Smartphones are devices that combine mobile phone and PDA capabilities. Some smartphones have very good PDA capabilities but using the same interface as a standard mobile phone, meaning the user has to type messages, appointments and contact information using a keypad with multi tap enabled.
The Sony Ericsson P900 is in a separate class. This is one of the few smartphones with a touch sensitive screen. Writing a SMS or an e-mail is easy with the CIC Jot handwriting recognition system, similar to what PalmOne is using on its Graffitti 2 handwrite recognition system. Users that have been using PDAs before will feel comfortable with this phone.
This mobile phone runs on a Symbian 7.0 operating system, with a UIQ interface. This is the same combination used on its predecessor, the Sony Ericsson P800. The new model comes with a 208x320 pixels display, capable of showing 65k colours. In comparison the P800 was capable of showing only 4k colours. The phone comes with a built in 16MB RAM and a 32MB Sony Memory Stick.
The configuration is similar to the P800, but now there are themes. These themes allow the user to have a combination of colours, sounds, flip open and flip closed background images that are aligned. Although some shareware programs are more flexible, this is a nice addition to help users personalise their phones. These themes can be beamed from one phone to the other via Bluetooth, Bluetooth Shared, infrared, email or MMS.
What's Bluetooth Shared? The Sony Ericsson P900 implements the File Transfer profile. On the P800 users could drag-and-drop a file to have it sent to the P800 via Bluetooth, but they only have the option to send it from the P800 and the file had to be sent to each destination at a time. The P900 will work with this, but it also shows a File Transfer Service icon on Bluetooth clients like a laptop, desktop or a PDA. It means that you can browse the contents of a special folder on your P900 and move files from and to it. Very useful for sharing images, movies and themes. By selecting Send As Bluetooth Shared the system places the file in this special folder and it can be seen by anyone with Bluetooth access to the phone. It's like a FTP server. The problem I found is that I couldn't delete the files using Bluetooth and couldn't see the folder on the P900 using the (new) File Manager to clean it up. In short once you place a file there it seems to be trapped. Very annoying. Or I'm missing something.
Sony Ericsson P900 Bluetooth Services
Sony Ericsson P900 Bluetooth Services from a windows Mobile Pocket PC
Like in the P800 the keypad on this new mobile phone is detachable. But unlike the P800 which had little "needles" that touched a virtual keypad on the screen, this new one is a real keypad, with electrical connections. This new keypad is firmly held in place with screws. Sony Ericsson supplies a tiny screwdriver and spare screws as well as a new plastic cover if you decide to removed the flip cover. Because of the connections the keypad is actually backlit, making it easier to use. This keypad is really very good.
One thing that makes a tremendous difference for users that like to keep the keypad on, is the T9 predictive input. Yes, the P900 incorporates this now. The lack of T9 predictive input was one of the few annoyances on the P800.
One small change when using the keypad is the ability to unlock the device by pressing the jog dial up and clicking it. On the P800 the user had to press the OK button and then the star key. This simplifies one hand operation and you can check your e-mails by simply using the jog dial, with the flip cover closed. Very nice .
Sony Ericsson managed to fix the problem with the stylus - or almost. The P800 had a plastic thing that one could barely call a stylus. The P900 comes with small stylus, stored in the back of the phone, like in other PDAs. It's a great improvement, but it could be a little bigger.
In terms of size, the Sony Ericsson P900 is very much the same as the P800, but because of the keypad layout it will reveal more of the screen when the flip cover is closed. The mobile phone itself looks very nice with a metalic finish. A friend of mine commented that it looks more "professional" than the P800, and he thinks it'll attract more business users.
Also, note in the image below that some icons (Bluetooth and new message indicator) were moved from the main area on the screen (P800) to the top bar, thus freeing some space in the display, making it "cleaner".
Sony Ericsson P800 (left) and Sony Ericsson P900 side-by-side
Sony Ericsson P800 (bottom) and Sony Ericsson P900
Back of the P900: note the rubber feet and the VGA camera with mirror underneath it
The P900 belt holster (left) and the P800 pouch: another improvement
The main menu on the P900 (left) and P800
The camera application on the P900 (left) and P800: same position, date and time
The P900 comes with a camera that is capable of taking still shots or capturing short movies (not available on the P800). Movies are recorded in MPEG4 (3GPP) format, with a resolution of 176x144 pixels. You can use Apple QuickTime to see these movies on a PC (Windows or MAC). Although an interesting application of mobile phones, I'm not sold on this kind of feature, and I still think the quality of photos taken with this phone (and other models currently in the market) are only good enough for a MMS or a non-serious use. The picture of the Lord of The Rings DVD box was taken with the built in camera, and the download link below is of a short movie captured outdoors (with overcast weather).
Photo taken with the built in camera
Let's not forget the basic application of any smartphone: voice calls and call management. The phone itself performed well, with good sound (sometimes even too loud). It's a tri-band GSM phone, which makes it ideal for users who want a phone to be used around the world.
It has good call list management, with options to see all calls, only missed calls, only incoming calls or outgoing calls. The phone application offers options to control network-based GSM features, like unconditional and conditional call transfer, caller identification display (including picture from the Contacts). There are no profiles, but users can easily change the ringing tone, or change into silent mode.
The jog dial offers five different options: scroll up, scroll down, press up, press down and click. With this options users can have access to most functions in all programs available.
Using the jog dial with the flip cover closed allows users to select one of four applications or open the main menu. The default applications are Calendar, Call List, Contacts, Messages. Once an application is open, the menu button in the keypad provides context related options. This is an important feature since users can use the jog dial to select an application, find a contact or check e-mails using one hand only.
One important feature is the Flight Mode. This option allows you to use the mobile phone as a PDA only, with its radio turned off. On the P800 this option was invoked by pressing the on/off button. On the P900 you can tap on the Signal Strength indicator while in the main menu and select Flight Mode from there.
The SyncStation is the same as the P800, and you can use it with other Sony Ericsson mobile phones (I've used it with my P800 for synchronisation and charging, and with an Ericsson T39m for charging only). The desktop/laptop software allows for synchronisation with Outlook and other PIM management software. Connections can be established via USB cable, infrared or Bluetooth. The phone comes with a SyncML client, which is an important feature for some corporate users.
Using the instructions in our Bluetooth Guides you can share your desktop or laptop Internet access with the P900. Some, but not all programs, will be able to access the internet this way. The built in browser and e-mail will not recognise this connection and will try to connect via GPRS. Other programs, like Agile Messenger or Opera will use the connection via Bluetooth. I was able to connect, sync and transfer files via Bluetooth with no glitches.
The best new feature from Sony Ericsson was introduced with this model: OTA firmware updates. This is the first model on this line of products that allow users to download and install firmware and software updates from the internet, without the need of sending the phone to a service centre.
Conclusion? If you're looking for an integrated mobile phone with strong voice feature and even stronger PDA functionality, then yes this is a mobile phone you should consider .
This mobile phone should be available in New Zealand from early January 2004, from Vodafone resellers. The initial price is NZ$1799 (including GST).