Like Nokia, many of Sony Ericsson's smartphones don't usually get picked up by U.S. carriers, which is a shame since the company produces some very capable and popular devices. The latest example being the Sony Ericsson P1i. Luckily, you can purchase such phones through various online retailers, such as MobilePlanet, which is how we got our hands on this device.
As a refresh to the Sony Ericsson P990i, the P1i sports a more updated and usable design like the Sony Ericsson M600i's and features more memory and a better camera. It also continues to offer touch-screen capabilities, productivity and e-mail tools for the mobile professional, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It's certainly a viable alternative to today's Windows Mobile and Palm smartphones. That said, we're disappointed by the lack of support for U.S. 3G networks, and the smartphone is bit sluggish and kludgey to operate. Plus, at about $450 for an unlocked version, we just want a bit more from the device.
The Sony Ericsson P1i has the familiar design of many of the company's cell phones but most closely resembles the M600i. The candy-bar-shape smartphone is compact and light at 4.1 inches by 2.1 inches by 0.7 inch deep and 4.4 ounces, and sports a traditional but attractive silver-and-black casing. It's certainly a huge improvement over the bulky P990i. With a solid construction, the P1i is comfortable to use as a phone, and it has a nice soft-touch finish on the back to make it easier to grip. It also won't make too much of a tight fit in a pants pocket.
The P1i boasts a beautiful 2.6-inch display that shows off 262,144 colors at a 320x240 pixel resolution. It's sharp and bright, and you can adjust the backlight timer, theme, wallpaper, menu style (grid or list views), and more to suit your personal style. Even better, it's a touch screen, so you can enter data, navigate the various menus, and launch apps with just touch of your finger or stylus. For the most part, the screen was responsive to our commands, though the smartphone's somewhat sluggish performance originally had us thinking otherwise (see Performance section for more).
Given the smaller footprint, the Sony Ericsson P1i doesn't have a full QWERTY keyboard but sports the dual-function rocker-style keyboard like the M600i's. (You also have the option of entering text using the onscreen keyboard or handwriting recognition system.) 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. Admittedly, it takes a bit of acclimation to use the keyboard, but not as much as one would think. We got the hang of it pretty quickly, and the tactile buttons are large and have a fair amount of spacing between them for easy typing. The number buttons are outlined in red to help you locate them in a sea of black. Unlike many smartphones today, there are no dedicated Talk and End keys on the P1i, so you'll have to use the touch screen to make and end calls.
There's also no navigation toggle, but you do get a scroll wheel on the left spine (as well as a back button and a cell phone strap loop) that you can depress to select an item. Though this control allows for easier one-handed use, we did miss having the directional keypad and we often found ourselves having to use the jog wheel for one task, the touch screen for another, and the keyboard for yet another function; it just wasn't the most seamless experience and got to be frustrating. On the right, you'll find a customizable shortcut button, a proprietary Sony Memory Stick Micro (M2) expansion slot, and a camera activation key. The camera lens and flash are located on the back, while there is a connector for the AC adapter and headset on the bottom. Of the latter, Sony Ericsson uses a proprietary port, so that's a bit of annoyance particularly where the headset is concerned.
Our Sony Ericsson P1i came packaged with a travel charger, a desktop stand, a USB cable, a 512MB M2 card, a wired headset, a soft carrying case, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Don't let its compact frame fool you. The Sony Ericsson P1i was built to meet the needs of a mobile professional. The smartphone runs Symbian OS 9 as do Nokia's devices, but the P1i is using a UIQ 3 interface rather than the S60 platform. This allows for the touch-screen functionality, and the menu systems differ. Overall, the P1i is pretty intuitive to use and everything is organized in a logical manner. That said, it's not the snazziest layout, and we think that the P1i's user interface requires too many steps to accomplish some tasks.