Sony Ericsson K800i and Noreve Case

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The Sony K800i was released to mobile providers a few months ago and I was one of the first to receive one of these handsets having been so disappointed by the M600i that I previously ordered then subsequently returned to Vodafone.

Having used and put the K800i through its paces over the past few months, I’m now ready to tell you all whether you should be looking for this handset this Christmas.

Ergonomics/Style/Design
In terms of its dimensions, this handset is no bigger than a lot of the current handsets out on the market. It’s small and light enough for it to comfortably fit in your pocket with dimensions of approx. 10cm x 4cm x 2cm. Whilst it’s certainly no RAZR from the likes of Motorola, it is a vast improvement on 3G handsets of the past.

The front speaker has a nicely designed grille with a built in camera for making those all important 3G video calls. To the left and right are two soft shortcut keys which more often than not aren’t used for anything other than for camera functionality. Pressing any of these two buttons on the home screen will load up the catalogue of videos and images that you’ve stored previously.

A nice clear 2-inch display can be found dominating the majority of the front fascia and works well for displaying your snaps and videos as well as for outdoor viewing. Testament to the build quality from Sony Ericsson is that the screen, unlike many handsets I’ve tried and used in the past, does not build up with dust and dirt over time. This has always been a major gripe since you could always see the dust during certain daylight conditions even with the backlight on. I’m relieved to report that the K800i has not experienced this problem.

The keypad layout is simple and useable. Rubber buttons with a firm response and of decent size will ensure text-happy-crazy people will be satisfied. Above the keypad is the joystick. With much debate on the web as to whether these are such a good idea on a phone, I have to admit I have got used to using these rather than a D pad. However as you read on in the Issues section of this review, the joystick does not fail to fulfill its reputation. Certain problems have recently arisen, read on to find out more.

The camera at the back of the handset adds on this sort of hump to the phone. At first I wasn’t too sure, but later on I found that the camera lens would keep sliding down when it’s in my pocket and even if your handset keys are locked, the camera will still activate.

Overall, the K800i has a modern, stylish and quality look and finish to it. The only let down for me was the lens protector at the back which added a big hump and a sliding mechanism that was too lose for my liking. My suggestion would be to do away with the sliding mechanism, leave the lens exposed like 99% of the other handsets on the market, reduce the hump and make the overall handset a little bit slimmer and you’ve got yourself an unbeatable combination.

Camera

If you saw the back of this thing you’ll think Sony Cybershot straight away. The slide down lens cap protects and hides the lens from view when not in use and carries that all important Cybershot logo that Sony has such a proud reputation in. Unfortunately no Carl Zeiss lens or optical zoom have made the transition from compact digital camera to mobile phone camera. The Sony Ericsson guys have really gone to the trouble of making the camera functionality work as well as some higher end cameras out there. The flash is certainly adequate enough to light a small room and you can’t complain about the 3 Megapixel resolution. Auto focus, programme pre-sets, scene modes, panorama mode, burst mode, video camera functionality, red-eye reduction, self timer, digital effects, white balance adjustment, customizable shutter sound and the most important of all, the time and date stamp.

The software that sits behind the fancy camera lens has a finished feel to it. Feature wise you’ve got more settings for you to customise to your liking than you can throw a stick at. If anything it’s quite ridiculous that there are that many settings. I’ve played with some basic dedicated digital cameras not have half the functions that the K800i has. Top marks for the camera quality and video functionality too. You can quickly load up the camera simply by sliding down the camera lens protector, or by pressing the shoot button at the side of the phone. In fact there’s about a thousand different methods of activating the camera, and none are difficult to reach for.

Software/Features

I was hoping that the problems I found in the M600i wouldn’t follow me to the K800i and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the software that this handset runs on is incredibly fast, powerful and easy to use.

First of all, the appearance and pre-loaded themes aren’t great. But since you can download these for free or at a cost, that shouldn’t be an issue for most people. What I do like is how the software has these nice visual effects of fading in and out when you open a new folder or move to a new screen. A lot of love has gone in to the finishing of the animations behind the icons and the movements of cursors. Little details are what counts when it comes to software and it’s enough to turn off a user if the right ‘look and feel’ isn’t accomplished.

No noticeable software issues as well. Perhaps the first handset I’ve used in a few years that doesn’t slow down when you move from one port of the phone to another and doesn’t reset itself when it feels like it. The K800i scores top marks for its rock solid stability and great performance.

With a host of connectivity via Bluetooth, USB or old-fashioned (but reliable) infra-red, nothing else to report there. Pre-loaded from Vodafone is the ability to watch Sky TV, download music, videos, photos and all the other 3G services that nobody I know ever uses.

Calendar, alarm clock, calculator, tasks, voice recorder, notes, timer, stopwatch, and security wallet are all pretty much standard on phones these days so I won’t go in to too much detail.

One application that did spark my interest was the Remote Desktop via Bluetooth capability. I haven’t been able to test these functions because I don’t have Bluetooth for my PC, but in theory, you should be able to use your phone to communicate with certain applications such as the Desktop itself (mouse capability?), Media Player (play/pause/fast forward/rewind, etc) and Presenter (Powerpoint remote clicker). That’s something I’ve not seen before on a handset and could see it being quite handy in the home.

As a music player, you’ll find the included headset is able to reproduce a good quality sound with a good level of bass. A dedicated music button can be found on the top left hand side of the handset and can be used to start playing music through the speakerphone or or headset directly from the home screen and you’ll experience immediate playback of your last track. The music player itself allows for a function called Mega Bass to be activated, which helps boost bass performance from your mp3 files. You also have the expected feature set of any music player, to be able to browse through your files by Artist, Track or Playlist.

The last thing I’ll say about it is that you can set the music track going and continue writing your messages or do anything else you want with the phone, and it will happily play music in the background.

Don’t expect massive storage to come with the included memory however, you’ll have to invest in a Sony Memory Stick M2 card in order to store a decent track set. Me, not being too keen on using my phone as a music player as well, have moved away from this, although I do see many kids these days wearing headphones attached to their phones for music playback.

Performance

Battery life is on par with what you expect to get with handsets these days. I can get through about 3 days of useage before I have to start plugging in. That usually involves sending several texts a day and talking on the phone for about an hour. That’s not too shabby considering it’s a 3G handset (usually notorious for poor battery life). No complaints from me in that department and with its nice power saving features such as turning the screen in a monochrome clock when it times out probably contributes to enhancing the battery.

One thing you do need to be wary of and that’s the sliding mechanism for the camera. As mentioned before, if you’ve got the camera lens cover down, the camera will be activated and all the gubbins behind it will be drawing power too, so it’s going to suck the life out of the battery if you’re not too careful with this.

Issues
After a couple of months of normal useage, the joystick has started to malfunction. Or at least I think so. 9 times out of 10 when I press the joystick to go left, it just doesn’t do anything. I have to continuously press it before it starts to move. The rest of the directions work Ok so I think I’ll continue to use at my own peril until anything else goes wrong.

Accessories

I’ve been reviewing the K800i with a flip case from Noreve. A nice-to-touch, genuine leather case that is available in 9 different colours. At £22.33 excluding shipping, the Noreve case is a tad bit on the expensive side, but if you want that quality feel and designer touch added to the already modern looking K800i, then you’ll be hard pressed to find a better provider for such a product. Again I’ve been testing this case since I’ve had the K800i and it’s protected my handset from a number of drops, which would undoubtedly have caused some physical damage.

The case itself is non-obstructive in terms of installing or removal. The custom fitted design will allow the K800i to sit comfortably inside of the the case and when necessary, you can remove it by simply pulling it away from the case. A flip cover is secured in place by magnetic button, which I found to be a bit fiddly to secure at times due to the precise design of the case. I think I’d prefer the integrated magnetic latch which simply folds and secures in to place by itself.

Access points have been cut out to ensure accessibility to the connector and the photo button at the side. Although the case doesn’t allow you to use the camera whilst it’s in position, having that cut out ensures that the button doesn’t get pressed by accident when you’re holding.

Amongst the Noreve case for the K800i, you’ll find the usual host of accessories and toys that you can buy for your handset. One thing that I’ve got my eye on this Christmas is the desktop stand which will allow me to charge and synchronize data to and from my computer. Expect the usual Bluetooth headset capabilities (yuck) to be available from various manufacturers or you can get the official goods directly from Sony Ericsson themselves.

The included handsfree kit is a bit of a nuisance. It’s not that it doesn’t work well or isn’t very good quality, it’s a case of it having to attach to the data port at the bottom rather than it plugging in to a 3.5mm jack say at the top or bottom (that would be too sensible). INstead it uses the data port, so if your docked, connected or charging then you can’t use the handsfree kit. I found myself in that situation a few times and all I can say is, it’s annoying.

Roundup

Sony Ericsson are on to a winner here and I can see this handset being affordable for many people since it’s usually given away for free on not only the expensive contracts but even on the sub £20 contracts too. At the moment, I believe Vodafone are offering a free Canon compact printer with the K800i for free along with the handset on various line rental packages ranging from 12 to 18 months. As always, be wary of the terms and conditions as well as the freebies, they’re not always worth it.

Overall, the Sony Ericsson boffins have made a handset that is almost the jack of all trades, that is packed with functionality, a great feature set that sits on top of a rock solid operating system that I’ve yet to encounter problems with.

The Sony Ericsson K800i gets a thumbs up from the TechCast Network but misses out on that TechCast Recommended Award due to some of its issues in design and joystick problems.

2006-12-01 Onwah Tsang

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