Hands on with the Sony Ericsson P990i, M600i and W950i

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Last night I went along to the Sony Ericsson Indian Summer Party and I had the chance to play with the latest and greatest handsets in the 2006 line-up. First I had a long look at the new 3G smartphone, the P990i, designed for business users and to act as a complete mobile office.

It is powered by the new Symbian OS 9.1 and features the all-important push email service to try and lure in crackberry users, plus there are the usual office applications, internet browsing facilities and the handy RSS reader. It also has a really clever business card scanner that allows you to take a snapshot of any business card using the phone’s 2 megapixel camera and will read the details and add them to your contacts list.

The phone has a flip-down keypad on the front that masks the full QWERTY key set below the screen. Interestingly, inside the pack you’ll get the tools to remove the outer keypad entirely so you can just work with the QWERTY setup and the touch-screen interface. This isn’t going to work so well for people who have to dial in a lot of their numbers but when you have most numbers stored in your contacts, this does make a lot of sense and the phone does look a whole lot better without it.

One problem I spotted, however, is that by squeezing all 35 individual keys onto the front of the handset, they have become absolutely tiny. To be fair, I didn’t actually have a lot of trouble using them and rapidly got the hang of typing text, but if you’re not blessed with long spindly fingers like me, you could have more trouble.

The web browsing facilities were benefiting the most from the 3G connectivity – a marked improvement over the old GPRS enabled P910i – and the large screen means that you can still see what you’re doing without squinting at the text. One other bonus is that there’s also a WLAN 802.11b connection included now, but I don’t have any word on the potential for VoIP calling yet.

Next up was the M600i, which has just recently hit the shelves in the UK. This phone is, if possible, aimed even more at the business user and feels like a cut down version of the P990i that hasn’t actually lost too many important features. It even comes without a camera to appeal to those working under tighter security policies. Again, it is 3G enabled and has a touch-screen interface, internet access and push email – sadly no Wi-Fi though.

Instead of a full keypad, each button is a two-way rocker containing two alphabet keys set out in a QWERTY configuration. This definitely took a bit of getting used and in the end I gave up and resorted to the handwriting recognition system, which is one further benefit of the touch-screen.  Even with the two letters per button compromise, the keys were still pretty fiddly in my opinion, but there are people who swear by this design so I won’t write it off just yet.

Finally, I had a look at the W950i, which particularly appeals to me as I am a big fan of the Walkman handsets. This phone comes in the same chassis as the M600i and is therefore quite a lot bulkier than the W800i and W810i. However, there are benefits to this such as 3G, the touch-screen interface and the scroll wheel on the side, plus this handset uses an ordinary keypad so those with larger fingers will still be able to use it. Unsurprisingly, the memory capacity has taken a leap to keep up with other music phones on the market and is offering 4GB of storage space.

There have been some software improvements too; on the phone itself, you now have the Opera 8.0 web browser, which along with the large screen should make using 3G for internet access a lot more practical. The Disc2Phone computer software has been upgraded so that now it will transfer album art along with your tunes – I’m not sure how well this feature will be supported by the various networks’ digital music stores though.

The W950i includes support for the latest A2DP Bluetooth standard so there’s a new wireless headset to go along with it. Well I say wireless, but actually there’s still a fair bit of wiring involved, just not tethered to the phone. On the whole though, this looked pretty good and had a neat little LCD to display track information, incoming calls, etc.

Sony Ericsson website.

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