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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Sony Ericsson C902
Live photos of Sony Ericsson C902
No matter how you look at it, the Sony Ericsson C902 will always be compared to the Sony Ericsson K850i. Both are positioned as imaging-savvy solutions, and both come armed with 5 Mpix cameras. On the face of it, they don’t seem all that different, and the C902’s skinnier profile is entirely due to new technologies and hardware that don’t affect its image quality. That’s the train of thought of most consumers, basing on common sense. But nothing is further from the truth. Let’s run a quick question-answer game. For instance, does the presence of “Cyber Shot” mean the manufacturer’s ultimate goal is to elevate the image quality on its handsets? Obviously not. What they want to do is make it as comfortable as possible to take snaps, which is quite a difference. The same paradigm is ruling the market of compact cameras that are designed with the “point and shoot” principle in mind, with all modes that the user might need available via shortcut buttons. But, at the same time, having the same megapixel count as, say, a cheap reflex camera doesn’t automatically put some compact in line with professional cameras quality-wise. Nevertheless, the Average Joe feels better about digital compacts, since they are pretty straightforward, intuitive and take reasonably good shots without making the owner puzzle himself over settings. Furthermore, having swapped their compact cameras for more professional tools, many spend a lot of time before they start getting the hang of it and taking more or less acceptable pictures. Do they really need it? Is it worth the money and time? For perfectionists the answer is as clear-cut as it can only be, but on the other hand, most people don’t crave for better quality than that put up by digital compacts, all they need is ease of use. Basically, that’s the audience the C902 and the likes have been brought about for. This approach is nothing new – Sony Ericsson’s Walkman line-up has enjoyed it as well, where pretty mediocre sound performance gets outshined by one of the most user-friendly player interfaces and music-centric extra applications. Add a pinch of fashion to all this you will get a typical high-end offering from Sony Ericsson.
The Sony Ericsson C902 was devised as a mainstream solution, picking up the market where the Sony Ericsson T610, T630, K750, K800, and partly K850 left off. It may sound strange, since expect for the K850, all other phones on this list were “all-in-one” to a certain extent. But we are not mistaken – the thing is, Sony Ericsson’s ever-expanding portfolio has forced them to focus on one or two features at best with their offerings, while others take a backseat or aren’t highlighted in ads at all. Same goes for the C902 – they are touting its imaging department, although the rest of its feature pack is sought-after on the mass-market, all thanks to its A200 platform. Unfortunately, this approach limits the product’s audience big time; to get a better idea of what we mean here, think of how many T610 they managed to sell, or the wild success of the Sony Ericsson K750i, whereas their successors didn’t seem all that attractive against such a stellar background and didn’t sell in droves. The climax of this shift in Sony Ericsson’s vision of product positioning came along with the K850i, the vendor’s first 5 Mpix cameraphone that, however, got to the market later than Nokia’s offerings. When the K850i finally hit the market, Nokia instantly countered it with a similarly priced, yet more advanced Nokia N82. It turned out that Sony Ericsson outwitted themselves by putting too much focus on the K850i’s imaging department, whereas Nokia’s approach to the N82 was more interesting, since they presented it as an imaging-savvy phone armed with a Xenon flash, as well as GPS, WiFi and full-featured Web-browsing. More importantly, they also managed to draw some attention to the handset’s secondary features. The problem with the K850i’s positioning is that this device is perceived less as a phone and more as a portable camera, so that its other features get overlooked most of the time. The C902 stands on the verge of the same disaster, but whether it will follow in the footsteps of the K850 or not is yet to be decided. But I believe even if Sony Ericsson doesn’t do what’s necessary in the context of the phone’s ad campaign and PR, eventually consumers will figure out the C902’s extra abilities on their own. At a certain price point it will become a very fetching fashion-conscious solution with a decent spec sheet.
So, what are the C902’s classmates? Imaging aside, there are several fashion-centric solutions out there with resembling target audiences (rather than pricing) - Nokia 6500 Classic, Samsung U800 Soul, Sony Ericsson W890i. They all look to appeal to 25-35 year old men and women with higher-than-average income, plus they touch other consumer groups, both below and above the specified age bracket.
The phone comes in two flavors – black and red; although in both versions the front face is black and glossy, which are the attributes of a fingerprint-magnet, although in this case cheek and hand grease isn’t particularly discernible, thankfully you won’t have to dry it clean every five seconds.
The C902 measures 108x49x10.5 mm and weighs 107 grams, which makes it a fairly diminutive and palm-friendly device. Its build quality is supreme and we are also pleased with the materials it employs: its chassis is metallic, decked out with faux-metal plastic plates. However the battery compartment cover that takes up the entire underside of the C902 is metallic without plastic inserts – thanks to its tight fit the phone feels very robust and sturdily built.
We decided not to put the C902 through our crash-tests on purpose, but during several months of quality time with it, I had a chance to do a lot of things to it, and it still looks good as new. All in all, the C902’s build quality and durability are nothing to complain about, it’s as sturdy as the Sony Ericsson K800i actually.
The next question that bothers so many – whether the paint will peel off with time or not. We spent a couple of months in search of an answer and now can say with all due confidence that the C902 doesn’t lose its pristine conditions that easily. Although we have found several problem areas on it – for instance, the place where you hook up the battery cover and pull it out. In our unit, a smallish piece of the coating came off there, revealing that the top layer of paint is actually quite thick. Thankfully, this crack hasn’t expanded any further. Secondly, the C902’s silverish paint peels off on the left, around the camera opening mechanism; but, again, it’s nothing to worry about – actually you might never notice these dots where the casing’s base color shines through the top silver layer of paint.
On balance, there are two problem zones that don’t affect the C902’s looks in any way. So don’t worry about the handset’s coating quality – it’s extremely hard to damage its finish over a short period of time, no matter what kind of hardcore user you are. After several years of life in your pocket along with keys, music player and whatnot – maybe, but that's a different story altogether. While we can’t call the C902 a bulletproof phone, it’s pretty close; in fact, it’s one of the most durable offerings in Sony Ericsson’s line-up these days.
Since we are talking about defects, I can’t keep mum on the phone’s navigation button, to be really specific, about the OK button in it. From 10 cm away you will never be able to tell what’s wrong with it. But a closer inspection will reveal a nearly perfect circle that appears to be a LED indicator or something, but it’s not – the truth is, what you see is scuffed plastic, and the shape is due to this button’s bulgy design. Frankly, we have no quarrel with it and neither should you, you might even think that it’s a nice visual touch, since this abrasion blends with the key very well.
Perched on the left is the interface connector, while on the right there are camera shortcut button and volume rocker, which protrude from the casing and therefore are a cinch to click. Sitting above the screen is the ambient light sensor that handles both the keypad’s backlight and display’s brightness; further on the right is the forward-facing camera for videoconferencing. Around back is the loudspeaker’s grill, next to the metallic strip is a bright-blue indicator, however, on the face of it, the camera lens is nowhere to be found. The fact is, the C902 utilizes a unique design, with the camera hidden inside the chassis, meaning that you will need to pull the top portion of the casing up to unveil it. You better use both hands for this, holding the handset sideways. When fully open the C902 grows nearly one centimeter taller; the unearthed area on the back contains the camera lens, LED flash and a self-portrait mirror. One of the positives about this setup is that the camera lens isn’t exposed to wear and tear; but on the downside, the runners of the mechanism and the corners over these pick up dust and dirt with easy, so you will have to clean the C902 sometimes anyway.
The opening mechanism is pretty straightforward – the top portion of the phone flicks open with ease, plus there are no springs, which would look out of place here. You can see that the plastic has somewhat worn off in the middle and there is a quite deep scratch on top of that. But since you won’t see it, except for when taking snaps, I can’t see how one could call it a serious letdown of the C902. Just think of it, what’s more important to you when you are about to take a picture of something – some scratch that’s hidden inside the phone most of the time, or the image on the screen. With that said, there is nothing wrong with these scuffs and we definitely can’t fault the C902 for it.
There is no lanyard eyelet in the C902, but you can anchor it around one of pins on the battery cover (it’s okay, the cover won’t fall off the phone).
The C902 utilizes a 240x320 pixel TFT display (2 inches from corner to corner) that shows up to 262 K colors. Indoors the picture looks smooth, bright and crisp. In fact, as far as color reproduction goes, this is one of the market’s finest units. The C902’s screen can accommodate up to 9 text and 4 service lines with some modes allowing for even more information. It does well in the sun, but it gets somewhat washed out.
The bundled motion sensor allows the C902 to rotate the screen automatically, be it in the web-browser or image gallery.
The C902’s numeric keypad enjoys a staggered setup, similar to that used on some previous phones from Sony Ericsson. All in all, it offers conventional ergonomics, although the buttons are on the stiff side, which is certainly a letdown. While the keys are not terrible, we can’t say they are comfortable to text with – something in between, that’d be the right definition. The navigation key is pretty easy to use and will suit most users.
The keypad’s backlight is adjusted by the bundled ambient light sensor. All keys are lit in reasonably dim white.
The C902 makes use of a 930 mAh Li-Pol battery (BST-38). As the manufacturer claims, it can keep the handset up and running up to 400 hours in standby and provide up to 9 hours of talk time.
In Moscow the C902 lasted around 2,5-3 days with average use – up to one hour of calls, around 30 minutes of games, 20 minutes of browsing, and several hours of music. In Europe its battery performance will get at least 1,5 times better all thanks to superior coverage. We squeezed around 17.5 hours of music out of the C902. It takes the Sony Ericsson C902 around 2 hours to charge from empty to full (1.5 hours to charge up to 80 percent).
The C902 comes with around 160 Mb of user-manageable memory, and you can always hot swap them. The top size of your memory card that this phone can handle is 4 Gb (when more capable cards come along, it will deal with them as well).
The handset utilizes a 5 Mpix CMOS camera module from Samsung, which exactly the same as the one employed by the Samsung U900 – the only thing that differentiates them is image processing, apparently every company has own algorithms for that. The matrix embedded in the C902 is not the most expensive unit around; effectively it was picked because of its diminutiveness, which was just the thing they needed in the C902.
In order to settle all disputes on whether the C902’s and K850i’s cameras are different or not, let me put them face to face right in this review. While images taken in poor lighting conditions look pretty much the same (check shot picturing a poster – details, quality and colors of the C902 are in line with the K850). However, as you move to the streets or well-illuminated environments, the difference grows stronger – generally, the C902 offers fewer details, more blur and less brightness, compared to the K850i. Nevertheless, at a glance these differences may seem marginal and insignificant, but as we said at the beginning of this article, many will simply overlook them (although most 5 Mpix cameras on the market are set apart by tiny and seemingly non-existent bits and pieces).
All images look gorgeous on the C902’s display, but much of the credit goes to the display itself, as once you move to PC, they won’t look as good. By the way, here is a small hint you might like – the upcoming solutions might use the same software, but different hardware for the imaging department, which will result in different level of quality.
So, after springing the camera module open, the C902 instantly calls up the camera application, switches the display to landscape and lights up 8 blue touch-sensitive shortcut buttons around the screen, allowing for one-touch access to all major settings and options, which makes the C902 a whole lot more user-friendly and easier to use. When recording videos or viewing images, not all shortcuts are illuminated, since some of them aren’t required in these modes.
The C902 supports four resolution settings:
Also there are two image quality levels – Normal and Fine, the difference between which translates into file size, and that’s about it. There are four shooting modes available with the C902 – normal, BestPic (two speeds – slow and normal; allows taking a series of images and picking the best ones), Panorama (three portions of one panorama are stitched together automatically), Frames (almost two dozens of these, but the C902 will scale down the image resolution).
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There are also six scenes in the C902: Twilight Landscape, Landscape, Portrait, Beach/Snow, Sports, Document, as well as Auto. Focus settings: auto, macro, infinite, Face Detection. The latter feature has been all the rage recently, since it works quite well and allows the phone to focus right on a person’s face. Although be careful when taking group photos, because this gimmick may well fail to capture any face in this case.
There is no way to adjust the LED flash other than disable it. Probably the latter option is better, since it won’t be of any real use most of the time, and it can’t compare to the K850i’s Xenon flash (although it performs better durings closeups and when shooting objects).
The C902 also offers a self-timer, two metering modes (spot and normal), brightness settings (-2 to +2, adjust it by pressing the navigation key), white balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent) and several overlays (Black&White, Negative, Sepia, Solarize). On top of all that you can enable geo-tagging in the settings, and then use “Show on Map” option to view the place you took some picture at on bundled Google Maps. For lack of an embedded GPS-module, your current location is tracked via cellular stations. The last thing of note about the C902’s is an inbuilt image stabilizer and Fix Photo mode that allows increasing image sharpness in one touch right after taking a picture. Basically, this is what any graphics editor can do, beefing up colors and making the picture juicier overall, although in return it smears away some details.
Below are some sample images taken with the C902’s built-in camera – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that they aren’t marvels in terms of quality.
We’ll also put it up against the finest mass-market solution out there – the Nokia N82, and I suppose there is not much left to say.
Video may be recorded in the 320x240 pixel resolution at 30 FPS (mpeh4). Clip duration may be limited (up to 10 seconds) or unlimited. Clips are pretty average quality-wise, and as always, we’d like to have VGA resolution for videos.
On USB-connection you are forced to pick connection type – specifically whether you will be accessing data stored on the memory card to just keep managing the phone or activate Print mode. Also there is Media Transfer (MTP mode for accessing, say, Windows Media Player). For the first mode we mentioned above the handset goes off and you gain access to the contents of both the memory card and the phone internal memory. Despite the maker claiming it to be USB 2.0, data transfer speed doesn’t exceed 500 Kb/s. If you just want your C902 to turn into a modem, then pick the second option, when you will have a chance to play around with various USB settings for going online.
The handset comes with EDR-enabled Bluetooth 2.0, the menu enables you to turn on enhanced power saving mode. There is also A2DP support, which allows employing wireless headsets with the C902. Its data transfer speed tops out at 100 Kb/s. The list of supported profiles:
The C902 puts up typical numbers for the company’s latest generation of devices and is ahead of most models available on the market. There are no limits on JAR-file size, HEAP size – from 512 Kb to 1.5 Mb.
We won’t review the C902’s standard feature pack, for it comprises all the goodies of the A200, which were given an in-depth close-up in a dedicated article. So here we will be focusing on the phone’s unique abilities and features.
Unlike first A200-powered handsets, the C902 fully enjoys various animations that kick in when some window pops up etc. While it is nothing out of the ordinary, it adds a lot of points to the phone’s visual appeal. All in all, another nice feat going for the C902.
The phone comes preinstalled with 5 different themes, all of them involving flash animation to some extent. There are several menu layouts available: grid, rotating, single icon.
The C902 comes preinstalled with two games: Need for speed. FotoQuestFishing.
There is only one application found in the C902: FaceWarp for twiddling with people’s faces.
As far as multimedia feats are concerned, the C902 is a standard A200 fare – read more about it here.
Apart from the player, the C902 also packs in FM-radio.
Our C902 unit was loud enough be hear in most, even call-unfriendly environmnets. The reception quality of the C902 was quite good – we got strong signal levels in most places and didn’t notice any significant differences from other contemporary solutions. Also going for the C902 is its superb build quality. The C902 is a direct rival to the Samsung U800 Soul – in fact these two have a whole lot in common, that is: build quality, metallic accents on the back, relatively small yet decent display, pretty much basic functionality. However the Samsung’s offering packs in a 3 Mpix camera, takes away some value from it. Interestingly, these two phones are reactions of Sony Ericsson and Samsung respectively to the Nokia 6500 Classic’s great sales, although the latter doesn’t have metallic accents or tons of memory onboard and some other smarts and feats. But it got to the market much earlier than either of these two phones. It’s quite another matter, though, that the update of the 6500 Classic will arrive much later than the Samsung U800 and Sony Ericsson C902, so they won’t clash directly in view of price gaps that won’t get smaller over time.
The C902 will retail for around 370 Euro, which is a somewhat common price tag for a fashion-conscious phone that has just started shipping – the Nokia 6500 Classic’s sales kicked off at a similar price point. Don’t view the C902 as an imaging-centric solution, though, since it ends up behind the Sony Ericsson K850i, Nokia N82 and some other phones, let alone the Motorola ZN5 that will be second to none this way. It’s a phone, whose major trump is fashion and it leverages it well enough, adding decent build quality, robust functionality of A200 with a couple of neat touches and good battery time to the mix. The C902 will make a great buzzer with somewhat advanced features and mid-tier camera. In a certain sense it’s similar to the C702 that’s more of a ruggedized phone, rather than a cameraphone. On balance, the Sony Ericsson C902 is a likable product that won’t be overly popular, but will generate a fair amount of sales after a scheduled price cut in October.
Published 23 June 2008
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