Sony Ericsson K850i Mobile Phone - Review

Sony Ericsson K850i Mobile Phone - Review

Sony Ericsson K850i - Review

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    Whether you like it or not, people are going to compare the Sony Ericsson K850i with the Nokia N95. The biggest similarity between the two is their 5-megapixel camera modules. But with the N95's advantage of an earlier market release and an overall stronger suite of features, can the K850i still hold the fort?

    Sony Ericsson K850i - Colors

    Design of the Sony Ericsson K850i Cell Phone

    The design concept of the K850i is modeled closely after today's digital cameras. Taking a page out of the Sony Cyber-shot book, the K850i sports a slider switch that toggles between the shooting modes (still and movie) and playback function. Previously, we had to access the onscreen menu to change from stills to motion images. With this new hardware switch, we find toggling between shooting modes a lot easier.

    One of the most notable changes is the automatic lens cover. The company has dropped the entire mechanical lens cover on the earlier K810i and K800i, replacing it with an automatic one on the K850i. While the move may have been well-intended, there's a catch to it. A layer of clear plastic now protects the cover and it attracts fingerprints with ease, which adds another formerly unnecessary step before taking a shot--and that's to clean the surface.

    Previously on the K810i and K800i, sliding down the lens cover automatically activated the camera, and that was, in fact, more convenient. With the K850i, we find it hard to reach for the dedicated on/off button that is flush with the surface. That's on top of its diminutive size, making it more challenging to activate the camera in the dark.

    Sony Ericsson K850i - Front and SidesOne of the more interesting introductions to the K850i is the battery compartment. Unlike most mobile phones where changing the power cell involves removing a cover, this Cyber-shot sports a slide-out door that allows access to the battery, SIM card and expansion card slot (Memory Stick Micro M2 and microSD). This feature may be common on standalone digital cameras, but it's definitely one of the firsts we're seeing on a camera-phone.

    Like the K810i, Sony Ericsson has not only given the K850i a lustrous front section, it has also kept the numeric keypad and Call/End buttons equally tiny. These are reminiscent of those little square pimples on the T650i. Surprisingly, the buttons aren't as much trouble as the glossy fascia, both front and back, on the K850i. The feeling is a little different from thumbing on larger keys, but ample spacing between each button helped.

    The one and probably most exasperating thing about the K850i is the glossy surface which picks up fingerprint smudges. After a few minutes of handling, the handset hasgathered enough prints to warrant a thorough wash. A few swipes usually does the trick for the rear face. It's the cleaning between the numeric keys that gets gradually frustrating. We couldn't get it to look like it was just out of the box.

    In our previous assessments, we wrote about the top row of touch-sensitive softkeys. These are represented by three white dots just below the phone's 2.2-inch LCD. Now, by doing away with the traditional hard buttons, Sony Ericsson has managed to shave off more space for a larger screen. Together with the usual directional pad which is now a rectangular ring wrapping around the 2 and 5 buttons, we think it's a clever use of limited space on the handset.

    Like most skeptics of touch-based surfaces, we aren't convinced the touch-sensitive softkeys on the K850i will deliver the response and tactile feel associated with hardware buttons. We were wrong. Even though there's no haptic feedback like on the Motorola RAZR2 handsets, these keys on the K850i are equally efficient in use. Likewise for the directional pad. The raised tabs didn't make things difficult for us. The only quibble we have is that the softkeys depress slightly if we press on it harder because the screen and the keypad are separate components. How this will affect the durability of the handset in real-life use is a question we can't answer for now, given our limited time with the review set.

    Features of the Sony Ericsson K850i Cell Phone

    The phone's menu is standard Sony Ericsson's fare with a 3 x 4 icon grid, tabbed browsing interface for Settings and vertical scrolling for other options. The touch-sensitive softkeys are mapped to the applications and they show up as different configurations when selected. There's no option to customize the softkeys in standby mode. The left key opens the media browser, whereas the middle and right ones bring you to the phone's menu and contacts folder, respectively.

    Sony Ericsson K850i - slider switch that toggles between the shooting modes and playback function
    The K850i sports a slider switch that toggles between the shooting modes and playback function.
    Sony Ericsson K850i - KeypadSony Ericsson K850i - slide-out door that allows access to the battery and the SIM card.
    This Cyber-shot sports a slide-out door that allows access to the battery and the SIM card.

    Sony Ericsson is shipping its recent handsets with the new media-browsing interface that looks vaguely like the Sony PlayStation Portable. The browser doesn't bring anything new to the plate and it's just a different way of managing multimedia files on the phone. The Photo, Music, Video and Settings icons are lined in a column. To select any of the options, we had to press right using the navigation pad which brought us to the next level of options.

    The K850i comes equipped with a built-in accelerometer. Again, this is nothing new since the earlier W580i already sported such a feature as a pedometer. However, the sensor on the K850i is used solely to determine the orientation of the display. When we turn the handset sideways, the screen automatically changes into landscape mode. The sensor is also used in one of the installed games: Marble Madness 3D. The mission is to navigate the marble to the end of the maze by tilting the phone to control the orb. Although there's always the traditional keypad to fall back on, the fun is in playing the game using the motion sensor controls.

    On the digital imaging front, the K850i has a comprehensive set of features and is comparable with some midrange digital cameras. The user can choose different image sizes, quality settings and shooting modes. There is 16x digital zoom, though we hardly used that due to pixelation in the pictures. The K850i also comes with autofocus, a built-in Xenon flash, a second LED light (when was the last time you saw two types of flash on one device?), selectable ISO, white balance, metering modes and a variety of scene modes to help the user along. When holding the K850i sideways in camera mode, the white keypad lighting goes off as the top row of keys light up with mini blue icons which double as camera shortcuts.

    Sony Ericsson K850i - Back and CameraOther notable goodies on this Cyber-shot include a front-facing camera for 3G video calls, FM radio with RDS, organizer functions, Track ID, Video/Photo/Music DJ, voice recorder, RSS feed reader, Web browser, Bluetooth stereo with A2DP and triband HSDPA connectivity.

    Performance of the Sony Ericsson K850i Cell Phone

    Sony Ericsson rated the K850i for 9 hours of talktime and 16 days on standby. With average use of taking pictures, listening to music, making a few voice calls and sending text message, the 930mAh Lithium-Polymer cell kept the phone running for about two days. Audio call quality was decent and the loudspeaker was clear enough aided by two tiny ridges running along both sides of the device that propped it up off the table.

    The camera had a shutter lag of a mere 0.25 seconds, which is very decent for a camera-phone and one of the better ones we've reviewed so far. Natural colors were retained in our pictures, though sometimes we wished the hues were a little more saturated. But that's nothing simple post-processing can't fix. Instead of us going on and on, we'll just leave you with some of the pictures so you can judge them for yourself.


    So should you go out and buy the K850i now? Like we mentioned earlier, the N95 has the early market advantage of getting into the consumer hands. Prices would have been different now compared with the time it was just launched. In fact, it's been so long that the K850i now has two N95s to contend with: The earlier N95 and the N95 (8GB) which was released at the same time as the K850i.

    In terms of overall features, the N95 trumps the K850i on the merit of its built-in GPS chip alone. But from a camera-phone perspective, the K850i is perhaps the best we've handled so far. That said, for most people we reckon it'd still be a very tough decision between the N95 and the K850i. Both devices have their merit and each does some things better than the other. So before laying down S$898 (US$590.96) for the Japanese-Swedish's flagship device, it would be a good idea to play around with both phones in shops first before making the decision.