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Sony Ericsson K850i impressive

I spent two glorious days last week testing the latest model in the Sony Ericsson Cyber-shot line: the K850i. When Jonjie Gonzalez, Sony Ericsson’s press relations man in Cebu, invited me to test a K850i demo unit for a day or two, I jumped at the chance. I am, after all, a rabid Sony Ericsson fan-boy.

The Sony Ericsson K850i comes with a 5-megapixel camera and a slew of standard Cyber-shot features that distinguish the line among camera phones.

Sony Ericsson k850i Sony Ericsson K850i. The latest in the Cyber-shot line comes with a built-in 5-megapixel camera and a lot of features that distinguish the line from other camera phones. The phone, however, no longer has the small mirror that helps you position yourself when taking self-portraits. Click on photo to enlarge.

It has a dedicated camera button and does away with the active lens cover of previous versions of the product line. I’ve gotten used to the active lens cover–a sliding cover that activates the phone’s camera when you expose the lens–and had to stop myself a few times from using my fingers to slide a non-existent cover. But doing away with the moving parts that make up the active lens cover makes the phone more compact.

The K850i, however, does not have the small self portrait mirror that had been a fixture in its phones. The small round mirror, which helps you align the phone to make sure that you get yourself inside the photograph, is very useful for taking self portraits, preferably beside belly dancers (darn, I missed them during the launch). I can’t understand why the company removed it.

Camera features

The built-in camera comes with auto focus; Xenon flash, which helps you get good shots even in badly-lit environments; 16x digital zoom; and image and video stabilizer. It also comes with BestPic, a feature that lets you take nine successive shots on a single press of the camera button. You will then be asked to choose which image you want to save. BestPic is great for taking photos of fast moving subjects although I wished it will just save the entire set instead of having to force you to choose a single image.

Sending text message using PC suite IMPROVED PC SUITE. The Sony Ericsson PC Suite that comes with the K850i is a massive improvement compared to the software. It is now more integrated and comes with tools for sending and receiving text messages; managing files, contacts, and calendar entries; and connecting to the Internet.

The phone also comes with a lot of preset configurations that manipulate how the camera processes images. On the first day of my test, I had a hard time figuring out why photos I took indoor and at night were very dark, even with the flash firing. It turned out I forgot to change the settings to one of the “twilight” presets, a setting that improves photo quality in poorly-lit environments.

When I turned it on, the images were better. If you want to check the quality of images taken by the k850i, check my Zooomr set here, click on “all sizes” if you want to view the actual size of the photographs.

Mobile Internet

I used my Smart Buddy account with the K850i demo unit and for good reason: I am a satisfied and frequent user of the company’s mobile Internet. Smart charges an affordable P10 for every 30-minute block of mobile Internet usage.

Using K850i as modem Using the K850i as modem. The Sony Ericsson PC Suite simplifies management of the phone as an HSDPA modem. Above, the suite said I was connected to Smart’s GPRS network. When I tested the K850i, I did not activate the 3G settings.

The K850i is a multi-band phone and has HSDPA connectivity, a wireless connection that offers blazing download speeds. I wasn’t able to surf sites or test other applications but my experience in using Google Maps for Mobile indicated great downloading speeds. I also tried using it to connect my PC to the Internet and the PC suite indicated I was connected through GPRS although speed tests showed I was having a connection in excess of 500 kbps (and yes, I unplugged the LAN cable that was connected to the router).

Another great thing about the phone is that it works with the My Location feature of Google Maps for Mobile.

Sony Ericsson PC Suite

One of the best things about the phone isn’t with the unit itself, it’s with the CD that comes with it. The Sony Ericsson PC Suite that comes with the K850i is a massive improvement to the software. It is a great piece of application that makes connecting the phone to and using it with your computer such a wonderful experience.

It wasn’t always like this. I used to just skip the PC Suite installer that comes with a Sony Ericsson phone and just use its drivers. After installing the drivers, I would then connect my phone to the PC and use Float’s Mobile Agent, an open source software that allows you to manage contacts and files, send and receive text messages, make and receive calls from your PC.

PC Suite file manager FILE MANAGER. The file manager tool in Sony Ericsson PC SUITE. Click on photo to enlarge.

But the PC Suite version that comes with the K850i makes Float’s Mobile Agent, which works with the phone, superfluous. The new application suite is an even better piece of software. It’s a centralized phone management application that will allow you to send and receive text messages, manage contacts, files, and calendar entries, update your firmware and use the phone as Internet modem.

New keys layout

The K850i has a new navigator keys layout. This is the biggest adjustment for someone using older Sony Ericsson phones. The OK or selection key is no longer contained within the four navigator keys. Instead, you have to press somewhere above the keypad and right below the screen. But the interface is cool, though. It’s “semi” touch screen. The keys were engineered in such a way that it almost feels that the bottom part of the display is touch screen.

The first few minutes of using the navigator and alpha-numeric keys were a bit awkward. But pretty soon, I got used to it and was pressing buttons at my usual speed. Come to think of it, I’ve gotten used to using the K850i layout that when I returned to using my dependable (albeit now ancient) K750i, I found myself pressing the bottom part of the screen.

FMA and k850i FLOAT’S MOBILE AGENT. While FMA works with the Sony Ericsson k850i, it has become superfluous because the PC Suite that comes with the phone can now send and receive text messages as well as manage files, contacts, and calendar entries.

The K850i is a great phone, no doubt about it. The suggested retail price is at the P20,000 level. But you can get the phone for free with Smart Gold’s P3,500 plan. If you’re frequently out of the office but still need to regularly connect to the Internet, the K850i will do well as an HSDPA modem for your laptop or as standalone mobile browser, e-mail client, and RSS reader.

By Max Limpag

Max is a journalist and blogger based in Cebu City, Philippines. He is co-founder of the journalism start-up InnoPub Media.