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Sony Ericsson P900 Symbian OS GSM Smartphone

Review posted March 2, 2004 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor

The Sony Ericsson P900 is the successor to the well-received P800 model released in 2003. It's a smartphone that runs Symbian 7.0 OS and UIQ 2.1. The P900 has a touch screen, handwriting recognition, a large color display and an expansion slot that accepts Memory Stick Duo media. It can sync to your PC and supports GPRS for Internet access. The P900 has built-in Bluetooth that allows you to sync to a Bluetooth enabled PC, use Bluetooth headsets and use the phone as a wireless modem for your computer or PDA.

While the P900 isn't wildly different from the P800, it adds several improvements that P800 users wished for: a better display, more phone-like keypad, Predictive Text Input, larger capacity battery, video capture and a more business-like design. The P900 is a triband GSM world phone that works on 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz frequencies.

What does it look like?

While the P800 had a playful curvy design and an iMac-ish blue color, the P900 has a more straight-lined industrial design and a stately monochrome finish. The body of the unit is gun-metal colored with silver around the edges and on the flip cover as well as the battery door, which gives it a slick and business-like style. The 208 x 320 pixel color display lives under a removable flip cover. The flip still functions as a keypad, but unlike the P800, it's electrical rather than mechanical and its keys don't press on the screen to dial. The flip has actual circuitry for the number pad and it lights bright blue for easy nighttime dialing. This flip can be removed and you can instead dial with an on-screen virtual keyboard. The P900 even comes with a small cover and screwdriver you can use to switch between the two options. The built-in speaker is just above the display. There is a LED on each side of the speaker. The left one indicates Bluetooth status while the right LED indicates the wireless network and battery status.

Sony Ericsson P900 smartphone
P900 back

 

 

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On the back of the P900 unit, you will find a camera lens and directly below it a very tiny mirror that you can use to frame self portrait photos. The battery door comprises most of the rear of the phone. As with most other GSM mobiles, the SIM card is located under the battery. There is an external antenna connector next to the lens which is protected by a tiny rubber cover that you can easily remove using the stylus. On the left side of the unit, you will find a stereo headset connector, a jog dial, IR port and the power button. On the right side of the P900, you will see a camera button that will activate the CommuniCorder application so you can take pictures or videos. Below the camera button is an Internet button that activates the browser. There is also a Memory Stick Duo slot on the right side.

The stylus solo is on the top and right of the P900, and the sync and charging ports are on the bottom of the unit. Unlike the P800, the P900 comes with a real stylus rather than the unergonomically designed pop-off plastic side rail that acted as a stylus.

side view P900 flip open

 

What comes in the box?

The package includes the P900 smartphone, a 1260 mAh Li-Polymer battery, a SyncStation cradle, a travel charger, stereo ear-bud + mic headphones, a protective case with strap and belt clip, an extra stylus, a cover and screwdriver for replacing the built-in flip, a 32MB Memory Stick Duo card with an adapter that allows you to put the Duo into a regular size Memory Stick slot, a printed User manual and 2 CDs (one with PC Suite for syncing and the other one with Multimedia applications).

What are the basic phone features?

There are two modes of operation: keypad flip closed and flip open (or removed). In flip closed mode, you control the P900 like a traditional cell phone using the keypad and the jog dial. The display is not touch sensitive in this mode, which means you can not use the stylus to control the unit. When you move the jog dial, you will see icons scroll by for messages, contacts, call list, calendar and All Apps. You can navigate and activate these applications with your jog dial. When the flip is opened or removed, you can control the phone using the stylus and jog dial for a more PDA-like experience. You can dial calls using an on-screen virtual keypad.

The P900 has a full set of phone features that include profiles, voice dialing, voice answer (use “answer” or “busy” for incoming calls), call forwarding, call waiting, speaker phone, flight mode as well as personalized ringtones and a picture phone book. The ringtone support includes MP3, AMR, AU, iMelody, MIDI , RMF (Beatnik) and Wave files.

It also supports speed dialing using the keypad and dialing from the phone's address. Conference calls are supported for users who subscribe to that service.

As a security measure, the P900 provides you with the ability to restrict calls made from or to your device. You can set restrictions on roaming calls, international calls or all incoming or outgoing calls. The P900 also gives you the ability to lock the device with a code, lock the keypad to avoid accidental key presses and lock the screen to hide sensitive data.

Battery Life and RF

The P900 is a middle of the road in terms of reception. Using both T-Mobile and AT&T SIMs in northern California, we got between 2 and 3 bars of signal strength indoors. Call quality was always good, with no static, distortion or dropped calls, even when the signal meter was at 1 bar. Similarly, we were always able to get a GPRS connection in our area.

The battery life is excellent when running PIM, Internet, messaging and multimedia apps. We didn't get the claimed 16-hour talk time and 480-hour standby time, but the P900 outlasts most smartphones. Given the array of power-hungry features (Bluetooth, camera, large color display and fast processor) we were impressed with battery life, and only charged it every two or three days when making use of all features.

What are the “smart” features?

The P900 has an extensive set of features built into the device that makes it an excellent choice for productivity, connectivity and multimedia. For input in PDA mode, you've got JOT (handwriting recognition) and an on-screen keyboard. The personal information management (PIM) features include the usual suspects: Contacts, Calendar, Tasks and Jotter (for jotting down notes). The document viewer works with Microsoft Office apps and PDF files. The Internet, email and messaging apps take care of your connectivity needs while movie player, image editor and music player provide a playground for your multimedia content. Sony Ericsson provides a very nice file manager interface with various shortcut buttons as well.

PIM and Office Apps

Contacts- There are many ways you can build, import and transfer contact records to or from your P900. You can sync the device with your Windows PC via Bluetooth or the USB connection on the SyncStation cradle using the included PC Suite software. PC Suite allows you to sync with Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Organizer 5 & 6 and Lotus Notes 5.0 and 6. Mac users can sync using iSync under Mac OS X. You can also import contacts via Bluetooth, beam with IR, or save incoming phone numbers into your contacts. You can use the SIM card to store your Contacts database as well when you change phones, but the contacts on the SIM card won't be synchronized via PC Suite. You must move them to the internal memory for synchronizing with the PC. The Contacts database is well integrated with other features on your P900 so that you can use the records in the database for other phone features such as making calls, surfing web sites, sending emails, etc. The Contacts database has alphabetic tabs for quick access and you can sort the records in four different combinations. Very convenient!

Calendar- There are three views in the Calendar app: Day view, Week view and Month view. The interface on all three views is clean and easy to see, not fancy. When you set up new appointments you can specify the type of event, date, time, location and set up an alarm or repeat entry. Just like the Contacts records, you can sync and send or receive calendar items as well.

Tasks and Jotter- The Tasks application allows you to quickly create To-Do items and set due dates, priorities and alarms. You can send these To-Do items to other people via Bluetooth, text messaging, email, IR and move them to the Calendar to schedule reminders. The Tasks apps is integrated with Jotter so that you can write down notes for your tasks. The Jotter is an on-screen writing recognition program where you can write normally on the empty area and the program will digitize your writing. The handwriting recognition works very well and is very fast to digitize letters. If you launch Jotter directly (as opposed to using the one in Tasks), you can even draw pictures in your notes. Both Tasks and Jotter items can be synchronized to your desktop PC.

Document Viewer- The Viewer program allows you to view MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat PDF documents. If you have files stored on your P900 or the Memory Stick Duo, they will show up on the list in the Viewer. You can open, copy, rename or delete these files, but you cannot edit these documents. For a full-featured Office suite solution that does allow you to edit Office docs, check out Quickoffice by Mobile Electronics.

Synchronize and back up- There are two ways you can synchronize the information on your P900. Using PC Suite you can sync your device with your desktop PC, install new software, as well as back up and restore your P900 via SyncStation. You will need to go through a quick installation process using the PC Suite CD included in the package to set up the synchronization, back up and restore data functions. You can also synchronize your P900 over the air using GPRS service. You will need to set up the Remote Sync preferences with a valid account and you will probably need info from your IT folks to get through your corporate firewalls and sync servers.

Wireless Features

Internet- The P900 comes with an integrated browser labeled Internet that does quite a decent job of rendering web pages. This built-in browser supports HTML, WML, WBXML, xHTML basic and mobile profile, cHTML, WAP (version 2.0), WCSS stylesheets, SSL/TLS and WTLS Class 1, 2, 3 for secure web pages. Cache: 15-120K user-configurable with 30K as default. It also has Java support. You can bookmark web pages, save web pages to read while offline, view push content such as stock quotes, weather reports, etc., and you can view web pages in full screen mode. You can use the jog dial to scroll the pages. If you wish to get a browser that supports even more features, check out Opera, which is available for free on Sony Ericsson's web site.

Messaging- The P900 messaging apps support three types of messages: SMS (Short Message Service), MMS (Multimedia Message Service) and email messages. The Message app puts all the messages in one place and provides a centralized account set up and management window. Before you can receive and send messages, you must set up appropriate accounts for each type that you use. MMS supports GIF, JPG, BMP, WBMP and PNG formats for images, AMR, AU, iMelody, MIDI and Wav for audio messages and MP4 for video messages. Email support includes POP3, IMAP4, SMTP, and SMTP authentication, SSL-encrypted IMAP4 and SMTP for secured emails. You can also receive and send attachments.

Bluetooth- The P900 has a built-in Bluetooth radio that allows you to use the device with other Bluetooth enabled devices and accessories. To turn on/off and pair the device, launch the Control Panel and click on the Connections tab. The Bluetooth connections manager on the device also allows you to set visible/invisible to other Bluetooth devices for security. The P900 easily discovers our Bluetooth PDAs, access point, desktop PCs and Bluetooth headsets. We tested the device with NextLink Bluespoon headset, Logitech Mobile Bluetooth Headset and Anycom HS 700 Bluetooth Headset and found all worked well with the P900. You can synchronize via Bluetooth to your computer as well. We use a Belkin Bluetooth adapter on our PC, and it works well with the P900 Bluetooth. We paired the P900 with a Sony Clie UX50 and used the phone as a wireless modem for the Clie without a problem (it worked with both the Generic GSM and SE T610 scripts and AT&T service).

Multimedia Tools

CommuniCorder- Sony Ericsson's name for the P900 built-in camera that takes both still photos and videos. The VGA .3 megapixel camera takes decent pictures in well lit environments but doesn't deal with the medium to low indoor lighting very well (images have a strong orange cast). The P900 however does come with a number of pre-installed settings for indoor, outdoor, night time, etc. to improve picture quality. The video quality seems to be better than the photo quality indoors and the sound is quite good. After you've taken the pictures and videos, you can view them, transfer them to the Memory Stick Duo or edit them in the built-in Pictures application.

Pictures- This is a built-in image editor that provides functions for managing your photos (rename, view thumbnail, send as, delete, move, copy, etc.) and editing the images. The application is heavy on managing photos, image files and light on editing tools which include only a few drawing tools, cropping ability, resizing pictures and zooming. The image formats supported by this application include JPEG, BMP, GIF (including animated), PNG and WBMP.

Video player- The built-in Video player plays MPEG-4 videos either in the app's window or in full screen mode. You can manage video clips shot with the P900 or imported to the device. Using this app, you can also watch steaming video on the Internet.

Music player- As with the image viewer and video player, if you have music files on either internal memory or the Memory Stick Duo, you will see them in the music player. The built-in music player supports MP3, Wav, AU, AMR and G-MEDI level 1 with 24 voices polyphony, RMF and iMelody files. The MP3 through stereo headset has excellent quality. You can use the jog dial to control the volume. The player interface is a simple one, offering features that allow you to manage music files, see the track list and detailed track info.

There are other applications such as sound recorder, calculator, Clock as well as a very capable File Manager you can explore on your own. It is quite easy and very enjoyable to personalize your P900 by using themes, wallpapers, screen savers and ringtones.

Click on the images to see the full size, unedited photos.


Indoors, backlit with some sunlight from a sliding door


Outdoors on a partly cloudy day

Conclusion

Pro: This follow up device to the popular P800 is a winner! Though not a lot has changed in the P900, all of the improvements have addressed the shortcomings of the P800. The small size for a convergence device, built-in camera/video recorder and Bluetooth add big value to the existing phone and PDA features. The large touch screen makes it attractive to PDA users who need decent screen real estate. The software bundle is rich and covers most of the needs of a mobile user. Synchronization works well in various formats. It has good battery life for a smartphone. If you're a light PDA user, the P900 will probably do the job for you. If you're a heavy or sophisticated PDA user, then the P900 probably won't suit you as well as a dedicated PDA (due to the overwhelmingly larger software selection available for Palm OS and Pocket PC PDAs).

Con: What's not too great? It's quite expensive! Even though you get lots of great features for the money, the $799 price tag will be out of many buyers range. 16MB memory is very small compared to other smartphones. Applications seem slow and you might run into “out of memory” errors when executing too many apps.

Price: $799 w/o activation. Web site: www.sonyericsson.com

 

Specs:

Display: TFT color LCD, 16 bit, 65K colors, Screen Size Diag: 3", Resolution: 208 x 320 pixels (flip open).

Battery Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1,260 mA.

Performance: ARM 9 processor running at 156 MHz, 16 MB built-in RAM available to user. One 32 meg Memory Stick Duo also included for memory expansion.

Size: 115 x 57 x24 mm. Weight: 150 grams (5.29 oz) with battery and flip.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headset jack.

Software: Symbian OS 7 and UIQ 2.1 user interface. Standard PIM apps included, along with image viewer, camera app, video player, web browser, message app for email, SMS and MMS, games and more. PC Suite for desktop syncing and more.

Expansion: 1 Memory Stick Duo slot. 32 meg card included, can accept up to 128 meg cards. Bluetooth 1.1 complaint radio.

Network: GSM with GPRS. Tri-band 900 MHz (Europe), 1800 MHz and 1900 MHz (US) frequencies.

 

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