Like Nokia, many of Sony Ericsson's smartphones don't usually get picked up by U.S. carriers, which is a shame since the company produces some very capable and popular devices. The latest example being the Sony Ericsson P1i. Luckily, you can purchase such phones through various online retailers, such as MobilePlanet, which is how we got our hands on this device.
As a refresh to the Sony Ericsson P990i, the P1i sports a more updated and usable design like the Sony Ericsson M600i's and features more memory and a better camera. It also continues to offer touch-screen capabilities, productivity and e-mail tools for the mobile professional, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It's certainly a viable alternative to today's Windows Mobile and Palm smartphones. That said, we're disappointed by the lack of support for U.S. 3G networks, and the smartphone is bit sluggish and kludgey to operate. Plus, at about $450 for an unlocked version, we just want a bit more from the device.
The Sony Ericsson P1i has the familiar design of many of the company's cell phones but most closely resembles the M600i. The candy-bar-shape smartphone is compact and light at 4.1 inches by 2.1 inches by 0.7 inch deep and 4.4 ounces, and sports a traditional but attractive silver-and-black casing. It's certainly a huge improvement over the bulky P990i. With a solid construction, the P1i is comfortable to use as a phone, and it has a nice soft-touch finish on the back to make it easier to grip. It also won't make too much of a tight fit in a pants pocket.
The P1i boasts a beautiful 2.6-inch display that shows off 262,144 colors at a 320x240 pixel resolution. It's sharp and bright, and you can adjust the backlight timer, theme, wallpaper, menu style (grid or list views), and more to suit your personal style. Even better, it's a touch screen, so you can enter data, navigate the various menus, and launch apps with just touch of your finger or stylus. For the most part, the screen was responsive to our commands, though the smartphone's somewhat sluggish performance originally had us thinking otherwise (see Performance section for more).
Given the smaller footprint, the Sony Ericsson P1i doesn't have a full QWERTY keyboard but sports the dual-function rocker-style keyboard like the M600i's. (You also have the option of entering text using the onscreen keyboard or handwriting recognition system.) There are two letters per key, and if you press it to the left, it inputs one letter; pressing it to the right enters the other letter. Admittedly, it takes a bit of acclimation to use the keyboard, but not as much as one would think. We got the hang of it pretty quickly, and the tactile buttons are large and have a fair amount of spacing between them for easy typing. The number buttons are outlined in red to help you locate them in a sea of black. Unlike many smartphones today, there are no dedicated Talk and End keys on the P1i, so you'll have to use the touch screen to make and end calls.
There's also no navigation toggle, but you do get a scroll wheel on the left spine (as well as a back button and a cell phone strap loop) that you can depress to select an item. Though this control allows for easier one-handed use, we did miss having the directional keypad and we often found ourselves having to use the jog wheel for one task, the touch screen for another, and the keyboard for yet another function; it just wasn't the most seamless experience and got to be frustrating. On the right, you'll find a customizable shortcut button, a proprietary Sony Memory Stick Micro (M2) expansion slot, and a camera activation key. The camera lens and flash are located on the back, while there is a connector for the AC adapter and headset on the bottom. Of the latter, Sony Ericsson uses a proprietary port, so that's a bit of annoyance particularly where the headset is concerned.
Our Sony Ericsson P1i came packaged with a travel charger, a desktop stand, a USB cable, a 512MB M2 card, a wired headset, a soft carrying case, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Don't let its compact frame fool you. The Sony Ericsson P1i was built to meet the needs of a mobile professional. The smartphone runs Symbian OS 9 as do Nokia's devices, but the P1i is using a UIQ 3 interface rather than the S60 platform. This allows for the touch-screen functionality, and the menu systems differ. Overall, the P1i is pretty intuitive to use and everything is organized in a logical manner. That said, it's not the snazziest layout, and we think that the P1i's user interface requires too many steps to accomplish some tasks.
To get your work done on the road, the P1i ships with the DataViz QuickOffice suite so you can create, view, and edit Word and Excel documents right on your device. There's also a PDF viewer, a business card scanner, and other personal information management tools, such as a calendar, a tasks list, a notepad, a voice recorder, a calculator, a stopwatch, and more. The smartphone has about 160MB of internal memory, which is a huge boost over the P990i's 60MB. Still, to get the most out of your smartphone, we recommend carrying large files on a Memory Stick. Security options include a certificate manager, Java certificates, locks, and VPN access. For messaging, the P1i offers push e-mail support Microsoft Exchange Server and BlackBerry Connect. It can also be configured to access POP3/IMAP accounts and there's an e-mail setup wizard under the Control Panel to help walk you through the steps. Finally, Sony Ericsson throws in a PC Suite desktop application that can help you sync your e-mail and PIM info and transfer multimedia files from your PC to your phone.
The P1i's phone book is only limited by the available memory, and there's room in each entry for multiple numbers, home and work addresses, e-mail, birthdays, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign your contact a photo, a group ID, or one of 31 polyphonic ringtones. You also get a speakerphone, call waiting, speed dial, a vibrate mode, and text and multimedia messaging.
Wireless options on the P1i are disappointing, though it does include Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. You can use Bluetooth to pair the mobile to hands-free kits, wireless headsets and, even better, stereo Bluetooth headsets, and dial-up networking. For surfing the Web, you can connect via Wi-Fi. Despite having to tap through several layers of menus, our review unit had no problem finding and connecting to our test access point, and we enjoyed viewing pages on the installed Opera browser. So what's disappointing? Well, the P1i doesn't support U.S. 3G bands, nor does it support EDGE, which we find to be a huge drawback for such a high-end device like this. If you don't have access to a Wi-Fi network, you may be in for some slow load times.
The Sony Ericsson P1i isn't all business. For your down times, you can use the built-in music and video player to listen to your favorite AAC, MP3, MP4, and 3GP files. Other goodies include an FM radio (requires the use of the included earbuds), RealPlayer for streaming media, a MusicDJ app for creating your own ringtones, and two games: Vijay Singh Pro Golf 3D and QuadraPop.
The P1i is also equipped with a 3.2-megapixel camera with up to 3x zoom and four shooting modes, including video. For still images, you have your choice of three quality settings and you can add various effects, such as sepia and solarization. There is a flash, but you can adjust the white balance settings, as well. In video mode, you don't have quite the same breadth of options, but you do get four frame sizes.
Picture quality was excellent. The clarity of the photos was impressive, but we were happier with the fact that the colors were pretty true to life. We've seen too many camera phones produce images with some kind of orange or yellowish tone, but not so with the P1i. Unfortunately, we didn't enjoy quite the same quality with videos as they appeared very grainy.
We tested the triband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Sony Ericsson P1i in San Francisco using T-Mobile service and call quality was good. We enjoyed crisp audio and plenty of volume, but we detected a slight amount of background hiss. It certainly wasn't enough to distract us from the conversation, and we were able to interact with our bank's automated voice-response system without any problems. Meanwhile, our friends also reported similar results and said that they couldn't tell we were using a cell phone. The speakerphone was also decent with clean sound and good volume. We were able to successfully pair the P1i with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset.
General performance was a bit sluggish but much improved over the M600i, and we didn't experience any crashes. Still, there were times when we tried to open and work in various apps and were met with a "Busy" message. For a phone, the P1i was quite impressive in the multimedia department. Compared with other smartphones we've seen, we enjoyed some rich-sounding music through the handset's speakers and through the included headset, despite being uncomfortable. Video playback wasn't quite as good since there was some blurriness, but audio and images always synced up, so for short stints, you should be OK.
The Sony Ericsson P1i has a rated battery talk time of 10 hours and up to 18 days. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get 9.5 hours of talk time, which is short of the company's claim but still very impressive--good news for all you chatty Cathys out there. According to FCC radiation tests, the P1i has a digital SAR rating of 0.98 watt per kilogram.