New Definition of Cool, Sony Ericsson S710a

s710a.jpgEver since I interviewed Sony Ericsson president Urban Gillstrom a few months back-and noticed that he, along with the other Ericsson folks visiting the Business 2.0 mothership -were all carrying the S710, I’ve been eager to get my hands on one. I believed then, and am convinced now, that this may be the heir to Sony Ericsson’s T610, their most popular phone to date.

After spending the past several days using the S710a (the kind folks at Sony Ericsson let me grab one from their booth at CES) it’s already apparent that it features a level of sophistication that eludes most mobiles. The baseline specs are impressive-EDGE-capable, Tri-band GSM, built-in Bluetooth, Memory Stick Duo, 1.3 megapixel camera-but that’s not what sets it apart. Rather, it’s the way the S710a manages to integrate all of these features so that all of the highlights are easily accessible and, more importantly, easy to use.

It’s an important distinction. While phones like the Motorola A630 or the LG VX7000 offer similar features, they are often hard to use (or even find)-the UI on the A630, in particular, defies comprehension-the S710’s user interface is clear and easy to navigate. It’s a swivel phone, meaning the keyboard flips out from behind the gorgeous 262,000 color screen, but the navigation tool and menu buttons are on the front of the phone, so even with the keyboard stowed away you can still receive calls, surf the web and do just about anything except make calls. Sony Ericsson also included an easy to use file manager to help keep track of pictures, ringtones, and downloaded applications-which makes it easy to find any content on the device.

And you will be creating content. Perhaps the S710’s biggest triumph is the camera. Not only does it look just like a Sony Cybershot from the back, but the phones powerful camera is on par with many of the low-cost digital cameras on the market. You can choose between four sizes, ranging from 160X120 (good for folks viewing your pictures with other cameraphones) to 1280×960, which means these pictures will look good on your PC. The S710 also packs a remote viewer application which means you can send a slideshow of your pictures, via Bluetooth, to a PC or TV (with an adapter) and view it on a bigger screen. You can send photos or MPEG 4 videos via email, Bluetooth, IR or MMS, and the device also includes a built-in light for taking photos in the dark.

My testing period has been-as mentioned-somewhat short, but I have yet to experience any problems with dropped calls or bad network coverage. I’ve been using it all over San Francisco pretty much non-stop since I got it and haven’t had a problem yet. Call quality is something to monitor: The big ding on Sony Ericsson’s T610 was a crap antenna that made dropped calls commonplace. I recommend using your phone a lot in the first few weeks to see if there are any glaring problem areas in your normal route between work, home, etc. (Both Cingular and T-Mobile-the two companies to carry the S710-will let you return a phone within two weeks, so you do have a trial period to work with.)

There are some potential problem areas. Though gorgeous, the screen is always uncovered so it could get scratched. Also, I can’t understand why Sony Ericsson didn’t make this a Symbian phone-but it doesn’t detract too much from the overall experience, so I’m keeping an open mind. Also, the device comes with a 32MB Memory Stick, though I filled that up pretty quick-it would have been nice to get a larger card to start with, but that’s a minor point. It also doesn’t support MS Pro Duo or MagicGate, which as far as I was concerned was just fine.

It’s too early to anoint this the phone of the year or anything like that, but Sony Ericsson has certainly come out swinging, with arguably its best phone to date. (I have no love for the P910-too much of a brick for my taste.) In addition to all of the above, it has a great MP3 player, can be used as a remote control for your PC, and will even wake your over-sleeping ass up in the morning thanks to its (highly annoying) alarm. Taken as a whole, this may be the best feature phones on the market.

Review by Matt Maier, wireless and gizmo correspondent for Business 2.0 magazine. Subscribe to his Weekly Wireless Report.

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