The Sony Ericsson Equinox is the first phone from the manufacturer to land at T-Mobile since the TM506. In many ways the Equinox is a fitting successor; like the TM506 it has a thin flip phone design and it sports a similar feature set that includes support for T-Mobile's 3G network. Yet, it also suffers from Sony Ericsson's signature design missteps. The Equinox, aka the TM717, is $49 with an Even More plan and $149 with an Even More Plus plan.
The Equinox's design has its good points, but ultimately we weren't that impressed. It's not unattractive, but a few elements like the external display and keyboard impact the phone's usability. What's more, it's high time that Sony Ericsson ditches its proprietary habits.
But before we start complaining, we'll tell you what we liked. At 3.7 inches by 2.0 inches by 0.6 inch, the Equinox is a sleek, compact phone with clean lines. The glossy black skin catches the light (and fingerprints), and there's a circle motif on the front face. The handset also has a sturdy hinge and a soft touch material on the back cover.
The 2.25-inch internal display is another high point. With support for 262,144 colors and a decent resolution (320x240 pixels), it's bright and vibrant with sharp hues and graphics. The menu interface is simple and intuitive and you can add the MyFaves display to the standby screen. Also, you can adjust the display brightness and the clock size, and you can activate a light on the front cover to glow when you receive a call.
On the downside, the external display is too small and dim to be really useful. It shows just the time, battery life, signal strength, and numeric caller ID. You won't see photo caller ID and the date, and it won't work as a viewfinder for the camera lens. The display is hidden when the backlighting is off, but you can't change the backlighting time.
The Equinox also encourages Sony Ericsson's worst habit, its poorly designed controls. Both the navigation array and backlit keypad buttons are flat and slippery. We made a few mistakes when dialing and texting. The experience isn't very comfortable and it's difficult to dial by feel. The array consists of a circular toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys Talk and End/power buttons, a clear control, and a camera shutter. You can designate four shortcuts for the toggle when the phone is in standby mode.
The remaining exterior control is the volume rocker on the left spine. It's slightly raised, but it's smaller than it should be. And that brings us to our biggest gripe of the Equinox's design. Though Sony Ericsson (and Sony) has long used its own memory cards and charger/headset connections, enough is enough. As the rest of the cell phone world--even Samsung--moves to the standard Micro-USB charger port, it's disappointing that Sony Ericsson still uses a single proprietary port for both the headset and the charger. Of course, not only does that restrict you to one peripheral at a time, but also you'll need an adapter for your own 3.5mm headset. We know that the company is capable of making its phones more user-friendly--the W995 had standard charger and headset jacks--so we see no reason why the company can't do the same for its entire product line.
But wait...there's more. The Equinox also has uses a Memory Stick Micro card instead of the microSD cards that every other manufacturer uses. That means that you run into a big roadblock if you want transfer files between the Equinox and a computer or another non-SE phone. Really, Sony Ericsson, this business has to stop. Do you customers a favor and make your devices easier to use. OK, our rant is over.
The Equinox has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, a company name, two street addresses, a URL, a birthday, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with either a video or a photo (remember that they won't appear on the external display), a light effect, and one of 23 MP4 ringtones. If you're not happy with the selection that came on the W995a, you can use your music tracks to identify callers.
Essential features include text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, a task list, a notepad, a stopwatch, a timer, a notepad, a calendar, a calculator, and an alarm clock. More advanced options include Wi-Fi, USB mass storage, PC syncing, a voice recorder, instant messaging, a file manager, and a code memo for storing sensitive information. With the gesture control you can silence alarms and incoming calls by waving your hand back and forth in front of the camera lens. In our tests, it takes a slow and deliberate motion to get it to work.