Hot off the heals of their last 3G release, the K610i, Sony Ericsson have unleased another 3G capable offering, this time in a clam shell form factor. The Z610i is one stylish looking phone, sporting a distinctive pearl-like exterior.
However without the stylish exterior, the Z610i is just a K610i in a clam shell disguise which is disappointing as there have been no improvements on the handset. It almost gives the impression that the Z610i has been released only to satisfy the need to bolster Sony Ericsson’s model line up. The Z610i is a device aimed squarely at the mid-range market with a focus on fashion conscious customers looking for something stylish.
Let’s now look at the Z610i features in some more detail.
In terms of features, the Z610i is almost identical in every respect to the previously reviewed K610i, with the exception that it has been implemented in a clam shell form factor. However, the Z610i is no ordinarily looking clam shell! Pulling the handset out of its cover reveals a very Slick and trendy pearl exterior. It certainly gives the handset a wow effect as it is a complete departure to the black and silver styling of most handsets we see these days.
Similarly to the K610i, the Z610i features a 176 x 220 pixel display which has been slightly upsized to 2.0 inches, which is possible due to the larger surface area available in a clam shell handset. It is large, bright and clear and despite its lower resolution it still manages to do a good job of displaying images, photos and text.
The two megapixel camera located on the front of the handset and it is complemented by a secondary VGA that is exclusively used for video calling.
The Z610i carries over many aspects from Sony Ericsson’s current mobile phone range, including the well designed and intuitive user interface. Sony Ericsson’s operating system on the Z610i also allows multi-tasking, meaning that it is possible to have tunes playing on the media player while using Java applications or surfing the web.
The media player on the Z610i is able to play CD tracks ripped and transferred in compressed formats from a computer via USB using the included PC Suite software. The file formats supported are MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR, M4A, WAV, and WMA. The sound quality of the playback is great and it is easy to stop tracks without having to go through a host of menus - however the range of controls is not as good as on the K610i as there are no external buttons for skipping tracks.
The Z610i I received came in an Airy Blue colour which looks very Slick. The handset will be available in two additional colours (Luster Black and Rose Pink) to give buyers some choice. The exterior is encased in a gorgeous reflective surface. It looks damn good, however beware that the surface is extremely prone to smudge marks and scratches so extra care is needed to retain its original complexion.
The Z610i comes in a clam shell form factor and while not one of the larger phones out there it comes in at 94.5 x 49 x 20 mm dimensions and weighs 110 grams. As with most clam-shells these days, the antenna is internal.
The uniform pearl exterior is graced by a small 128 x 36 pixel OLED displayed for the purpose of displaying the phones vitals such as reception and battery life. The external display is cleverly augmented underneath the exterior and cannot be seen until it is actually turned on. This feature, copied from Sony’s portable music players, looks great and it gives a sense of class to the handset.
Positioned on the inside of the handset is the aforementioned main 176 x 220 pixel display with the internal camera located just above it. On the bottom internal section of the clam shell is the directional pad surrounded by seven buttons – two soft menu buttons, a clear and go back button, internet access, take photo/video and shortcuts buttons. Below this is the typical twelve button keypad. And if you look further down, Sony Ericsson have curiously included a dedicated on/off button under the typical keypad.
On the external back side of the handset is the speaker, a connector for an external antenna which is protected with a rubber cap, and the back panel that hides the battery compartment which also is the traditional hiding spot for the SIM card. One problem with the way the SIM card slot on the Z610i is that although it’s easy to put the SIM card into the slot, you can almost forget about pulling it out again unless you have a really long fingernails or a pair of pliers!
On the left hand side is the start music player and volume control buttons, and when looking further down you will find a rubber covered slot for the M2 memory card.
There is also an LED situated on the lower left side of the handset which indicates three basic states of the phone; interrupted green light signals that the phone is on, interrupted red light shows low battery life, while constant red light means that the device is being charged.
The headphone jack is incorporated into the proprietary Fast-Port interface located on the underside of the phone and is also used for connecting the charger and to link the phone to a PC.
User interface & display
Sony Ericsson hasn’t fitted the latest and greatest 240 x 320 pixel screen into this model despite the screen are being a large 2.0 inches. Instead, a lower resolution 176 x 220 pixel screen has been selected, but it’s of good quality and you’d have to see a higher resolution phone next to it to notice the difference. The screen doesn’t disappoint – everything is clear and vivid, even in bright sunlight. It is possible to adjust the screen’s brightness but there is no setting to change the backlight timeout.
There are three preset themes that can be used to customise all menus’ looks, background, screensaver etc., and all are of a high quality. Up to five lines of menu items can be displayed at once, as well as six lines of text when composing a message. There are no font configuration settings on the Z610i.
Like the K610i, the user interface on the Z610i is one of the most outstanding features of this phone. Everything is clean and sharp due to its well thought out design and fast response time. There has been a lot of thought put into making tasks easy in Sony Ericsson’s operating system, and this really shows. It’s possible to make use of most of what the phone has to offer within minutes. Sony Ericsson have provided the ability to set shortcuts which are easily accessible by the dedicated directional pad.
One big improvement to the UI on the Z610i is the change of fonts. Letters are now much easier to read on small screens and Sony Ericsson has decided to put the clock on the top bar at all times. It is possible to choose between a large or small clock on the standby screen.
Additionally, the operating system on the Z610i is able to multitask - meaning it’s possible to have the music player playing a tune and be working on a message while having a webpage open, which shows progress in maturity for Sony Ericsson’s operating system.
The file manager included on the Sony Ericsson Z610i is definitely worth a mention. It allows multiple selections of files, and provides the ability to copy and move files and to create or delete folders at will. The manager filters the memory space for display into three basic parts - one tab for files in the phone memory, another tab for the files stored on the memory card, and a third tab shows a combination of all files in both the memory card and phone memory. In terms of the display layout, you can choose between a file name list, thumbnail list, 3x3 thumbnails, or 2x2 thumbnails.
Included on the Z610i are the typical Sony Ericsson applications MusicDJ, PhotoDJ and VideoDJ. MusicDJ is a simple application that allows composition and mixing from a combination of pre-installed MIDI files to create personalized ring tones. PhotoDJ allows adjustment of contrast, brightness and it is even possible add effects to pictures; at full 2 megapixel resolution. Unfortunately there is no ability to crop images or to reduce their resolution on the phone. The VideoDJ is a comparatively powerful application that allows editing of videos through joining clips with transitions, adding background music and text screens.
The main menu is accessible through the middle directional button from the main desktop and is displayed as a 3x4 grid of 12 icons. The menu options are PlayNow, Internet, Entertainment, Camera, Messaging, Music Player, File Manager, Contacts, Video Call, Calls, Organiser and Settings. Number shortcuts are supported in the Z610i, so it is possible to navigate through menus and options by pressing ‘5’, ‘4’ to get to the RSS Reader for instance.
Making and receiving calls
Call quality on the Z610i is as one would expect from a handset in this day and age – pretty good. While it is possible to use the handset as a speakerphone, wired headset and Bluetooth headset connectivity are also supported. The Z610i loudspeaker is of good quality and is adequate for speakerphone voice calls. It is loud and clear making it usable in an area with a moderate amount of ambient noise. Of note is that the external display is not able to display missed calls and messages simultaneously, as there is not enough room to fit that many icons!
Calls were tested using the Bluetooth connection and this worked well in both an in-car system as well as through a Bluetooth headset. The Z610i reception was found to be reasonable even in the black spot I live in.
In terms of video calling, once a contact has been selected from the phonebook, it is possible to choose whether the call should be a voice or a video call. When a video call is activated the phone reserves the bottom left corner of the display for the image coming from the internal VGA camera. The rest of the display is occupied by the picture of the person on the other side. During a video call it is possible to zoom in on the other party's image by two steps and adjust exposure The camera is also able to operate in night more so this will cater for people calling from dark areas. This is also possible to switch to the external camera during the call without any interruption should anyone have to do so. Overall the video call experience is positive.
The phone book can store up to 1000 contacts with up to 28 fields for multiple sets of details, such as multiple numbers, multiple emails, web address, picture ID, ring tone and other personal details. However for the 1000 contacts it is not possible to store more than 2500 phone numbers in total. Contacts can be sent to other phones via MMS, Bluetooth or e-mail.
Sony Ericsson has included 19 sound files including ring tones and theme sounds, on the Z610i. Fortunately a 72-tone synthesiser has been built into the unit and the ring tones sound very good even while set at loud levels. It is recommended to use MP3 or AAC ring tones wherever possible as these do tend to be of better quality than MIDI files.
Just as with the K610i there are seven profiles. All of the profiles are customisable however it is not possible to rename the Normal setting. When customizing profiles it is possible to set ring tone volume, silent mode, increasing ring, vibrating alert, key tones, divert calls, accept calls, answering mode and what accessories can be active for the call. It is not possible to add any more personalized profiles over the seven offered.
The Z610i includes all the standard messaging standards including SMS, EMS, MMS and email. Additionally an instant messaging application is also supported and the handset is able to receive RSS feeds. The T9 predictive text system is available for quick text input on this handset – it is intuitive which makes message creation a breeze.
The Z610i is capable of composing large SMS messages, so multiple linked messages will be sent. Comprehensive MMS is also available and messages can be sent to phone numbers or email addresses. As with most 3G phones, the Z610i incorporates an email client which can be configured to download email from POP3 and IMAP4 servers and view them on the phone. The email client worked great and allowed me to view and be notified of incoming emails on multiple accounts. It is also possible to save emails to the M2 memory card.
Text input speed is fast on the Z610i due to its T9 support and perceptive menu system. The Z610i has an excellent keypad with large tactile buttons that are well spaced out which can have a huge influence on the message composition experience. I’m happy to say that messaging on the Z610i is a very pleasant experience!
The Z610i is a tri-band GSM device and is also able to connect to 3G networks. The network capabilities of the Z610i cover most GSM/UTMS frequencies so there shouldn’t be any trouble connecting to most GSM networks around the world, provided your operator has roaming available. The Z610i supports the 900, 1800 and 1900MHz bands, has GPRS Class 10 support for internet access between 32 - 48 kbps and its 3G support allows broadband speeds of up to 384kbps through UTMS.
In terms of local connectivity Sony Ericsson offers the choice of USB or Bluetooth v2.0 which can generally be regarded as standard in this day and age. The phone comes with its own USB connector which is plugged into the proprietary socket at the bottom of the phone and this allows the handset to be connected to a PCs USB port. To transfer files between the PC and phone, the Z610i supports the USB Mass Storage Device driver so you can drag & drop files under a Windows XP system without any extra driver installation.
Also included is a mobile connectivity suite which comprehensive features like a media library and internet connection utility. One nice feature of the software is that it’s able to synchronise contacts in Microsoft Outlook and the Windows address book. Although not the most elegant system, it is good enough to get the job done.
The Bluetooth connectivity was tested to make phone calls with a Sony Ericsson wireless headset, and I had no problems. The transfer of data between the phone and a computer was also tested and no problems were encountered either. The Bluetooth support seems to be reliable and can also be used to send pictures or documents to Bluetooth enabled printers.
The build quality of the Z610i is very good and there are no noticeably loose parts. While the pearl exterior looks great, the glossy material used is incessantly prone to smudge marks from fingers and needs to be regularly cleaned to keep its appeal.
The keypad is quite good on this handset as the buttons are spaced well apart and it is easy to tell which button your finger is on just by feel alone. The battery cover is not so easy to take off as the back panel is quite smooth but is well attached and exposes no gap.
The Sony Ericsson Z610i ships with a 950mAh battery and the official claim is that the handset is able to stand-by for 400 hours and provide up to seven hours of talk time. In practice, the figures are slightly less than this and drop a significant amount when the handset is roaming on 3G networks. The phone takes roughly two hours to recharge and it is also possible to recharge the Z610i via a USB port which is quite handy.
The battery life for the Z610i is reasonable although it is nothing to brag about considering it does not have the features of top of the line phones.