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Sony Ericsson K800i review: Sony Ericsson K800i

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The Sony Ericsson K800i is the successor to CNET.com.au's Editors' Choice Award-winning K750i from last year. The K750i changed the landscape of mobile phones in Australia by integrating a 2-megapixel camera with an attractive form factor and easy-to-use interface. Now Sony Ericsson has done it again by boosting the K800i's camera resolution to 3.2-megapixels, adding 3G connectivity, stereo Bluetooth and a bundle of attractive features such as photo blogging, RSS news and a better Web browser.

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7.2

Sony Ericsson K800i

Pricing Not Available

The Good

3.2-megapixel camera with proper flash. Large, sharp 262K colour display. Integrated RSS reader and Web browser. Image stabilisation to assist shooting. Wide array of easy-to-use multimedia features. 64MB internal memory stores around 100 photos.

The Bad

Menu navigation can be sluggish. Overexposed photos in bright conditions. Bulkier than previous model. Photo blogging with Blogger.com only. No bundled memory card.

The Bottom Line

The best camera phone of 2006 so far, the Sony Ericsson K800i outshines all others in term of features and user-friendly design. Aside from a few squabbles with the extra bulk, the K800i makes it easy for first-time 3G users and is an ideal companion for anyone wanting to take happy-snaps on-the-go.

Design
Sony Ericsson's K800i is a sophisticated looking, but somewhat bulky, candy-bar shaped mobile phone. Its velvety matte black case isn't prone to smudges or scratches but we did find the large 2-inch screen prone to fingerprints. Granted it's a 3G phone with a relatively high resolution camera onboard, but at 106 by 47 by 22 millimetres (it is thickest where the camera is positioned on the back), fashionistas will be turned away by the pocket bulge the K800i creates. It tips the scales at 115 grams, which is a little bit above average.

The TFT display is sharp and bright with a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels (QVGA). It is adequately viewable in sunlight and shines brilliantly at night, with support for up to 262,000 colours on the screen. Beneath the display is the usual line-up of Sony Ericsson controls, which should be familiar to its brand-loyal fans. There are two shortcut keys as well as back, clear and Web buttons, and a five-way directional joystick. At the top of the screen are two very thin buttons that we didn't even realise were there until we glanced through the K800i's documentation. Both are called photo keys and allow you to browse saved images, either in thumbnail or full screen mode, when the phone is idle. When in camera mode, these keys alter the settings for stills and video.

The first phone from Sony Ericsson to actually carry the Cyber-shot brand, the K800i has a 3.2-megapixel camera -- the highest resolution currently available in Australia on a phone -- which is launched automatically when you slide open the lens cover on the back. One thing that bothered us about the K750i was that the orientation of the lens cover caused it to open accidentally when put away in your pocket, resulting in ten or so extremely close and dark photos of the inside of your jeans. With the K800i, Sony Ericsson has rotated the lens cover onto the vertical axis. Consequently, we had fewer problems with it triggering unwanted images. The only downside we found with the design of the camera was the visible 5mm protrusion where the camera is positioned, which means the phone isn't flush to surfaces when you put it down.

Down the right-hand side of the K800i is the volume rocker, infrared port and camera shortcut key. Launching the camera turns the screen into a landscape-mode viewfinder, which prompts you to turn the phone on its side and take a photo in the same fashion as a regular camera. The left side of the phone hosts to the play/pause music key and the Memory Stick Micro (M2) card slot.

Features
While the flagship feature of the K800i is its 3.2-megapixel camera, Sony Ericsson has rounded out its imaging capabilities with an exceptional short-range Xenon flash, not the pitiful LED types we see so often on mobile phones. A Cyber-shot feature onboard is BestPic, which is a shooting mode that takes 9 photos in quick succession, displays thumbnails of resulting images, and lets you choose the best picture to save to memory.

After taking a photo, you also have the option of uploading it directly to the Web (no PC needed) to a Blogger.com account. Alternatively you can save it, delete it, send it in an multimedia message (MMS) to a friend or edit it in PhotoDJ.

PhotoDJ allows you to perform basic image manipulation tasks such as adjusting brightness and contrast, light balance, red-eye removal and rotation. It also allows you to add clipart and frames to a photo, as well as special effects. An interesting effect you can apply to photos is called Cartoon, which makes the shot look similar in style to the movie A Scanner Darkly.

Other imaging feautures of the K800i include a 16x digital zoom, image stabiliser, autofocus and a timeline view of photos.

The K800i has an excellent Web browser installed, Access NetFront, which resizes pages to fit the smaller format of the screen. Google was the default page on our review handset, but carriers may choose to direct users to their own portal page on some models. An RSS reader is integrated with the browser for news feeds.

Connectivity options are extensive on the K800i. There is 3G for fast downloads; GPRS for data services when roaming onto second-generation networks; Bluetooth and infrared for transferring photos, images and sounds to and from compatible PCs and laptops; and USB for mass storage.

Business features include an e-mail client and multitasking -- you can browse the Web while speaking to someone, for example. You can also use the phone as a modem over USB or Bluetooth, but for the latter you'll need a computer that supports the Personal Area Networking Profile.

Stereo Bluetooth allows you to stream music wirelessly to any device that supports A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile).

Although the K800i has 64MB of internal memory, it's unfortunate that Sony Ericsson hasn't bundled an M2 card in the box to store extra photos, videos and music.

Performance
Although the 3.2-megapixel is in a class of its own in respect to resolution, we found photos taken in sunlight slightly overexposed. Test shots inside under regular fluorescent lights in the CNET.com.au office came out with a sharpness better than expected, although colours were nowhere near as vibrant as photos from Sony's Cyber-shot digital cameras. Being on the small side, the Xenon flash works remarkably well for close up shots, but struggles in distances. Regardless, it's the only proper flash we've seen on a phone so far.

When zoomed in to actual resolution, our test photos didn't appear to be as sharp as entry-level digital camera snaps, but this is no doubt best camera phone we've seen -- the Sharp 903 on Vodafone comes a close second. The next 3-megapixel models due to be released in Australia are the Nokia N73 and N93 at the end of August and September, respectively.

Transfers to a Bluetooth equipped laptop averaged about 55KB/s. With photos generally between 500KB and 1MB, each one takes around 15 seconds to transfer.

While Sony Ericsson states talk time for roaming on GSM (second generation) networks is up to 7 hours, this drops to a measly 2.5 hours on 3G. In practice, using our 2G SIM card, we were able to get three or four days of use out of the K800i, with occasional use of Bluetooth.

The K800i came very close to receiving an CNET.com.au Editors' Award for leading the field in innovation, but we felt the menu system was a bit too sluggish at times and just a tad too large for a device we'd want to be carrying in our pocket every day. If these are minor squabbles to you then we'd have no problem recommending it.