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Sony Ericsson Equinox TM717 - carbon black (T-Mobile) review: Sony Ericsson Equinox TM717 - carbon black (T-Mobile)

Sony Ericsson Equinox TM717 - carbon black (T-Mobile)

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
7 min read


Sony Ericsson Equinox TM717 - carbon black (T-Mobile)

The Good

The Sony Ericsson Equinox TM717 has a bright display, multimedia features, and decent call quality.

The Bad

The Sony Ericsson Equinox TM717's external display and controls aren't easy to use. We continue to push Sony Ericsson to abandon proprietary ports and memory cards. Speakerphone quality is average.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Ericsson Equinox TM717 has potential, but its multimedia features are undermined by design missteps and a subpar speakerphone.

The Sony Ericsson Equinox is the first phone from the manufacturer to land at T-Mobile since the TM506. In many ways the Equinox is a fitting successor; like the TM506 it has a thin flip phone design and it sports a similar feature set that includes support for T-Mobile's 3G network. Yet, it also suffers from Sony Ericsson's signature design missteps. The Equinox, aka the TM717, is $49 with an Even More plan and $149 with an Even More Plus plan.

The Equinox's design has its good points, but ultimately we weren't that impressed. It's not unattractive, but a few elements like the external display and keyboard impact the phone's usability. What's more, it's high time that Sony Ericsson ditches its proprietary habits.

But before we start complaining, we'll tell you what we liked. At 3.7 inches by 2.0 inches by 0.6 inch, the Equinox is a sleek, compact phone with clean lines. The glossy black skin catches the light (and fingerprints), and there's a circle motif on the front face. The handset also has a sturdy hinge and a soft touch material on the back cover.

The 2.25-inch internal display is another high point. With support for 262,144 colors and a decent resolution (320x240 pixels), it's bright and vibrant with sharp hues and graphics. The menu interface is simple and intuitive and you can add the MyFaves display to the standby screen. Also, you can adjust the display brightness and the clock size, and you can activate a light on the front cover to glow when you receive a call.

On the downside, the external display is too small and dim to be really useful. It shows just the time, battery life, signal strength, and numeric caller ID. You won't see photo caller ID and the date, and it won't work as a viewfinder for the camera lens. The display is hidden when the backlighting is off, but you can't change the backlighting time.

The Equinox also encourages Sony Ericsson's worst habit, its poorly designed controls. Both the navigation array and backlit keypad buttons are flat and slippery. We made a few mistakes when dialing and texting. The experience isn't very comfortable and it's difficult to dial by feel. The array consists of a circular toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys Talk and End/power buttons, a clear control, and a camera shutter. You can designate four shortcuts for the toggle when the phone is in standby mode.

The remaining exterior control is the volume rocker on the left spine. It's slightly raised, but it's smaller than it should be. And that brings us to our biggest gripe of the Equinox's design. Though Sony Ericsson (and Sony) has long used its own memory cards and charger/headset connections, enough is enough. As the rest of the cell phone world--even Samsung--moves to the standard Micro-USB charger port, it's disappointing that Sony Ericsson still uses a single proprietary port for both the headset and the charger. Of course, not only does that restrict you to one peripheral at a time, but also you'll need an adapter for your own 3.5mm headset. We know that the company is capable of making its phones more user-friendly--the W995 had standard charger and headset jacks--so we see no reason why the company can't do the same for its entire product line.

But wait...there's more. The Equinox also has uses a Memory Stick Micro card instead of the microSD cards that every other manufacturer uses. That means that you run into a big roadblock if you want transfer files between the Equinox and a computer or another non-SE phone. Really, Sony Ericsson, this business has to stop. Do you customers a favor and make your devices easier to use. OK, our rant is over.

The Equinox has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, a company name, two street addresses, a URL, a birthday, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with either a video or a photo (remember that they won't appear on the external display), a light effect, and one of 23 MP4 ringtones. If you're not happy with the selection that came on the W995a, you can use your music tracks to identify callers.

Essential features include text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, a task list, a notepad, a stopwatch, a timer, a notepad, a calendar, a calculator, and an alarm clock. More advanced options include Wi-Fi, USB mass storage, PC syncing, a voice recorder, instant messaging, a file manager, and a code memo for storing sensitive information. With the gesture control you can silence alarms and incoming calls by waving your hand back and forth in front of the camera lens. In our tests, it takes a slow and deliberate motion to get it to work.

The Equinox's camera lens sits alone on its front face.

The Equinox's 3.2-megapixel camera shoots photos in four sizes and two quality settings. Editing options include three color effects, a night mode, white balance, brightness adjustments, 14 frames, a self-timer, panoramic and multishot modes, and four shutter sounds plus a silent option. There's also a 3.2x digital zoom, but it's usable at the lowest resolution only. Photo quality was decent, but we noticed some image noise and a pinkish tone to most of our shots. Colors were bright and images were sharp. Unfortunately, there's no camera flash.

Videos meant for multimedia messages are capped at 1 minute, 15 seconds. In normal mode, you're limited only by the available memory, which is a generous 100MB of internal shared space. The Equinox doesn't come with a memory card in the box, though the slot can accommodate cards up to 16GB. The camcorder offers a few editing applications.

The Equiniox's photo quality is acceptable.

You can manipulate your finished work with the integrated PhotoDJ and VideoDJ applications. After that, you can transfer the photos and clips off the Equinox in a number of ways. We used a USB cable and we're glad to see that our PC recognized the phone without any software.

For music fans, the Equinox offers a digital player that is similar to those on Walkman-branded phones. Features include playlists, shuffle and repeat modes, and an equalizer with Sony's Mega Bass. Transferring music to the phone is an easy process through a USB cable, Bluetooth, or a memory card. The player interface is simple and utilitarian, and it supports album art. You can activate an airline mode for listening to tunes while flying, and you can send the music player to the background while using other phone functions. The Equinox has an FM radio.

You also get a couple of GPS options with Google Maps and support for TeleNav. The latter offers turn-by-turn voice-assisted directions, local maps, traffic, and a search feature for locating nearby points-of-interest and business. You also can add geotagging information to photos that you take with the phone's camera. .

Rounding out the Equinox are apps for YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. A unique Comeks feature lets you create comic strips using photos from the phone's camera. Gamers can choose from two titles: Bubble Town and Real Football 2. Of course, you can always get more options from T-Mobile's t-zones service with the WAP browser. You can personalize the Equinox with a variety of wallpaper, display themes, screensavers, and alert tones.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Sony Ericsson Equinox TM717 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was generally acceptable. Voices sounded natural, the signal was clear, and we encountered no static or interference. The volume could be a bit louder, but it was sufficient in most situations. The only times we had real trouble was when we were in places with a lot of background noise. As mentioned, the Equinox also supports T-Mobile's 3G (AWS 1700/2100) network.

Callers reported a similar experience. They could tell we were using a cell phone, but they could hear us plainly most of the time. Like us, they only had trouble if we were in a noisy place; most of our friends said that the Equinox picks up a lot of background noise. It was the same story with automated calling systems; our voices registered if we were in a relatively quiet place. Speakerphone quality was average. The audio on our end was a bit distorted and the external speaker doesn't get very loud. Fortunately, Bluetooth headset calls were better, but your experience will depend on which headset you use.

The Equinox has a rated battery life of 10 hours of GSM talk time and 4 hours of 3G talk time. The promised standby time for both modes is 16 days. During our tests, it had a talk time of 4 hours and 15 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Equinox has a digital SAR of 0.90 watt per kilogram.


Sony Ericsson Equinox TM717 - carbon black (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 7