The Sony Ericsson TM506 marks a couple of "firsts" for T-Mobile. Not only is it the first Sony Ericsson to land at T-Mobile in several years, but it's the carrier's first 3G cell phone since it launched its 3G network in May. Though it doesn't offer a streaming media experience or a wireless music store, it does have a pleasant array of features and decent performance in a pleasing design. Also, it's an appealing alternative to the carrier's existing 3G models. The TM506 will launch sometime in September; pricing was not available at the time of this writing but it should be less than $100 with a contract.
The Sony Ericsson doesn't make a bold style statement, but that doesn't mean it's unattractive. Indeed, we liked its slim profile (3.7 inches tall by 1.9 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick) and its glossy black skin with the amber highlights. This phone would look at home both in the boardroom and in a nightclub. It's also relatively lightweight (3.4 ounces), but it has a comfortable feel and a sturdy hinge.
Still, we had a few design gripes. The external display is small, rectangular, and monochrome. As such, it won't work as a self-portrait viewfinder and it can't support photo caller ID. It does show the time, battery life, signal strength, and numeric caller ID, but none of the display's options are customizable. Fortunately, one flick of the volume rocker on the right spine will reactivate the screen's backlighting. In the right light, the phone's external skin will show some fingerprints and smudges, but they weren't noticeable most of the time.
Besides the volume rocker, there are few remaining features on the TM506's exterior. The Memory Stick Micro slot is in a convenient and readily accessible location on the left spine. The camera lens sits just above the external display, the charger port rests on the bottom of the phone, and the TM506's single speaker is on the rear side.
Though the TM506's external display is disappointing, its 2.25-inch internal screen is bright, colorful, and vibrant. With support for 262,000 colors, it stands up to Sony Ericsson's long tradition of making great displays. Graphics, photos, and text show up well and gaming was a treat. You can change the brightness level and choose from three easy-to-use menu interface designs.
Initially we were a little wary of the TM506's controls and keypad, but in use, they're not so bad. The circular toggle and central OK button are flush, but they're surrounded by a raised ring that gives them some definition. The toggle doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. The Talk and End buttons, the camera shortcut, and the clear key are also flat, but their arrangement is spacious enough to prevent misdials. The thin sliver soft keys are raised slightly above the surface of the phone, but they're not as tactile as we'd like. There's a dedicated power button just below the keypad.
The keypad buttons have a unique design of overlapping circles. They're also flat, but they're partially surrounded by bright amber circles. We were able to dial and text quickly, and we liked the rubbery feel of the keys. On the other hand, dialing by feel takes some practice and the tiny numbers and letters on the keys may be too small for users with visual impairments. Also, the backlighting is rather dim.
Though the TM506 may lack some of the flashy multimedia features found on 3G phones from other carriers, it offers a respectable feature set with offerings for work and play. We'll start with the basics first. The phone book stores a healthy 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, a URL, a job title, a company name, two street addresses, and notes. The SIM card holds an additional 250 names and you can save your personal information to an electronic business card. For personalization, you can organize contacts into caller groups and you can pair them with one of 20 polyphonic and MP3 ringtones. You can save a photo to your contacts as well, but keep in mind that it won't show up on the external display.
Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, an alarm clock, a task list, a notepad, a calculator, a voice memo recorder, a timer, and a stopwatch. More advanced options include instant messaging, PC syncing, full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, a Bluetooth remote feature, voice dialing, USB mass storage, phone as modem capability, a file manager, and a code memo for storing passwords and other sensitive information. You also can use several POP3 e-mail systems, but you must access them through the WAP Web browser.