By Asher Saeed
The Sony Ericsson (SE) S700i is a cellular phone that I have been waiting in anticipation for, ever since I ‘played around’ with the NTT DoCoMo SO505i. The SO505i is what the S700i is obviously inspired from. Unfortunately given Japan’s totally different cellular phone network (W-CDMA as far as NTT is concerned) a state of the art cellular phone such as the SO505i is unlikely to launch in any other country except Japan considering the vastly different cellular networks. Moreover, even given the advent of 3G networks in other countries such as the UK, the SO505i still is unlikely to work outside Japan considering how the phone is completely and totally locked to the NTT network.
SE, finally having some pity upon our poor GSM-using selves, announced earlier this year the S700i, a phone which shares the same swiveling screen design concept as their SO505i and has a similar 1.3 Megapixel camera with photon flash and memory stick DUO support.
After waiting for several months hoping that a definitive release date would be announced, SE out of the blue launched the S700i in early November pretty much all around the world. The S700i is available from various carriers worldwide as well as completely OEM unlocked (which gives the user complete access to all of the phones features, and is, of course, how I have it).
Now you might be wondering what sets this phone apart from its competition. Well first of all, it is just gorgeous. The S700i boasts an eye-catching metallic type silver finish (which thankfully doesn’t scratch that easily!) and an amazing 262,000 (18 bit) active matrix TFT display. The screen resolution and glossy quality is simply stunning. The phone has one of the best 1.3 Megapixel cameras I have ever used (and I’ve used many). That’s it for the overview. If that’s not enough for you, the phone also features support for memory stick DUO and has an integrated MP3 player and FM radio. Still not enough? It has onboard 32 MB of memory and an additional 32 MB memory card is included with the package.
For the first time ever, we are proud to show off a product review with a video! Watch this 60-second preview of the phone.
In one phrase: “The phone simply oozes sex appeal!”The phone sports a 180 degrees swiveling design. Now what’s different about this design is the fact that it only swings 180 degrees (in case you missed it the first time I said it). Once you flip it to full length you cannot turn the screen ‘the other way’ but must turn it back to closed position the same way you opened it. I actually like this concept; I think it has something to do with hinge reinforcement.
As expected by a ‘swinging phone’ the hinges do get loose after several openings and closings (although not as loose as some Samsung or Motorola I’ve tried).
The front of the phone has a large, extremely bright screen. The facade has four action buttons and a d-pad in the center with a key in the middle of the d-pad. This is quite effective for using the phone without requiring the user to open the flip.
Once you swing open the LCD screen, a set of keys are revealed. The S700i has, by far, the best set of keys I have ever used in a SE phone. The finish is striking, although it might take some getting used to as the keys are ‘inset’ which means they’re not exactly protruding outwards. But once you get used to it, it’s very satisfying to use and easy to “type” with (T9-style input is supported as well).
On the right side of the phone is a soft plastic hatch which conceals the memory stick DUO card slot. As I previously mentioned, SE was kind enough to supply one 32 MB MS DUO card with the package and an adapter for using it with the bigger memory stick card readers. Right above the memory card hatch is the camera button (more on that later), and right above that are the two volume up and down buttons.
On the left side of the phone is the infrared port (pretty self explanatory and very effective as with all SE phones). Above that is the dual function slider button which basically locks/unlocks the keypad and acts as an activator for the flash when the phone is in camera mode.
Once you turn the phone around you can easily mistake it for a ‘real’ Sony CyberShot camera. The camera lens is enclosed in a shutter (finally a camera phone with a shutter!) and the shutter has a sexy silver rim around it which boasts of the camera’s mega pixel strength (engraved). Right next to the rim is the slider switch which opens/closes the lens shutter, as well as the tiny flash. The back of the phone also has the battery hatch cover (obviously) which requires a bit of strength to slide out.
Lastly, the bottom of the phone is what I like to call the ‘port end’. This contains the ports for the charger and the stereo headset. The port end has a soft plastic covering which you cannot take off. But you can slide it upwards, which is better than those removable covers (I’ve lost way too many of those!).
The phone’s internal system is similar to the system that’s in use on the SE K700i. The same menu system, the same features (pretty much)! For those who haven’t read a decent review of the K700i, I’ll recap the features for you.
The operating system (OS) supports a dynamic wallpaper scheme which I like; SE threw in a set of trendy themes which are pretty decent. As with pretty much every other SE phone there are 3D screensavers and after a while the screen turns black (once the screen saver is over).
The menu system has a wide set of features (all you’d expect, and more):
- PlayNow (music download service by SE, I have not used this)
- WAP browser (supports XHTML)
- Entertainment section which features a music DJ, games and the sound recorder
- Messaging (sports email, SMS and wireless village)
- FM Radio
- File manager
- Phone book
- Media player (MP3 and video)
- Connectivity options (Internet profiles, data profiles for GPRS and HCSD, Bluetooth and infrared)
- Personal organizer (All PIM features, including calendar alarm clock, notes, tasks, stopwatch, calculator, code memo and more)
- Setting menu (themes, profiles, time date management, voice control, shortcuts, language, ring tones, call lists and more)
SE completely redesigned the menu system and it is much better than the interface used by the ‘now older’ SE phones (like the T610, T630 and Z600, etc). Although the OS maintains the same features, they’re more polished now.The phone offers excellent voice quality, however it is a bit quirky. I recommend you avoid rubbing the phone against your cheeks too much or the other party will most likely go deaf. If not deaf, they will definitely have trouble hearing you clearly. The phone does include a loud integrated loudspeaker which serves well for hands-free use.
The phone has excellent Bluetooth support. After thoroughly testing Bluetooth with the most popular headsets, and with my Sony VAIO’s BlueSpace software, and various other Bluetooth dongles I can safely say that connectivity is not an issue! As usual, SE shines brightly in the Bluetooth department.
The phone has excellent battery life; I use my phone all day and receive calls pretty much every hour. By the end of the day I still have 3/4ths of the battery left. I rarely acclaim or support manufacturer-claimed battery times, as they’re rarely accurate; especially considering each user uses his/her devices differently. For me, the battery life of the phone is just what I expect from a top-end SE phone.
The back of the phone: (click on the image for a full-screen view):
The phone plays MP3s in stereo, and the included set of ear buds are of excellent quality. MP3 playback (according to me, a music aficionado) was very acceptable. In fact, if 128 MB memory sticks weren’t so expensive, this device would serve most music lovers well. The unit also has a 5-band equalizer that does a good job of reproducing bass and treble.
It is obviously unreasonable to compare this MP3 player to an iPod or any other top end dedicated MP3 players. However it does give them a good run for their money and in my case it’s more than enough. Also, you can minimize the MP3 player to the background and play games and listen to music at the same time.
The phone is also able to playback QCIF video (standard GSM quality, about 1/2 the resolution of a TV screen). Frankly, unless you encode a movie especially for playback on the QCIF format, the movie capturing feature of the camera is really only above average. The video feature is something I’ve never really found effective in a cellular phone. The only cellular phone which had the best video capturing and playback was my iMate Windows Mobile Pocket PC. It’s video capturing and playback was truly amazing. I suppose a comparison is not really fair considering the massive power of that device.
As I mentioned before the S700i also has an FM radio, but don’t really listen to FM that much. For the time that I spent trying it out, the reception was crystal clear and quality was pretty good.
The back of the phone: (click on the image for a full-screen view):
|I’m willing to bet that this is the part that most users have been waiting for. Without further ado, I’ll get into the details of this phone’s spectacular, yet quirky, camera.First of all, the camera won’t operate if the flip of the phone is open. It must be closed in order for the camera to function.
The camera is activated by opening the lens cover, which is done by sliding the switch on the back of the phone. Once the cover is open the camera activates itself and the huge LCD turns into an excellent viewfinder.
Upon inspection of the camera’s menu system you’ll notice it is almost identical to Sony’s CyberShot cameras and with good reason too: Sony’s CyberShot division helped SE design this phone’s camera!
Taking pictures couldn’t be easier yet it couldn’t be more difficult! One would think it’s as simple as point and shoot but its not. You need a stable hand in order to take a picture of excellent quality. I cannot emphasize this enough but the lighting conditions must be good or the picture will come out grainy.
If you hold the camera steady and wait until the picture is clearly saved before moving your hand again, it will turn out pretty well. Here’s an important point: do not mistake the shutter sound as the picture being 100% saved, because its not! The shutter sound can be disabled once the phone enters silent mode (for all the perverts out there).
What really makes this camera great yet quirky is the fact that it has a CCD sensor rather than an el cheapo CMOS (carbon metal oxide semi conductor) sensor. However its biggest shortcoming is in the sensor, given the tiny size of the sensor and its auto focusing system you need to be sure that the camera is being held steady before snapping a picture.
Now you might be wondering why earlier I emphasized on the lighting conditions; that was simply because the built-in flash is more or less a joke. Although under some circumstances it does work well, but if you’re expecting to take pictures in pitch darkness you should think again. Unless, that is, you want a picture of perfect blackness. I recommend you look at using the flash as a torch.
Click on any of these pictures to see a sample set of pictures taken with the s700i
Here’s a list of some of the other camera-specific features:
- Spot photometry (which displays a t-bar in the viewfinder and adjusts the light around the t-bar, this is very effective if you want to make a certain object brighter than its surroundings)
- You can choose the photo size (1280×960 is the maximum and best quality if used effectively)
- Night mode (this helps considerably if lighting conditions are poor)
- Timer (great for taking that perfect picture, place the camera on a solid surface, step away, smile, viola! Perfect picture!)
- White balance options (avoid messing with this really unless you’re an expert photographer)
- Effects (make the picture sepia colored, pretty cool if you want to give the pictures a quaint look!)
- 8x digital zoom, the bigger the zoom the worse the picture turns out, don’t use this in all honestly it’s only a marketing gimmick
By flipping the phone’s d-pad to the right you can operate in movie mode. You can shoot a mini movie from here; a very nice touch is the setting that lets movies span the entire length of your memory stick. I’m not going to go into the complete details of the movie recorder because it’s like most other camera phone video recorders, but of slightly better quality.Considering the CCD sensor the phone surprisingly does not lose too much battery life while taking pictures. Of course if you decide to go photo crazy the battery will rapidly drop because of the power-hungry sensor. Remember, the phone’s battery is small (780 mAh) and that CCD sensors are the same kind that are included in good cameras and accordingly use up a lot of battery.
While comparing the camera to other 1.3 megapixel cameras I’ve used (including dedicated ones), the SE S700i shines very brightly (again, if used properly!). The new Nokias with built-in 1.3 megapixel cameras simply pale in comparison to the S700i. And no, I am not a Nokia hater. I’ve used almost all of the top end Nokia phones out there including the 7610, and their camera quality really is average compared to this.
The camera shutter: (click on the image for a full-screen view):
Simply put, the S700i is an excellent phone for all the features it packs (especially the camera). It’s great for tourists who don’t want to buy a dedicated camera, or for other point-and-shoot needs. It’s great for commuters who can listen to MP3s or FM radio while on the go. It has all the expected PIM and connectivity features and much more. In other words this phone packs quite a punch.
Finally, it’s great for the executive who uses the phone a lot (being one myself). You honestly won’t be ashamed to pull this phone out of your pockets in front of clients or colleagues. I say this because frankly, many other phones which try to ‘differentiate’ in design turn out looking just plain weird and sometimes a bit too feminine (like the 7610).
Pros and cons
Pro: Excellent quality camera
Con: It’s quirky at the same timePro: Great MP3 player and FM radio
Con: Limited memory expansion (only up to 128 MB)
Pro: Memory is expandable
Con: MS DUO is expensive and this phone doesn’t support DUO PRO which means expansion is limited to 128 MB
Pro: Great talk time and standby
Con: Can’t hold the phone in weird positions and talk properly at the same time
Pro: Intuitive design
Con: Hinge will get loose but not unacceptably loose
Pro: Great keypad
Con: Will take some getting used to
Pro: Nice exterior color
Con: Limited at the same time because there’s only one alternative which is the S700a (for Americas) which is available in black and lacks FM radio but includes EDGE.
Pro: Full featured phone
Con: Massive price tag, $599+
Tips and tricks
- While talking, do not attempt to go ‘hands free’ by supporting the phone against your shoulder and cheeks
- For the perfect picture, ensure you hold the phone steady and that lighting conditions are bright. For the ultimate sharp picture, put the phone on a solid surface and use the self timer.
- Get the Noiseware.com noise remover software. That will touch up your pictures considerably. All pictures that I have taken with the S700i for this review have been touched up with the community edition of Noiseware.
- Get a screen protector immediately, the screen will scratch considering its glossy surface
|That’s all for my review, I hope you found it sufficiently in-depth to help make your buying decisions.
Here is a picture of the s700i next to a mini-A4 mouse: (click on the image for a full-screen view):
IF YA MISSED IT… Video demo