A fully functional, hybrid PDA cell phone has been the holy grail of portable device for developers in both arenas. Consumers are tired of lugging around five different devices just to walk out the door in the morning. Whether the wildly successful PalmOne Treo, the business class RIM Blackberry, and or the slow-to-start Windows Mobile, cramming them all into one device has resulted in unacceptable compromises in size, functionality, and performance.
Enter the Sony Ericsson P910a. This Symbian-based Smartphone packs every feature a power user could want: full PDA-phone functionality, VGA camera, Bluetooth, removable storage, a large, clear, bright screen, as well as a flip down keyboard and handwriting recognition. All that in a compact, easy to use, true Smartphone interface.
Features and Design
The P910 comes in 3 varieties: the a, c and i models. The P910a version operates on the 850/1800/1900MHz bands (Cingular), the P910i operates on the 900/1800/1900MHz bands (T-Mobile), and the P910c operates on the 900/1800/1900MHz bands (Chinese carriers). U.S. customers looking to purchase the P910 will not find it at their local storefront. This leaves them with two options: order unlocked versions directly from Sony Ericsson, or from an online dealer. You will NOT find it if you walk into your local storefront, which means that you won’t find any activation deals or rebates. Regular firmware and software downloads are available at the Sony Ericsson website only.
The dimensions of the P910 make it small enough to fit into a pocket, but large enough that the screen is easily readable. The external phone keypad is backlit and folds down to reveal a non-backlit QWERTY keyboard. The attached hinge feels strong, but is likely to wear with use. Included in the package contents is a replacement bottom so that the user can remove the keypad entirely and operate the phone more as a ‘smart-PDA’. Talking with the keyboard open results in a very smudgy screen – one reason we liked the flip down design. Also, flipping the screen down activates the speakerphone which was loud enough for our tastes and very clear.
Along the left edge is the power button, wired headset port, and IR port, along with Sony’s ever-present jog dial. The top is clear of all buttons and ports, giving it a clean metallic look. The right side contains the Memory Stick Pro Duo slot (a token 32MB MS Duo card is included), the camera button and the desktop button. The bottom edge contains the Sony Ericsson proprietary ports for the A/C Adapter, headset and the desktop cradle. On the back of the phone there is the VGA camera lens with a mirror for taking self portraits, and the connection for an external antenna. Aside from the flip down keypad, the front has two indicator lights. One for Bluetooth connectivity and the other being power/message indicators. Folded, the screen is 1 Â¾” wide x 1 Â¾” tall, and open, the screen measures 2 Â½” tall. The disc shaped USB docking station that comes with the unit concerns us slightly. The only support propping the P910 up is the angled force on the dock connectors at the bottom.
Testing and Use
We tested the 3 main connectivity methods: cellular quality, Bluetooth, and base station to PC. We found cellular connectivity to be excellent overall throughout our use. While this will vary between carriers and their support in your area, we were able to get 4+ bars at almost any location in the Chicago and Providence areas, with only a 1 bar drop indoors. Most locations were reachable by GPRS, as well.
We tested the Bluetooth connectivity between the Kensington Bluetooth 1.2 USB adapter, the Jabra BT800 headset, and with a Toyota Prius. We had no problems with any of the above devices. File transfers and syncing with Outlook with our desktop was simple and quick. The connection quality between the Jabra and P910a never dropped. We were somewhat concerned that the Prius connection would be difficult, since it is known to be picky about supported profiles. We were pleasantly surprised that the P910a was always automatically detected without any trouble. We noticed that the connection remained active between the two even when we were close to 15ft. from the car. Transfer of phonebook contents were smoothly from the P910 side, with just some issues of unrecognized characters on the car side. When a call comes in, the choice of connected devices appears, letting the user select which source they would like to speak over. If one is used to answer the call, that source is automatically selected.
Desktop connectivity is clearly the P910’s Achilles’ heel. We had a terrible time getting the desktop to recognize the P910 in the cradle. We had to uninstall Zone Alarm Pro before it would work at all. Even disabling the software was not enough. Also, it is strongly recommended that you uninstall any Sony Clie software – which isn’t unrealistic, since you won’t need it after you get this phone. Be warned: Sony Ericsson support will try to pass the blame to any other piece of software you have installed whether it is realistic or not. We were told that our issues with syncing the device with Outlook 2003 were:
“…related to your Outlook and your registry, you may need to contact your PC manufacturer to have this issue resolved. If you wish to synchronize, you may want to use a different computer.”
Our computer was built in house, with a fresh copy of Outlook 2003. Because we had issues with actually having the P910a being recognized at all by the PC, once that issue was resolved, so while our issues with desktop connectivity were not common, they were not completely uncommon either – hope that makes sense. Some users of the P910a have reported success with Zone Alarm and desktop synchronizing on the first attempt. Other users have reported problems with syncing between the phone and Outlook, which we have not found. However, categories are not synchronized, so be aware that you will have to re-categorize your contacts. After the syncing issue was resolved, we had no problems at all. And we didn’t have to wipe our registry or contact our ‘manufacturer’. On a lighter note, the sales department that we spoke to while placing our order was extremely friendly and helpful, and did not try to push unnecessary accessories. It was one of the best interactions we’ve ever had with a salesperson in recent memory.
Accessories and Software
Included accessories consisted of the phone itself, USB docking station, replacement bottom edge (discussed earlier), stylus, stereo headphones with built in mic, 32MB Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick Duo to Memory Stick Adapter, cleaning cloth, and belt clip case. Applications include Phonebook, Datebook, Tasks, Calculator, Web browser, QuickWord (MS Word viewer), QuickSheet (MS Excel viewer), PDF+ (PDF viewer), Sound recorder, video and photo capture and viewer, MP3 player, Alarm Clock, Chess, Solitaire, and File Manager. The File Manager can be used for installing zipped applications, such as NES emulators, expense trackers, and Opera’s web browser. Themes can be downloaded to change the appearance and ring tones. The background can be customized for open and closed flip use, with the closed flip background supporting animated gifs. MP3 ring tones of any length are supported, but only the first 10-15 seconds – you cannot select what part of a file to play as the ring tone.
Supported audio formats include MP3, MP4, M4A, WAV, AC, AU, AMR, RFM, iMelody, and G-MIDI. There is a third party audio player that includes Ogg support. Supported image formats include JPEG, GIF, MBM, WBMP, and BMP. For video, as you might expect, only MPEG-4 is supported, but the P910 can play files or streamed clips through 3GPP support. The integrated camera can take pictures as large as 640×480 (VGA), with various settings for indoor/outdoor lighting conditions. One thing we would like to see is the ability to rotate the screen so that previews are larger. Image quality was decent, but like anyone with a camera phone has come to realize, the integrated cameras are better for quick snaps where quality isn’t an important concern. We found the camera quality to be on par or better with other popular camera phones. Also, stored pictures can be displayed for contacts and shown when they call.
Technical specifications are impressive for such a small device. The phone is powered by and ARM 9 processor, and runs Symbian OS v7 with UIQ interface. The phone has 64MB built in, and a Memory Stick Pro Duo slot – the same memory format supported by the PlayStation Portable. The screen weighs in at 208×320 with 18-bit color, although the camera supports full 24-bit color. The browser supports WAP 2.0, with a host of security features, and email support for POP, IMAP4, and SMTP is standard with support for attachments.
It should be noted that our experience came from transitioning to the Symbian OS from the Palm OS. We found the learning curve manageable, and most of the comparable applications easy to learn. We did have some issues getting our data to transfer from Palm Desktop to Outlook and had to settle on reentering some information.
The Sony Ericsson P910 is an excellent all around performer. Unlike competing products, the P910 runs an OS that was built for smart phones from the ground up, and the interaction between the applications makes that apparent. While the application selection is somewhat limited compared to the Palm OS and Windows Mobile based options, all the essentials are covered, as well as a host of integrated multimedia capabilities. Once our issues with synchronizing were resolved, it was smooth sailing. We highly recommend this phone for gadget lovers, business users, and people looking to ditch their PDAs and cell phones for an integrated smart phone.
The Sony Ericsson P910a is a no compromise solution to the hassle of carrying a PDA and cell phone. Even though every convergence device must make sacrifices, we found the cell phone functionality undiminished, and the PDA performance everything we need for everyday use, plus more. The built in camera is adequate for quick snaps and movies, and MP3 playback is integrated well with the rest of the phone. The flip down keyboard is functional and convenient, and the handwriting recognition is excellent.
– Full PDA functionality
– Clear, easy to read screen
– Integrated camera
– Good call quality
– Buggy synchronization software
– Limited software available
– Poor tech support
– Hard to find