Sony Ericsson has never been one to shy away from the high-powered camera phone. Its Cyber-shot series, which includes the Sony Ericsson K850i that we reviewed earlier this year, offers a solid set of handsets that exceed both at taking pictures and making calls. At the GSMA World Congress last February, Sony Ericsson introduced more Cyber-shot phones but made a small change by swapping the "K" in front of the model number with a "C." We're not sure why Sony Ericsson made the switch, but when you think about it, a "C" makes more sense for a camera phone than a "K."
Though we've had to wait a long time to review it, the Sony Ericsson C902 is an appealing camera phone with a sleek, appealing design and a loaded feature set. Performance was respectable as well, though photo quality wasn't quite as good as were expecting. It's not offered by a U.S. or Canadian carrier, so you must buy it unlocked in North America. It won't come particularly cheaply; Sony Ericsson lists it for $549, but online retailers, such as Expansys.com, sell it for as low as $389.
The Sony Ericsson C902 offers a typical Sony Ericsson candy-bar design in four colors: red, bronze, silver, and black. It's attractive by all accounts, and we like the silver stripes that wrap around the edges of our red version. At 4.3 inches by 1.9 inches by 0.4 inch, the phone casts a trim shadow and it slips easily into a pocket or bag. Weighing 3.8 ounces, it's a bit heavier than it looks, but the trade-off is a comfortable, solid feel in the hand.
The C902 has a 2-inch display that supports 262,144 colors (320x240 pixels). Like most Sony Ericsson displays of its caliber, it's bright and vibrant with bold colors and sharp graphics. You can change the brightness only. You can choose from three menu styles, but each interface is attractive and user-friendly. The display is rather difficult to see in direct light, but that's not unusual.
The navigation array consists of a square toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, Talk and End/power buttons, a shortcut control, and a clear key. The toggle is spacious and pleasantly tactile, but the remaining keys feel just a bit cramped. It will be a personal issue, so users with large hands should give the phone a test run before buying. You can set the toggle to act as a shortcut to four user-defined functions and you can access additional shortcuts with the aforementioned button. The keypad buttons are raised above the surface of the phone giving them a comfortable, tactile feel, but we noticed that they were somewhat cramped. You can dial by feel, but the backlighting was a tad dim.
On the right spine there's a volume rocker and a camera shutter key. The rocker is rather thin, and we wonder why Sony Ericsson placed it on the bottom end of the phone rather than the top. We got used it eventually, but it wasn't very intuitive at first. On the right spine you'll find the port for the USB cable, the charger and wired headsets. As you'd expect from Sony, it's a proprietary connection and the single port means you can use only one peripheral at a time. There is a Memory Stick Micro slot, but it's located behind the battery cover, which can be tricky to pry off.
You might be wondering where the C902's camera lens is, since it's nowhere visible at first glance. To expose it you must slide up the phone's top end about a quarter of an inch. As the phone's back slide splits apart you'll see the lens, flash, and self-portrait mirror. It's a unique and effective touch, since it conveniently hides the camera parts when you don't need them. Also, we appreciate that Sony Ericsson gave us a self-portrait mirror. A single speaker also sits on the C902's rear face.
The C902 has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail, Web address, job title and company name, two street addresses, a birthday, and notes. You can save callers to groups, and you can pair them with a photo and one of 20 ringtones. Besides polyphonic melodies, you also can save MP3s and videos as ringtones.
Basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a timer, a stopwatch, an alarm clock, a calculator, and a speakerphone. The C902 isn't a smartphone, but it offers a nice assortment of advanced options. You'll find full Bluetooth with a stereo profile and remote control options, PC syncing, a file manager, USB mass storage, integrated GPS, POP3 e-mail, and a code memo for storing sensitive information.
Of course, the 5-megapixel camera is the C902's star attraction. Sliding the phone open starts the camera automatically, so there's no need to press a button or navigate through menus. When you're in camera mode, you'll notice that a series of lighted icons appears around the display, which also functions as the viewfinder. These icons actually are small touch controls for manipulating various icons, like choosing a scene, changing the shooting mode, disabling the flash, activating the self-timer, selecting the focus detection, or changing to photo view mode. The icons are a tad small, but they're easy to use and they offer a slight vibrating feedback. We also like that when a particular mode is selected, an icon for that mode pops up on the main display.
When used in landscape mode, the phone has an ergonomic feel in the hand that resembles a standalone camera. And as we said, we like how the phone opens to reveal the lens. You use the toggle and soft keys to control camera functions, and we give points to Sony Ericsson for putting the camera shutter and volume rocker and zoom control on the same side of the phone.
You can take pictures in four resolutions, from 5 megapixels down to simple VGA. Editing options are more than generous. They include face detection, an autofocus, a macro setting, an infinite mode (disables the autofocus for pictures taken at a distance), a self timer, five white balance settings, an adjustable brightness meter, four color effects, two quality settings, a 16x digital zoom, an image stabilizer, Sony Ericsson's BestPic feature (for taking nine shots in rapid succession), and four shutter sounds (there's no silent option).