Sony Ericsson Z710i review: Sony Ericsson Z710i

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Sony Ericsson Z710i has an attractive, user-friendly design and a generous selection of features. It's a good performer too.

The Bad The Sony Ericsson Z710i doesn't have the best external display. It also lacks stereo speakers and a camera flash, and its call quality had a slight echo effect.

The Bottom Line If you're looking for a user-friendly, quality music phone, the Sony Ericsson Z710i delivers the goods.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0

Sony Ericsson Z710i

We have to admit that we're a little confused by Sony Ericsson's music phone strategy. Beyond the generally excellent Walkman MP3 phones, the company has put out a selection of other music handsets as well. Handsets like the Sony Ericsson Z710i aren't branded as official Walkman models, but they have just about the same music feature set nonetheless. So, like we said, it's just a bit confusing. Regardless, the Z710i accomplishes what it sets out to do. It's a quality phone and music player and the Sony Ericsson seems to have corrected design issues that plagued its phones in the past.

Design
Except for a color change, the Z710i is strikingly similar to the Sony Ericsson W710i Walkman. It has the same flip phone design with the looped antenna on the top of the rear flap. Like its predecessor, it's a tad boxy (3.4 by 1.9 by 1.0 inches). But it's a pleasant shape on the whole and it has a comfortable and solid (3.6 ounces) feel in the hand. The dark-gray color scheme is attractive, and it also comes in a lighter "metallic sand" version as well.

Compared with the W710i, the Z710i's exterior features are both improved and somewhat disappointing at the same time. We'll start with the bad news first. We dinged the W710i for its bland external display and we're going to have to do the same with the Z710i. Like its predecessor, the display is very large (1.5 inches) but the monochrome resolution means it doesn't support photo caller ID. It also won't act as a viewfinder for self-portraits, but Sony Ericsson redeemed itself this time around by adding a self-portrait mirror to the camera lens just above (there's still no flash though). You can change the backlighting time, and though the brightness isn't customizable the display remains visible in direct light.

On the upside, the display is great for using the music player with the phone closed. Since there's so much room, you can see the name of the song, the artist, and the album, plus the time remaining on the current track. Sony Ericsson also wins points for the music player buttons on the front flap. Though they're smaller than the music controls on the W710i and they lack the same rubberized texture, they're still easy to use. They can be a bit too sensitive, but the handy sliding control on the left spine locks the controls to prevent them being pressed accidentally.


The Z710's external display is bordered by the external music controls.
The left spine holds a volume rocker and a dedicated camera button. Both keys are large and tactile, but the camera control is usable only when the phone is open. The Memory Stick Micro slot sits just below, but you're required to remove the battery cover to access it. A single speaker sits on the back of the rear flap. The speaker is in an awkward location, and it's too bad Sony Ericsson didn't include stereo speakers on a music phone.

The Z710's interior shares much in common with the W710i as well. In typical Sony Ericsson style, the display is thoroughly spectacular. It measures two inches diagonally (176x220 pixels) and supports 262,144 colors. Everything from text to photos to graphics shows up beautifully, even in direct light. Sony Ericsson's simple menu system also looks good. Only the brightness and the clock style are customizable, but the text size should be large enough for most users.

Below the display and the sturdy hinge is the well-designed navigation array. A large, tactile four-way toggle with a central OK button is surrounded by two soft keys, dedicated Clear and Back controls, and a shortcut for the Web browser. You can program the toggle to give one-touch access to four functions while another dedicated control opens a secondary menu of user-defined shortcuts. As with other Sony Ericsson handsets, the Z710i lacks Talk and End buttons; instead the soft keys perform those functions. Sony Ericsson is getting better with its keypads and the Z710i shows the company's progress. Though similar to the W710i in design, they don't feel as cheap and aren't as slippery. The raised keys are large and are lit by a bright backlighting. Just below the keypad are the Power button and a dedicated messaging control. Both keys are a bit small, but it's not a huge deal.

Features
The ZZ10's feature set closely follows that of its predecessor. The phone book holds a healthy 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for five phone numbers, e-mail and Web addresses, a job title and company, work and home street addresses, a birth date, and notes. And if you have more than 1,000 friends, the SIM card holds an additional 250 names. You can assign contacts to a group or pair them with one of 15 polyphonic ringtones. You can assign a photo or video ringtones as well, but keep in mind that they won't show up on the external display.

Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a timer, a world clock, a stopwatch, a calculator, and a voice memo recorder (space is limited by the available memory.) On the high-end side, the Z710i comes with a speakerphone (usable after you make a call), PC syncing, full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, push e-mail, a code memo for storing sensitive information, modem capability, and USB mass storage support.

Though it's not an official Walkman phone, the Z710i has just about the same music player, which is a good thing. Sony Ericsson is no slouch when it comes to music phones and the Z710i shows the company's strengths. It supports a broad range of formats, including MP3, MP4, 3 AAC, and WAV files. Opening the player takes you directly to the main menu, where you can organize music by artist, track name, or playlist. Settings include album/song shuffle and loop, stereo widening, and an equalizer. Unlike other Sony Ericsson music phones, however, the Z710i doesn't offer Sony's Mega Bass.

Switching between the cell phone and the music player is seamless, as music automatically stops when you receive a call. Hang up and press the dedicated music key, and your song picks up from the point you left off. There's an airplane mode that lets you listen to your tunes in flight with the cell phone turned off, and you can minimize the player while using other functions. The interface is a bit utilitarian but we don't need fancy graphics to enjoy our tunes. And for even more music fun, the Z710i features an FM radio with 20 presets.

Our Z710i's internal memory is on the low side--just 18MB--but some alternate versions may have as little as 10MB. And keep in mind that, since it's shared with other applications, your actual storage space may be less. If you're planning to use the music player frequently, we recommend investing in a Memory Stick Micro for extra space; our test phone came with a 64MB card but larger cards are available. Getting music on the phone is relatively easy using the included USB cable and Sony Ericsson Disc2Phone and PC suite software. The Disc2Phone software is unchanged from previous Walkman phones. As such, it's quite spartan, but it's easy to understand (see Performance for more information).


The Z710i's camera has a self-portrait mirror but no flash.

The user-friendly 2-megapixel camera shoots photos in three sizes (2-megapixel, 1-megapixel, and standard VGA). Other options include two quality settings, three color effects, a night mode, white balance and brightness adjustments, 12 fun frames, a 2.5x zoom (smaller then the W710i), and four shutter sounds (there's no silent option). There's also a self-timer, a multishot mode, a time and date stamp, and an option for taking panoramic shots. When finished with your shots, you can save them to the phone or send them to a friend in a multimedia message. We don't like that the phone has to downsize a 2-megapixel photo in order to send it. Alternatively, you can use the USB cable and PC software to transfer a photo to a computer for printing. Overall photo quality was decent with vivid, sharp colors and distinct object outlines. On the other hand, it's disappointing that the Z710i doesn't have a flash. A PhotoDJ lets you edit your photos while the software includes a starter edition of Adobe Photoshop.


We liked the Z710's photo quality.

The camcorder takes clips with sound and offers a set of editing options similar to the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at about two minutes; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the memory permits. Video quality was satisfactory, with little blurriness. The Z710i comes with a VideoDJ application.

You can personalize the Z710i with a variety of color themes, wallpaper, and screen savers. You can purchase more options with the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. You can download more ringtones as well or create your own using the MusicDJ application. And unlike other music phones, you can save MP3 files as ringtones. Alpha Wing 2 is the only Java (J2ME) game included, but you get the full version.

Performance
We tested the quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) Sony Ericsson Z710i world phone in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was generally good with no voice distortion. The volume level also was admirable and we encountered little static or interference. It's worth noting though that the audio had a slight echoed effect, almost as if the sound was coming from the back of the speaker. It wasn't detrimental to our conversations, but it was noticeable just the same. On their end, callers said they could hear us plainly, though they could tell we were using a cell phone. Also, they complained of some wind noise. Speakerphone calls were decent and less muffled than on other phones. That said, the rear-facing speaker means we had the best experience if we rested the phone upside-down. We also tested the phone with the included wired headset and a Bluetooth headset, and had a satisfactory experience with both.

Music quality was admirable and on par with other Sony Ericsson music phones. As with the W710i we were really hoping for stereo speakers, but you can get stereo sound with the included wired headset. Sound quality was pretty impressive considering the headset comes included with the phone, which is a good thing since Sony Ericsson's proprietary connection prohibits against using a headset of your own. Fortunately, the music player interface wasn't as sluggish as on the W710i and unlike the W810i the Disc2Phone software didn't ask us repeatedly to install a driver. Music transfer time also shows improvement; it took just over a couple of minutes to transfer 40MB of tunes.

The Sony Ericsson Z710i has a rated battery life of 10 hours talk time and 14.5 days of standby time. Our tests revealed a talk time of only 8 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the Z710i has a digital SAR rating of 1.36 watts per kilogram.

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