The P-series of handsets from Sony Ericsson is a range of high-end business-aimed handsets, usually incorporating QWERTY keyboards, large displays, and powerful operating systems. The first addition to the P-series in quite some time, the P1i does not follow the same styling as previous P-series handsets, instead finding its roots in the M600i.
The P1i has been a long time coming, and addresses many of the problems and issues found in older P-series devices such as the P910i and more recently, the P990i. Although still a business-oriented handset, the P1i takes on more of an entertainment approach than the rest of the P-series, and comes with a bunch of pre-installed multimedia applications and functionality.
Without further ado, let’s jump right into it.
The P1i has received many upgrades from its P-series predecessors, as well as the M600i and similar devices that some of the handset is based on. Highlight features of the P1i include 3G network connectivity, 3.2mpx digital camera, WLAN connectivity, Memory Stick Micro support, QWERTY keyboard, and Symbian 9.1 operating system.
Just like the P990i, the P1i is fully compatible with the UMTS 2100MHz 3G network. The handset has a forward-facing digital camera for video calling, and can fall back on 2G networks (GSM 900, 1800, or 1900MHz) when 3G coverage is not available. The high-speed 3G data protocol makes downloading multimedia content blazingly fast.
The P1i has been upgraded to include a 3.2mpx digital camera with auto focus. A photo light is included for poorly lit situations, and the viewfinder application offers 3x digital zoom, amongst a range of other settings. 160MB of shared internal memory is available to the user, and Sony Ericsson kindy packed a 512MB Memory Stick Micro card into the sales package. The Memory Stick Micro port supports compatible cards up to 4GB in size.
Perhaps the biggest physical change on the P1i from other P-series devices is the removal of the fold down keypad. The P1i follows the M600i approach, with the QWERTY keyboard built into the bottom of the handset - which thins down the handset significantly. Each of the keys can rock from left to right to accommodate the entire English alphabet.
The P1i is the fourth Sony Ericsson device to be powered by the Symbian version 9.1 operating system and UIQ 3.0 user interface. The large 262,144 colour touch screen LCD is used for most user interaction with the handset, using the stylus which slides into the top left hand corner of the handset. A jog dial on the left hand side of the handset provides touch screen free operation.
On paper, the P1i has all the features of a high-end business smartphone/PDA handset – but how does it perform in real life? Let’s find out.
The P1i has had quite a facelift when compared to most other P-series devices from Sony Ericsson. The design of the handset follows that of the M600i, and doesn’t necessarily take on the ‘usual’ P-series format. However, the P1i is definitely still identifiable as a P-series handset by those who have some knowledge of the P-series because of the large display, keyboard, and overall design.
The P1i is framed by a brushed metal silver casing. The 240 x 320 pixel touch screen display is not flat with the rest of the handset, instead it has been pushed back into the handset slightly. The 20 physical keys on the keyboard actually have two ‘presses’ – left or right – to accommodate for all the letters of the alphabet. The centre keys have their numeric function in large red text for easy identification.
Flipping around to the back of the handset you will find the speakerphone, hidden behind a chrome bar. Just beneath this is the external antenna connection and 3.2mpx digital camera. Around the camera lens is the LED photo light and the camera focus specifications in black text. The model number and Sony Ericsson logo is displayed on the removable battery cover just in case you forget. The back of the P1i has a soft touch plastic feel which prevents it from sliding around on a surface when placed on its back.
On the left hand side of the handset there is a wrist/arm-strap connector, the 3-way jog dial, and dedicated return key. The stylus can be found towards the top of the handset on the left hand side, identified by the red notch at the top. On the right hand side you will find the dedicated browser button, Memory Stick Micro port, and two-stage camera shutter key.
The top of the P1i houses the on/off button and infrared window. At the bottom of you handset there is the microphone and Fastport connector. The Fastport on the P1i has a green LED strip located above it, which indicates important states of the handset operation: idle, charging, completed charging, etc.
The minimalist design of the P1i is appealing to the business user looking for a sophisticated, yet functional, smartphone. Overall the handset weighs approximately 124 grams and measured 106 x 55 x 17mm. The P990i measured 114 x 57 x 25mm and weighed 150 grams, but this can be blamed in part to the fold out QWERTY keyboard used by previous P-series handsets. Never the less the P1i has taken a significant size/weight decrease and is definitely not a bulky handset in any regard.
User interface & display
The Sony Ericsson P1i runs the same operating system and user interface as its older brother, the P990i. Symbian version 9.1 and UIQ 3.0 is pre-loaded on the P1i, providing users with a reliable, powerful, and ever enhancing operating system and user interface combo. Coupled with the 240 x 320 pixel TFT LCD touch screen, the P1i is a winner from the get-go.
As the UIQ interface is the preferred user interface for the Symbian OS, most smartphone users will already be familiar with its operation, and have no problems familiarising themselves with the P1i’s interface.
The home screen of the P1i contains the usual important details about the handset like battery life, reception status, date, time, and operator name. A small bar at the top of the screen displays most of these facts, as well as any other indicator icons such as data connections, new messages, missed calls, and so forth. This bar is always displayed unless viewing content full screen. The left most icon of this bar contains a menu which provides shortcuts to make a new call, SMS, MMS, E-mail, contact, task, appointment, note, or recording, a shortcut to the connections manager, and shortcuts to the volume, time, and key lock feature. Handy!
By default, a row of five icons is displayed at the bottom of the home screen. The icons are shortcuts to the contacts, calendar, more applications, messages, and the main menu. Pressing the large up arrow above these icons opens up the larger shortcut bar on the home screen, which displays a total of 15 icons – all of which can be customised according to your own tastes.
The home screen is tightly integrated with the calendar, tasks, messaging, and call log applications of the P1i. Pressing the ‘Today’ menu on the home screen opens up a list on the home screen displaying important information from those four applications – calendar appointments for today, new messages (e-mail, SMS, and MMS), recently missed calls, and tasks for today.
The main menu can be laid out in icon or list format. The icon layout has larger icons which makes it easier to press without using the stylus. In list view you can still use your finger however more precision is required! The nine main menu icons are: multimedia, settings, entertainment, phone, messaging, calendar, office, contacts, and tools. Beneath most of these main icons are additional screens with lists of programs/settings. These screens are best accessed using the stylus as the text labels are reasonably small.
I found the P1i operating system to be very responsive and experienced little to no lag – as long as the ‘transitions’ setting was turned off. When turned on, the movement of the highlight around any label/icon to another and the display of any dialogue box is shown in slow motion, which in turn slows the handset down considerably. It looks nice, but personally I’d rather have a fast phone than pretty transitions.
Although you will operate the P1i mainly with the stylus and/or your fingers, Sony Ericsson have also included a jog dial for convenience. The jog dial can move up, down, and also be pushed inwards to perform an ‘OK’ or ‘open’ function. Using the jog dial makes it easy to quickly open a function or setting that you can’t quite get to with your fingers, but don’t want to whip out the stylus.
The P1i’s 240 x 320 pixel touch screen LCD is capable of displaying up to 262,144 colours and is perfect for the P1i’s needs. No complaints here – well done Sony Ericsson!
Making and receiving calls
Regular voice calls and video calling is supported on the P1i, using either the earpiece, integrated loudspeaker, wired headset, or Bluetooth headset. The P1i’s sales package comes with a wired stereo headset that plugs into the Fastport at the bottom of the handset.
You may have already noticed that the P1i does not have dedicated numerical keys – so how are you supposed to input numbers? The centre buttons on the keyboard have large red numbers on them, and are laid out like a regular phone numerical keypad. Any window or text box that requires numbers will automatically switch the handset into numerical mode so you do not have to push the ALT button before pushing one of the number buttons.
If you wish to dial a phone number straight from the home screen, just start pressing the numerical buttons. The phone number input box will display and from there you can make a voice call, video call, or tap the “More” button for other options like call and hide ID, add to contacts, copy number, etc.
Making a call from the contact book is simple – just open the contact book, select the contact you want, and press call! There’s also a video call button and a “More” button for additional commands. Numbers received in messages or displayed on screen in some other format can usually be accessed by tapping on the number and selecting the function you require.
During a call the volume can be adjusted using the jog-dial on the right hand side of the handset. Volume from the earpiece was sufficient, but unfortunately the same can’t be said for the loudspeaker. Even at maximum volume it was hard to hear the other party while driving, even in a reasonably quiet car with the radio turned off.
The video calling application of the P1i allows you to switch between the rear (3.2mpx) and dedicated camera, switch image arrangement, hide the outgoing video, turn on night mode, mirror the image being sent, pause the outgoing video, and configure the answer mode. The answer mode defines if the camera is on or off when a video call is answered, and also define the default camera.
The P1i supports MP3, AAC, and polyphonic ring tones, and also has a link in the menu system for Sony Ericsson’s PlayNow service. Ring tones offered on the PlayNow service are usually Top 40 songs, especially created for Sony Ericsson handsets. They are not free, and your carrier will also charge you for the data costs associated with downloading the files.
The Sony Ericsson P1i supports all the common messaging formats: SMS/EMS, MMS, and e-mail. The QWERTY keyboard makes it easy to quickly type out long messages, or if you’d prefer to write onto the screen the P1i has integrated handwriting recognition. The messaging application makes is easy to use but provides all the required functionality.
Just looking at the keyboard of the P1i, it’s a little confusing as to how it actually works. Unlike normal phone keyboards, the P1i’s keys don’t push directly down – they push down on the left or right. This allows each of the 20 keys to have a different function for the left and right, accommodating for all the letters in the alphabet. Each key (as in, the left and right key presses) not only have an alphabetical character but also a formatting or special character. These additional characters are accessed by pushing the ‘ALT’ button and then the desired key.
The keys on the P1i are reasonably small, but I found that the keyboard was not at all a hassle to use… as long as you are using two hands. Using one hand while typing is very slow and even somewhat troublesome due to the size of the keyboard. A predictive text dictionary helps speed up messaging even further, and will display word suggestions at the top of screen while you type. The P1i offers 25+ languages for the predictive text dictionary. The P1i test unit I received offered mostly European languages, but this will vary with the region-specific P1 units available.
A caps lock key is located in the bottom left hand corner of the keyboard for – wait for it – changing case! On the opposite side of the keypad is the ALT button which I mentioned earlier. This key changes input format between alphabetical, numerical, and numerical (locked). The caps lock and ALT keys are the only keys with only one function.
Handwriting recognition is always enabled and cannot be turned off. An arrow on the right hand side of the screen divides the screen up for numbers, symbols and uppercase letters (top half) and lowercase letters (bottom half). I couldn’t find any configuration settings for the handwriting recognition, but thankfully everything worked fine without the need for tweaking. The help menu provides a guide for writing letters but translations for my handwriting were spot-on.
Message composition windows are kept simple thanks to the wizard-like interfaces. Composing MMS messages could not be easier with the tabbed interface – however there is no functionality for resizing images, which made sending images captured by the integrated camera troublesome. More on that can be found in the Problems and Issues section of this review.
POP3 and IMAP4 mail servers are supported by the e-mail application. Exchange IMAP4 servers are also supported to provide push e-mail functionality. Sony Ericsson have pre-installed the QuickOffice suite and Pdf+ applications for viewing common office document formats.
Connecting to mobile networks and other devices is easy with the P1i, which supports all of the popular connectivity standards. 2G and 3G networks are supported, as well as local connectivity with WLAN, Bluetooth, Infrared, and USB 2.0.
Only one 3G band is supported by the P1i – UMTS 2100MHz. This band is used throughout the world for 3G connectivity. As far as 2G connectivity goes, the P1i supports the GSM 900, 1800, and 1900MHz bands. The handset will automatically switch between 2G bands when necessary, and by default will switch to a 3G band if available and supported by your carrier. You can force the P1i to only stick to 2G bands or only the UMTS 2100MHz band if desired.
If a data connection is required when connected to a 2G network, the GPRS protocol will be used. When connected to a 3G network, the WCDMA protocol is used for high-speed data connectivity.
Built into the P1i is a WLAN chip, which provides connectivity with IEEE standard 802.11b networks. Unfortunately, the higher speed 802.11g WLAN specification is not supported. 802.11b provides a raw data rate of 11Mbit/s, typical speeds are around 5Mbit/s. Connecting to WLAN networks is simple with the easy to use interface accessed by tapping the WLAN icon in the top task bar. The integrated web browser can use a WLAN connection (if available) instead of a GPRS/UMTS connection for accessing the Internet.
Security protocols supported by the P1i are WEP, Shared WEP, Dynamic WEP, WPA Personal, WPA Enterprise, WPA2 Personal, and WPA2 Enterprise.
Connecting to a computer for data transfer or synchronization can be achieved by way of USB, infrared, or Bluetooth. The P1i sales package includes a Fastport USB data-cable and CD with Sony Ericsson’s software for synchronizing and transferring data. The software connections from USB, Bluetooth, and infrared. If you do not wish to install the software, the P1i supports the USB Mass Storage Device profile for hassle free data transfer without the need to install USB drivers or additional software.
The Bluetooth radio on the P1i fully supports version 2.0 of the wireless specification for connecting to peripheral devices. Stereo audio profiles are supported for use with compatible headsets and headphones.
The infrared window of the P1i can be found at the top of the handset. Although old technology, many consumers still use infrared to synchronize and transfer data to/from their mobile device.
All settings to do with connectivity can be found under the “Connectivity” area of the settings menu, or by opening the connections menu by pressing the two arrows at the very left hand side of the task bar. The same menu can be found by pressing the “More” button on the home screen, and then selecting “Connections”.
Although the P1i is mainly oriented at the business consumer, it still includes a range of multimedia applications and hardware including music and video players, gaming/application platforms, and an FM stereo radio.
Most of the multimedia functionality on the P1i can be found in the Entertainment folder of the main menu. By default, the following applications are available: music player, FM radio, video player, MusicDJ, sound recorder, Vijay Singh Pro Golf 3D (game), Quadra Pop (game), and the P1i demo application.
The proprietary music player application supports common audio formats such as MP3 and AAC. It organises music files into folders according to the artist, album, playlist, or track name. Sound files you record with the sound recorder application have a separate folder. The currently displaying window shows the album art of the track (if available), as well as the title, artist, and buttons to pause, play, skip forward, skip back, shuffle, and open the equaliser. The equaliser has 11 presets including the Sony Ericsson’s own MegaBass preset. Thanks to the multitasking Symbian operating system, the music player can play in the background while other applications are running.
The video player is also proprietary and can play back locally stored files and streaming files over a 2G or 3G data connection. Full screen playback is also supported, and video playlists can be created on-the-fly within the file browser screen. Common mobile formats including 3GPP and MPEG4 are fully supported.
The quality of the loudspeaker on the P1i is excellent, even at high volumes. The music player has no problem playing high bitrate audio files, either.
For the FM stereo to work correctly the included hands free headset must be plugged in to the Fastport, as it acts as the antenna. That said, audio received by the tuner does not necessarily have to be played through the hands free – Bluetooth audio headsets and the speakerphone can also be used.
The Java application environment has been packed into the P1i for extending the functionality of the handset. Applications installed on the P1i appear in the Tools folder of the main menu by default, but can be moved around the menu system as desired. Using the JBenchmark testing suite, I achieved the following results with the P1i I received:
(Results for M600i courtesy www.jbenchmark.com)
||HQ: 569; LQ: 541
||HQ: 533; LQ: 505
The P1i performs will with MIDP 1.0 applications, but suffers slightly with MIDP 2.0 applications (as indicated by the JBenchmark 2.0 score). 3D performance is mediocre, but better than the M600i.
The Sony Ericsson P1i is packed with PIM applications including a calendar, calculator, converter, stopwatch, world time/alarm clock, timer, synchronization support, and fully featured contact book.
The calendar application can be accessed via its dedicated icon in the main menu or by tapping the section for the calendar under the “Today” section of the home screen. The calendar has multiple view options and can store appointments, reminders, all day events, and anniversaries. You can manually sync the calendar over the air or set up the handset to sync when connected to a PC via Bluetooth, USB, or Infrared.
All other PIM applications are found in the “Tools” folder of the main menu. The calculator is basic and has copy & paste functionality for moving numbers between applications. The converter supports conversions of distances, volumes, weights, temperatures, speeds, areas, and currencies. The exchange rate must be manually entered for currency conversions.
The Time application displays the current time and the time in a ‘zone of interest’. Up to three alarm clocks can be configured with different days, times, and alarm tones.
The contact book on the P1i works best when contacts have been moved from the SIM card to the phone memory. Keeping your contacts on the SIM is great for backup, but moving them to the phone memory allows you to add additional details such as alternative numbers, photos, addresses, and much more. The P1i’s contact book is reliable, fast, and makes it easy to send messages/e-mails to multiple contacts with its tick-box interface.
I was more than happy with the build quality of the P1i. The handset is solid and built with impressive craftsmanship. The only removable part of the P1i is the back cover, underneath which is the battery and SIM card.
The touch screen is glossy, but I didn’t find it nearly as prone to fingerprints than other touch-screen handsets I have used in the past. The soft touch backing of the battery cover ensures the handset doesn’t slide around while on a flat surface.
The battery lifts up and sits down into its cradle comfortably and smoothly. The SIM card slides into the handset, towards the camera lens. It cannot be removed without first removing the battery.
The Memory Stick Micro port on the right hand side of the handset is protected by a hard plastic latch, which is permanently attached to the body of the P1i. I’m happy to report that the latch itself comes away from the handset enough for you to use your finger to push in the memory card to eject it easily.
Powered by a Lithium-polymer 1120mAh battery, which in optimum conditions keeps the P1i powered for up to 440 hours (2G), or 250 hours (3G). Talk time on 2G networks is quoted at 10 hours, and on 3G networks 3 hours and 30 minutes. Unfortunately, video call time is not provided.
The P1i is charged via the Fastport at the bottom of the handset. While charging, the LED above the Fastport is solid green. If the P1i is running low on battery, the LED will flash red until eventually the handset will turn itself off. Battery level can be viewed at any time in the task bar, which when pressed will also display a percentage value.
When I first received the P1i I charged it completely to test the battery life with average, day-to-day usage. The handset lasted around four/five days before it started warning me that battery life was low. During this time I took several photos, made a few short calls a day, and did a lot of messaging. I was connected to 3G networks most of the time.