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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Sony Ericsson K850i
You will know the interface at once, for it is similar to other Sony Ericsson models. The main menu pops up before you as a grid consisting of 12 icons. Shortcut number navigation is on the K850i’s spec sheet as well – you can bind shortcuts to most menu items, that the handset comes pre-installed with, as well as own applications and files. That’s a big leap forward since platform A100.
Another change is represented by three soft-keys, which can’t be reassigned in standby mode, just like in Nokia’s phones. In most menus the third key stands for the most typical action, but doesn’t speed the things up, really.
Text input has remained on the same comfort level, so, pressing the "#" key brings out a list of the available languages and you can easily switch between them while typing.
Apart from traditional vertically arranged sub-menus, the maker has provided subject-based horizontal tabs. It means that while viewing a list of the dialed numbers, one can see not only the dialed numbers but in the same time (by leaning the joystick horizontally) switch between missed and received call tabs. In the phone menu this kind of navigation is provided anywhere it's possible and it makes for much better usage experience. The menu ergonomics is quite high in this phone. I also have to note that such horizontal tabs appear in Phonebook, Settings and other menu items as well.
Activity Menu is standard Sony Ericsson fare. The first three tabs display various events, like missed calls, memos, messages – actually all this can be found in the first tab. One can disable Activity Menu for these events as well – in this case pop up windows, reminding of a certain event type will appear on the screen. The third tab features the shortcuts, which you should set up yourself. And the added fourth one contains links to the most frequently used applications and resources – and the top of this list is claimed by Google search.
The second tab is the most interesting, since it appears to be some kind of a task manager, featuring the list of all currently running applications. User is able to have up to eight Java-applications launched (in fact there are no definite caps) simultaneously and switch between them. This may come in handy, in case you use an ICQ-esque mobile client, which should be constantly online, and at the same time want to play a Java-game. Up to now counterparts to this solution by other manufacturers haven't been announced.
The device fully supports flash-wallpapers and themes, but of all five pre-installed themes, none is offbeat, they only affect color scheme and menu frame, rather than its layout or design. It seems this has become a rule for the K-series, the most eye-grabbing menu modifications are getting to be the property of the Walkman range.
Among all other things, the company is planning to introduce animation into the menu in the near team, in other words, the same thing S60 3d Edition FP2 brings to the table. Whether this will apply to already existing models or the update will be enabled only on new offerings – still unknown. The Sony Ericsson K850i has these “Easter eggs” in a number of sub-menus and settings menus, I won’t reveal their exact locations though to keep you thrilled.
One of the major novelties coming along with the A200 is the Media section, which is some sort of a gallery comprising different types of multimedia content. Whereas Nokia-branded phones originally had this content thrown into the Gallery, Sony Ericsson was classifying it, but now it is a thing of the past. Undoubtedly, you still can browse separate folders from the file manager, but the maker assumes that Media is the best way for viewing and categorizing multimedia contents.
This item’s menu is in keeping with the Sony PSP trademark style – the same color, similarly designed icons, which look different from those found in the rest of the menus. As I see, such approach is legitimate only when the maker wants to underscore some solution’s novelty and get consumers interested. Otherwise, applying different style to particular menus is just worthless. Actually, the resemblance between Sony Ericsson- and Nokia-branded solutions is now so striking, while cross-adoption has become so obvious, that it can make people start wondering. With its S60 Nokia has also come up with a stand-alone section sporting unique design for accessing all core features (available only in the Nokia N95 these days). And now Sony Ericsson makes its move, focusing on multimedia features alone.
This section provides access to:
For the time being, the section’s design doesn’t change throughout the range, as well as the number of items in the main menu. In the settings you can choose between album or portrait display layout, however all motion sensor-armed devices can enjoy auto display rotation feature. Long story short, you turn the phone and, after a small delay, the picture rotates as well. But in my opinion it won’t be of any real use. Most owners of the Sony Ericsson K850i will go for the album orientation without bothering themselves about this rotation feature. The reason is simple – to prevent the display from swapping layouts by an accident, the market has created a certain lag, so it takes the picture about 1-2 seconds to change. As a result, not always you can get the phone to rotate the image, since the casing should be half-tilted when being turned. Generally, all sensors like this suffer from the same misstep – in the K850i or in the iPhone, doesn’t make any difference. But what is good about the Sony Ericsson’s solution, is that you can disable the sensor once and for all.
Let’s take a closer look at every section; thankfully there is much to talk about. So, the first item we delve into is Photos.
Photo. Having opened this section, you will see another menu containing such items as Latest photo, Camera Album, Favorites, Images and Podcasts. The latter might seem out of line here, since podcasts normally feature audio information. But this is the first place where we come across the organization of Media – it is tailored to folder structure and file tags. That is, if you have a folder for podcasts in the camera section, then you feel comfortable this way, so this item will pop in the menu as well. It is quite convenient, in a way – thankfully, the Podcasts folder is also found in the handset’s music section. By arranging own folders you can shape the second-level menu in Media, but there is a significant limitation to it – the K850i identifies only known names and file types with tags, meaning that an empty folder or a directory with some unrecognizable contents in the camera section won’t be displayed in the general list.
Now, date is getting to be the centerpiece in data sorting. Camera Album item features a vertically arranged list with a thumbnail for the current month’s first photo. This menu sorts snaps by month, different years are separated from each other. Basically, this is a pretty convenient way to browse the menu, which has every reason to exist. Getting thumbnails onto the display takes some time, especially if you have all your data stored on the memory card and the number of files is way above a thousand. But time here is not that crucial, as the K850i saves full-size shots, rather than makes their shrunk variants, like the iPhone does (which trims snaps when transferring them from PC).
A new feature introduced in the K850i is the ability to create tags for photos – by pushing the navi-key down you can add any shots to Favorites, and while it will become available in that category, physically it remains in the same folder. When you delete photos permanently, those of them featured in Favorites will also disappear, beware of that.
The simplest way to mark some snaps as Favorites, you just press the button down. But in case you want to tack text onto it, then you can take advantage of such option in the menu, add own comment and pick one of the 15 icons. This categorization option is pretty straightforward and allows bypassing the K850i’s date-based sorting.
Those who can’t take this type of menu organization, still can make use of the good old file manager, which enables you to browse contents of any folder, including the one with snaps, nothing new there, though.
While navigating through the photo gallery, it takes the K850i some time to make snaps crisp. But it is okay, since it is not a rare occasion when photos are heftier than 1 Mb.
Listing the new features, we can’t overlook X-Pict Story, which is a sort of slide-show. You pick one of the four moods, plus there is sound-disabled mode. So, depending on the selected mood you get unique effects and music accompanying the slide-show. Unlike the Nokia N95, where there is no way to alter music, delay between slides or effects. Most people who got a chance to play around with this mode in the K850i came out satisfied. Generally, Multimedia Viewers and the likes are no longer required – the handset easily does their job on its own.
Music. There was a lot of noise around this aspect – whether it is fine to deem the player found in Media Walkman 3.0, or it is a downgraded edition. Perhaps, both camps have the truth on their sides. Starting with A200 platform, the way the music player is treated has changed substantially, so now we are back to the Sony Ericsson K750i/W800i. The core player functionality built into the Media section won’t differ throughout the portfolio; however the Walkman series will have some extra goods onboard. As of today, it is not so evident, as we have seen very few A200-powered handsets so far. But let’s take a look at the Sony Ericsson Z750i/K850i/W910i. With the vast majority of options comparable (for example MegaBass is available on all three), the music-minded W910i sports SensMe feature on top of all that, which is missing on the other two handsets. Pretty much the same thing will keep happening in future as well.
Speaking of the most crucial differences from Walkman 2.0, we need to highlight DRM 2.0 and MTP support, which removes all obstacles on the way of direct music transfers from Windows Media Player.
The K850i locates all files and directories on the memory card and obtains necessary info from ID3-tags. Supported audio formats - MP3, AAC, AAC+, E-AAC+, WAV, WMA and m4a. No bitrate limitations for MP3-files, also, you can upload VBR tracks. However the maker himself recommends using tracks at 192 Kbit/s.
The music library stores all your tracks classified by:
Artist – the list of artists in alphabetical order, fast search by name is available;
Albums – sorting by album name, search is also enabled;
All tracks – general list of all tracks, sorted by track title, or file name, if no ID3-tag is available;
Genre – sorting by music style, for example Hip Hop, Jazz, Blues and so on;
My Playlists – user-created playlists, that can be composed either on the device itself or via PC, when browsing memory card contents in USB Mass Storage mode; the K850i identifies them upon library update as well.
Unlike the second version are transitions are horizontal, yet styled in a different way. But this doesn’t deliver any hardships. Basically, any item is only a few touches away, first letter search is enabled in every list.
Both shuffle and repeat (one track or all) modes are available, as well as progressive fast forward, which increases the pitch when you tap and hold the button. The standard, basic edition of the player, doesn’t allow you to go for visualization, meaning that your only option is album art.
Russian encodings and tags are still a weakness of the player, so Unicode is the way to go.
If you have music playing in standby mode, then bringing up the Media section will automatically get you to the player. This is a sort of replacement for the music key for some devices, including the Sony Ericsson K850i.
The sonic experience delivered by the K850i hasn’t changed for better or worse, being in line with the previous models. The five-band equalizer can be tuned manually; stereo widening option is also available.
Video. This app in the K850i is almost no different from the previous versions – progressive fast forward is still at your disposal, as well as full-screen mode, and snapshots. The new amenities, though, include slow-motion playback, when video is played frame-by-frame.
Brief conclusion on the Media section. The philosophy of this section has been adopted from players – it is similarly bent on info obtained from files, has auto sorting by date or tags. With a standard file manager onboard, this is a good option, giving the user some choice. If you can’t live without plain lists, then the file manager is the only way to go; but if you feel like turning to Media, then it is at your disposal. It is a nice update in terms of looks, but functionality-wise it is not a breakthrough by any means.
The K850i can have up to 5000 entries with all fields filled in, and the cap for the number of phone numbers makes 35000. Previously, the A100 had 1000 entries and 2500 phone numbers. Such substantial expansion of the phonebook has much to do with some complaints from people claiming that the capacity of 1000 entries was insufficient, so they couldn’t squeeze all their contacts into the phone. I suppose, this is a really small group of individuals, as I can’t think of any person I know with 3000 contacts on the list. Also, the fields for phone numbers have been expanded with Mobile Private and Mobile Work, which means that now there are three blanks reserved for mobile phone numbers. Regrettably, you still can’t alter number type for the available fields, but the manufacturer might implement this ability in future editions.
Like we mentioned above, several phone numbers (up to 7) can be submitted for one contact, as well as address, email, IM number, other contact information. In settings you can select the required fields, they will be available, meanwhile the useless ones will not be presented. Contacts can be sorted by fields, including name and surname, but only one input field. Unlike previous models, this time we have dynamics on - handset automatically sorts the list after changes.
It is possible to assign custom ring tone and photo to each contact. On incoming call the image and ring ton or a video clip e will be used. Date of birth field can be synchronized with Organizer, and you will have a chance to specify how many days prior to the event the handset should warn you.
When typing in information, you can scroll between tabs, in the first one you enter phone numbers, categorize them by types. On the whole the organization of this process reminds of Outlook, and it means comfort in the first place. Voice tags can be added for required phone numbers, names, there can be up to 40 of them. Voice dialing remained the way it was many months ago, it starts looking archaic with all these voice independent recognition software being implemented by the competitors.
The company still follows its traditional beliefs that SIM-card is used only in case of emergency, that’s why the only way to see its contents is to go into special option in the menu. SIM contacts are not displayed in the general list.
You can create a back-up copy of all entries in phonebook, which will be stored on the memory card, so that you will have the ability to restore them afterwards.
Contact Groups serve only for mass SMS sending, since it is impossible to bind custom ringtone or photo for Group.
Any video clip may be used as Caller ID for a contact in your phonebook.
All tools used for managing messages are standard, there are some templates available and you can come up with some more of your own. Phone’s memory together with SIM-card is used for storing messages. Chat function is supported. On the whole everything is just like in any other phone from this company.
Now there are message categories, which can be manually applied to every message. Then you can sort message in the general list by category. There six of them coming preinstalled with the K850i - Business, Favourites, Follow Up, Fun, Holiday, Important. If you find that these are still not enough, you can come up with own classes. Generally, these categories will be useful to people who usually store messages on the memory card.
A special message manager allows tossing messages from folders onto the memory card, or vice versa. Moreover, you can pick storage place manually, which is a nice improvement.
The MMS implementation is as always great, you can literally create video clips, there are lots of settings and this is one of those things that give SE’s product a cutting edge over competitors.
E-Mail client can send and receive e-mails, all sorts of encodings are supported. Emails can be stored on memory card. There is a separate manager to assist you in moving letters from the folders in the handset’s memory onto the memory card. Previous devices running on the A100 didn’t feature this ability.
In email settings you can setup separate password for SMTP-accounts, this is very convenient. The settings are flexible, support for almost all encodings, and not only Unicode has been added. Attachments that are supported by the phone are presented as icons in an email’s body. The phone doesn’t recognize office files or PDF, but they can be stored in any directory. The limit for outgoing/incoming email size is set by operator. Emails with 6-7 Mb attachments can be sent without any hassles. The phone supports Push Mail standard. Naturally send & receive process is carried out in background mode.
RSS Feed. The settings for this item are really simple - you just specify the title for feed and its address. The phone will connect and download it without your assistance. You can update only one item, or the whole feed at once. Capabilities of built-in browser are used for displaying the feeds. Feeds may be updated on schedule.
You can enable standby ticker option, displaying headlines of selected feeds. Also you can setup the application to keep all external links and attachments.
Up to 30 records can be stored in the general list, all with date and time. Icon that stands for call type (missed/received/dialed) is shown next to each entry. Besides this additional icon identifies if this phone number is present in the phone book or SIM-card. The list of missed calls can be viewed separately and stores up to 10 entries. In this menu you can also see the cost and length of all outgoing calls and last call. Navigating through the lists works with the help of tabs and this does save much time.
MusicDJ is rather interesting, even though it is a niche solution and there is not much of a chance that this feature will be highly demanded. In the editor you can create ring tones and edit up to four bands.
Advanced version of MusicDJ is called VideoDJ, it allows editing not only music files, but also adding images and signs. The resulting file is recorded in .3GP file which can be sent by MMS or Email, or just transferred to another phone.
PhotoDJ editor helps in doing away with red-eye effect, adjusting brightness, contract, sharpness or applying a special effect.
Remote control – ability to control other devices via the phone’s Bluetooth connectivity. It is standard for all phones made by Sony Ericsson.
The sound can be recorded by Sound Recorder - it allows making clips that can be later used as ring tones. Phone calls can be recorded too, this is done from the context menu, no time limits are set for the Sound Recorder.
TrackID. This handset has TrackID service, that helps you find out song title when listening to it on radio or recording it via microphone. Usually it takes around 3-4 seconds for length, later on file gets transferred to server GraceNote, where it interacts with huge data base. Unlike other models in K850i you can not only get track title, but also buy this song. The service is interesting due to instant and impulse-driven ability of buying the song you were looking for. It’s hard to say something else about this service.
Games – Marble Madness (uses the inbuilt motion sensor) and Tennis.
The K850i comes included with three applications: Face Wrap (twist, bend, reshape etc. faces of your friends), Photo Mate (helps you to master the camera). The last application on the list is HP Print that enables you to print out snaps or other information on HP-branded printers directly from the handset.
The K850i can store up to 20 FM stations in its memory, auto tuning, as well as RDS are available. The quality of this radio module is no different from other Sony Ericsson offerings – on balance, it is quite good.
Organizer keeps a lot of functions underneath. Let’s get Calendar out of the way first. There are three view modes embedded in the K850i’s calendar: weekly, monthly and daily. The last option displays the list of all events and memos, in two others you will see highlighted time or day. You can switch to required day and year, or month. So everything is pretty simple, just as the schedule input is. You get the ability to name the event, define the place where it will take place, set length and setup the reminder (before or right at the start of the event). Recurrent events support is also onboard. Types of reoccurrence: daily, monthly, yearly. Reminders work even if the phone is turned off as well, unless you disable this function.
To do list in this phone is quite ascetic. There are only two types of events: phone call and reminder. On the other hand, this is really enough, simplicity has its own advantages.
The phone has full-fledged search, set up for calendar: you specify the search line (word or part of it) and after a while you will see all events that match this criteria. The function is quite speedy even if the organizer has more than 100 entries; fast switch to the event from the search window is supported.
Notes. The phone supports notes entry, though they are limited in length. The name of the note you see on the list will be first word entered. This is not always convenient since you will have to think of the first word that would tell you what the note is all about.
Alarm Clock. Now you have access to five alarm clocks, and each of them can be set up manually. They can work in definite week days. Besides the ring tone for alarm clock you can select small note and picture, they will be displayed when alarm clock goes on. Any music file can be assigned as the alarm tone.
Stopwatch/Countdown. Here everything is quite standard, although the same can be said of the stopwatch that has intermediate times function. The phone has special application for storing secret codes, which was a huge success in previous models, well, standard calculator is onboard too.
Code memo – store all your passwords in one place and the lock them with a special password.
Video call – apparently, it is for video calls within 3G networks, which use the forward-facing camera.
Synchronization – apart from already long in the tooth SyncML synchronization option, the K850i also supports Exchange ActiveSync. All you need to do is enter server address, account settings and pick the applications you want to synchronize (mail, calendar, contacts). Also, you can adjust mail settings, so as to limit the maximum size, enable/disable upload of attachments and set date range. Push mode can be enabled. Unfortunately, the device doesn’t support any type of folder structure and can’t solve any conflict situations. For example, when you already have a message from someone, and the server has just the same letter, well, you will end up with two letters. The same holds true for contacts as well.
The browser owns a separate menu item, the version is 2.0 (wap 2.0, the browser itself is NetFront 4.3), it supports secured connections which is quite important in case you are using electronic transactions. New wallpapers, themes and ring tones can be downloaded right away – all this is available at the original web-site.
Standard browser for Sony Ericsson phones is NetFront, which supports one-column web pages display and HTML. One of the best things about it, is the ability to create folders with files and bookmarks. The browser is considered to be one of the market’s best offerings, but limited phone resources do it no favors. On the whole those using Internet constantly should consider buying PDA or laptop, since full-fledged Internet access is not an ultimate must-have for this device type. At the same time RSS Feeds support is great, it allows using the phone for reading news, announcements and articles on the go in a convenient fashion.
The K850i’s support for flash is limited to its browser alone, and any swf-clip will start up in the browser’s window, which is not always a good thing. The numeric keys do nothing in this mode, so games will be pretty much useless. I would rather call this type of support for flash “partial”, not to say “substantially shrunk and meaningless”.
HTML pages that contain advanced formatting or exceed 500kb in their size will not be displayed. On the whole standard browser is all fine, but usage of Opera Mini is preferable, since it has got way more to offer.
This menu stores all settings related to the phone’s operation. In the stand by mode clock can be displayed at the bottom (on or off), you an also alter the font size, in case you select big letters it will be easy to see what time it is, but the font itself becomes a tad transparent.
The new settings include the ability to assign own video or image for the start up screen. The handset supports local data connections, meaning that while linked up with PC you will be able to use the network established there to upload data onto the phone.
The user has 40-50 MB of available memory at his disposal, add empty memory card to that too. Here all data (photos, videos, applications) can be stored. The remaining memory is occupied by preinstalled applications, which cannot be wiped. Part of memory is dedicated to phonebook, call lists, etc.
The phone has a basic file manager, with its help files can be sorted by various folders, custom directories can be created in phone’s memory, files can be moved there as well. With or without cable the phone can become a perfect storage, there are no problems with recording your own files, even if they cannot be opened by the phone. Traditional file sorting includes the following options: date, type and size.
Another feature than can be disabled – if you start punching in a number while at the standby screen, the handset will offer you a list of matching entries both from the phonebook and the call list. Moreover, the K850i searches not only names, but also letters, which makes for so much easier phonebook management. After a month of the quality time with it, I really start to miss this feature. As of today, only Samsung offers identical search application.
We are not going to go through all difference and rather focus on the main points:
The loudspeaker is average volume-wise and has a great deal of basses in its sounding, but sometimes it just can’t make it through the sound of a busy street. The silent alert is of moderate power or even slightly higher than this, but even this admission isn’t an excuse for the cases when it proves too weak to be felt. The reception part is in line with other products by the company – in other words, it’s very fine.
The volume level of the K850i has much to do with the space between the speaker and your pocket or table – if there is some, it will sound as loud as the Sony Ericsson K790i/K800i. But if there isn’t, you will run into the issue of barely audible sound – the loudspeaker aperture can be easily covered, so the sound just won’t come out. Perhaps this is one of the most vital shortcomings of the handset.
With this model the company breaks away from the consistent product development line and makes a big step in another direction – towards the mass market. Judge for yourself – three soft-keys, Media menu, revamped camera interface. In a word, it is still Sony Ericsson and the phone oozes all its trademark cues, but there is quite a bunch of new stuff in it. Is it a good thing? Frankly, I couldn’t think of an answer even for myself. Time passes by, products keep developing and eventually shapechange. The guideline they have picked over at Sony Ericsson is obviously aimed at getting close to Nokia functionality-wise. However, either camp sports certain features that are implemented better – I kept having this deja vu feeling sometimes during my quality time with the K850i.
The K850i starts shipping early in October for about 450 Euro. Is this a justified price tag? Well, for a flagship it is quite adequate. Nevertheless, the Nokia N95, jam-packed with features (GPS, stereo-speakers, nearly identical camera, better video recording abilities, etc), today retails for 550-650 Euro. By October it is price tag may lose in weight to make 500-600 Euro, and then it will be a really close decision. Undoubtedly, Sony Ericsson’s flagship will garner interest and will be sought after and so on. But, it is not a revolution, like the previous models in the range, it simply evolves from the predecessors, and while it is still a cutting edge device, it doesn’t break significant new ground. Too exhausted many rivals have become, so that the market now has three sustainable players - Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson. Motorola has decent solutions, but due to the confusion inside the company, they will be hopelessly late to the market.
The company’s handsets in 2007-2008 will build upon the solutions found in the K850i. The fact of the matter is that the update for this model is almost ready to go – this device comes armed with an inbuilt GPS-receiver, sports different design as well as certain software-related modifications. Will it be worth looking at? Definitely. Probably, the reason behind such restrained treatment of this model is that previously, Sony Ericsson’s portfolio was much smaller. But these days the company is trying to differentiate its offerings by target segments and positioning, so now there is something to choose from.
In any event, this device provokes mixed feelings, you have to take it in hands and play around with it for some time. And only after that you can decide whether it suits you or not.
P.S. One of the hints that the company is heading towards services, just like our makers, is the browser’s Scoopt option. You can compose video clips or make photos of events that can get mass media curious and then sell them. Many will find this ability very fetching. But for now, we are going to wind up the story and proceed with the discussion of Sony Ericsson’s impending models, as well as the future of A200 platform, in the VIP Lounge of our forum.
Published 01 August 2007
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