Sony Ericsson knows sexy, though we don't remember the company nailing the design of a prepaid model as well as it has with the C510 since the S500i. The C510 looks as much the part of a premium Cyber-shot camera phone as the more expensive C902. In fact, if you're familiar with the C902, released halfway through 2008, then you'll see the similarities with this newer, cheaper model immediately. The candybar form with a triple band of coloured trim around the edges make us again think of a liquorice all-sort. This isn't to say the C510 looks or feels cheap, we think it's quite the opposite.
The titular Cyber-shot camera is located on the back of the handset, under a slick-looking sliding lens cover. This protects the lens of the 3.2-megapixel camera and a dual-LED photolight. The lens cover has a faux wood grain finish which again brings us back to the point of this appearing to be a more expensive handset than it actually is.
While the keypad doesn't depart from the other attractive elements of the phone's aesthetic, it is a bit too cramped for our liking. Below the 2.2-inch colour display is the standard slew of nav-keys above a numeric keypad, but the space these keys fit into is too small to accommodate them all, and the left and right selection keys suffer most, being extremely difficult to press without pressing the keys immediately around them.
Though the C510 isn't part of the Walkman family we'd have loved to have seen a 3.5mm headphone socket somewhere. The most recent Walkman, the W705 has a similar combined charging and headphone socket on the handset, but includes a headphone adapter in the box. The C510 doesn't include this handy extra, basically leaving you to use the dodgy, cheap headphones Sony Ericsson bundles with the phone.
For all the fuss Sony Ericsson makes about its Cyber-shot series, the pictures they take so often fail to justify the hype. Yes, we know the camera phones are put through the same rigorous testing procedure as other full-fledged Sony Cyber-shot cameras, but the results speak for themselves, and in previous phones we've been a tad disappointed. The C510's low-spec Cyber-shot camera should, by rights, be worse than its high-specced siblings, but our tests suggest its on par with phones costing twice or three times as much, though certainly no better.
The camera's software looks identical to previous releases with no noticeable functions or features missing. The 3.2-megapixel optics do a decent job of capturing your off-the-cuff photos, the digital shutter fires quickly after the auto-focus locks on the subject, though some subtle motion blurring was evident in the pics we took, even when we concentrated on holding the camera still. The C510 doesn't include the digital image stabilisation available on other Cyber-shots.
Close inspection of photos taken with this phone reveal obvious pixelisation, particularly in dark areas of the image. Also we found that the colour reproduction tended towards a greenish hue with all settings on automatic. Still, for a camera phone at the lower end of the pricing scale, it punches above its weight, outperforming cameras on more expensive phones from competing manufacturers.
Like the camera software, the media player and web browser are similarly untouched compared with Sony Ericsson's more costly handsets. Selecting Media form the home screen brings up Sony Ericsson's "experience" media menu and accessing your favourite bands or videos is as simple as selecting them from the lists. The only real drawback here is there is no 3.5mm headphone jack in sight, not even an adapter in the box. We hate using the 3.5mm adapters Sony Ericsson bundles with Walkmans but at least it's an option. The C510 has no such option so you're basically stuck with the crummy set in the box.
Web browsing is great with the combination of HSDPA data speeds and the decent on-board browser. It's not going to replace your desktop browser, the way other touchscreen devices might, but it's more than capable of finding you a restaurant or checking movie times. The 2.2-inch display is impressively colourful and sharp making the experience even better.
Our most recent experience with a Sony Ericsson phone gave us a less-than-desirable calling experience. Sadly, we've struggled a bit with the C510 too, though the effects of this — muffled audio mostly — are less pronounced. Menu navigation is fast, even with sexy animated toggles switched on and we've yet to experience the platform freezing, or even lagging, during our tests. Battery life is average for a phone with this features list — we recharged the battery every third day.
We love a cheapie that feels like it costs a lot more. The C510 is one of those phones that will have you looking at the more expensive models and puzzling about what it is exactly you'd be paying for. It certainly isn't more responsive software or a more solid build construction; Sony Ericsson gives you both for AU$349. You don't get the extras, like a 3.5mm headphone adapter or a memory card, and the camera features a significantly lower resolution to the C902 or C905, but then, you're not paying for these features either. If you compare the features with the price tag, the C510 gets our tick of approval.