The Sony Ericsson P1i – how smart is a non Windows Smartphone?
OK I’m a self confessed Window Mobile devotee, note I don’t say fan because I like to think I view the OS without fanboy’s glasses, however there’s an original Orange SPV in my trailing edge technology collection so I’ve been using Windows Mobile Devices as long as they’ve been commercially available.
On the other hand I’m also a bit of a Sony Ericsson style fan, my last pre windows mobile device of choice was the Sony Ericsson T610 which although not that smart was smart looking, perfectly sized and once I’d got used to the menus I enjoyed using it.
Following the T610, I had a brief dalliance with the Sony Ericsson P800, that ever so feminine powder blue number with the
break offable removable keypad and weird flat stylus, frankly the synchronisation of non WM devices with outlook (this was pre exchange activesync) was a pain so I went down the WM route and have rarely looked back or sideways since.
So I’m a little out of touch with other mobile operating systems, and was looking forward to rekindling my acquaintance with the new ‘slim line’ Sony Ericsson P1i with Symbian 9.1 layered with the UIQ 3.0 interface. The P1i promises to be the best that Symbian can offer and the styling of the device looks pretty good.
I’ve used the P1i like all my other review devices in a real business environment, as part of an Exchange 2003 messaging system now with Symbian this means third party software to achieve synchronisation on the go, I’d steeled myself to having to shell out on an app or make do with a trial but with the Sony Ericsson P1i you get to download Dataviz’s mobile synchronisation software Roadsync for free which clearly points the P1i at the business market, a nice touch.
Form Factor: I like it, a lot, the P1i is great, retro futurist; feels substantial and is silver and black a winner on the looks front, saying it is slim line is a bit poetical, yes its only 19mm thick but it’s big for a phone and pretty large compared to the current raft of other PDA style devices out there.
The screen: bright and clear and touch sensitive
The Camera: 3.2 Megapixels and good clean auto focus, it’s one of the first phones where I thought I may get away without taking my Casio exilim card camera along with me and still get reasonable shots.
The script input: it takes a bit of getting used to unlearning all those muscle memories for the WM and Palm Graffiti I’ve used over the years however the ability to write real letters anywhere on the screen is much more intuitive for the new user
Keyboard input: OK you have QWERTY but frankly it’s too damn fiddly, the rocking key input was a pain for me, not even easy to text with, yes it’s QWERTY but it’s in a really annoying form and you spend half your time tangling fingers and mis-keying.
Desktop Synchronisation: the synchronisation app is a pain; I’ve been used to WMDC and activesync which just works (mostly). With the Sony Ericson version you have to chose whether your device is a phone to synch or install apps on or a device to sync media and transfer files to every time it connects. Too fiddly and what led me down the WM route in the first place
Charging kit: out of the box you need to use the charging cradle and separate psu which is a monster no USB direct charging here, or even a vaguely portable single piece charger a real oversight which sullies the overall design a little
Sony Phone Explorer: a by product of the messy sync application means yet another addition to ‘my computer’ and it crashed windows explorer again and again and again.
Appeals to me, I think it’s a very good looking bit of kit, it looks for all the world like the kind of device that Q would have handed to Sean Connery, sleek, matt silver and black with a touch of 60s retro futurist about it. The P1i takes its design cues from the old T610 and looks business like and professional
There’s a keypad which doubles as a QWERTY keyboard of sorts (lets call it a padboard) below the screen and the 3G video calling VGA camera is visible above the screen to the left
From the back and a distance you’d think it was a camera with the 3.2 Mpixel camera logically located and the branding running vertically up the casing to be visible when using the camera in landscape mode.
The P1i is relatively compact (remember we’re talking about a PDA / Phone with WiFi, 3G , HSDPA and a half decent camera built in) although probably a little large for some and it feels substantial I should think it will bear up pretty well to day to day use although it may be a little susceptible to dents and surface wear.
Specs wise the P1i is as I have said a Symbian 9.1 device with the latest UIQ 3 interface quad band 3G and 160 Mbyte memories with 802.11b and g thrown in, with touch screen interface to boot.
Talking of the form factor the P1i hardware features are not so badly placed, power on the top;
jog wheel and IR to the left;
Sony Ericsson proprietary connector to the bottom (why not mini USB anyone?)
and camera button and storage card slot to the right.
The stylus placement puzzled me; it’s on the left top corner at the back,
Which is a little counterintuitive if you’re a right hander (which the device is set up for) the jog wheel falls under your left thumb and you have to reach across yourself to retrieve the stylus which is a minor irritation, I imagine as a left hander you’ll find this arrangement much more agreeable.
The stylus location is pretty key and the P1i relies on its use a lot, if you look at the keypad you’ll see a couple of glaring omissions:
There’s no traditional send or end key here you have to click call on the screen to initiate a call and although the padboard is there it’s a pain to use you have to press the left or right of the key to get the appropriate letter (I would need much much more practice to achieve a reasonable input speed and it’s so out of the ordinary as to make you wonder why you would bother) you find yourself using the stylus to write text.
Stylus input is pretty easy however as there are no prescriptive input areas here, unlike other devices you can just scrawl anywhere on the screen and the P1i recognises your text. This natural text input is actually more intuitive for a beginner than the specific list of graffiti symbols you have to learn to use WM or Palm Oss but having used graffiti in one form or another since Palm III days I found it a little difficult to break the habit. The letter t caused most problems the across and down graffiti symbol I’m used to reeling off so quickly really confused the P1i. That’s not a particular failing of the device more an artefact of the idiosyncratic stylus input methods of handhelds and if you are new to styli then you’ll probably be glad of this.
The proprietary connector is the location for your wired handsfree and headphones to connect which is as annoying on the P1i as it is on the latest HTC devices; you’re going to have to get an adapter if you want to be able to use any reasonable headphones to listen to music. The included headphones are Ok but not to an audiophiles standards. Toshiba really have this problem beaten with their handy adapter that allows you to use your favourite headphones with the Toshiba handsfree.
The P1i is pretty rapid in operation with no stability issues, voice quality was great
Battery life is Ok the Pi had fairly constant use over a couple of days snapping pictures and WiFi usage as well as 3G, GPRS and calls and the battery held up well, this is a good thing as you wouldn’t want to be lugging the charger everywhere with you
the P1i is a laid out much more like a phone than a PDA it works but the padboard is a problem, the stylus placement is annoying and but it will appeal to someone looking for a phone like device with PDA functions
I am a GUI trainspotter, the only reason I’m interested in an iPhone is multitouch, which is an innovation I’m really interested in so I was looking forward to playing with UIQ initially the look is very crisp default fonts look smooth and the overall appearance is very pleasing
But the home screen can get a little cluttered when used in anger
The icons can get overwhelming there’s a lot of information to take in here. But you can get to a lot of information quickly and on the home screen which you’ll need third party apps on a WM device to replicate
The jog wheel makes one handed navigation pretty although its it’s all up and down no left and right but don’t forget the P1i has a touch screen, it’s a little precise and fussy so you will probably find yourself using a stylus not your finger to navigate.
Navigating brings my first niggle, I’m used to Windows Mobile with nicely labelled icons:
Whereas UIQ is a little more mysterious, not that it matters on the main screen , contacts, calendar, games and mail are pretty obvious the circles signify the
applications menu but when you start to navigate the icons become a little less obvious
and the need to use the open button is a bit counter intuitive, I suppose I’d get used to it with time but is seems a little lazy it can’t be that difficult to provide labels adjacent to the icons.
When you get into the right place the list view has descriptive labels which is a great improvement
Some of the configuration is a little tricky setting up WiFi for my home encrypted network was a drag it’s accessed through connections manager and not being immodest I’m a dab hand at this by now but it took three goes to get the thing to work
I then had to go into internet accounts to set the priority to ensure that applications used the WiFi otherwise they would insist on connecting via GPRS,
This is a bit of a shame as WiFi is one of the selling points of the P1i but this configuration is a long way from the intuitiveness of script entry. and it took a few more goes to keep the device connected as I had to find power save not under the WiFi tabs but in power settings a good few clicks away
Overall I found the OS easy to use, in some ways more in other ways less intuitive than Windows Mobile, I think the more technical aspects are a little disorganised in that logical related features are distributed through the menus making quick and easy setup a bit onerous. Don’t go looking for help from Sony Ericcson just yet though:
I was a little worried about the availability of applications on the Symbian platform, my first task was to locate an application that allowed me to capture screen images for this review, to be honest I had no problem as there’s a wealth of little applications out there and a good deal of them are available as trials or freeware. This was a bit of a surprise for me as I’d always assumed windows mobile had such a larger pool of amateur developers however it seems the Symbian community is quite active too, there’s also a lot less duplication so your choice of alternative apps is a little more limited but at least you do get a choice and happily the download sites aren’t rammed with tons of half finished applications and widgets with barely distinguishable features.
I settled on the open screen capture to provide those all important screenies which works well, with little lag and saves the screenshots as png files on the storage card in the device no need to be connected to your desktop when grabbing either but this is probably as much to do with avoiding having to use the clumsy desktop integration as anything else
The P1i has quickoffice mobile installed which is a reasonable facsimile of another vendors office suite you get functional word processor that reads the popular file formats, not the latest .x versions but then only a handful of Window Mobile devices do.
A great spreadsheet application
This suite is a reasonable alternative for Office Mobile on the Windows Mobile platform.
You also get PDF viewer quick notes, tasks and a business card scanner which is a little hit and miss to be really useful.
Web browsing: the built in browser is functional.
Pretty easy to use and offers some options for rendering pages on the small screen
Some of which are more practical than others:
I had some of my biggest misgivings about this aspect of my daily usage, I work in a world with native Exchange integration, setting up a synchronisation partnership is a breeze Sony Ericsson have happily bundled Roadsync from Dataviz which you can download from the vendors website and install.
Once installed setup is pretty easy although we needed to tweak the exchange server to allow non standard devices to connect and get direct push up and running. The application is pretty verbose and gives you some useful troubleshooting info in the logs so we were able to get enough information to identify the issues and get it working.
Once installed the activesync email client is pretty usable
And is found under messaging
Contacts are clearly laid out
Although I prefer list views to tabbed ones on a mobile device the layout is easy to navigate and preserves categories
Now I wouldn’t normally comment on desktop applications for a reviewed device as it’s normally simply a matter of using WMDC or Activesync to connect however the P1i has its own Sony Ericsson PC suite which is installed from the accompanying CD-ROM
You also get Photoshop Album SE to help you edit those 3 Megapixel photos, Quicktime and Disc2Phone which enables media synchronisation to your P1i
PC suite is different to activesync, every time you connect the P1i you’re prompted to choose whether you want to connect in phone mode or file transfer mode,
The former allows you to synchronise with a PIM or use the phone as a modem, the latter if you want to transfer files to the device, this is partly true you get access to different applications as well dependent on the mode
Those on the upper tier with green borders are only available in phone mode the lower tier in F file transfer mode, this is really hard to go back to after the seamlessness of activesync add to that that the Sony Ericsson File Manager crashed windows explorer several times and you’ve got an area that needs a good look at before it’s going to be right.
Overall application stability is very good, I had no problems with application hangs or voice performance, the device performs well.
Ease of Use
there are pluses and minuses here the Symbian OS and UIQ get some things right and some things wrong overall for a newbie using the device on it’s own as a PDA it’s as good as the equivalent windows mobile device, if you’re intending to use it in a Microsoft Exchange environment or use some of the techier features regularly Windows Mobile devices beat the P1i, I’d acknowledge that my WM understanding is deeper than the Symbian OS but I don’t think this influenced me greatly.
despite some misgivings I like the P1i, the styling appeals and it’s small enough to hold to your ear without feeling self conscious. There are details that need some more thought; the QWERTY rockable padboard is frankly a pain but an interesting attempt to do something different. It’s 3G which is a plus and the bundled Roadsync aims the P1i at the Microsoft Business market, I just don’t think there are enough compelling benefits to make me recommend this over a windows mobile device there.
In conclusion, the P1i is a stylish PDA and if you are using it to organise your personal life you’ll probably love it, if it’s coming to work with you youmight find it a little more challenging.
Review by: Alasdair