Review – Sony Ericsson P900

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The Sony Ericsson P900 is a late arrival to North America, after being released last year in Europe. It provides major improvements over the first iteration, the P800. A new screen, better keypad, camera enhancements, integrated Bluetooth and more make the P900 a contender in the converged PDA/phone market. But with a price tag of $700, can it really be taken seriously?

 

Design

The P900 is a sleek device. The blue P800 has given way to a much more stylish combination of silver and grey. Most of the unit is plastic, but it doesn’t feel cheap. The plastic does contribute to one of my favorite parts about the P900 though. It is very light at around 5 ounces (150 grams); feeling comfortable in a breast pocket.

 


Front shot in cradle.

 


Side shot of P900 in cradle.

 


SE t68i next to the P900

 

The flip keypad in the front is vastly improved over the P800. It’s much smaller in size, revealing more screen when it’s closed. The buttons don’t touch the screen either and have a nice blue glow to them when the backlight is activated. Aside from the numbers on the flip, there are “Ok”, “back”, “clear” and “menu” buttons. The face of the unit also has the ear speaker and two LED’s at the top, one for power and one for Bluetooth.

 

The left side of the P900 houses the external headphone/mic jack, complete turning jog dial, IR port and power button. I was a bit concerned about turning off the P900 by mistake, but the power button is inactive while the phone is locked, which occurs when the flip is closed.

 


P900 left side.

 

Along the right side of the unit there are hot buttons to automatically launch the camera application and web browser. There is also a plastic cover on a rubber connector that covers the Memory Stick Duo slot. The P900 ships with a 32MB card in addition to a converter so it works with standard Memory Stick readers and peripherals.

 


P900 right side.

 

The bottom has the power and cradle connections. Sony Ericsson wisely used the same power connector all of their phones and powered accessories use, so anyone with other SE products can use the same charging cords. This is a big plus in my book, as I already own a few other SE things. Power in numbers is a good thing when it comes to power cords!

 

The back of the unit houses an easy to remove battery cover. The battery then slides out to allow easy access to the SIM card slot. The back also houses the .3MP camera that is also capable of recording video. For taking self-portraits there’s a small vanity mirror included to help frame the picture. There’s no lens cover though, which may present problems down the road. At least the lens is recessed, much more so than the Treo 600. The stylus silo is integrated into the back as well. The stylus is a small, light unit that leaves a lot to be desired. Aftermarket options will provide a much better experience.

 


P900 back.

 

Display

The most obvious and most needed upgrade over the P800 was the display. The P900 sports a 65,000 color transflective screen that actually handles sunlight relatively well. The screen is very bright and clear, close to the same quality you might expect in a high-end PDA. The main problem with the display is that it gets gouped up with face oils and such. This is of course not an indictment against the P900, nearly all phones suffer from this problem to one degree or another. I did frequently have gunk around the corners of the screen though that required cleaning with a soft cloth.

 


P900 with flip open.

 

Wireless
Let’s face it. One of the primary reasons for picking up the P900 is to take advantage of the GPRS network and possible the Bluetooth radio. The latter is very important to me as I frequently use a matching Sony Ericsson Bluetooth headset. Pairing with this and other Bluetooth devices worked well and the connections seemed much more reliable than those with my SE t68i. In 40 hours or so of voice conversation I lost my headset connection only once or twice. For slower connections or communication with non-Bluetooth devices, the P900 features an IR port on the left side.

 

As for the GSM, the P900 sports a tri-band radio. I used the wireless service a number of times to grab email and browse the web. I had a few configuration issues, but those were largely related to my lack of familiarity with the operating system and user interface. Once configured the service worked well with T-Mobile. Loading pages side-by-side a Treo 600 on the Sprint network was close, but the Treo edged the P900 by a little bit. Of course the browsing experience is much better on the P900, with the large screen. Unfortunately the browser cannot be rotated to landscape, which is something that will hopefully be remedied.

 

Battery

I can’t tell you how happy I’ve been with SE products when it comes to battery life. The t68i goes forever and Barry Doyle’s (fellow editor) Z600 lasts a long time as well. The P900 is little different. The battery is a 1260 mAh unit, an increase of about 25% over the P800. It shows too. After nearly a month with the unit, I average 4-6 days on one charge. I would consider myself a heavy user, but mileage will vary. SE claims up to 16 hours of talk time, which seems to be a bit more than what I got, but I was also leveraging software apps, web, email and more.

 

Hardware

The P900 is powered by a 156 MHz ARM9 processor; the same unit as the P800. This doesn’t sound like much with most high end PDAs featuring 400 MHz power plants, but the P900 seems zippy enough, handling the tasks I assigned it with ease. It’s important to understand that the OS is not nearly as intense as something like Windows Mobile, so cutting back the processor is okay and leads to better battery life. The memory has been upgraded over the P800 by 4MB, for a total of 16MB. This small boost is helpful, especially with the limits in the MS Duo cards as discussed below.

 


P900 cradle.

 

The P900 cradle is quite remarkable. It looks great in a UFO sort of way and leverages the standard SE charger. When docked, the P900 really stands out from the crowd. The addition of a cradle should not be overlooked. The cradle is the first thing to go it seems as other manufacturers look to cut costs. I found docking to be a bit tricky one-handed, but as usual, after a few tries you learn the roped.

 

Software

The P900 runs Symbian 7.0 with UIQ 2.1. As a regular Palm OS user, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of use of the operating system. The jog dial is tightly integrated, so it’s of great help everywhere. The integration doesn’t stop there though. The picture files mesh well with contact records and speed dial entries. MP3’s can double as ring tones. Contacts can each have distinct rings. Themes allow for new color schemes to be deployed easily and quickly. Everything about this interface is easy to work with. Even the control panel allows configuration of everything from one spot. While there were a few bumps in the road, overall I was very pleased with the experience. SE also goes the extra mile to include documentation. Yes, you read that right, the P900 comes with a complete user manual in paper. I generally don’t like the manufacturers to spend money on manuals, but in this case, with so many features to learn about, it seemed justified. What’s more, the P900 ships with two versions, one in English and one in Spanish.

 

The on hang-up I have on the software front though is the lack of support by third parties. With Palm and Windows operating systems, there’s a plethora of software solutions for every need. Symbian is getting there, but what’s lacking are the high profile software titles like games. This probably isn’t a problem for most, but it’s important to remember that there will be some limitations on the third party software available.

 

Expansion

The P900 sports the Memory Stick Duo memory slot. The Duo is in the process of looking for a home and seems to have found one in the mobile phone and ultra portable consumer electronics markets. I recently picked up a new Sony digital camera that also uses Duo. The shortcomings are obvious. There are no Duo expansion cards that I know of (WiFi, GPS, etc.) and the sizes cap out at 128MB (256 and 512MB options will be shipping soon). Of course cost is also a concern, but the rates run only slightly higher than for the traditional memory stick. The cards are tiny though, smaller even than the popular Secure Digital format. It appears that for the time being, all Duo supporting devices also ship with an expansion card to make the Duo fit standard Memory Stick readers. The P900 also uses the standard SE serial port, which means you should be able to use any current accessories, like the FM radio.

 


Memory Stick Duo card with adapter.

 

Camera

The P900 integrates a .3MP camera that is capable of recording videos in addition to shooting pictures. As expected the quality isn’t great, none of the .3MP cameras are. I suspect that the next model will integrate a 1MP or better camera, which would greatly increase the importance of this feature. One serious concern about the P900 camera though has to center on the lack of lens cover. The new Sony PDAs have a mechanism for protecting the lens, the next version of this phone needs that as well. It would be easy to scratch the lens or damage it in some way. Interestingly the Treo 600 suffers from the same problem.

 

Video Sample (MPEG4 format)

 


Inside, moderate light, messy desk.

 


Inside with bright lighting conditions

 

Outside with bright light.


Outside with bright light

Phone

As a phone, the P900 is full featured. Managing calls is simple and intuitive, even juggling conference calls was not a problem. The P900 adds a nine entry speed dial option. The best part about this is the ability to load pictures to be associated with each person. So very quickly you can tap a person’s image and the call will begin. Overall I found the phone functions to be adequate, well integrated with the rest of the phone software and very speedy.

 

Pros

  • Nice design
  • Light, sleek design
  • Battery life is great
  • Tight integration and easy to use OS

 

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Limited third party software packages
  • MS Duo limits expansion options

 

Bottom Line

I feel bad for the P900, I really do. Of course this sounds like a strange thing to say, it’s only a phone. I feel bad for it because it does so many things well, but it gets killed in two areas. First is the operating system. I don’t hate Symbian, in fact I think the fluidity of the OS and user interface is great. However in the US, Symbian is a bit player largely relegated to cell phones that are imported no less. There’s simply going to be an adoption problem that the P900 will not be able to overcome.

 

The second big problem is the price. The mobile carriers in the US will not stock this phone and they will not subsidize any of the cost like they do with everything else they sell. At $700 it’s a darned tough pill to swallow.

 

In the end I think the P900 is a fantastic phone with better than average access to email and web content. It makes a fantastic upgrade for the P800 user or a phenomenal phone for the discriminating mobile phone and data consumer. It falls short in the PDA functionality realm because of the third party software issues already noted. So depending on your needs, this may be a good fit. If you want phone and data access and money is no issue, the P900 is for you. If you want something that is more like a PDA or you would use the phone less than a few hours per day, then the P900 is most likely a pass.

 

Sony Ericsson P900 Spec Sheet and Price Comparison

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