- Excellent keyboard
- very good Web browser
- small and light
- Lacks Wi-Fi
- no camera
- somewhat complex user interface
Sony Ericsson is one of the few handset manufacturers to support Symbian’s UIQ platform, which has featured in several generations of ‘P’ series smartphones. A new addition to this series, the P990, is set to appear shortly. Also sporting UIQ, and available now, the M600i is yet another take on the keyboarded smartphone. Whereas ‘P’ series devices are aimed squarely at the mobile professional, the M600i is more of a ‘crossover’ device, appropriate to a wider range of users. This doesn’t mean that mobile professionals should pass it over, though, as it has many useful 'business' features, including support for corporate 'push' email and 3G data communications.
Available in either black or white, the M600i is small for a device that sports a full QWERTY keyboard. Its dimensions make it look like a cross between the larger Nokia E61 and a more rectangular standard mobile phone, although at 57mm wide by 107mm deep by 15mm high it should not overburden your pocket, and at 112g it's relatively light -- considerably lighter than the 144g E61, in fact.
Two thirds of the M600i's front is taken up with the screen, which is a high-quality 18-bit (262,000-colour) 240-by-320 pixel TFT measuring at 39mm wide and 52mm tall (2.5in. across the diagonal).
The remainder of the fascia is occupied by the keyboard, which comprises just 20 keys, just 14 of which access the QWERTY characters. In most cases two QWERTY characters share a single key, along with one or two other characters. These shared keys are fairly large for a smartphone at 8mm wide and 6mm tall; they are also concave, rocking in a sideways direction. The idea is that you press the sides of the keys to get your QWERTY characters.
The keyboard is surprisingly robust and intuitive, and we got used to it very quickly. The generous size of individual keys certainly makes it easier to work at speed than with some smartphones. The bottom row provides a space bar and some (non-rocking) function keys: these are half-height and although the space bar is quite wide, the other four are very small and require a little more care to hit correctly. A numberpad is overlayed onto some keys for direct number dialing and entry of numbers into other software.
The top edge is occupied by a small on/off switch and the infrared port, while the bottom edge houses the mains power socket. This is a proprietary type adapter, so you can't use standard USB charge cables as you can with BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices.
On the right edge is a button that launches the Web browser (Opera) by default, although you can allocate it to another function if you prefer. However, you can only choose from a small number of predefined settings rather than selecting from the full gamut of preinstalled applications or any you may add.
The right edge also houses a slot for flash memory cards. Sony Ericsson has a penchant for Sony Memory Sticks, and in M600i's case has chosen the Memory Stick Micro. As its name suggests, this format is very small -- about the same size as microSD, or approximately 12mm by 15mm.
The left edge carries a scroll wheel and a back button plus the slot for the device stylus, which is rather too small and thin for our liking.
The Sony Ericsson M600i is a 3G phone with tri-band GSM support, so it should suit the international traveler. There was 60MB of free memory on our review device, and, as noted above, you can augment this with Sony Memory Stick Micro cards. A 64MB card ships with the device.
Push email is supported, with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync included out of the box. Support for BlackBerry Connect 2.1 is also available, along with Visto and Altexia. According to Sony Ericsson’s Web site, iAnywhere, Nokia Intellisync and SEVEN support are also expected soon. Standard POP, IMAP and SMTP accounts can be configured on the device too.
We have already noted the infrared port. Bluetooth is also present, but not Wi-Fi, unfortunately. Wi-Fi is increasingly showing up in smartphones: it's in Nokia’s E61, for example, and has been a feature of connected Windows Mobile Pocket PCs for some time.
One feature the Sony Ericsson M600i shares with Nokia’s E61, and with BlackBerry devices, is the lack of a digital camera. This means you can’t use the M600i for video calls, though 3G data use is not affected.
In addition to the keypad mentioned earlier, there are two ways of entering text via the touch-sensitive screen. You can tap at an on-screen keyboard using the provided stylus or write direct to the screen using handwriting recognition. There's a good predictive text system that functions for both of these methods. Although the handwriting recognition made easy work of our own writing, we found the keyboard so effective during testing that we were rarely tempted to use either of these alternative input methods.
As far as software is concerned, you get a calendar, note pad, task manager, PDF reader and QuickOffice software that allows you to create documents and spreadsheets (including Microsoft Word and Excel documents). These business-orientated applications sit alongside the email support and Ericsson Mobile Organiser, which provides access to SMS, MMS, email and voicemail together on one screen.
There's also a lot of emphasis on music, audio in general and entertainment. You get a ringtone creator called MusicDJ, while 3D engine delivers high-quality graphics that are shown off in a game -- Vijay Singh Pro Golf 2005 3D. Another game, a Tetris clone called QuadraPop, is also thrown in.
Other applications include a voice recorder, image viewer, Web browser and RSS reader. The RSS reader is a great idea. It's exceptionally fast over the 3G connection, and delivers succinct and easily readable information. The Web browser is impressive too. Pages are pushed into a format that requires no horizontal scrolling, you can open multiple pages at once and then flick between them by tapping on-screen icons, and you can view pages in landscape mode which often suits better than portrait.
You get PC Suite for sharing data and synchronising your contacts and diary, as well as Sony’s Disc2Phone software, which is designed for copying music to the M600i. Disc2Phone can reduce the bitrate on the fly, helping you to cram more tracks onto the device. You can also copy data directly to the M600i, as once connected it appears on your PC as a mass storage device.
Performance & battery life
We had no trouble setting up the Sony Ericsson M600i to work with an Orange 3G SIM, and it performed well during testing. Voice call quality was fine, and the rendering of information delivered over the air via 3G was impressive. The small screen area is used to good effect, and the ability to switch the Web browser to landscape mode and open multiple windows were particularly useful.
Battery life is good. Our review device lasted for several days between battery charges, and we got ten hours of continuous music on a playback test with the screen forced to stay on.
The UIQ software is powerful, but we're not big fans of the user interface. Many of the on-screen icons are too small to hit accurately with a finger and they aren’t always accessible with the scroll wheel, which means you need to resort to the stylus, which is time consuming.