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March 31, 2004
Sony-Ericsson P900: Almost, Almost
posted by Dan Gillmor 10:36 AM
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I recently returned to Sony-Ericsson a loaned P900 phone/organizer/MP3 player/Internet access/messaging/etcetera. It's a remarkable piece of work.

I'd tried the P800, its predecessor, and liked it a great deal, though I thought it had a few rough edges. The P900 fixes almost everything didn't like in the first model. Almost. More on that later.

What's to admire in this amazingly (given the functionality) sleek device? A whole lot:

  • First, it's a good enough phone. The interface is intuitive, with lots of clever bells and whistles to help keep track of names and numbers, all connected to the PDA portion of the device. I wish the antenna was more powerful, but you lose something when you don't have an external antenna (like my old Ericsson T39 phone, which unfortunately bit the dust last year).
  • There's a multidirectional "jog-dial" that lets you move around in the user interface. It makes one-handed operation much easier. Once you try something like this it's hard to go back to ordinary phones.
  • The built-in camera takes decent still photos and even short videos. The latter weren't very good, but you can see how these things will develop over time.
  • The PDA is fine. I couldn't figure out how to synchronize it with Microsoft Entourage on my Mac, but Apple has made its iSync operate with the P900 for people using the Mac Address Book and iCal. Windows users, of course, will have no trouble at all with it, because Sony-Ericsson supports Windows out of the box.
  • Anyone who gets one of these should install the Opera Web browser. I saw it running on someone else's P900, and it puts to shame other handheld browsers.
  • It has Bluetooth. This is a must in all new phones (and the one serious drawback in the phone I just bought, which had one quality the P900 didn't have that overrode all else.)

    What was that? Simple. My Treo 600 has a thumb-style QWERTY keyboard. The P900 doesn't, except in a virtual mode where you have to tap the letters with the stylus.

    I consider this a killer defect for my own use, because I plan to do a lot more text messaging and, soon, to update my blog via the phone itself in certain circumstances. A keyboard, for me, is a non-negotiable requirement.

    I gather that ThinkOutside's Stowaway infrared keyboard, which folds up into a relatively small size, will work with the P900. I didn't have time to try it. This is a decent kludge but not the ideal solution; I don't want to add things to my gadget bag.

    If it weren't for the missing keyboard I'd have been sorely tempted to get the P900. Other folks may find it to be all they need. Keep in mind, though, that this is one expensive gadget -- around $800 retail the last time I checked. I don't know of any U.S. mobile carriers selling a subsidized version (let me know if that's changed).

    Bottom line: This is a serious step forward in the smart phone arena. It wasn't for me, but it might be just what some people need, or at least lust after, for keeping track of their lives and staying in touch.


    Comments

    The external antenna is an urban myth. I have one T39m, one T68i, a couple of Nokias. The T39m is the only device with an external antenna and it has the worst receiption of all my phones.

    I talked to phone designers from a number of vendors at CeBIT and they tell me that Americans want an external antenna, because they BELIEVE that is good for the receiption, while it does not really make a difference. If you deconstruct a Treo, you will see that its "external" antenna does not work any differently from an "internal" antenna. It just sticks out at the upper end to make the customer believe that this is superior.

    In the rest of the world, people do not like this design. It may also make you chew on things you should not chew on. :-)


    Posted by: Volker Weber on March 31, 2004 12:49 PM

    I've heard actually that on many phones the antenna's don't actually do anything other than make consumers more comfortable with the phones. Internal ones tend to make you think all that extra radiation must be going straight to your head...


    Posted by: Jonathan Greene on March 31, 2004 01:12 PM

    skip the p900, go right for the s700. hides keypad unless you need it. ideally, you could get wireless bluetooth keyboard to work with phone for text messaging. me, i never use it, and prefer simple interface.


    Posted by: kt on March 31, 2004 02:03 PM

    Regardless if you get slightly better reception or not with an external antenna, I'd like to switch to Verizon, but all of their phones have external antennas. External antennas just jab you all the time when you put the phone in your pocket, and make extracting them way more difficult. The sooner the carriers evolve to their final form (dumb pipes) and stop making decisions for their customers the better.


    Posted by: dano on March 31, 2004 03:20 PM

    Dan,

    Just curious how you managed to mistype QWERTY, as that should be straightforward. Were you using a non-QWERTY keyboard?


    Posted by: F_Ho on March 31, 2004 05:00 PM

    Wow, that's embarrassing....mistyped because I goofed.Ugh..


    Posted by: Dan Gillmor on March 31, 2004 06:02 PM

    My girlfriend is now using my three month-old P900. I've switched back to my more primitive T-Mobile MDA only because that has Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Acrobat, and telnet. I like the P900 much more than the MDA, but the latter in 2002 effectively replaced my Viao laptop when traveling. I'll miss the P900's camera and MMS until I upgrade to the MDA version 2 sometime this Spring.

    During the past 18 months I've found no need for a physical keypad. Using the stylus to 'hunt-and-peck' the onscreen keypad's 'predictive' typing feature, I type much faster than with any thumbpad. Nevertheless, I recently spent $60 for a Flexis 100 neoprene keypad for when I'm sitting at conferences, airplane seats, or bars. It's 8x3-inches, allows me to type with both hands, and rolls into a 1-inch cylinder. And it's certainly spill-proof at the bar.


    Posted by: Vin Crosbie on March 31, 2004 06:52 PM

    AFAIK the S700 doesn't use UIQ so it's pretty crippled.

    I'll be interested to read Dan's review of the BenQ P50 when it comes out.


    Posted by: Wes Felter on March 31, 2004 07:49 PM

    I picked the P900 over the Treo because my ultimate goal is to be able to touch type on the P900 with a Stowaway KB and leave the computer at home. I like to take notes in meetings or write long email but the Treo keypad, while good for writing SMS, is too small for what I need to do. Putting a Stowaway in my bag eases much weight off my shoulder now that I don't need the laptop, so in my opinion it's a very reasonable tradeoff.

    And, I can't imagine using the Treo as a phone - it's too wide. I am sure would *blush*.


    Posted by: Heimann J. on April 1, 2004 12:57 AM

    Dan, what about the Blackberry? Does the Merc have a Blackberry server? That has got to be the best mobile platform with a full QWERTY keyboard.


    Posted by: Gen Kanai on April 1, 2004 11:59 PM

    I love my P900, but my biggest complaints are the anemic MemoryStick Duo slot (128mb max...and expensive at that!), and the lack of support for the Bluetooth "Handsfree" profile. It supports headsets just fine, but if you want to use your fancy new phone with one of the increasingly common built-in automobile handsfree systems (like the 2004 Acura TL), you are out of luck. Amusingly, this ommission causes problems in supporting the advanced features (dialing via the phone's addressbook and caller ID display) of SonyEricsson's own "flagship" HBH-200 headset. Oddly, the "handsfree" profile is supported in every other SE phone. Whatever.

    The P900's screen is vastly superior to the Treo 600's, which makes it easier on the eyes. And like Dan said, Opera is just a beauty to behold. Personally, the stylus doesn't bother me one bit...but I usually don't write emails on it so much as check my inbox. And T9 is generally fine for SMS messages...


    Posted by: crackhead on April 2, 2004 05:22 PM

    Funny, since I consider anyone who wastes so much space on their product to be a "killer defect." Why don't you learn how to use grafitti, or whatever Sony is using these days? I can write just as quickly using grafitti and someone can type with a thumboard, especially those with bigger hands. To make it fair, why don't you test a product that offers both and see which one is actually better after you learn grafitti?


    Posted by: formulaben on April 4, 2004 02:10 AM

    I know everyone is talking about the Treo. I like it just because there is a keyboard. In any case, does anyone know of a way to sync it to a Mac? Does isync work with it readily? What exactly is needed? Thanks.


    Posted by: davidatnyc on April 5, 2004 07:05 AM

    Love your column! Thanks!

    On the lack of a QWERTY keyboard being the biggest drawback of the P900 – in light of the fact that you expect to use more text messaging, the QWERTY keyboard is actually a huge drawback when compared to the T9 predictive text input capability that the P900 has (unlike the P800). T9 lets you enter the letter only once (using the associated number key) and very intelligently guesses the word you would expect to enter – when multiple words match, the P900 shows them all in a list and you scroll to the right one.

    For example, with the flip closed, dial into the message application and create an SMS. Hold the * key to make sure you are not in Multitap entry mode but in T9. After you are in the T9 mode, type 4#84465#968#9455#773337#8447#86#7937891# and see if you agree with my contention: “I think you will prefer this to qwerty.” Yes – even “QWERTY!” with a slight scroll to the ‘!’ choice!!

    I have had the P900 since late November – thanks to a friend in Hong Kong – and I would not want the jungle of keys on my phone – no way! Yes, a better antenna would be nice – especially in this GSM gutter they call the Bay Area. The phone worked phenomenally well during my recent trip to India where wireless services have been done right the 1st time – they learned from the mistakes we made here in the US.

    Thanks for a great column!


    Posted by: Indra Singhal on April 5, 2004 09:57 PM

    I agree with Indra: qwerty keyboards are not the future. Here in Japan the kanji input on cell phones use various FEPs that guess the multicharacter word your typing in on the numeric keypad as you're typing it (Sony Ericsson's is the best) . A thumb jog wheel then lets you move to another choice if it doesn't guess right the first time, but it's usually right. This is so fast it's unbelievable. Young kids can do it even without looking at the keyboard. Although I've never used a romaji equivalent like T9, I expect the experience is the same. If the software is not yet on a par with the Japanese FEPs, it's only a matter of time.


    Posted by: Mark on April 7, 2004 12:55 AM

    Great info about the P900 - thanks. Does anyone have any good ideas about how to get the P900 to talk to a Mac? iSync is fine (although not reliable) but how do I transfer files - eg music, software upgrades etc? And does anyone make a USB driver for the Mac to P900? I just changed over from a Nokia 9210. Loved the keyboard and miss it - any thoughts on the best bluetooth or IR keyboard for the P900?


    Posted by: David Mason on April 11, 2004 08:52 PM

    I have always been fond of buying latest gadgets that I know will enhance my productivity, etc.

    So, I can tell you, I held on to my boring but usable Kyocera 6035 for quite some time - since the replacements, from the Treo line to the Samsung etc. devices just did not give me all that I wanted. I was anxiously awaiting the Treo 600, and liked the size and style of it when it came out. (To me, even as a Graffitti {spelling} hater, the speed of text entry with that was much more effective than the mini-mini-very-cute-but-not-that-usable Treo keyboard).

    I was positive I would not want to stay with the worst carrier (and with the most false advertising, bait-and-switch, incidents) Sprint PCS (piece of cheap s&^% ?).

    Since Treos (being Palm based) work with Apple's robust and very well integrated iSync app, I was almost ready to go - though I hated it not having Bluetooth.

    Then, almost as I was buying the Treo 600, I became aware of the Sony-Ericsson P900. I studied it. And, I fell in love with it. I have one now (Thanks, Usman) and LOVE IT.

    The more I use it the more I love it. I signed on for the unlimited data plan and believe me I am sending lots of text, picture, AND video, messages, all without once feeling that I needed a keyboard. In a crunch, e.g. typing some special characters that I do not know the gestures for, I pop-up the soft-keyboard and that, plus the predictive capability, makes it the perfect combination).

    If you are looking for synch with Entourage, there are two or three other software packages available that do offer such synch.

    I have Entourage for a couple of years now, and except for it giving me hotmail access, I never got into it because Microshaft had decided not to let Entourage talk to its own Exchange servers so it was useless for me at work and I preferred Eudora - and now Apple Mail - MUCH more over Entourage. (I think Entourage now supports Exchange servers but by then I was already a heavy user of Mail, and MS' own webmail front end for Outlook/Exchange removed my need to have Entourage be my main mail program).

    Anyway, folks, I do not work for or have any business relationship with Sony-Ericsson (if anything, I hated Sony for pushing memory sticks instead of the much more standardized and commonly used SD cards) but IMHO the P900 is the best device I have ever owned in this class of devices and there is NOT ONE SINGLE existing or upcoming device at this time that I am lusting after to replace my P900 with. THAT is saying a lot.

    My synch with my 17" PowerBook is impeccable* - including AddressBook photos that also carry over to the P900 and display on the screen of the phone when you dial or receive a call from a person whose picture is in their contact card.

    (* I did notice that if your PIM on the Mac, e.g. I use DayLite, which synchs with AddressBook, which synchs with the P900, uses a tag like MAIN or DIRECT instead of WORK and HOME, those numbers do not go over to the P900.

    If I change the MAIN or OFFICE phone field name in the PIM to WORK, they are all in the P900. I willl check if there is a way to add custom fields like DIRECT, TOLL-FREE, MAIN, etc. in the P900's contacts so I can have 6-10 numbers for some contacts as I have them on the Mac).

    Also, once you have used Bluetooth (it is much less difficult to set up than I thought) you will love it. I can synch my P900 still in my pocket with my PowerBook. I love it.

    Hope this helps you.

    Imran

    PS I also was pleasantly surprised to see and download MSN Messenger, AOL IM, even a full text Arabic Holy Quran, some text books, a car racing game, Opera the browser, and a host of other stuff onto the P900 and still no sign of running out of space. Truly remarkable device.


    Posted by: Imran Anwar on April 22, 2004 07:36 AM

    Need some help-
    1,The camera keeps displaying "corrupt" everytime I try to use it and the technicians here have no idea and company support has not resp[onded even after 3 mails.
    2.Cant perform master reset-it seems to have a number which I have not sert so I am, struck !!!!

    Any advise.


    Posted by: Dr.Zac on May 4, 2004 05:50 AM

    Need some help-
    1,The camera keeps displaying "corrupt" everytime I try to use it and the technicians here have no idea and company support has not resp[onded even after 3 mails.
    2.Cant perform master reset-it seems to have a number which I have not sert so I am, struck !!!!

    Any advise.


    Posted by: Dr.Zac on May 4, 2004 05:51 AM

    Need some help- P 800
    1,The camera keeps displaying "corrupt" everytime I try to use it and the technicians here have no idea and company support has not resp[onded even after 3 mails.
    2.Cant perform master reset-it seems to have a number which I have not sert so I am, struck !!!!

    Any advise.


    Posted by: Dr.Zac on May 4, 2004 05:51 AM

    Need some help- P 800
    1,The camera keeps displaying "corrupt" everytime I try to use it and the technicians here have no idea and company support has not resp[onded even after 3 mails.
    2.Cant perform master reset-it seems to have a number which I have not sert so I am, struck !!!!

    Any advise.


    Posted by: Dr.Zac on May 4, 2004 05:51 AM

    Hi.
    I have the P900 and a Mac. I wonder how to sync properly via bluetooth. When I make a pairing, the mac doesn´t find P900 as an phone. I have to choose "Other" on items. Then the box for syncing with adressbook and calendars are not highligted (available). I have made it some times, but then I have removed all bluetooth-devices from both the Mac and P900. Then I`ve made the pairing from the P900. Anyone who knows what to do? (I`m using OSX version 10.2.8)

    One more question: I also have an SonyEricsson T-610. This one have no problems with the sync. I can even send SMS from the adressbook on the mac direct via bluetooth. Is this possible with P900?

    Trond


    Posted by: Trond Lien on May 7, 2004 09:01 AM

    Hi.
    I have the P900 and a Mac. I wonder how to sync properly via bluetooth. When I make a pairing, the mac doesn´t find P900 as an phone. I have to choose "Other" on items. Then the box for syncing with adressbook and calendars are not highligted (available). I have made it some times, but then I have removed all bluetooth-devices from both the Mac and P900. Then I`ve made the pairing from the P900. Anyone who knows what to do? (I`m using OSX version 10.2.8)

    One more question: I also have an SonyEricsson T-610. This one have no problems with the sync. I can even send SMS from the adressbook on the mac direct via bluetooth. Is this possible with P900?

    Trond


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