Sony Ericsson's K608i looks like a small GSM handset, but it isn't; it's a small 3G handset, complete with front and back cameras, a very solid design, low-key good looks and something of an identity crisis on the naming front.
Maybe, like us, you'll get yours from 3, where it is called the K608i -- the name we'll use. But you could just as easily go to Vodafone where it is the V600i, or to Orange or O2 where it calls itself the K600i. In each case you'll find some operator tweaks to the internals and to the outside design, but the core of the handset remains the same. From 3 you can get it free on a £30-per-month tariff, or for £50 on a £20-per-month option.
Pretty but not ostentatious sums up the overall look of this handset. Its plastic shell gives one of the best impressions of aluminium we've seen.
Sony Ericsson has crammed a great deal into a small and light casing. At just 100g and a tiny 45 by 104.3 by 19.2mm, the K608i should fit into most pockets snugly.
The screen suffers a little in terms of size because of the overall small hardware, but this is compensated for by the 262K colours. The keypad, on the other hand, is remarkably expansive, with the number keys so widely spaced as to make hitting the wrong one accidentally almost impossible.
Button-lovers will be drawn to the K608i because almost everywhere you look there is something to prod, twist or slide. Even the battery cover, more usually removed by pushing at a single locking-notch, is here locked and unlocked by sliding a pair of catches that sit on the left side of the casing. Also on this edge, under a rubber cover, is the mini-USB port you'll use with the provided cable and software to share information with a PC.
Located towards the bottom of the screen on the left and right outer edges are two buttons, one for starting a video call, one for accessing 3G services. In our case the latter was marked with the 3 logo.
The right edge of the casing provides, towards the top end, a pair of small buttons that double as volume and camera zoom controls, and towards the bottom end, the shutter button for the camera. This might seem like an odd location for a shutter button, but in fact it's ergonomically perfect, because you hold this handset longways to take snapshots and video with the back camera, with the screen acting as a viewfinder in landscape orientation. When you're holding the K608i like this, the shutter falls under the right forefinger, with zoom buttons under the left, while the right thumb sits on a softkey providing quick access to settings.
You activate the camera by swivelling a round lens cover away from the lens. Swivelling it back over the lens turns the camera off. The lens cover doesn't protect the LED flash, which is constantly uncovered, and is the least ergonomic part of the whole handset: we found it difficult to swivel one-handed, and would have much preferred a sliding lens cover.
There is also a second camera on the front of the casing for video calls.
Video calling is one of the crucial elements of any 3G handset, and the front-mounted VGA camera comes into its own here. You can also switch over to the back camera, so you can show the person you're talking to what you're looking at. Video delivery itself was of good quality, and you can change some camera settings during calls, switching to use more of the screen for your own or your caller's video, altering brightness and zoom, and even using a night mode.
Stills shot with the back camera can be edited using the PhotoDJ software, which allows you to write and draw onto images, and apply effects and frames to smaller images. VideoDJ allows you to combine movies and images, while MusicDJ is a composer that makes use of a range of prerecorded sound clips.
There is a music player, but the K608i is definitely not one of the fast-growing breed of music-focused handsets. Sound quality through the provided stereo headset (with proprietary connector) is good enough, and at top volume piercingly loud, but the handset's memory is far too limited for serious music fans. 33MB is a reasonable amount of internal memory for a handset, but there is no opportunity to expand that using memory cards if you want to carry more than a few tracks.
A better bet is to stick to the excellent FM radio. We automatically saved 20 preset stations in a matter of seconds and it delivered broadcasts through the phone's speaker or headphones at a pretty good volume and quality. Thanks to RDS, station information appeared on the screen too.
Sony Ericsson has provided a range of ways into the software and services on the K608i. As well as the various shortcut buttons for accessing the camera, video calling and so on, you can press the joypad to access key functions. Push its centre and you go to the main menu, through which all applications and settings are available. Push the joypad to the left and you are into a menu for creating text, MMS and voice messages. Push it to the right and you can choose a profile. Push it downwards and you are in your contacts book.
Best of all, push the joypad upwards and you get to the activity menu, which, via a series of tabbed screens you can access by pushing the joypad left and right, displays Internet bookmarks, shortcuts to applications and services (like profiles, turning Bluetooth on and off, and so on), and missed calls. Put a little effort into customising the menus and you can turn the K608i into a very personalised handset.
Physically, the K608i is a sign of things to come where 3G handsets are concerned. The chunkier alternatives won't cut the mustard for much longer.
While video calling was generally a positive experience, with video calls being reliable, the handset's screen is too small to cope well with showing both caller and callee images. That's probably adequate for most people, as looking at yourself while making a video call is hardly essential.
We had no problems with audio call quality or with using 3G for downloads or browsing 3's online services. Battery life was fair, though Sony Ericsson's estimates for talk and standby time seem over-generous. If we were using this as our everyday handset, we'd want to administer mains power every other day to be on the safe side.
The one thing that really holds this handset back, though, is its lack of memory. Shortage of space inside the casing may have put the kibosh on including a memory expansion slot, but by failing to provide one, Sony Ericsson has produced a superior 3G phone with one hand tied behind its back.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide