Sony Ericsson has injected new life into the mid-range mobile phone market with its new K550i, a sector normally plagued by handsets with low-end specs and poor design. Developers have managed to add some of the company's flagship features to the K550i while still keeping prices low, and at the same time forced most other brands to play catch-up.
The K550i sports a candy-bar form factor and comes finished in either glossy black or pearl white with chrome highlights used on the buttons and edges. Measuring in at just 102 by 46 by 14mm, the slim handset sits comfortably in the hand and its 95-gram mass means it'll go unnoticed in most pockets or handbags. Buttons are well spaced and project roughly a millimetre above the phone's surface, but they're so small that it becomes difficult to press them quickly. The same can be said for the five-way adjustable pad, which is too small and gets frustrating very quickly when having to backtrack in menus.
Designers have opted for a 1.9-inch 176 x 220-pixel screen that displays up to 262K colours with images that are sharp and vibrant. Other features include an all-in-one port for plugging in the AC charger, handsfree kit or USB cable. The only other external feature is a dedicated button for the camera and adjusting the volume, as well as a slide for the camera lens.
The handset isn't without its flaws. The battery cover is locked into place using two flimsy sliding clips, with the opposite side requiring three tabs to be fitted first before closing. You'll need to open this to get access to the memory card slot. Then there's the sliding camera protector, which has three tiny bumps for grip and can be difficult to open on the first go.
Despite its small stature, the K550i packs in a bevy of useful features usually found in much more expensive handsets. With support for Sony's Memory Stick Micro and 64MB of inbuilt memory, the K550i doubles as a USB mass storage device. You can load it up with music and video files and play or listen to the inbuilt FM radio with the inbuilt speakerphone or the wired stereo-headset. One interesting feature is the TrackID service, which allows you to record a few seconds of a song and then match the recording in a music database to get title, album and artist details.
For connectivity, there's quadband GSM support as well as inbuilt Bluetooth and Infrared. There's also additional support for EDGE and Internet RSS feeds, plus PC synchronisation.
The star of the show, however, is the 2-megapixel Cyber-shot camera with auto focus. For budding photographers, the K550i comes with a self-portrait mirror and two LED flashlights for night time shooting. There's a digital zoom function, multiple image modes and a 10-second self-timer and support for video recording.
Call quality for the K550i is good, with excellent clarity for both callers and respondents. Sound from the inbuilt loudspeaker is also clear but isn't loud enough, even at max volume settings, and the same is true for the handsfree kit. One interesting feature is the call-record button, which can store conversations as audio files to be listed to at a later date.
The music player supports the usual MP3 and AAC files, and includes shuffle and loop functions as well an equaliser for adjusting bass and treble, while the video playback includes support for 3GP and MP4 files. A major let down is the lack of a 3.5mm audio jack, which means you'll have to rely on the supplied headset or purchase a new one. However, A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) support allows you to wirelessly stream audio to a set of compatible Bluetooth headphones.
The camera supports resolutions up to 1632 x 1224 pixels with photos in the highest quality setting averaging about 500 to 600KB in size. This means an additional memory card is a must because the inbuilt storage (64MB) fills up in no time. Most of the pictures we took came out grainy, especially shots taken indoors or with the extremely bright flash.