The Sharp 902 is currently the flagship of Vodafone’s 3G line-up. At £170 it's not cheap, but we can see why Vodafone has put this handset at the top of its list. Add to the iPod-white phone front a 2-megapixel camera, a stunning screen, Bluetooth, a host of software and the ability to synchronise with a PC, and it looks as though the Sharp 902 marries style and substance.
Your first thought when picking up this phone may be to ask whether it's a 3G phone or a proper digital camera. If you don't need a sophisticated camera, the 902 could function as both. Its 2-megapixel capability is a first for a UK handset, and it comes complete with a flash unit and up to 20x digital zoom.
Open the clamshell and you'll be wowed by the 240 x 320 pixels, 262K colour screen which, at 61mm (2.4 inches) offers stunning definition and clarity. To make the most of this the application icons are large, and nicely animated. There's also a rather special hardware trick to get used to. You can swivel the screen around 180 degrees and lay it back down on the keypad facing outwards. In this configuration the screen becomes a viewfinder for the camera. Side-edge mounted shoot, zoom and options buttons are at your fingertips.
These camera buttons double as general phone controls, so you can dial calls and access on-phone applications while the screen is outermost. Of course you could do things the old fashioned way and use the number pad that lies under the clamshell. There's also good news here, as the buttons are large and well spaced. In addition to the number keys, two softkeys and a navigation key, there are three special keys. One is a clear/back key, another provides shortcuts to five applications and the third starts the media player.
There are two speakers on the brilliant white front casing for stereo output, a covered slot that doubles as a connector for video output and the provided stereo headset, and a covered SD card slot. Yes, you did read ‘video output’. Unusually, you can make a wired vonnection to other devices and show movies or stills without needing to physically transfer them from the phone itself.
You’ll need a reasonably sized pocket to store the 902 as it measures 50 x 102 x 26 mm, and you’ll feel its 149g weight. But on first impressions, the phone seems to be able to justify that overall size and weight.Features
One of the advantages of the large, well-spaced keyboard is that texting is relatively easy for all -- including the stubby-fingered. That and the sensibly arranged menus, which allow you to set up shortcuts to your favourite applications, make this an easy phone to use.
A lot of clamshell phones have a small display on the outer cover that allows you to identify incoming callers, so you can send them to voicemail. Even though you can swivel the main screen to the front, the Sharp 902 follows this trend, with a second display on the camera side. This tiny, narrow LED constantly shows the current time, signal strength and battery status. Incoming callers are identified by name if they are in the phonebook, by number if not, and the nearby camera flash unit doubles as a visual alert to incoming calls by blinking wildly.
Getting on to Vodafone’s Live! service involves a single button press, and the delivery of streamed video clips was smooth and, thanks to that already noted superb screen, eminently watchable. Video calls were solid too -- there is a smaller secondary camera inside the clamshell for video calling. You can break away from the Vodafone Live! service on to the wider Web.
The camera’s 2 megapixels sounds impressive but the Sharp 902 is not a substitute for a dedicated digital camera. It's useful for snaps, and even then it is at its best outdoors. We found that in dim lighting conditions performance, even with the flash, it was not on a par with a standalone digital camera.
Now here’s a strange thing: the 902 has a built-in scanner. It has separate modules for scanning barcodes, email addresses, URLs and phone numbers as well as straight text right into the phone. We had variable success with it, and positioning the camera just right is somewhat fiddly. Given that data entry using the keys is so easy, this feature seems extraneous.
While the video out feature is nice, we’d rather have been provided with a USB cable than the video leads and preferably both. As it is, you’ll need either to buy a USB accessory or use Bluetooth to synch data.
Memory in general is a problem. Just 8.5MB is available on board for image and videos you shoot, stuff you download, and Java games you install. You will need a memory card and the 32MB supplied card won’t be enough. We like having the SD card slot on the side of the casing, so that cards can be ‘hot-swapped’.
With Bluetooth on board using a wireless headset is no problem. Doing so means you will miss out on the stereo output through the provided headset which we found to be excellent. There are four tone control settings and you can pump up the bass. Music is interrupted by incoming calls. As you would expect, the built-in stereo speakers don't give you great audio, and the output is relatively quiet.
The 902 has the range of applications you’d expect from a phone of this calibre including diary, contact manager, voice recorder, currency converter, alarm, stopwatch and so on. PC connectivity software is provided for you to synchronise the calendar and contact book and share data such as pictures or videos you’ve shot or downloaded.
Call quality was good, as was 3G performance as far as Vodafone Live! services are concerned. The wider Web was a mixed experience. The BBC’s low graphics news page loaded well, but Amazon.co.uk, which is more complex, took ages to load. When browsing we got some ‘insufficient memory’ reports, and with Web pages in memory we found the phone’s response to button presses slower than usual.
Battery life was impressive. Sharp says you should get 140 minutes of talktime and 240 hours of standby from the 902. We spent a 48-hour period making video calls, using Vodafone Live! and generally testing the phone without charging. Still, we wouldn’t like to try and last for a long weekend without the mains power cable.
Edited by Michael Parsons
Additional editing by Tom Espiner