We don't get many Sony Ericsson Cyber-shot cell phones in the United States, which is unfortunate considering that they tend to be quality devices. We liked the Sony Ericsson K790a and the K800i so much that they both won our Editors' Choice Award. Indeed, both handsets offered a broad array of features, good call quality, and superior photos. The newest Cyber-shot model, the 5-megapixel Sony Ericsson K850i, also passes the performance test, but we had a few complaints with its design that prevented us from giving it our award. It's not a bad phone by any means; in fact there's quite a lot to like about it. But we can't discount its usability issues. The GSM K850i isn't offered by a U.S. carrier, but you can get an unlocked model for about $500.
Sony Ericsson excels at a lot of things, but cell phone design isn't always the company's strong point. It's not that its phones are ugly (most of the time they're quite pretty), but controls tend be too stylish for their own good. The K850i has the same problem; it's stylish and sharp, but we found its navigation array and camera controls not so easy to use. But before we get there, let's address the good stuff first.
Like most Sony Ericsson handsets, the K850i has a standard candy bar design. With its sleek black hue and green highlights, it's eye-catching without being ostentatious. At 4 inches by 1.9 inches by 0.7 inch, it has an average size though it's a bit weighty at 4.2 ounces. Sony Ericsson always does a good job with its displays, and the K850i is no exception. The 2.25-inch (320x240 pixels) screen supports a bright 262,144 colors. It shows everything well, from graphics to photos and text, and the menus are simple and easy to use. You can adjust the clock size and the brightness, but no other options are customizable.
Unfortunately, now we need to address the phone's not-so-finer points. At the bottom of the display are three touch controls. The center control serves as your OK button, and the controls on either side act as standard soft keys. While the physical layout of the touch controls is straightforward, where you're actually supposed to touch isn't so clear. The sensitive areas are marked only by tiny white lines that are just a sixteenth of an inch long. You don't need to press right on the line, but sometimes we had to press a couple of times before it registered our choice. Also, it's worth noting that the display isn't touch-sensitive, so touching only the display won't register your choice.
Just below the touch controls are two silver buttons that place and end calls and open the onscreen shortcut menu. There's also a back/clear control. Though the silver buttons are raised above the surface of the phone, they're somewhat small and they're crammed next to the display. Indeed we kept pressing them when we wanted to use the touch controls. The navigation toggle is unlike anything we've ever seen before. It's neither a toggle nor a joystick, but a thin green rectangle that surrounds the 2 and 5 buttons. Though it's relatively tactile, its location was confusing. We kept pressing the 2 and 5 to keys to select choices, when in fact we had to use the touch control that sits above the toggle. Granted, you'll get used to this after you have the phone for a while, but we're not huge fans just the same. The keypad buttons are raised above the surface of the phone, but they're a little smaller than we'd prefer. On the other hand, you can dial by feel and there's a bright backlighting.
On the left spine you'll find a volume rocker, which doubles as a zoom control when the phone is in camera mode. You'll also find a camera shutter and a camera power control. Though the former is quite tactile, the latter is tiny and flush with the surface of the phone. We like the idea of a camera power control, but we wish it were bigger and easier to use. On the upside, the position of the controls on the spine gives the K850i the ergonomics of a standalone camera when you tip the phone horizontally. We also liked the convenient switch for alternating between camera and camcorder modes.
The camera lens is on the rear face next to the flash. There's no self-portrait mirror, but the flash is bright and the lens has a sliding lens cover. There's a second camera lens just above the display that's used for video calls only. The charger port/headset jack is on the bottom of the phone. It sits on top of a cover for the SIM card and memory card slots. To access them you slide the cover down and then flip it toward you. It's an unusual arrangement, but it works quite well.
The K850i has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail, a URL, a title, a company name, two street addresses, a birthday, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 20 polyphonic ringtones. Or, for even more choices, video ringtones are available as well.
Other basic offerings include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a timer, a stopwatch, and a calculator. But the K850i doesn't stop there. You'll also find stereo Bluetooth, e-mail, an RSS reader, voice dialing, a voice recorder, PC syncing, USB mass storage a file manager, and a code memo for storing sensitive information. You can even use the phone as a remote control for another Bluetooth-enabled device.