The latest in Sony Ericsson’s K-series, the K660i, certainly won’t qualify as the company’s most advanced to date, with no Cyber-shot camera or Walkman music player.

It does however have HSDPA-enabled 3G capability, pretty much the fastest mobile internet access you can get at present, which comes in very handy for showing off its internet browser innovations.

Basic approach from Sony Ericsson

The handset itself is a stylishly curved candybar shape, fairly light at 96g and with a large, bright screen above its neatly compact keypad. The keys are small but adequately spaced, so there’s no complaint about usability.

Ours came in a slick gloss black with a wine-coloured strip across it, finished off chrome trim, though you can also get it in cyan on black, sliver on black and lime on white.

On the sides there’s a Memory Stick Micro slot (the phone comes with a 256MB version on top of the built-in 32MB of memory), volume/zoom controls and a camera button.

Focus on the internet browser

At the right of the keypad are four cryptic illuminated symbols which turn out to be shortcuts which become active while browsing, activated by pressing the number buttons next to them.

And it’s the internet browser that’s at the heart of this phone. It defaults to landscape mode (though you can also set it to portrait) offering a widescreen view of the web that’s much more reminiscent of the standard browsing experience on a PC.

Those shortcut keys are Address, which also allows you to search, Bookmarks, Homepage link, and a Zoom key, which shrinks the resolution of the page, allowing room to move a viewing pane to the desired section, which can then be blown up to full viewing size.

It’s a nifty trick that makes browsing standard web pages much easier than on most mobiles.

Browser features

The launch page, as seen on other recent Sony Ericsson phones, is designed to be helpful rather than merely push SE features. It has a Google search bar, address bar, RSS feeds, browsing history and a link to additional SE download and info sites.

Incidentally, the screen automatically flips into portrait mode when you’re entering text – disorientating at first, but actually a useful innovation, since it allows you to use the keypad in the standard way, rather than trying to re-educate your fingers to use the keypad on its side.

Google Maps is a preloaded option and while it doesn’t enjoy GPS-style accuracy (it uses cell triangulation to establish your position to within a few hundred metres) it can be useful for finding your way around a new town.

The HSDPA 3G connection is pretty fast, of course, but for an internet-centred phone it’s a shame it doesn’t include Wi-Fi – the ability to connect via broadband would certainly be useful, especially for downloads.

The browser may not offer anything new, as such, but at least it’s well presented with a couple of good usability innovations.

Competent camera

The camera, by comparison, is bog standard. With 2 megapixels it’s pretty much the least you’d expect from a midrange phone like this and it lacks the luxuries of the Cyber-shot range, such as flash, autofocus, red eye reduction and SE’s terrific BestPic feature (though there is a basic multi-shot function) – there isn’t even a photo light.

You can however instantly blog your pics (including videos) thanks to SE’s deal with Blogger, or send them direct to a PictBridge-compatible printer via USB or Bluetooth.

You can also edit your pics on the handset with Sony Ericsson’s now pretty much standard Photofix, PhotoDJ and VideoDJ functions.

It’s an okay camera, but easily shown up by the better-specced rivals we’re increasingly seeing these days, especially in low light or with moving objects, when the results are likely to dip below acceptable.

This being a 3G camera, there is an additional VGA-standard camera on the front for video calling.

Multimedia options

The music player may not be Walkman standard, but it’s perfectly fine if you see music as a fun addition rather than the essence of your phone.

The supplied 256MB Memory Stick Micro card will hold up to around 120 tracks, though you can expand this to a 2GB card if you feel you need it (the slot on the side means you can switch cards without removing the battery).

You can sync your music with your PC using the Media Manager software or simply plug in via USB and drag and drop individual tracks onto the phone. There’s also an FM radio, TrackID, which allows you to identify mystery tracks and a menu link to SE’s PlayNow service.

The quietly stylish K660i

You might want to upgrade the earphones however, which are cheap and nasty, and not on a par with the Walkman versions, which, in the absence of a 3.5mm mini-jack plug, is the first upgrade you’ll need (Walkman earphones have an SE connector as well as an additional 3.5mm plug), unless you go the Bluetooth route.

The organisation features are as you’d expect, with intuitive and practical contacts and calendar functions, plus support for email messaging, including attachments and push email.

The K660i isn’t a show-off ‘look at me’ phone. Its browsing innovations aren’t that innovative and its other features are pretty much standard for a phone at this price.

As a quietly stylish web-centred workhorse though, it could end up being very popular.