- Neat and spacious key layout
- excellent camera
- functions as a modem over 3G
- Vodafone 3G;
- At last a competitor to 3
- supports Internet browsing
- Short on internal storage memory
- on the large side
- supports Memory Stick Duo rather than SD
- Vodafone 3G;
- Internet access could be better
- hefty data download charge
Vodafone recently launched its 3G service with five handsets, of which three are available from free and one costs a minimum of £30. The top-end model is Sony Ericsson’s V800, which costs from £50. Here we evaluate the V800 handset itself, and also take a look at Vodafone's new 3G service.
The V800 is a stylish black-and-silver flip phone, albeit a somewhat large one. In particular, the V800 is tall (for the record, the measurements are 49mm by 102mm by 23.6mm). This is in part due to the fact that its hinged area houses a camera, which can be used to shoot snaps and video, and also to make video calls. The lens swivels on a hinge and can be set either to face the caller or to point outwards. It’s all pretty straightforward to use and the camera is easy to turn with a thumb. Sony Ericsson has also allowed plenty of width and height in the main body of the device, allowing ample room on the keypad area for well spaced number keys, a separate row of function keys (dedicated to video calling, accessing the on-screen graphical menus, and accessing music and videos), a navigation pad and a further four keys. Two of the latter access menu options, while two provide ‘back’ and ‘clear’ functions. The separate power key is also located here. The left and right sides of the device house further buttons: on the left there's a pair of volume buttons, while the right side houses a shortcut to the camera and a light button that activates two banks of LEDs around the camera lens. These LEDs can be used either to illuminate what you're trying to photograph, or as a torch in their own right. They are certainly bright enough to light your way in the dark, but are a bit too bright for video calling. The V800 has two screens: the internal one is a 176-by-220 pixel unit measuring 36mm wide by 45mm tall and supporting 262,144 colours (18-bit colour); the external screen is a small (21mm tall x 12mm wide) display of 101 by 80 pixels offering just 400 colours. External displays are becoming ever more functional, and the V800’s can show the time and date, battery status, song titles if you are playing music, your next calendar appointment and who is trying to phone you. It will also act as a viewfinder for the camera -- after pressing the side button that activates the camera itself, you can frame and take a snap without opening the phone.
The V800’s feature set reads like a catalogue of everything a top-of-the-range mobile phone should have: it supports tri-band GSM and GPRS as well as 3G, includes Bluetooth, comes with software for synchronising data with Outlook Express and Outlook 2000 and higher, and will act as a modem via a Bluetooth, infrared or cable connection with a notebook computer. A cable is provided. The V800's graphical interface is easy enough to operate using the navigation button and soft menu keys. Naturally, one of the more prominent buttons is dedicated to accessing the Vodafone Live! service. Press this and a 3G connection is made, and you are taken immediately to the service's main screen. Vodafone Live!'s content is reminiscent of what's already available from 3. As you scroll down the main screen, you'll find news services from which you can stream or save video content as required. Next there's a ‘what’s new’ area, followed by content areas such as music, ringtones, games, sports news, general news and weather, film trailers, movie news and so on. An area called Find and Seek will locate services like bars, cinemas and cashpoints, while another called Travel and Journey offers journey planning, timetables and traffic reports. These services are quite easy to navigate considering the relatively small screen onto which they are delivered, and are extremely useful for things like finding train times while you're out and about. The V800 provides HTML and WAP browsing, accessed via an icon on the main screen labelled rather euphemistically 'Favourites'. Our browsing experience was somewhat mixed. Even simple Web sites we tried failed to format very well, and some more complex ones such as ZDNet UK refused to download at all. Vodafone offers both 12- and 18-month contract price plans. To get the V800 for £50 for either time period, you need to pay a minimum of £50 a month. At the lowest monthly cost of £22, you're looking at paying £250 for the phone. None of the monthly tariffs include downloaded data, which comes in at £2.35 per megabyte. Video messages are 60p each, picture messages 36p each, texts 12p each. Video calls to Vodafone mobiles are 35p a minute, and to other networks are 55p a minute. And although browsing the Vodafone Live! area is free, you will pay extra for content. Typical examples include music tracks at £1.50, and joining the Vodafone Film Club (which provides access to trailer archives, MMS alerts, and other material) at £3 for month. The V800 will function as a 3G modem with for a notebook, and we set it up to do this with our Fujitsu Siemens notebook. The phone functioned perfectly well in this role, dropping down to GPRS automatically if you move out of 3G range.
The V800 is a very user-friendly phone. Its somewhat large size is put to very good use when it comes to the size and placement of buttons. The main screen is superb -- its sharp and clear rendering of video is particularly impressive. The 1.3 megapixel camera is excellent, too. We can’t help feeling a little annoyed at the meagre 6MB of memory available to the user for storage, or the fact that expansion is via Memory Stick Duo cards rather than the much more popular SD cards. However, you do get a 32MB card in the box. Battery life is estimated at 10 hours' talk time, 1.5 hours of video calls, and 240 hours on standby. We used the phone regularly for a couple of weeks and were never quite confident enough not to charge every couple of days. Having said that, we never ran out of juice during a single day of usage. Vodafone’s 3G services are comparable in range and scope to those offered by 3 -- in other words, not especially compelling. However, the ability to access the Internet is a novelty for 3G phone users. Even though our experience in this regard was erratic, we're pleased to see it implemented. Business users thinking of taking advantage of the V800's 3G modem capability should bear in mind the data pricing structure, which is definitely not designed with their requirements in mind. Such customers would be better off opting for Vodafone's 3G data card and using a regular mobile phone for voice calls.