Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/10/23/review_se_k850i/

Sony Ericsson Cyber-shot K850i camera phone

So cutting edge you could shave with it

By Alun Taylor

Posted in Phones, 23rd October 2007 11:37 GMT

Review So here it is, the new big boy on the block. Replacing the old K800i/K810i at the top of the Sony Ericsson cameraphone family tree, the K850i shoulders quite a burden of expectation. After all, as far as Sony Ericsson is concerned this is pretty much as good as it gets.

Sony Ericsson K850i mobile phone
Sony Ericsson's K850i

We're not entirely sure if the design the K850i represents the fulfillment of the current Sony Ericsson aesthetic philosophy or the start of a new one, but either way it's a nice bit of kit, both to look at and to fondle. In basic layout the K850i is clearly an evolution of past Cyber-shot phones, the front being dominated by the large 256,000-colour screen, now a bigger 2.2in, up from 2in on the K810i.

Measuring in at 10.2 x 4.8 x 1.7cm and weighing 118g, the K850i's increased ability has thankfully not resulted in any unseemly bloat when compared to its lesser siblings. Indeed, quite the reverse, as it manages to do away with the K800i's rear bulge. The plastics are of a uniformly high standard, though the gloss black casing does show up smudges and fingerprints. The access panel for the battery, and memory and SIM card slots is a lovely bit of design and manufacture, looking and feeling more like the battery compartment of a digicam than a phone with its usual bit of dodgy clip=on plastic.

Sony Ericsson K850i mobile phone
More features than before but no bloat

The keyboard is similar to the one found on the T650i, though the individual keys are a shade larger. It looks a little odd, but works well. Ergonomically, the K850i it is very hard to fault and is a fine texting tool.

When it comes to functionality, the K850i is so cutting edge you could shave with it. It has HSDPA 3G, Edge, GPRS, an FM radio, Bluetooth 2.0 and A2DP wireless stereo playback. It lacks Wi-Fi, which frankly is no surprise - it isn't, after all, trying to be a smartphone.

On board storage is a reasonable 40MB but the card slot will take either Memory Stick Micro (aka M2) or Micro SD to the tune of 4GB. So at long last we get a dual-format memory card slot on a Sony product. About time too, though the company insists on bundling a 512MB M2 in the box.

Sony Ericsson K850i mobile phone
So cutting edge you could shave with it

The basic handset, menu layouts and graphics will be familiar to anyone who has used a Sony Ericsson within the last year or two, though it does introduce a few novelties that mark the K850i out as a landmark product. The most obvious additions are the Media Centre and the three-touch sensor soft-menu keys that are as much part of the screen as the keyboard.

Also new to the Sony Ericsson user interface is the four-way, oblong control - often called a 'D-pad' - that now forms part of the keyboard and encloses the 2 and 5 keys. It's a playing card-shaped raised plastic ridge which increases in height at the four compass points. You press the ridges to navigate, press the middle soft-menu key to action. Yes, the the activation key is outside the pad not inside it, which takes a moment or two to get used to, but once you have you wonder why nobody has thought of this before. It glows a nice shade of blue too.

Sony Ericsson K850i mobile phone
A new take on the old D-pad navigation control

The K850i comes with an all-in-one media player to manage your music, and display videos and pictures. The Media Centre interface is similar to the Walkman 3.0 software and is straightforward to use. The player supports MP3, AAC, WMA and MPEG 4 and is accessible directly from the dedicated Media Centre key adjacent to the Answer key. The music player has a range of EQ settings, most of which work, but avoid the one marked Stereo Widening. It widened the sound all right, but Bruce Springsteen's vocal on Radio Nowhere fell through the vast chasm left in the middle.

A selection of tracks by Aimee Mann, Bruce and Schubert proved the music player to be every bit the equal of an iPod or Walkman. The supplied headset does the job but has a nasty pair of foam covered ear plugs, so a adaptor bridging Sony Ericsson's Fast Port and a 3.5mm jack socket wouldn't be a bad use of money if you plan on spending a lot of time listening to music. Or you can stump up 40 quid for Sony Ericsson's own HPM-90 headset, which is far superior to the one supplied.

Sony Ericsson K850i mobile phone
Ready for low-light photography

As expected, the camera on the K850i is pretty decent. With a resolution of 2592 x 1944, a xenon flash and automatic lens cover, it could be seen as just a ramping up of the K810i but that would be to overlook the presence of the Cyber-shot SE 2.0 interface, lifted pretty much as is from the Sony T series camera range. This means that, for instance, for the first time on a Cyber-shot phone you can manually select your ISO sensitivity for reasonable quality low-light photography.

A glance at the right-hand side of the K850i further underlines the importance of picture taking in the design. Along with the shutter and camera On/Off switches, you get a zoom control and a slider to move from still to video to preview mode. When in camera mode the keys in the keypad's right-hand column light up more brightly than usual and allow direct access to shooting mode, scene mode, and the self-timer and flash options.

Sony Ericsson K850i mobile phone
Cyber-shot by name, Cyber-shot by nature

Picture quality is very good for a phone, though as the example images on the next show, a three-year-old Nikon Coolpix 2200 2.2-megapixel camera did give it more than a run for its money, especially in terms of depth of field and colour density. Lots and lots of pixels are not, and never will be, a substitute for decent optics.

For these sample shots both phone and camera were in automatic, 'point and shoot' mode. On the upside, the presence of a decent flash at least makes night-time photography a working possibility. Video capture is nothing out of the ordinary, though, at a standard 30fps, 320 x 240 (QVGA).

Sony Ericsson K850i vs Nikon CoolPix 220
K850i on the left, Nikon on the right. Fine image for a camera but better colour saturation and definition at a distance from the Nikon
Click for full-size version

The K850i comes with a decent range of peripheral functions, including applications called VideoDJ, PhotoDJ and MusicDJ, which allow you to muck about with media of the three respective types. The music function is handy for making your own polyphonic ring tones if the muse takes hold. The lack of a universal ringtone converter is a bit annoying as even our cheap and cheerful LG KG275 has one and it does come in handy.

Sony Ericsson K850i vs Nikon CoolPix 220
Less to choose between the two in this shot of a nearby Unitarian Church, though the Nikon does seem to have captured a passing UFO
Click for full-size version

Customisation isn't the K850i's strong suit with, for instance, no alternate menu views other than the basic 4 x 3 grid. In fact, when in any other theme than the rather garish 'Laser Precision', the whole menu interface is pretty much identical to that on an old K610i we have lying around.

It would have been a nice touch to load the K850i with the T650's rather funky keyboard lighting effects and time-of-day colour changes. OK, they are pointless, but flagship products are where you expect to find the useless but cool stuff. A nice touch is the ability to switch the flash on to serve as a torch, as is the fact the screen changes from portrait to landscape when you tip the phone on its side, iPhone-fashion. Bizarrely, this doesn't work when you're using the web browser, which is one of the apps crying out for this feature.

The usual Sony Ericsson PC Suite software allows you to sync your contacts to Outlook, use the phone as a modem, copy across files and the like.

Sony Ericsson claims a talk time of up to nine hours with stand-by operationg of stretching to 400 hours. Even if these numbers are a little optimistic - though our experiences give no reason to assume they are - they are impressive for an all-dancing, all-singing handset like this. Call quality is very impressive, too, as is the sound put out by the built-in speaker. This is one mobile phone that is also very good at just being a mobile phone.

Verdict

Sony Ericsson's K850i is great piece of design, well built, nice to use and with all the features you expect from a top-end phone. We can't help but feel the T650 leaves it behind in the 'cool' stakes, and what price a phone with the K850i's camera abilities and the Wi-Fi and 8GB memory of the W960i? Now that would be something to drool over.