Sony Ericsson Cyber-shot C902 cameraphone
Review It's clear that the design of Sony Ericsson's C902 is far more conventional than the likes of the K810 or K850. Gone is the 'small key' design, the keypad now being a sort of cross between that of a W960 and a K800.
The new look works without any major drama, but hardly pushes back the boundary of design and we certainly prefer the 850/810 keyboard style for texting. Still, it's a smart looking lump, measuring 108 x 49 x 10.5mm and weighing in at 118g. It's a little lighter and substantially thinner than the either the K850 or the K810.
Sony Ericsson's Cyber-shot C902: smart looking
Did we say 108mm tall? Well, sometimes. To activate the camera on the C902 you need to take a firm hold on the top and pull open the 8mm slot that covers the lens. Luckily, the slider feels well engineered and likely to hold up to repeated use without starting to slide shut under its own weight or wobble as time and repeated use takes its toll on the mounting.
Technically, the C902 is very close to the K850i. What you get for your money is – deep breath – 160MB of on-board memory and a Memory Stick Micro expansion slot; quad-band GSM/GPRS/Edge and 3.6Mb/s HSDPA; a 2in, 240 x 320 screen with ; an accelerometer-driven auto-rotate system; an FM radio with RDS; TrackID song recognition; Bluetooth with A2DP wireless stereo; a five-megapixel autofocus camera with 30f/s QVGA video recording; the Video, Photo and MusicDJ applications that are now common on most mid-range and above Sony Ericsson handsets; an RSS hub; voice recorder; picture blogging application; three games and support for MP3, AAC and MPEG 4 media. You also get Google Maps pre-loaded and the PlayNow music ringtone purchase web application.
One glaring difference between the C902 and the K850 is the removal of support for Micro SDHC cards. At a recent Sony Ericsson press event, we tried to get to the reasoning behind this, especially as it looks as though the new Cyber-shot C905 handset will also only come with M2 expansion. The best answer we got was that at the the time of the K850i's release, M2 cards only went up to 4GB, so building in support for 8GB Micro SDHC was the obvious move.
Fair enough, but with 16GB and 32GB Micro SDHC cards on the horizon – ish - that reasoning surely still applies? Bottom line, if you have a Micro SDHC card in your K850i and want to change to a C902 you are ever so slightly stuffed.
Camera functions aside for the moment, in day-to-day use the C902 is as near as darn it identical to any number of recent Sony Ericsson handsets. The only menu update over the K850i worth mentioning being that you can now access the RSS hub and games via the Media menu.
The 5Mpl snapper is reasonable
Access to the camera functions has made Sony Ericsson adopt a rather curious compromise when it comes to the C902's screen. Put it side-by-side with the K850i and you expect the new handset to have a slightly larger screen, or at the very least one the same size, but the C902's screen is actually a fifth of an inch smaller, corner to corner.
This reduction in size is necessary to accommodate the eight dedicated touchscreen buttons that appear above and below the display in camera mode and that have the slightly odd side-effect of making the screen look far too small for the phone when it's not in camera mode.
Four of the camera controls - shoot mode, scene selection, timer and flash - are the same as the dedicated controls that appear above the 3, 6, 9 and # keys on the K850i when in camera mode. The other four - photo mode, video mode, gallery and focus mode - arguably don't need to have dedicated controls at all.
Furthermore, we found ourselves touching the video-mode button inadvertently on more than one occasion. The K850i's slider control that moves between photo, video and gallery modes is a far better solution to this prticular problem.
All this left us with the vague feeling that the screen has been shrunk for no other reason than that Sony Ericsson decided not to give the C902 a keyboard layout as radical as that found on many of its other currently available phones and so has had to foist the camera controls onto the screen.
The screen has shrunk a bit
Maybe we are seeing here the curse of the focus group - the rather odd looking, if effective, keyboard designs on some recent Sony Ericssons are not going down well with the punters. The problem with focus groups is that you tend to end up with New Labour - a wholly ineffectual compromise that pleases nobody.
Whatever the reason, on a cameraphone this all seems pretty daft as we reckon it's a safe assumption that users are going to want to show people their photographs on the device they took them with and so will want as large a screen as possible. Even more strangely, the handset below the C902 in the new Cyber-shot hierarchy, the 702, actually has a larger, 2.2in screen.
Something else Sony Ericsson needs a ticking off for is the Photo Mate application. This is actually a rather handy interactive photo tutorial. The trouble starts when you get to the bit about the Twilight Portrait function... because the C902 doesn't have a Twilight Portrait function.
We were accosted by a further sense of foreboding when we saw that the C902 has an LED “flash”. Images of breasts on bulls sprang to mind unbidden as we are of the opinion that one of the defining elements of a high-end Cyber-shot phone should be the presence of a Xenon flash that can at least make a half decent fist of low-light photography.
Thankfully, screen shrinking camera UI and useless LED flash aside, the C902 is every bit as good a daylight camera as the K850i. This shouldn't really come as a shock as all the important bits of the cameras in the two devices are, as far as we can gather, identical.
A little lighter and a little thinner
A few quick and dirty full-auto snaps underlined this. In the shot of our favourite accident black spot, the K850i rendered the more realistic colours, but only by a small margin, while a snap of a pasta pot merely served to underline that LED flashes don't chuck out enough light and what they do tends to mess up the colour balance.
The only important camera firmware addition to the C902 is the inclusion of a face-recognition setting that prioritises the autofocus on the most significant facial image in-frame. However, in the spirit of give with one hand, take with the other, the C902 has to make do without the K850i's manual ISO settings.
Time between shots was a tiny bit slower with the C902 than the K850i – with the latter we could get a picture every 6-7 seconds as opposed to closer to every 8-9 with the former.
Click for full-size images
The C902 isn't without its good points. To start with, it manages to eke considerably more life than the K850i did from an identical battery, managing a full two days of heavy use in a 3G area before needing a charge. It also comes bundled with a FastPort-to-3.5mm earphones adaptor, which is handy. The shedding of 6.5mm around the waist makes it a lot easier than the rather bulky K850i to slip into a pocket.
Call and signal quality proved to be excellent, and the built-in speaker is one of the best we've come across on a mobile. The accelerometer auto-rotate screen also works with the bundled ProStreet racing game, which is fun, in a slightly peripheral sort of way.
Maybe we're overreacting. Maybe the C902 isn't the new slimline K850i after all. Maybe its the new K770i – though we thought that was the C702 - and a C903 or C904 device will come along and slot in between the C902 and C905 before the K850i gets the chop. Or maybe the K850i will live onto to a ripe old age. After all, you can still buy the two-year-old K800i. At the end of the day the C902 is just a competent upper mid-range snapper and we expected rather more.