Sony Ericsson P1i review:

Sony Ericsson P1i

Typical Price: £340.00
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3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars 11 user reviews

The Good Wi-Fi and 3G support; good business applications; good camera.

The Bad Confusing user interface; weird keyboard layout; short battery life.

The Bottom Line The P1i is certainly not short on features. It has brilliant connectivity, a good range of onboard office tools and some impressive extras like its business card scanner software. The clunky user interface and weird keyboard layout, however, make it more difficult to use than competing smart phones

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6.5 Overall

The P1i is Sony Ericsson's latest all-singing, all-dancing smart phone that aims to keep you connected with the office while you're out on the road. It's packed with great features including support for 3G, Wi-Fi and push email.

Essentially the handset is an update of the P990i, but this new model differs in a number of ways, not least of which is the dumping of the P990i's flip-up keypad in favour of the Qwerty keyboard last seen on the company's M600i messenger phone. But let's not kid ourselves here, the P990i wasn't all that well received, so the P1i is going to have to make up a lot of lost ground if it's going to really impress us.

It's available SIM-free from eXpansys for about £370 and for free on a monthly contract with O2.

Previous smart phones from Sony Ericsson have tended to be of a bulkier build, to put it politely. The P1i is still a little chunky, but it's much more in line with competing models, which means you can hold it up to your ear without feeling like a total muppet.

Unlike the older smart phones in the P series, this one does away with the flip-down keypad. Instead it's been kitted out with the same Qwerty keypad that was featured on the M600i handset. This isn't exactly a full Qwerty keyboard, though. Instead, two letters share the same key, but unlike on the Blackberry Pearl where a shift button is used to access the second letter, on this model the buttons are actually rocker switches. So to type Q you hit the key on the left side and to type W you hit it on the right side. It's an interesting approach and it's better than the Pearl's configuration, but it still takes some getting used to and it's not as good as the full keyboard used on the likes of the Palm Treo.

The P1i can be operated either by using the included stylus on the touchscreen interface, the wheel at the side or with the Qwerty keypad

If you prefer, you can always switch to the onscreen keyboard and use the stylus to tap the letters on the large touchscreen, or alternatively try out the handwriting recognition. The latter is a tad limited, though -- it can only recognise individual letters and even then it doesn't do a very good job.

Most of the phone's menus are navigated using the touchscreen, but there's also a wheel on the left-hand side that can be used to scroll through long lists. To select an item you just press the wheel and if you want to move back a step you push the button underneath it. It's all fairly straightforward stuff.

The P1i is certainly not going to be caught short on the connectivity front. It packs in support for both Bluetooth and IrDA as well as Wi-Fi and 3G. The 3G support unfortunately doesn't stretch as far as HSDPA, but you do get twin cameras for video calling.

The rear-mounted camera is naturally the more interesting of the two snappers. It has a 3.2-megapixel resolution and although there's no micro-mirror for taking self-portraits, it does have autofocus and a built-in flash that's blindingly bright because it uses two LEDs. The shots it takes are above average for a camera phone -- they look pleasingly sharp and have decent colour.

The most interesting thing about the camera, however, is that Sony Ericsson has included some software on the phone that allows it to work as a business card scanner. You just start up the scanner application, take a shot of a card and then hit the process key. The phone works on the image for a few seconds and then automatically takes you to the Contacts Book where it has filled all the info into a new contact card.

The software will pick up the name, various phone numbers, email address and Web site details listed on the card. You can then review the information to check it's correct and save it as a new contact. We tried it on three business cards and it got two completely right, while on the third we only had to change two numbers and one letter. In other words it works surprisingly well and is a really useful feature that we could see ourselves making constant use of.

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