Sony Ericsson M600i

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Having used the Orange SPV C500 incarnation of the Smartphone for nearly 2 years now, it was time for me to upgrade to the latest and greatest. Enter the M600i from Sony Ericsson. One of the newest handsets to hit the market, the M600i tries to be the ultimate Smartphone.

Packed with features, this handset comes in Granite Black and Crystal White, and boasts some cool aspects such as touch screen functionality, QWERTY keyboard, 3G connectivity and the ability to open and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents and view PDF files.

Boasting new innovations such as support for the new memory card standard from Sony; the Sony Memory Stick Micro (M2), a 64MB card was supplied with the phone on top of the 60MB internal memory. These cards are expensive to buy, however if you shop around you will find a 1GB stick for about £45.

The handset itself weighs in at 112g and is only 15mm thin. It’s halfway towards a PDA, a phone/PDA hybrid if you will. The built in stylus allows you complete control of the phones functionality with handwriting recognition and the ability to draw your own MMS.

Typical of Sony Ericsson phones, the jog dial at the side has re-surfaced from previous generation Sony Ericsson designs. However, it’s positioning and design as well as its interaction with the operating system, renders it more or less useless.

It seems that the Symbian GUI for the M600i has been designed largely for easy operation by the on-board stylus or your index finger. I’ve tried to navigate around the menus and from application to application, but the buttons and menu system proved to be too tricky for it to be effective. 9 times out of 10 it was just easier to get the pen and start tapping away. However, what about those situations where it’s not realistic to get the pen out or you simply just don’t want to?

Moving on from that, one of the striking design features of the M600i is the strange dual-function QWERTY keypad. You have your typical 1 to 9 numbers in a key layout of three by three. Then at the sides another set of three keys have been added. At the bottom of the keypad you’ll find 5 keys.

At first glance and first use, you’ll find it to be confusing to operate. However after reading the manual properly and playing around, you can quickly master this unique implementation of keypad/keyboard.

The great thing about this keypad layout is the fact that you do have access to a full QWERTY keypad. I find this to be great for tapping out quick messages. For those who are familiar with the QWERTY keyboard on your computer then you’ll find it child’s play to type on this keypad.

Allow me to explain. Each key on the first three rows is as its described, dual function. For example, the number 7 key is also the key for the letters X and C. When typing a message, the QWERTY keypad is the default in operation. If I wanted to type the letter X, I would press key 7 but I would hit the left hand side of it. If I wanted the letter C I would press key 7 again but the right hand side of it.

Sounds complicated and fiddly to use but my fingers seem to have adapted to it and I’m able to tap out a message as quickly as I was able to with predictive text. Using this keypad combined with predictive text means that writing my messages are now more accurate and take me less time.

I’ve grown so accustomed to using the QWERTY keypad that I rarely use the handwriting recognition for writing out messages. Whilst practising and playing with the handwriting feature, I did find it to be accurate about 90% of the time, whilst my keypad tapping was about 99% accurate. That’s good but not good enough for my liking. Letters like t and k had to be written in a certain way for it to be recognised and full stops were slashes rather than just dots.

The nice and bright 2.5-inch LCD display achieves an impressive 262,144 colours and has a resolution of 240 x 320. Photos and documents came out crystal clear. Videos had the ability to be viewed in widescreen mode. For avid phone-camera users, this handset does not come with a built in camera, there’s no attachment for it either. Nearly all phones, even the low end ones come with cameras these days, however Sony Ericsson have decided to exclude one from this model. This handset is after all designed purely for business use.

With the 3G data connectivity, you can expect to get high speed data transfer over the air. The browser that ships with the M600i is the mobile version of Opera and I have to admit, it does an excellent job at rendering full sized web pages and you’ll even find tabbed browsing available! Pages loaded quickly over the 3G connection and the HTML rendering was true to its form. The M600i really excels in this area and is one of the highlights of this handset.

Another glowing feature albeit a simple one, is the call quality. The person on the other end was able to hear me with crystal clarity and I was able to hear them in much the same way. Audio volume on both handset and speakerphone mode were excellent and ample for most scenarios, and this was further improved using the hands free headset that ships with it. Microphone sensitivity is excellent, I was able to walk out of the room and still continue the conversation without resorting to shouting for the receiver to hear me. Credit to Sony Ericsson on getting this part right.

Connectivity comes in the form of USB data synchronisation using the Sony Ericsson PC Suite. Bundled with this application are Adobe Photoshop Album SE, Apple QuickTime and Sony Disc2Phone. A relatively un-useful set of applications for the majority although those who want to use this handset as a music phone may wish to install the Disc2Phone software.

Data synchronisation for a business user is very important. With the market leader in this area for the desktop side being Microsoft Outlook, it’s only natural for this software suite to be compatible with it. Synchronisation was very simple using the USB connection. I was able to transfer all my existing contacts and calendar data straight to my handset from Outlook at the touch of a button. Changes made within Outlook will be transferred across to your M600i the next time you hit the synchronise button. This is a must-have for any Smartphone and one that my C500 did very well.

The USB connection also allowed you to charge the handset via the trickle charge as well as browse through the files and folders using the File Manager application.

With all the features out of the way, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty which I’ve been itching to get out.

This handset is by no means perfect. Some serious flaws in the hardware and software elements mean the M600i will be going back to Vodafone.

Lets start with the battery life. Rated to last 250 hours (about 10 days) of standby time on UMTS networks and 340 hours on GSM networks, the best I ever got was about a day and a half. If I actually wanted to use the phone for creating a text message and making short calls, the battery life would drop dramatically. By the end of a typical day, the handset will need recharging again as it would be in the red.

The talk time at 2.5 hours is by no means amazing but about average for the current range of Sony Ericsson handsets and comparable to handsets from competing manufacturers but to be honest, these figures are too varied to be of any use. Looking at the talk time hours of 2.5 looks to be accurate however the standby time must be based on some magical made up figure because I can guarantee that you won’t ever achieve it, not even the 240 hours on 3G.

Initially I thought this was down to the handset being new and the battery fresh. However even after a week of cycling the battery, the performance has not improved one bit. It’s remained the same throughout. This is definitely not impressive for a handset that’s meant to cater for the professional and business lifestyle. I’d expect much better battery performance.
The second gripe I have with this handset is the dodgy Symbian software that the M600i comes with.

The manual clearly states that you can close applications down to free up memory by pressing the key below the scroll wheel at the side. In my experience however, all this button ever did was hide the application. So eventually you’d have lots of applications open consuming memory and the phone starts to feel the effects of it.

The task manager is more of an application switcher. It does less task managing and more being useless. My expectations from a task manager in any Smartphone would be the ability to view all open applications, be able to switch to them and also be able to either quit or force quit these applications if need be.

However the task manager on this handset only allows you to switch between applications. I went through every word in the manual and scoured the menus on this phone but there was simply no way to close open applications.

The only way to close applications down was to shut the phone down and boot it back up again. I think we’ll all agree that is a little extreme.

When you have these applications open, and you try to make a call to someone in your contacts, the phone will flash up saying not enough memory and progress to make the call. I found this to be a puzzling time to show up a message like this.

In the event you’ve opened too many applications, this handset will reset itself to free that memory back up. Again, poor coding and poor design. That’s not the worst part of it.

My third gripe is the memory management issue and the fact that this handset will reset itself if it decides it needs to. What the prerequisites for this action are, I’m not sure. However this happened to me once whilst I was in the middle of a call and I decided to plug in the hands free that ships with it.

I thought the phone had crashed and that was the reason why it had reset. When I waited for it to switch back on again, I was prompted with a message saying the handset had reset to optimise performance! All this whilst in the middle of a call! This must be some sort of mix up surely. Could the engineers and software coders let this slip? I was gob smacked when that happened.

It was difficult enough to deal with the fact that the phone had hung up the call and reset, it’s even worse when you discover it was done on purpose!

Hopefully, Sony Ericsson will fix these problems but until then I’m going to pick another handset for the time being. I also hope that Sony Ericsson don’t carry over these problems to the W950i, which is essentially the same phone but packed with a 4GB hard disk.

If I could get Sony Ericsson to put this one back in the oven for a bit longer, I definitely would. The battery performance needs to be improved significantly and they need to go back to the drawing board with the Symbian software, because it just doesn’t work.

Unless you’re willing to deal with the problems outlined in this review, then I suggest you look elsewhere for a decent Smartphone.

Note: This review was written using the M600i running on the latest operating system and software update alongside the latest version of the Sony Ericsson PC Suite.

2006-08-07 Onwah Tsang

3 comments - why not add yours

  • mitchello says:

    The Vodafone M600i is very buggy. I would say it is not fair to mark the M600i down as a unit, as it is Vodafone who have screwed it up badly. I bought a Vodafone branded M600i, and was discusted by the branded and feature removing they had implemented. I returned it to Vodafone after 5 days, and went and bought one from another operator. The person told me they had had returns from a lot of people, and that Vodafone had acknowledged that the firmware was having issues. Didn’t stop them from continuing to sell it however.

    The Task Manager you spoke of does have the ability to swap between applications, and end applications, on other firmwares. I now have one branded by another mobile operator “Three” who have really only added bookmarks to the browser and their logo on the bootscreen. Otherwise it has no branding whatsoever.

    They also eliminated a dropdown menu from the left corner of the status bar at the top. You will notice that the left corner is devoid of any icon, and when you tap it it presses like a button but nothing happens. Another helpful removal by Vodafone. That menu should house useful functions like the ability to create new items (SMS/MMS/Task/Appointment/Email/etc.) access the connection settings for BT/IrDA/USB/Data, adjust volume, and lock the keypad on the presently displayed screen.

    I would highly recommend this very capable device. It would be great if you could amend or take into account some of my comments in your article. Your article is great in describing the Vodafone SE M600i, but it really isn’t fair to the other M600i’s that aren’t “graced” with the Vodafone logo (1000 times).

    Posted on 22nd August 2006
  • oni says:

    I did get the impression that this handsets software was 90% complete. Indeed it is buggy, as mentioned in the review with random restart, poor battery life, amongst other issues.

    I wasn’t aware that they had changed the firmware but it’s enlightening to know. I had no idea! I can at least spread the blame to Vodafone now for the problems.

    Yes, I agree it would be unfair to brand the M600i in general as a let down, but the Vodafone model surely is! Let’s hope things get better for it in future.

    Posted on 22nd August 2006
  • wizzard99 says:

    I have this phone on Vodafone and in a week of use so far have had no problems with it really although the self reboot has manifested itself twice but just when changing themes.

    Software seems to be standard now as non of the comments about the vodafone version above are true.

    Also the battery performance so far on GSM seems to be about 4 days.

    I think maybe this phone has had the firmware improved and is somewhat better now.

    Posted on 20th October 2006

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