows you to close down applications you're not using, or switch tasks. The problem is accessing it, as for some reason Sony Ericsson decided to use the smallest icon possible, stuck up in the top right-hand corner of the screen. This makes it impossible to access it without using the stylus. Equally annoying is the menu on the opposite side of the screen, which gives you quick access to various phone features from within most menus. The tiny icons make it awkward to use both of these handy additions and it makes it more difficult to use the M600i than should have been the case.
Using the keylock is also quite frustrating. When you want to unlock the phone, you press the star key and then the screen, but the back-light doesn't come on bright enough to clearly see where to press on the screen.
Cost-wise the M600i is reasonably affordable considering the type of device it is. As long as you're happy with the white model you can pick one up without a contract from £310. Oddly enough, the black version is £325, although if you're willing to spend £35 a month with Vodafone you can have the black version for free.
The Sony Ericsson M600i is the first UIQ 3 device from Sony Ericsson and it does have a few rough edges, both in terms of features and the user interface. It's not a replacement for the P910i by any means, although it is the better email device out of the two. If you're after an alternative to a BlackBerry, then the M600i might be for you. ®