Sony Ericsson’s most anticipated product of 2002, the P800 smartphone, has finally made it to market! Many people waiting for this next-generation device would have read up on what it has to offer - and indeed, it has much to show off.
But the ultimate question would be “was it really worth the wait?” I guess it’s really for you (the reader) to judge - but at the end of the day, Sony Ericsson has certainly delivered the goods on this fantastic device.
For the first time, I can actually see some involvement from Sony in this particular product. Ever since Sony and Ericsson got together to market mobile handsets, nothing really surprising came out of their products. Models like the T200 and T300 have the same “Ericsson” feel as most of their previous products, while the T68i and T600 are only revamps of the T68/T68m and T66 respectively.
So what really opened my eyes on this model? Starting from the outside, the P800 comes with a large 4096-colour LCD touch screen that allows its user to access phone and PDA-based functions by using a stylus as well as the keypad. A Memory Stick Duo expansion slot is also available, located beneath where the stylus is placed - and being one of the very first devices to actually use this improved memory card type. Some other things also included are the 5-way jog dial (used mainly for menu/function navigation, and adopted from previous Sony phone models), a removable flip, and (most importantly) an integrated digital camera.
On the inside, it is powered by Symbian OS v7.0 and utilises the UIQ user interface, which provides for the pen-based usability. Apart from not being able to record short movie clips with its digital camera, you will find the P800 having virtually all the features and functions that you can find in a phone available on the market today.
On initial inspection, the looks of the P800 wasn’t much of a surprise to me, as all Sony Ericsson handsets (excluding the T100 and T600) share the same light-blue/silver-white colour combination for its designs. Although I wasn’t too blown away on the colour side of things, the phone did encompass a unique and somewhat attractive design - especially with the rounded corners and edges of the handset.
But one can change the looks of the P800 straight away (and no, it’s not replaceable covers). Sony Ericsson has given users the choice of either using the physical keypad flip attached to the P800 by default, or removing the flip component and going for the “virtual flip” instead. The virtual flip option simply replicates the look of the actual keypad by imprinting that onto the LCD display when it is enabled (see right).
Personally, I would retain the use of the physical keypad flip as it seems and feels more practical typing numbers with buttons that you can touch, rather than poking at what you can only see and not feel. At the same time, the surface of the touch screen can get somewhat grubby with oil from a user’s fingers and face - probably more relevant for those individuals who want their LCD screen to be crystal clear at all times!
Sony Ericsson hasn’t wasted any precious space on just simply showing off their good-looking smartphone product - where on each left and right side of the phone, you will find particular items of interest. On the left side is the infrared (IR) port and power button; and on the right is where the Memory Stick Duo slot is, covered by the stylus when secured to the phone when not used.
On picking up the P800, you will find that the handset does weigh your hand down slightly. But given the number of features that it has on offer, and that it does come with a full set of PDA features, one should not really complain. Alike the Nokia 7650, where the P800 is sized and weighed similar to, it is what’s on the inside that matters most.
Oh, and if you were wondering how to attach the hand strap onto the P800, you can do this by looping the strap around the notch located below the base of the battery. Once the battery is re-inserted into its slot and the back cover replaced, there should be no danger of the strap parting from the handset.
User Interface & display
As I mentioned previously, the P800 allows two ways of working the phone’s keypad interface - using the originally-attached keypad flip, or removing this and tapping on the virtual flip displayed on the screen. However, in this keypad “mode” the P800 can only perform limited phone functions, which are limited to the functions available listed in the applications list (this can be accessed by either pressing the ‘options’ button or pushing the jog dial upward and selecting “applications”).
But once you open the flip (or disabling it by pressing the ‘down’ arrow above the ‘back’ and ‘clear’ buttons), this gives the user access to all available functions on the P800. Whenever the flip is not used, the pen-based user interface takes over - requiring all inputs to be done by the stylus (or your finger, if you personally prefer). Whenever you are in a particular application or function of the phone, closing the flip (or pressing the virtual flip icon at the bottom of the screen) will immediately return you back to the standby screen.
Its pen-based system works very similarly to what other PDAs require, with the only difference being the new input method introduced onto the P800 - which resembles very closely to traditional writing.
The CICs JotPro handwriting system is quite easy to get used to, and should not be a major challenge if a user was to do a bit of practice with it. What was impressive is its ability to differentiate different characters by taking in more than just a single pen stroke. For example, on Palm and WinCE/Pocket PC devices where you would have to either write in a particular way (Graffiti) or it waits for you to finish a single letter, JotPro allows its user to write as he/she would in real life but keeping in mind to also write properly.
When I say “properly”, this means the need to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. The JotPro system has no problem recognising simple single-stroke characters. But for a letter like “T”, you would need to firstly do the vertical stroke then the short horizontal one - which ultimately results you in the letter “T” although it may display an “L” initially. This goes the same for the letter “i”, where one needs to do the vertical stroke then the dot.
Alike Palm OS based devices which has a separate letter and number writing area, the P800 makes this somewhat easier by not restricting the text input to a small rectangular area at the bottom of the screen (which can reduce comfort and accuracy of character recognition) - but allowing the use of the entire screen area for input. When text input is required, a black triangle appears on the right hand side of the screen indicating that text input mode is currently active. Writing on the middle and bottom half of the screen will result in capital and lowercase alphabetical characters respectively, while writing on the top half outputs numeric and other special characters as well. Should a user be unable to find a particular character, simply tap the keyboard icon on the bottom-left corner (next to the signal indicator) to bring up the virtual keyboard.
Unalike the Nokia 7650 and upcoming 3650 models, which are orientated towards single-handed use, the P800 is a pen-based system that mostly requires a stylus for virtually all operations (with the exception of call handling tasks). Although I rather tap at keys, I must say that the P800’s UIQ interface can become quite comfortable to use over time.
As for the P800’s display, I don’t think anyone can deny how good a job its 4096-colour TFT screen displays both text and graphics! On first turning the phone on, the start-up screen sequence already sold me - and later on, after taking a few snaps with the built-in camera, I thought I was viewing these pictures on a high-quality computer LCD screen. There’s definitely no other mobile phone colour screen on the market that beats the P800 on precise image clarity, brightness and sharpness (imagine if it was a 65K-colour LCD instead!)
Making and receiving calls
The P800 offers several ways of making and receiving calls - traditionally via holding the phone against your ear, using the stereo headset, enabling the handsfree speakerphone option, connection to a car kit, or using a Bluetooth audio device (car kit or headset). Performance of both the stereo headset and handsfree speakerphone were quite good, while there were some minor issues when using the default method for calls.
Depending on how a person holds their phone during calls, there are two areas of concern here. Firstly, one may find the physical keypad flip causing a slight discomfort to the face should the phone be pushed against it. Furthermore, accidental keypresses because of this same reason can occur. Secondly, I found the shaping of the earpiece area doesn’t really rest onto the ear as well as it should, which can cause excess sound in the environment to go into the ear as well as those from the actual earpiece. Also, this same area can cause a slight discomfort to the ear (depending on how you position the phone on your ear).
Another thing to look out for is the camera lens window at the back of the phone, which does not have a cover protecting it. Most people should not be able to touch it with their fingers when making and receiving calls - since it’s located quite far away from reach. Normally, the average person should have their index finger positioned on top of the Memory Stick logo or where the back cover clip is (just below the camera lens window, where you will also find a slight indentation probably for this purpose).
Support for SMS, EMS, MMS and Internet email (POP3/SMTP/IMAP4) messages are all part and parcel of the P800. These can be composed with the Messaging function, which also provides an excellent facility for the storage and filing of these same messages.
For emails, an innovative feature has been included which allows emails to be checked and downloaded to the P800 at predefined times of the day or at a specific interval (from 15 minutes up to 4 hours). This becomes handy for those people who are always on the move and would like to have their emails retrieved and available on the phone ready whenever required.
The only let-down here is the missing T9 predictive text input feature. Although the P800 is a pen-based device, the exclusion of this somewhat important ability of a phone can make short message composition experience a more tedious one. Not to say that the CICs JotPro system is bad or anything, but I believe short messaging and the swiftness in input go hand in hand…
Camera performance and image quality
The P800’s integrated camera produces good quality images, slightly better than those taken with the MCA-25 CommuniCam. In addition to being able to select the resolution of the picture and its quality level, the user can elect to change the brightness and contrast, enable virtual backlighting for improved illumination, have the ability to cancel out any flickering in the picture, and adjust for different lighting situations. The CommuniCam function on the P800 is possibly one of the most sophisticated camera applications currently available on any camera-enabled mobile phone - bringing it closer to what a standard digital can do.
From the pictures, you can see that the P800 provides better colour realism than that of the 7650. Even though the brightness of the P800’s image is somewhat lacking, this can be adjusted through the customisable camera controls mentioned previously.
Overall, the P800 has been built with quality in mind. There’s no doubt when you hold this smartphone in your hand, it feels nothing but rock-solid - thanks also to its weight. It should be able to survive accidental drops to soft surfaces (such as carpeted areas) - but I would be a bit weary of the LCD screen should the phone take a dive on hard surfaces (using the provided protective bag for the phone is a suggestive option). Removable items, such as the back battery cover and front flip cover, are secured on quite well even after endless removal and replacement actions.
And if you’re worried whether the stylus will fall out of its slot after prolonged use, the answer to that should be “no”. After using the P800 for more than two weeks, the stylus maintains the same level of rigidity when secured inside its resting place. Should you accidentally misplace the stylus, don’t worry - as you still have another three spare styli to get through first… :)
To my amazement, the P800 was able to churn out some good figures here - especially in the standby times. On average use, I was able to obtain approximately 3-4 hours worth of talk time and 3-5 days of standby. Any heavy use of the LCD screen will reduce these times by approximately 20-30%.
Two major reasons why the P800 can provide the above figures - the 1000 mAh lithium-polymer battery, and the screen power save feature (shuts off the screen after a predefined period of time). When married together, battery power consumption is kept at a minimum when the phone is not used. Amazingly, the phone can possibly provide up to 10-12 days of standby if simply left on and not used.