Firstly, I would like to say that when reading this review please keep in mind what this phone is trying to achieve and its place in the market. This is a low-end, entry-level phone which can be purchased for around $150. Itís important to keep this mind, because even though the phone might not seem like much on paper, the useability and the general performance of the phone is well above par compared to other similarly placed phones.
To describe the phone in few words: three dimensional. The first dimension is the common low-end phone. This involves the parts of it that are typical of a entry-level handsets, such as poor main display, monochrome external display and only a VGA camera. The second dimension is the useful features that some low-end phones fail to include such as Bluetooth and speakerphone. Finally, we come to the third dimension, the extra features that you rarely see on such a phone, and this is what separates the Z310i from the rest of competitive pack. The Sony Ericsson Z310i includes a built in RSS reader, Google search application and a picture blogger. Some of these features, even the high-end phones fail to include.
It seems like Sony Ericsson have made some arrangements with Google. Both the Google search application and Blogger are owned by Google. I canít wait to see if future Sony Ericsson phones will integrate more Google features.
Initially, the phone did not seem like much but after trialling it for a while I really felt like the phone would do well with the consumers. The combination of features, style, ease of use and price would definitely make this phone worthy of high consideration.
Regrettably, it is very hard for a low-end phone to have new features, but I felt compelled to rate this based on a comparison scale to similar phones and not the market as a whole. This phone really packs in all the features that are necessary and some that are not, such as RSS reader and picture blogger. Let me explain them in a bit more detail.
RSS is an abbreviation for Really Simple Syndication (RSS 2.0) and it works like a summary, allowing a site to recap the main stories or headlines and present them to the reader. It is presented in a shortened version with only the main aspects mentioned and an option to read the story in detail by clicking on the links.
The RSS reader on the Z310i can easily be found in the pre-programmed ďMy ShortcutsĒ tab, which is accessible by pressing the My activity button, alternatively inside the messaging sub-menu. The RSS reader comes pre-programmed with feeds such as Google news, BBC news and various Sony Ericsson promotion sites. Same as any other RSS reader, you can set up your own favorite feeds. An important note to remember is that this feature is network dependent as it requires a data connection to download the latest headlines. If you would like to utilise the RSS reader, you have the option of setting various intervals for the phone to check for updates such as every hour, twice a day, once a day or never. If the never option is selected, feeds can be retrieved manually.
Now we come to the second interesting feature - the picture blogger. What this is is a tool that allows you to upload photos to Blogger (a Blog website: www.blogger.com). Before we proceed, just to explain what a blog is: blog is short for web log, which is a journal that is meant to be frequently updated and intended for the general public. The Z310i allows you to upload your pictures to a website which can then be viewed by the public. Same as the RSS reader, this is network dependent as it requires data to be uploaded. Another problem is that the phone only has a VGA camera meaning that the quality of the uploaded photos will be fairly poor.
As fancy as it is to have an RSS feeder and a built-in picture blogger (the reason I gave it 2 stars), I fail to see how the target market will use these features. With the price tag around $150 for this phone, so the assumption is made that the consumer will be price wary and will not require any bells and whistles. Since both these features rely on data connection, I question how many people will know the full extent of the purpose of these features, let alone how to use them and set them up.
The next interesting feature may not impress a majority of the people reading this, but something I have not seen on a phone before (it probably exists but I have never seen it) is time changing themes. All this basically means is that at certain times of the day/night the phones theme changes (similar to Googleís personalised iGoogle themes). During the day, the theme is bright and cheery while at night, itís a bit more mellow.
The size of the phone is ideal for wherever you are going to store it, be it in a pocket or handbag. Measuring a tiny 87mm x 46mm x 24.5mm and weighting only 90g. It will never feel like a brick in your pants.
At initial glance the phone looks basic, the front looks simple but this is only because the external display is not visible unless something is shown on it. The simplicity carries through with tri-colour front: the colour border, shiny colour centre where the display and notification icons are located and the white upper and band that encircles the bottom of the keypad. The phone is available in three different trims - Jet Set Black, Blush Bronze and Lush Pink. Once the phone is opened, you are presented with a decent size screen (128*160 pixels) and well spaced and big buttons. The bottom of the phone houses the fairly common Sony Ericsson fast port, which is used for all required connections: charging, hands free and data cable. (This can be a problem if you need multiple accessories connected.)
The phone feels solid when holding it and the flip has no wobble when opened. The flip is well designed with a firm open and close mechanism. When the phone is closed, only the volume buttons on the side are accessible, which really donít have much function except during a call. When the phone is opened you are presented with a neat keyboard which is separated into 3 different parts. The keyboard itself is black with white writing and subtle blue illumination. The top part of the keyboard contains the four directional navigation keys with a central select button. There are also 4 buttons around the navigation area (2 on each side), the top buttons being the two function keys and the bottom being cancel (right side) and back (left side). The middle part of the keyboard contains the numeric keypad which is well spread out with small grooves separating the buttons. The third row of keys is located underneath the numeric keypad and it contains the power button and the My activity button. The two bottom keys I found annoying at times, as it was uncomfortable to move my thumb to press the My Activity button. A stylish addition is the silver mesh around the speaker, adding a more sophisticated feel to the Z310i.
The aspect that really appealed to me about the look of the phone is the incorporation of 4 service indicator lights above the external screen. These icons represent: missed call, new SMS, charging and silent. If any of those events are happening or have happened the symbol lights up. This might sound measly, but I found it so convenient to be somewhere and through a quick glace to the front of the phone clearly see if there were missed calls or any new messages. The silent icon is also handy to remind yourself if your phone will give you away or discreetly alert you. The charging icon can probably be done without and replaced with something more useful, like a battery indicator. Nonetheless, itís definitely a neat and stylish feature of this phone.
User interface & display
The Z310i uses the same operating system as majority of other Sony Ericsson phones that are currently on the market or have been in the last couple of years. The usability is easy and anyone who has used any mobile device (ever!) should find it rather easy. The core of the menu is an icon driven 3x4 grid which displays all the main menu option. Navigation through this menu can either be done using the navigation key or the numeric keypad. Once you have entered the sub menu, it is presented in a straight forward list with small icons next to each option.
Besides the standard menu, you also have the option of various shortcuts, the most obvious being the navigation pad from the home screen. The four directions (up, down, left and right) can be customised by going to menu -> general -> shortcuts and configuring your preferences.
The other handy feature is the My activity button. Once pressed a box appears with the following four tabs:
1. New Events: This shows any new calls that you have missed or any new messages or any other event.
2. Running apps: This is like a simplified version of multi-tasking and will show you any applications that are running in the background. So for example, if Iím playing a game, I can minimise it and do other stuff then bring up the Running Apps tab and resume the game where it left off, without having to open the game from scratch.
3. My Shortcuts: This is yet another place where extra shortcuts can be set. I personally used these for tools that I use often, but not often enough to take up a navigation key shortcut. I used this section for Bluetooth, games, alarm and infrared. This can be customised to your own preferences.
4. Internet: This part only contains three internet shortcuts; enter address, search Google (a feature I will discuss in more detail later) and bookmarks. This is especially handy if you require constant use of the internet.
As mentioned previously, the keypad was rather easy to use (besides the inconveniently located My activity button) to browse through the menu. As with the Nokias, pressing the power button once will display the profiles menu, which you can use to change from silent, switch off and other various profiles available. Alternatively, if you would like to activate silent mode you can hold down the hash (#) button.
Regrettably, I canít say anything good about the display of the phone. Compared, to other phones out there, itís dull. The screen is a bare 65,536 colours and itís not very bright, even when brightness is turned to 100%. The colours are not contrasting or sharp enough, once again, this is due to the lack of colours and resolution. When using this phone, I found both the external and internal display especially difficult to see in direct sunlight.
Iím awarding this phone 3 stars and thatís solely to do with the user interface. If I had to rate the screen on its own merits, 1 star would be more deserving.
Making and receiving calls
The call quality on this handset is excellent. I have absolutely nothing negative to say regarding this department. From the ringing to talking to managing calls it is remarkably easy. I think call quality is one of the most important aspects of any mobile phone (quite, obviously), and there is nothing worse than an excellent featured phone with poor call quality. Let me explain why I think this phone excels in this department.
Firstly, receiving calls. As it is a flip phone, calls are answered automatically when flip is opened, or alternatively you can set it to answer with a press of a button. Usually what annoys me about auto answer is that if you do not want to take the call, a quick button press combination is required to ignore it: open phone, press reject button, close phone. With the Z310i (this feature is not unique, but I think is essential in every flip phone) calls can be managed without even opening the phone. When a call is being received, the volume buttons on the side are used as call management. With a single press of either volume keys, the phone disables all notification, so no ringing or vibrating, which is excellent if you donít want the other person to know that you are intentionally rejecting them. The other option is pressing the volume key twice quickly; this will immediately reject the call: great for telemarketers!
When the phone is receiving a call, the phone rings and vibrates simultaneously as well illuminating with two light strips around the bottom of the keypad. This lighting pattern can be set to many different styles (including off) and incorporates a few different colours. I personally preferred the slow and gradual changes from left to right but the crazy, super fast, always changing effect looks pretty ďUFOĒ like.
The loudness of the speaker is fantastic, it is clear and the volume range is good. Practically meaning, that in a quite environment, it is comfortable to turn the volume down and still hear everything, and at a noisy location, the loudest volume does the job. The phone also has speaker phone which can be activated after the phone call has initiated. The only downside is that to activate the speakerphone you must first enter into the menu and then select ďturn on speakerĒ. Once the speakerphone is activated, the sound is transferred to the speaker on the back of the phone, allowing the phone to be closed and still remain in the conversation. The downside is if you would like to hang up, you must open the phone and then hang up. Double the effort.
The Z310i supports many of the major messaging formats Ė SMS, MMS and POP3/IMAP4 email. As mentioned previously, the design of the keyboard makes it very easy to type and each press of the key is well defined. If you have used a Sony Ericsson or a Nokia handset before, you should have no problems messaging. It has support for predictive text, and as with other Sony Ericsson devices, it automatically shows all of the available possibilities in a list which you then scroll to select the desired word. This may sound complicated, but after using it for a day, it becomes a habit and even going back to a Nokia style predictive text is a chore. Even with my quick writing through predictive text, there was hardly any delay as on some previous models. For an average user, this delay would not be noticed.
Emails and MMS are just as easy to send and follow a simple logical order of creating and sending. Emails have attachment support and are easy to set up.
Overall, there are no downfalls to the messaging on this device. I used it extensively over the testing period and not once did I get annoyed. THATíS RARE!!
For a low-end phone, this phone has almost everything. Check out the package: Infra-red, USB connectivity, GPRS, EDGE and of course Bluetooth. The only connectivity features that are lacking are WLAN and 3G. But for a phone of this price, it was never expected.
The USB connectivity uses the common Sony Ericsson Fast-port interface, which operates with the Sony Ericsson software. The software itself is easy to operate and allows you to perform all the necessary functions such as transfer of photos and data synchronisation.
GPRS is a must inclusion for all phones these days. This is due to the dependencies on this technology for other features such as MMS. Another important point to remember is that with all the internet features that this phone encompasses such as RSS and Google search, you will need the necessary speed to download and perform such functions.
GPRS also has direct impact on cost (carrier dependent) because GPRS allows transfer of packets rather than continuous connection. What this basically means is that it can be charged not by time but by data download resulting in only paying for what you download, regardless of how long you spend on it. Comparatively speaking, its how ISPís charge for broadband.
Bluetooth is a major selling feature for this phone. For those who are not familiar, Bluetooth is a wireless short-range communications method of data and voice. What this means is that the phone can be in your handbag and you can still communicate with a Bluetooth headset or any other Bluetooth device. The most common uses for Bluetooth on this type of phone would be with a headset/car kit and transfer of files between the phone and computer or other phones.
The connectivity options on the Z310i are more than enough to do everything necessary. I believe the inclusion of Bluetooth adds a significant advantage over its rivals, and because itís a Sony Ericsson Iím confident that there will be no compatibility issues with a vast majority of devices. The entry-level position of this phone justifies the exclusion of 3G and WLAN and I do not believe it will be needed by the targeted consumers.
Unfortunately, this phone would definitely not appeal to anyone who was after a multimedia phone. It seems like Sony Ericsson made no attempt to include any decent multimedia features or make any room to make the most of what available.
To start of with, the small internal memory and the lack of support for external memory constraints the phone from being used as a music player even though it has support for MP3. It is apparent that this support was only intended to store few songs, mostly to use as ringtones.
Another problem I experienced is that if you play a song and then close the phone, the songs cuts out. This is fairly normal, but there should be feature that allows the songs to keep playing in the background. This is most inconvenient when you want to listen to a song and put the phone away, but you must leave it open to do that, increasing the chance of breakage and not to mention it being very uncomfortable in your pocket.
The camera itself is very poor (will be discussed further in the camera section) and does not allow video recording. The functions of the camera are very limited and it even does not even have zoom or macro mode. Basically: point and shoot. The only change that is possible is change in brightness and darkness of the photo.
The multimedia functions of this phone are very poor even when considering thatís its entry-level. This is the main downfall of the Z310i and it will leave consumers asking for more.
Once again, the Z310i meets all the expectations in this department. Calendar, alarm clock, calculator, voice memo and notes. I donít know what else they can put in to make the average user happier. An important point to remember is that the phone is Java compatible and therefore you have the flexibility to download extra applications if need be. The internal memory is 14MB shared, but thatís more than enough for a few applications, without sacrificing other aspects.
I use a phone alarm as my main tool for getting up in the morning (by waking up I mean constant snoozing), and the alarm of the phone was loud and easy to set and operate. Donít worry, snooze feature is incorporated.
If you are bored there are always a few extra games to keep you busy and pass time. The games are nothing fancy but definitely provide good short-term fun.
The build quality of the Z310i is quite good. The biggest fear people have with flip phones is that the flip will break and itís just an extra feature that could go wrong. And if this was 1995 and it was a Motorola StarTac, I would agree. Now, its 2007 and that fear is now almost redundant. This fact is proven even more with the Z310i. The flip is solid during both opening and closing; it even makes a nice defining thud when closed. No squeaking was present during testing.
The phone itself is well built with high quality plastic all around. Points were lost in this department due to the reflective upper being prone to finger smudges. I would also strongly advise against carrying it with anything that might scratch the front (keys etc). In addition to that and as mentioned previously, the keypad is of high quality with clear and well placed buttons with a nice firm click to them.
Visually this phone is very appealing, when opened and closed. It looks more high-end than what it actually is and the physical feel of it carries the theme. The smoothly blended band of light around the keypad is an extra touch that really makes the phone stand out at night.
The battery is a Lithium-Ion 780mAh (BST-36) and Sony Ericsson claims that the phone has approxiametly 300 hours of stand-by and 7 hours talk time. Iím a fairly average user with most of my use consisting of SMS, few calls and occasional use of the web. I also use a Bluetooth headset while driving, but otherwise Bluetooth is always switched off.
With my usage I would have to charge the phone every 3 days, and thatís charging it when its ĺ empty. The reason for that is that it will safeguard me from the phone dying next day if there is sudden excessive usage.
The battery on the Z310i is average for this kind of handset. The poor screen and the lack of many of the high-end features means that there is no major drain on the battery.