The Treos and BlackBerrys may get most of the smart phone press, but it's important to note that alternatives do exist. Sony Ericsson is one particular phone manufacturer that's been churning out these convergence devices for years under the guise of its P900 series (check out our review of the P910a). While we've yet to see the latest P990 make it to U.S. shores, we did manage to get our hands on the Sony Ericsson M600i, a beautifully slender device that runs Symbian OS 9.1 and has support for high-speed UMTS. It has a dual-function keyboard similar to that of the BlackBerry 7100 series and captures the same sex appeal as does the Motorola Q. If you can do without a camera and Wi-Fi, the M600i could be the perfect stylish smart phone for you. That said, the phone doesn't have carrier support in the United States, so you'll have to get it unlocked at the hefty price of $400. Sony Ericsson is well known for its stylish and attractive phones, and the M600i is no different. While it isn't as thin as the Q, it's still slim in its own right, measuring only 4.2 by 2.2 by 0.6 inches. It looks sleek and feels comfortable in the hand, thanks to its smooth metal body and softly rounded corners. It also fit very easily into our pants pocket. It does somewhat resemble a remote control, so holding it up to your ear may take some getting used to.
One of the best things about the M600i is the amazingly large and bright QVGA touch screen. Measuring 2.5 inches diagonally, the LCD boasts a 240x320-pixel resolution and 262,144 colors--markedly better than the Q's 65,536 colors. The screen is saturated with color; images and text are sharp and very easy on the eyes. The backlight timer is adjustable, as are the themes, wallpapers, colors, and menu style (grid or list views). Because of its touch-screen interface, you can easily navigate through the menus just by using the included stylus (it's housed in a skinny slot on the upper-left side). You can also choose to use handwriting recognition, a virtual keyboard, or the dual-function QWERTY keyboard for text input. The touch screen shows smudges after a while, especially if you end up using your finger to select menu options instead of the stylus.
A particularly clever design idea of the M600i is the inclusion of a jog dial located on the left spine right above the Back button. The jog dial proved invaluable for quickly scrolling through contacts, messages, and long Web pages, while the Back button provided an easy shortcut to the previous screen. It's worth noting that the Back button doesn't actually shut down the current application; it just minimizes it. You actually have to go to the Task Manager menu to terminate open applications. This is good if you like to run multiple tasks at once, but we think shutting down applications shouldn't be so tiresome. On the top of the device are the infrared port and a Power button, while the right spine is home to a programmable Hardware button, and a Memory Stick Micro (M2) card slot.
At first glance, it may seem like the M600i's dual-function rocker-style QWERTY keyboard would be difficult to maneuver. It does take some getting used to, as you have to press on the edge of the keys for the desired character, but it's a lot easier than it looks. There are two letters per key, and if you press it to the left, it inputs one letter; pressing it to the right enters the other letter. Thanks to a great key layout, tactile buttons, and predictive text, we found ourselves acclimating to the rocker-style keyboard pretty quickly.