Sony Ericsson P990i review

Sony's all-in-one 3G smartphone has business brains

Fat-cased and almost too advanced for its grumpy, over-complex interface

TechRadar Verdict

One for the fashion-conscious chairman only. Otherwise avoid

Pros

  • +

    Tri-band GSM and Wi-Fi

    Push email support

    Office and web software included

Cons

  • -

    Disappointing 2 megapixel camera

    Clumsy and unstable interface

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A couple of years ago there was a brief but significant backlash against cameras on mobile phones. Gyms worried about voyeurs and businesses feared industrial espionage. But the quality simply wasn't good enough for snooping or snapping corporate secrets and the cameras found their way back.

The effect of that brief camera-free interval is still being felt by some of the more sensible smartphones. In almost every way, Sony's new flagship model has a specification to die for.

It uses the latest tri-band/3G and WiFi technology for high-speed video-calls and data transfer worldwide, allows instant 'push' emails (like a BlackBerry), carries office and web browsing software and even squeezes a QWERTY keyboard into its smart 150g candybar design.

But its camera still uses an average 2Mp sensor, with autofocus, no optical zoom and a weak LED instead of the genuine flash found on its Cyber-shot stablemate, the K800i.

Business is the P990i's focus and it uses the latest version of the Symbian OS to present an assured face to the world. Unfortunately, appearances can be deceptive. The 2.5-inch touchscreen is bright and colourful in the boardroom but too weak for framing sunlit daytime shots. The interface is full of visual fades and flourishes but feels slow and buggy, occasionally 'crashing' like a real computer.

A side-mounted jog-wheel speeds things up but you really notice the absence of a traditional four-way menu pad. The touch stylus is quicker than the tiny plastic keyboard for writing notes or emails, using an excellent predictive handwriting recognition system.

Activating the camera is a matter of spinning the circular lens cover open and flipping the phone on its side - it frames in landscape format, just a like a real camera. Creative options are limited to a nasty digital zoom, basic exposure compensation, white balance presets and a few digital effects.

Spin the jog dial (deliberately or, more often, by mistake) and the P990i switches into video mode, capturing 320x240-pixel MPEG-4 clips at a jerky 15fps. Luckily, still shots are better, with beautiful exposure and a lively, natural clarity. Colours are mostly accurate, although it struggles with bright highlights and the autofocus is too easily confused.

You also get the softness and distortion towards the edges that's all too familiar when shooting with microscopic camera phones lenses - centre subjects for best results. Clever software is great at digitising business cards, typically making just one or two mistakes, even on coloured cards.

The music player and FM radio both sound great, but use different control methods when the flip is open and closed. Voice calls are fine however.

For anyone who doesn't have a driver or a desk the size of a double bed, this smartest of smartphones will prove a frustrating combination of advanced, but far from- perfect features, controlled by an all-too-fallible interface.

The Sony P990i is undeniably an advanced and capable camera phone. But it's almost too advanced for its grumpy, over-complex interface, as well as being over-priced for anyone not on a fat expense account.

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