It's weird that in July of 2004, I'm now seeing so many reviews come out for this phone in print media. The phone itself has been around for a while, but the reviewers in Mobile Business Advisor and Stuff Magazine (among others) don't seem to be able to use Google to find decent existing reviews on the 'net (some dating back to October of 2003). If they did, then they might be able to get at least some facts straight.
Although some of these reviews are rather effusive in their praise, others are more realistic. For example, ZDnet UK, BargainPDA, and InfosyncWorld seem to be pretty balanced, with BargainPDA being the only major review I've seen that included actual sample pictures taken from a P900. Somewhat more positive are Mobile-Review.com (which includes a lot of descriptive text and good pictures) and Esato.com. Out in left field is My-Symbian.com, which has to always be 100% positive about all Symbian-based products they review -- still, they've got some good pictures, and show more screen dumps than any other review I've seen.
However, I've lived with a SonyEricsson P900 for a while, and all of the reviews I've seen so far have been missing some user interface details which end up making the P900 a frustrating phone to use on many occasions.
First off, the thing seems to be suffering from multiple personality disorder. When operating with the flip closed, you have access to only five items on the main menu: Messages, Contacts, Call List, Calendar, and Applications. The latter is an "escape" to the full set of ten applications you are allowed to use: CommuniCorder, Music Player, Messages, Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, Jotter, Sound Recorder, a carrier-specific menu that will vary depending on which company you have service with, and "Connections". The last item allows you edit your Infrared, Bluetooth, and cable settings, and is a subset of the functionality provided by the Control Panel in "flip open" mode.
However, with the flip closed ("FC mode"), you have only limited access to each of these applications.
In FC mode, going into Messages allows you to write and retrieve SMS and MMS messages, but you can only retrieve e-mail -- you can't write e-mail in FC mode. If you go into Contacts, you can use the numbers to search through the entries (press "4" once to get to the G's, then press "3" once to scroll down to the names beginning with "GE", etc...), but if you pull up an entry and scroll down to the e-mail address and select it, you are taken to the menu which would allow you to create an MMS to send to them -- and you're only allowed to see phone numbers and e-mail addresses, nothing more. If you need to look up a street address, you have to go to flip open (FO) mode, which is essentially a totally different device.
If you go into Call List in FC mode, you'll be able to see the names of people you've recently called, but not their number. Alternatively, you'll see only their number if you don't have them in your Contacts list. Either way, if you select that entry you'll be forced to dial that exact same number again, as opposed to being given the option of dialing another number you may have for them under the same name. For calls made/received today, you'll be able to see what time that was, but otherwise you'll only see a date and have no way of getting more detailed information. You also can't take a number you've dialed and add it to your Contacts list -- you have to completely re-type everything. This is a basic feature that even my old Nokia 6110 did correctly, and yet the modern SonyEricsson P900 can't.
In FC mode, the Calendar application only lets you see a single day at a time, and doesn't allow you to enter any data -- it's read only. Pretty much all the applications are seriously crippled in FC mode, and while they leave out the advanced features that might be too confusing with a smaller screen (but where a T9-enabled keyboard could be useful), they don't have some of the features that are really needed when you're in FC mode -- such as easily copying numbers from the Call List to Contacts, and then letting you quickly edit the new entry.
FO mode isn't that much better, when it comes to important ease-of-use features.
First off, in FO mode, you lose the T9-enabled keypad. You either have to try to decipher the chicken-scratch stylus input method, or you have to use the miniscule on-screen virtual keyboard -- which is lacking some important keys, at least on the main keyboard. You can get third-party add-on software which will give you a shortcut dictionary (eZiTap FEP), so that you can start typing the word you want, and when it shows up on the display line above the keyboard, you just tap on it and go on to the next word. Or, you can get software that will completely replace the built-in keyboard and give you something much more reasonable (PopOnTop Keyboard), but the built-in virtual keyboard is a serious dog.
In FO mode, the Messages application gets a little better. You have to deal with the data input issue (chicken scratch or crappy virtual keyboard), but at least you get the opportunity to be able to send e-mail. However, one of the key features of this phone is the camera which can take either still pictures or video, and sending attachments is a pain. If you've composed a message, you can tap on the paperclip icon at the bottom, then tap on the "Add" button, and choose your attachment type (the default is "Image"). Once you've chosen the type, you then wait a while as the phone puts together a list of all files on the phone which match that type. While you wait for that to display the top few items in the list, you can choose to switch to a specific folder which may contain a lot less data to sort through, or choose to switch to list view as opposed to icon/preview mode. Once you've got your list of items to attach, you scroll through the list and choose one -- but only one. If you want to attach more than one, you have to go through the entire process all over again. This gets very tiring very quickly, if you have a folder of pictures that you've recently taken and you want to send more than one image from that folder. The File Manager and Picture application both have a way of allowing you to select multiple files/pictures at once -- why can't Messages do the same? Heck, even Messages allows you to select multiple files that you've already attached to a given message and do something with them, why couldn't it do the same here?
As far as e-mail applications are concerned, I don't think I've ever seen anything worse than Messages, on any platform (including on the Palm V I had years ago). Unfortunately, there aren't many alternatives -- unlike PalmOS.
Then there are the speed dials. It is absolutely insane to press a number for a speed dial, then be forced to press the "OK" button to actually dial that number. There's no excuse for not having press-and-hold for this function. Doubling the number of button presses required to dial a number is not a good thing, especially since this almost forces you to look at the keypad to make sure you're pressing the right buttons. Again, Nokia understands how to do this right, and have been doing so since the 6110, if not much earlier. I used to be able to speed-dial purely by feel. Not anymore. This is a crucial unnecessary additional distraction.
How about dialing a number, getting into a voice prompt system which requires that you dial further numbers, and then hanging up? For whatever bizarre reason, the P900 keeps those numbers in its input buffer, and if you were to accidentally press the "Okay" key one too many times, it might start to dial them as a real telephone number. If you only had to hit one number in the voice prompt system, then when you exit, the phone thinks you've selected a speed dial and accidentally pressing the "Okay" key will dial whomever is assigned to that number. Bad juju, bwana.
Or locking the screen? With the P900, this feature is not always supported. When you can do it, it takes one key sequence to lock the screen (press the "menu" key and then the "OK" button, or "menu" and "1"), and a different one to unlock it (press "OK" then "*" or "menu" and then "*"). Again, this is a completely idiotic approach, and absolutely destroys any muscle memory that could potentially be built up for "automatically" locking the screen whenever you go to put the phone back in your holster. But then there are the times that screen-locking is not supported, and the same key sequence you've gotten used to will instead put the phone into "mute" mode, as opposed to locking the keyboard/screen. If the screen has auto-locked in FO mode, you have to press the five-way jog dial button either forward or backward, and then in. Chalk up another one for Nokia -- Pressing the menu-star sequence may not have been documented (at least, not in any Nokia manual I ever saw), but it was well supported and well-known in the industry.
The five-way jog dial? It's far too easy to accidentally press the dial forward or backward when you meant to press it in, or otherwise get one of these three actions confused with the others. Of course, they each do different things in different applications, so you're really screwed when it comes to doing anything with it. Moreover, since it's on the left-hand-side of the device, it's not too hard to use with your thumb when the phone is in your left hand, but it's a royal pain to try to use with your right hand. In a surprising number of cases, I find myself needing to use both hands to use the phone or uncomfortably switch the way I'm holding the phone while trying to do something one-handed, due to the poor placement of the jog dial or the functions overloaded onto it which could have been implemented differently.
Having two separate locations for plugging in a headset is just confusing. Especially when one of them is covered by a rubber flap that is a pain to open, and the other requires a different and proprietary Ericsson connector. Oh, and SonyEricsson doesn't seem to sell a device that can function as both stereo music earphones as well as phone headset with microphone.
The desktop sync/charging station looks cool, but in reality it is a major pain. They're stuck with the legacy Ericsson connectors, that much I can live with. But because there's no part of the station which acts as a guide when you are trying to make the connection, and with the connector socket on the bottom and the phone blocking your view of the plug on the UFO station, it's damn bloody tough to make that happen on the first try, even in a fully lit room when you are fully awake. Trying to do it in the dark when you are half-asleep is virtually impossible. Even the Sony Clié designers did better on this.
With regards to the stylus, it is by far, the very worst that I have ever used in my life. And I thought that the stylus which came with my Sony Clié NX70V was bad! Peeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-Uuuuuuuuuuuw!
I think one of my biggest complaints has to be about battery lifetimes. As with some of the reviews that I consider to be more balanced, I can normally get about two days of life before the battery conks out -- without using the phone very much at all. If I do more than just a few minutes of web/wap browsing via GSM/GPRS, the battery gets sucked down faster than an ice-cold milkshake in the desert. Even with heavy use, my Nokia old 6110/6150/7110/6210 phones would get at least several days between charges, when used with higher capacity Lithium-Ion batteries. A third-party extended capacity battery is supposedly available for the old P800 (along with a replacement back that accomodates the extra space requirements), but I haven't heard of anything comparable for the P900. Moreover, because the battery is a model which requires removing the back of the phone, even if you have a spare battery (even though there is no way to charge one externally), it is a rather involved process to make that swap. Again, the 6110/6150/7110/6210 were much more advanced in this area.
I know that it's a relatively minor complaint, but using a bright blue for the keypad backlight is a bad idea. I know that manufacturers aren't allowed to do any sort of back light that isn't "cool", which means they now are all forced to use blue, but that doesn't change the fact that blue hurts your eyes and destroys your low-light vision. Of course, you've got this mucking great flamethrower of a backlight for the LCD display itself and can be used as a flashlight to help guide you out of a building when all the power in the neighborhood has failed, but that doesn't change the fact that they should have instead used red as the backlight for the keypad -- or used RGB LEDs and let you choose whatever color you want.
Note that SonyEricsson has announced that they are moving away from the stylus-required mode of the current UIQ interface, and moving something closer to the keyboard-only interface of the Nokia Series 40/60. Again, Nokia wins and SonyEricsson has already admitted defeat. People have asked me where I read this, but all I can do is tell you that I recall seeing this announcement on a variety of wireless/mobile phone websites, but I can't tell you which ones. I would hope that Google would turn up some obvious links, but I haven't had the chance to try that myself.
The SonyEricsson P910 is supposed to be adding a QWERTY keyboard inside the flip, intended for use in FO mode (see also the rah-rah review). I'm not sure how well this will work in reality, but if you cradle the phone with both hands and fingers stretched out (pinkies on the bottom near the connector jacks, middle and third fingers behind the phone, index fingers bracing against the top of the phone by the blue & green LEDs, then it might just be possible to thumb-type on the open flip -- But I'm reserving judgement. Having 64MB onboard instead of just 16MB will be greatly appreciated, as will being able to support the Memory Stick Duo Pro with up to 1GB of flash memory. Hopefully the quality of the 640x480 camera will come closer to what we saw years ago on the Sony Clié NR/NX series, as opposed to the crap we have today. But there was so much more they should have done to improve this phone.
Software-wise, Symbian isn't too bad. I've been able to find a few third-party applications which I find useful -- mostly stuff ported over from PalmOS (the "Handy" series, the "Mate" series, etc...). WorldMate in particular is much more useful when you can have it connect to download the latest weather reports, currency exchange rates, etc... and you don't have to depend on another device to make that happen. Moreover, Symbian does multi-tasking (theoretically), so you can start up a slow web page download and then go do something else, and come back to it later. This is a feature I'm looking forward to with PalmOS 6/Cobalt -- and hopefully they'll have a better implementation.
All-in-all, I'd give it one-and-a-half to two stars out of five. Only marginally better than my old 6110, not because of the way it handles the phone aspects (which the 6110, 6150, and 7110, and 6210 each did much better), but because I do have a need for mobile Internet connectivity, and as bad as the P900 is in this area, it's better than trying to take a cable and hook it up between my 6210 and a PalmOS PDA, or do the same over Infrared, or buy yet another new phone and PalmOS PDA combination which both include proper Bluetooth functionality built-in.
I don't know whether or not the P900 is better than the Nokia 6600/6610, but I have to believe that Nokia, even though they are no longer the King Midas of the industry, they still haven't slipped this far.