Sony Ericsson has never been one to shy away from the high-powered camera phone. Its Cyber-shot series, which includes the Sony Ericsson K850i that we reviewed earlier this year, offers a solid set of handsets that exceed both at taking pictures and making calls. At the GSMA World Congress last February, Sony Ericsson introduced more Cyber-shot phones but made a small change by swapping the "K" in front of the model number with a "C." We're not sure why Sony Ericsson made the switch, but when you think about it, a "C" makes more sense for a camera phone than a "K."
Though we've had to wait a long time to review it, the Sony Ericsson C902 is an appealing camera phone with a sleek, appealing design and a loaded feature set. Performance was respectable as well, though photo quality wasn't quite as good as were expecting. It's not offered by a U.S. or Canadian carrier, so you must buy it unlocked in North America. It won't come particularly cheaply; Sony Ericsson lists it for $549, but online retailers, such as Expansys.com, sell it for as low as $389.
The Sony Ericsson C902 offers a typical Sony Ericsson candy-bar design in four colors: red, bronze, silver, and black. It's attractive by all accounts, and we like the silver stripes that wrap around the edges of our red version. At 4.3 inches by 1.9 inches by 0.4 inch, the phone casts a trim shadow and it slips easily into a pocket or bag. Weighing 3.8 ounces, it's a bit heavier than it looks, but the trade-off is a comfortable, solid feel in the hand.
The C902 has a 2-inch display that supports 262,144 colors (320x240 pixels). Like most Sony Ericsson displays of its caliber, it's bright and vibrant with bold colors and sharp graphics. You can change the brightness only. You can choose from three menu styles, but each interface is attractive and user-friendly. The display is rather difficult to see in direct light, but that's not unusual.
The navigation array consists of a square toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, Talk and End/power buttons, a shortcut control, and a clear key. The toggle is spacious and pleasantly tactile, but the remaining keys feel just a bit cramped. It will be a personal issue, so users with large hands should give the phone a test run before buying. You can set the toggle to act as a shortcut to four user-defined functions and you can access additional shortcuts with the aforementioned button. The keypad buttons are raised above the surface of the phone giving them a comfortable, tactile feel, but we noticed that they were somewhat cramped. You can dial by feel, but the backlighting was a tad dim.
On the right spine there's a volume rocker and a camera shutter key. The rocker is rather thin, and we wonder why Sony Ericsson placed it on the bottom end of the phone rather than the top. We got used it eventually, but it wasn't very intuitive at first. On the right spine you'll find the port for the USB cable, the charger and wired headsets. As you'd expect from Sony, it's a proprietary connection and the single port means you can use only one peripheral at a time. There is a Memory Stick Micro slot, but it's located behind the battery cover, which can be tricky to pry off.
You might be wondering where the C902's camera lens is, since it's nowhere visible at first glance. To expose it you must slide up the phone's top end about a quarter of an inch. As the phone's back slide splits apart you'll see the lens, flash, and self-portrait mirror. It's a unique and effective touch, since it conveniently hides the camera parts when you don't need them. Also, we appreciate that Sony Ericsson gave us a self-portrait mirror. A single speaker also sits on the C902's rear face.
The C902 has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail, Web address, job title and company name, two street addresses, a birthday, and notes. You can save callers to groups, and you can pair them with a photo and one of 20 ringtones. Besides polyphonic melodies, you also can save MP3s and videos as ringtones.
Basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a timer, a stopwatch, an alarm clock, a calculator, and a speakerphone. The C902 isn't a smartphone, but it offers a nice assortment of advanced options. You'll find full Bluetooth with a stereo profile and remote control options, PC syncing, a file manager, USB mass storage, integrated GPS, POP3 e-mail, and a code memo for storing sensitive information.
Of course, the 5-megapixel camera is the C902's star attraction. Sliding the phone open starts the camera automatically, so there's no need to press a button or navigate through menus. When you're in camera mode, you'll notice that a series of lighted icons appears around the display, which also functions as the viewfinder. These icons actually are small touch controls for manipulating various icons, like choosing a scene, changing the shooting mode, disabling the flash, activating the self-timer, selecting the focus detection, or changing to photo view mode. The icons are a tad small, but they're easy to use and they offer a slight vibrating feedback. We also like that when a particular mode is selected, an icon for that mode pops up on the main display.
When used in landscape mode, the phone has an ergonomic feel in the hand that resembles a standalone camera. And as we said, we like how the phone opens to reveal the lens. You use the toggle and soft keys to control camera functions, and we give points to Sony Ericsson for putting the camera shutter and volume rocker and zoom control on the same side of the phone.
You can take pictures in four resolutions, from 5 megapixels down to simple VGA. Editing options are more than generous. They include face detection, an autofocus, a macro setting, an infinite mode (disables the autofocus for pictures taken at a distance), a self timer, five white balance settings, an adjustable brightness meter, four color effects, two quality settings, a 16x digital zoom, an image stabilizer, Sony Ericsson's BestPic feature (for taking nine shots in rapid succession), and four shutter sounds (there's no silent option).
Besides an auto mode, the scene settings that we mentioned earlier include twilight landscape, landscape, portrait, beach/snow, sports, and document. Though that's an excessive assortment of options, we were hoping for a better flash. Not only is it rather dim, you also don't get any settings like a red-eye reduction or an "always on" mode. The panorama mode was disappointing as well. Unlike the Samsung Innov8 and the or the Motorola ZN5, you must line up and take each shot yourself, as opposed to the camera doing it for you. What's more, the onscreen guide for lining up your next photo isn't very useful.
For all its hoopla, the Sony Ericsson's photo quality falls a bit short in early testing. Colors looked relatively natural, but images were a tad washed out. Also, we detected some image noise around smaller objects.
The camcorder takes clips in one resolution with sound. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 24 seconds, but you can shoot for much longer in normal mode. Editing options are similar to the still camera, if a bit slimmed down. The C902 has a healthy 160MB of internal shared memory, but we suggest getting a memory card just the same. Our review phone came with a 1GB Memory Stick Micro card, but the C902 will support cards up to 8GB. A handy onscreen meter will tell you how much space you have left.
When finished with your shots you have a number of options. You can scroll through them on your display in a slide show format. Creative touches abound--for example, as the phone cycles through shots, the display will zoom in slightly on the image's focus and pan around just a bit, or it will change the color tone, among other effects. You can even activate a background tune (sad, romantic, energy, and happy) as your shots whiz by. It's just too bad you can't select one of your own tunes as an accompaniment. Though it all sounds corny--and we admit that it is, just a bit--we still liked it.
What's more, when viewing photos you can zoom in and pan around the shot and the autorotate feature will always show the position in which you took the shot. The Photo Fix feature will adjust color and light balance, and you can use the PhotoDJ and VideoDJ apps to edit your work even further. If you've geotagged your shots, you'll be able to see where you took them. You also get Face Warp and Photo Mate applications.
Getting photos off your phone is very easy using Bluetooth, a memory card, or a USB cable. When using the latter, your PC should recognize the phone immediately-- even without installing the included PC Suite software (which we've never liked anyway). You should then to be able to access the phone and pull out the pictures that you want. You also can connect the phone directly to a photo printer and upload photos to a blog.
The C902's music player (MPS and AAC files) isn't officially a Walkman player, but it might as well be. Settings include an equalizer, playlists, stereo widening, Sony's Mega Bass, and shuffle and loop modes. The interface is minimalist, but functional. There are no visualizations, but the player supports album art. Just keep in mind that it won't recognize every song it plays. Other features include an FM radio, TrackID, and support for audio books and podcasts. Getting music on the phone is as easy as it was with photos.
You can personalize the C902 with a variety of themes, wallpaper, screensavers, and clock styles. Some of the wallpapers include animation, which can deplete battery life. As always, you can purchase more options and ringtones from Sony Ericsson via the WAP 2.0 Web browser. Alternatively, the phone comes with a Music DJ application for composing your own ringtones. Gamers can enjoy three Java (J2ME) titles, FotoQuest Finish, Need for Speed and Solitaire, with additional titles available for purchase.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) C902 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was quite good. We enjoyed clear conversation, with sharp audio and loud volume. The signal remained relatively strong, and we encountered no static or interference from other electronic devices. Voices sounded natural, as well. The only issue we noticed--and it was minor--was that the audio cut out for a split second on some occasions.
On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could tell we were using a cell phone, but on the whole, they didn't report many major problems. Some callers said the C902 picked up some background noise. Automated-calling systems could understand us as long as we were calling from a relatively quiet location. Speakerphone calls were decent, though the sound was distorted at the highest volumes. Still, we could understand our friends, and vice versa, when making speakerphone calls. Call quality over Bluetooth headsets was satisfactory.
The C902 supports EDGE and 3G service. Yet, it supports only the 2100 band (UMTS and HSDPA), which works exclusively outside North America. In places with 3G, the C902 supports video calling.
Music quality was enjoyable, though it suffered in comparison to Walkman phones like the W980.The speaker has decent output, but our tunes lacked range and sounded tinny. A headset will provide the best experience.
The C902 has a rated battery life of 9 hours talk time and 15.83 days standby time. It has a tested talk time of 5 hours and 55 minutes. According to FCC radiation charts, the C902 has a digital SAR rating of 1.32 watts per kilogram.