We’ve been waiting for a bit of slimline 3G flip-phone action from Sony Ericsson, and with the classy-looking Z770i, it has delivered a very pocketable device with plenty to get your desire buds going.

The Z770i arrives as one of Sony Ericsson’s few real clamshell eye-catchers. It has high-speed HSDPA 3G connectivity inside, boosting download times and browsing slickness on its full web browser.

An impressive multimedia phone

Also featured is a run-down of multimedia applications that are quickly becoming welcome standard issue for Sony Ericsson’s mid-range line up. Despite no Walkman branding, it has a very able music player onboard plus an FM radio and video player functionality.

A welcome software addition is the Google Maps for Mobile application. Even without onboard GPS, this enables you to get location based information and navigation instructions over the air, with detailed mapping and satellite imagery too.

Unusually for a 3G handset, Sony Ericsson has left off video calling; there’s no second camera for face-to-face chatting. However, this is unlikely to put off most users, as video calling is still very much a minority interest.

What could sap interest for more imagery conscious buyers is the relatively basic 2-megapixel camera that gets an outing on the Z770i – not one of Sony Ericsson’s Cyber-shot quality best efforts.

Simple and striking design

The Z770i has a stylish, understated design. Its trim 93(h) x 48(w) x 15.5(d)mm dimensions and 91g weight allow it an easy pocket ride too.

Available in a brushed metal-look silver or black casing with a touch of colour accenting, it has a small mirrored panel running across the front. This is, in fact, an external monochrome display – one of those fashionable appear-out-of-nowhere affairs that glows through the panel when the phone’s doing the business with texts, calls or music. It provides phone status info, caller ID or text info, and names of tracks being played.

Flip open the shell, and the understated gives way to a much nattier numberpad. The striking design uses curvy backlit strips on a brushed metal-look keypad that has echoes of the original Motorola RAZR about it. The flush numbers are widely spaced and easy to dab, and are reassuringly responsive when texting or number tapping.

The main navigation pad arrangement is novel, and may not appeal to everyone. Instead of a round D-pad, you have four ultra-thin direction buttons like grains of rice in a cross around a small central button. Although almost smooth to the surface, in practice we found them easy to handle and quick to get used to.

Initially, though, when aiming for the middle ‘menu’ softkey option you may find yourself mistakenly pressing the up button that’s directly beneath the screen instead of the central select key.

User-friendly interface

The Z770i also has conventional call and end keys bookending the left/right navigation keys, but while they’re in close proximity we didn’t have any trouble with stray finger pressing errors.

The control panel shortcut configuration can be set up for favourite functions or left in box-fresh condition. There’s also Sony Ericsson’s very handy Activity Menus button, which drills you into lists of most-useful features, applications and information under one category.

You can get a list of apps like Bluetooth, Google Maps or TrackID in just one click, or tab along to internet functions in just two clicks.

The display is a respectable 262k-colour 2.2-inch QVGA (240x320 pixels) TFT array – with an acceptable amount of screen space for viewing content and browsing. Menus are set-up in familiar Sony Ericsson grid-fashion and are suitably easy to work through.

Speedy downloads

High-speed data connectivity via HSDPA (at up to 3.6Mbps) means you can download content such as music or videos from network operator portals or Sony Ericsson’s own Play Now service in seconds. Naturally, web browsing speeds are cranked up too, making the mobile internet experience that much better.

The Z770i has the latest Access NetFront browser that Sony Ericsson’s deployed on recent releases including the K660i and W890i. The interface is intuitive and user-friendly, and the launch page is well laid out with Google search bar and address entry panel, along with RSS feed and browsing history sub sections. You don’t have to delve in to work out what to do.

You can view in landscape or portrait and pan and zoom to make your way around full web pages, or choose a Smart-Fit mobile-optimised view.

With RSS feeds, too, you can get regular updates from your favourite news websites, blogs or social networking sites without having to negotiate the browser each time you want to check them. You can even set up an RSS news ticker for your standby screen.

Impressive music player

Of course, as well as downloading music, you can easily sideload tunes from a PC using the Sony Ericsson PC Suite Media Manager software and USB cable supplied, or by simply dragging and dropping to the memory card in mass storage mode.

The phone has only 32MB of internal memory, but this is boosted by Memory Stick Micro (M2) card expansion (there’s a convenient slot on the side of the phone), and a 512MB M2 card is boxed with the phone.

The Z770i’s multimedia playback is a real plus point. Sony Ericsson has developed a nicely integrated, fluid interface that’s running on many of its higher tier phones. The music player is very similar to the type you get on mid-range Walkman phones, with familiar music playlist categories and straightforward controls.

High quality audio

While the earphones supplied don’t match the ones boxed with equivalent level Walkmans, they present an acceptably pleasant performance. Shame about the bulky headphone connector’s side positioning, which makes it slightly awkward in the pocket.

Unlike Walkman headsets, the Z770i’s earphones don’t include standard headphone 3.5mm jack adapters - but if you were to get hold of a Walkman set or adapter and plug in better quality headphones (as we did), you’d hear a top-drawer audio performance. Alternatively, you could add stereo Bluetooth wireless headphones and skip the adapter.

Or, for a less pleasing audio performance, you could try the unimpressive loudspeaker option.

A decent FM radio and Sony Ericsson’s clever TrackID name-that-tune application add to the phone’s well-rounded musical capabilities.

Basic camera features

Despite having photo-optimised Cyber-shot cameraphones in its range, Sony Ericsson tends to keep it simpler across its other devices, and imaging is not its priority here either.

The average quality 2-megapixel snapper can produce reasonably good pictures in decent lighting conditions, but struggles when pitched into murkier conditions, indoors shooting or in general low-light situations. There’s no flash to boost illumination. Nor is there an autofocus system.

The camera doesn’t deal particularly well with high contrast images and subtle tonal changes in certain situations, and detail is limited. Anyone looking for high quality photography should look elsewhere, though its acceptable for snaps.

Video capture playback is better than average, running smoothly at 30 frames per second, though image quality is restricted to so-so QVGA resolution. In now-regular Sony Ericsson style, you can upload video and images straight to online Blogger accounts as one of the standard ‘send’ options.

GPS and Google Maps

The pre-loaded Google Maps application is a very useful extra, particularly if you find yourself in an unfamiliar area and are in need of a map or local information.

It uses cellular network triangulation rather GPS satellite-based location finding, so the accuracy level is within a few hundred metres radius rather than spot-on.

Nonetheless, once a map of your approximate location has been loaded via your data connection (it takes moments), you can easily zoom in to your exact position and navigate your way around. And you can get satellite imaging in a similar way to Google Maps regular online service, with data sent over the air via high-speed mobile connection.

Access to location-based services are also part of the package; you can get turn-by-turn navigation instructions or search for details and directions to nearby businesses and services.

You can add GPS accuracy with an optional GPS receiver accessory, but even without that, Google Maps is a handy addition to your in-pocket application arsenal. 

Extensive features and tools

Sony Ericsson again includes its commendable suite of organiser and productivity tools, including calendar, tasks, notes, convertor, voice memo, calculator, code memo, timer and various clock functions.

In addition, it slips in audio book reader, and a web-based weather forecast application, AccuWeather.com Light.  Some basic video and photo editing apps are included too, alongside a trio of entertaining games (Brain Juice, Investigators and Tennis Multiplay).

When it comes to the basic bread-and-butter of voice call, the Z770i produced a fine performance. No issues to worry about – as reliable as you’d hope for, with good quality audio, and comfortable to use.

According to Sony Ericsson, users may be able to eke out up to 8.5 hours of talktime on GSM networks or 4.5 hours if you’re running a 3G connection – an impressive figure that will appeal to heavy phone users. Standby time is estimated at up to 350 hours.

In our real usage tests, using a variety of features and apps, the Z770i took us comfortably to three days between charges. Obviously, how much you use power-hungry features will determine exact charging patterns, but we thought it a decent performance.

Sony Ericsson puts in a fine performance

The Sony Ericsson Z770i is a fine flip phone alternative to Sony Ericsson’s candybar and slider mid-range 3G models - although once again the imaging capabilities, with an average 2-megapixel camera and no video call option, are less than impressive. A shame for an otherwise well-equipped mobile.

The phone handles well and has a slim enough profile to make it an attractive, pocketable design. The understated classic look on the outside contrasts with a more eye-grabbing interior, but it still has some charm.

Fine quality multimedia playback and HSDPA-powered web-based functionality add to a well-rounded package of features that, with a higher quality camera performance, would have really wowed us.

Looks:  4/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Features: 4/5
Call quality: 4.5/5
Value: 3.5/5