While it's been busy heavy-hitting with its Walkman phones and slipping out Cyber-shot high quality cameraphones, Sony Ericsson has also been keeping up a steady stream of mobiles that do the business in a more low key kind of way - by offering generous quantities of features at wallet-friendly prices.
The latest addition to its mid-tier range - the K510i - is similarly blessed, with a decent amount of multimedia functionality for the money. It should have enough about it to find a happy home in many a pocket or handbag, with a 1.3-megapixel camera, media player and pocketable dimensions among the lineup.
This Sony Ericsson phone follows the highly recognisable design DNA we've seen since its candybar smash hit T610. The K510i has classically simple lines, coming in a soft-touch matt black finish and houses a 262k-colour, 128 x 160 pixel TFT screen and a proper mini-joystick for menu navigation on the front.
The back plays host to the lens for the 1.3-megapixel camera, a handy mirror for self-portraits and the onboard loudspeaker for music playback and handsfree use. A swift peek at the sides reveals camera quick launch and activity menu keys, while the power key and infrared port are on the top edge.
In terms of functionality there is plenty to go around besides the megapixel camera and musical ability. The K510i is a tri-band phone, so you should be able to take it abroad to most countries for work or play.
It also offers a varied range of connectivity options: Bluetooth, infrared, synchronisation and USB via the supplied proprietary cable that connects to the phone's charging socket. Something else that's worth a pat on the back is the excellent range of ringtones, with a genuinely wide selection that can all be set to a loud din if necessary!
Returning to the multimedia functionality, the 1.3- megapixel resolution camera will shoot both stills and video. For stills, you can select three different picture sizes and two quality settings. A night mode is on offer for shooting in low light instead of an integrated fl ash, and self-portraits can be taken using the mirror mounted next to the lens.
A 4x zoom facility is included but it can only be used on the smallest picture setting (with a 2x zoom on medium-sized images and no zoom at all on the largest setting) and other features lurking in the options menu are a self- timer and a selection of picture effects.
Video recording offers only two shooting modes, high quality video or picture message, and two video sizes: large (176x144) and small (128x96). It offers the same picture effects and night mode option as the stills camera.
The images captured are not the best we've seen from either a 1.3-megapixel camera phone or other Sony Ericsson models come to that, but they're not the worst either.
Colours are nicely reproduced, but you have to be either very near to your subject or zoom in very close to get any real sense of detail. In video mode, you'll need an incredibly steady hand otherwise every stutter and shake will be picked up by the ultrasensitive lens and we also found it hard to get stable light levels into the lens while filming, so the footage would veer between bright and dark.
The amount of footage you can fi lm is determined by the amount of free memory space. The total memory allocation of 28MB isn't fantastic by current standards, and is shared between all of the K510i's applications. Unfortunately it can't be expanded with Memory Sticks (like a growing number of Sony Ericsson handsets), so you'll have to manage your multimedia content carefully.
Speaking of which, the media player plays both music and video fi les and supports MP3, MP4, 3GP, AAC, MIDI, WAV, GIF and JPEG formats amongst others. The player offers the ability to search for music by artist or title and playlists can be created, and you can transfer music from a PC using the USB cable and supplied Disc2Phone software.
The memory limit though means you'll be restricted to the number of tracks you can copy - fewer than 10 MP3s will eat it up. The player performs pretty well with music and is capable of putting out a decent amount of volume through the built-in speaker.
You can tinker about with the sound by altering the equalizer settings to bass, voice or treble, and there are options for shuffle and loop play too. Video playback, however, had a tendency to look quite pixilated and was slightly disappointing.
If downloading multimedia content is your thing, then Sony Ericsson's PlayNow website provides the opportunity to preview items before you buy and can be accessed via the 'Entertainment' menu icon. But if you prefer to exercise some creativity, VideoDJ, PhotoDJ and MusicDJ allow you take your chosen media and edit, twist and tweak it into something new to use, save or send.
You can access online services (plus bookmark sites and save pages) using either the 'Entertainment' or 'Internet Services' icons and two games - MiniGolf BT and the puzzle-themed QuadraPop - are provided but you have the option to download more.
Messaging options on offer are SMS, MMS and email but you will need to make sure that your phone is set up with details of the specific POP3 or IMAP4 email account that you want to access (your network operator or the Sony Ericsson website can help with this).
Other than that, the remaining features comprise a calendar with an appointments facility, the usual organizer functions and three Sony Ericsson applications - FaceWarp (shoot pictures and warp them), News Reader (access news feeds) and World Clock. The contacts book meanwhile will store full contact details (not just mobile numbers) for 1000 entries on the handset, in addition to whatever your SIM card can hold.
The battery on the K510i kept going for 190 hours (just shy of 8 full days) with about ten minutes of calls made and a good amount of use of the phone's features during our fi eld test. The phone held on remarkably well to its network signal and managed to retrieve a signal very speedily when emerging from coverage black spots. Voice quality on calls both made and received was first rate.
There's much to like about the K510i, from its sleek and universally appealing appearance down to its decent connectivity options. It does the basics exceptionally well and the menus are all configured in a very intuitive way.
Its camera functionality could have been a bit better (especially considering strong competition from other manufacturers), but at such a competitive price it would be worth considering if you're working on a tight budget. Nicola Veness
Camera: Situated on the back of the K510i you get a reasonable quality 1.3-megapixel camera built in
Style: The phone is decked out in a stylish matt finish that makes the handset feel very tactile
Joystick: The joystick navigation key is easy to use and a very functional way of working the menus
Fast camera key: Take snaps quickly using the side mounted key to activate the camera and then pressing to shoot