The Sony Ericsson P990i is the latest smart phone to come from the Japanese-Swedish collaboration, and it's been a long time coming. There are a number of die-hard users of the P910a, its American predecessor, and ever since the P990i was announced late last year, many people have waited patiently for its release. As with the P910a, the P990i is a serious smart phone that will please tech-minded consumers and professionals. One of the major additions to the P990i is its inclusion of Wi-Fi support, a feature that even some of the more popular smart phones don't have. This cool little smart phone will cost you, though; because it doesn't have the backing of a U.S. carrier, you'll have to purchase it unlocked at a hefty price. The pricing of the Sony Ericsson P990i at the time of this review was anywhere from $849 to $1,099, which is simply insanely expensive. Much like the P910a, the Sony Ericsson P990i is a tad on the large side when compared to regular phones, but its bulk is standard for most smart phones. Measuring 4.4 by 2.2 by 1 inches and weighing 5.3 ounces, it's actually slightly smaller than the latest Palm Treo 700p. Its color scheme has not changed much from its predecessor's, retaining the same silver finish all the way around. The phone feels comfortable in the hand, though you might want to flip the keypad flap down when holding it next to your ear for additional comfort.
The keypad is one of the most notable design features of the P990i. The numerical keypad flips down to reveal a QWERTY keyboard on the main body of the phone. This is a big departure from the P910a, which had the keyboard on the flap itself. When flipped up, we found the buttons on the numerical keypad to be spacious and tactile for easy dialing. The keypad has the standard navigation keys placed along the top, which consist of two soft keys, a five-way navigation toggle, a back button, and a clear button. As for the QWERTY keyboard, we found the slightly rubberized keys easy enough to press, but they are so tiny and crowded together that it still took us a while before we felt comfortable typing with it. You also have the option of using the stylus for the handwriting-recognition feature for text entry if you prefer. Both the keypad and the keyboard have a blue backlight when activated.
With the keypad flap up, you see only a 2.5-inch diagonal display. However, when the keypad flap is flipped down, you get the full 2.8-inch, 262,144-color TFT screen in all its glory. The display is simply gorgeous and very easy on the eyes. The backlight timer is adjustable, as is the brightness setting. There are also a few other differences when the flap is flipped down vs. when it is flipped up. With the flap down, the display becomes a touch screen and certain features such as the Web browser and the RSS feed reader are made available. If you find it a pain to keep on flipping the flap up and down to gain access to these functions, you can actually remove the front flap entirely with an included screwdriver. You will still be able to make calls via a touch-screen keypad.
On the very top left of the phone's front is a small VGA camera specifically designed for video phone calls. On the left spine are a media player button, a jog dial, a back button, and a keylock slide. We found the jog dial and back button especially useful for one-handed navigation, and we hardly needed to use the navigation controls on the keypad at all. A dedicated camera button, a Memory Stick Duo slot, and a dedicated Internet button are housed along the right spine. On the back of the phone, you'll see a circular camera lens cover. The cover slides clockwise or counterclockwise to reveal the camera lens. There's also a self-portrait mirror, a flash, and a small speaker. Because of the position of the camera lens, the P990i almost looks like a real digital camera when viewed from the back.