CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Sony Ericsson P990i review: Sony Ericsson P990i

The P990i is quite a beast, both inside and out. Physically it's huge -- its main section incorporates a large screen and small Qwerty keyboard, while inside there's a cornucopia of software designed to keep both the consumer and business user happy. With full 3G support, including for video calls, the P990i certainly packs in the features

Sandra Vogel
5 min read

The P990i is quite a beast, both inside and out. Physically it's huge -- it's main section incorporates a large screen and small Qwerty keyboard, while the number pad is on the outside of a flip-down panel that covers about one-fifth of the screen when it's folded up.


Sony Ericsson P990i

The Good

Great widescreen Web browser; good music playback; good battery life; document editors and viewers; good handwriting recognition.

The Bad

Chunky; low on memory; takes time to learn to use; tiny and fiddly tappable icons.

The Bottom Line

The P990i has a great pedigree. Earlier handsets in this series pushed at the smart phone envelope, and the series has a loyal following. Sony Ericsson has updated the software with the P990i and crammed in the features, but the company has missed a trick with the user interface, many aspects of which are annoying and obtuse

This is the only handset we can think of (apart from its predecessors in the P series) to come with a screwdriver. This is not a homage to Ikea as some may imagine, but it's actually for removing the flip-down panel, leaving the touchscreen for number dialling and the minute keyboard exposed.

Inside there's a cornucopia of software designed to keep both the consumer and business user happy. With full 3G support -- including for video calls -- the P990i certainly packs in the features. It's just a shame this is such an unfriendly handset to get used to.

We've waited a long time for Sony Ericsson's P990i to surface (it was announced last October) but at last we have one in our hands. And what large hands we need -- this is a giant of a smart phone. At 114mm by 57mm by 25mm it's not for the faint hearted: it is a serious looking piece of kit.

When you open the flip it gets even taller -- over 150mm. With the flip down you can't see the numberpad, but making calls is still possible -- you use the touchscreen to tap out numbers or access the contacts list.

The flip section contains a back and cancel button, a navigation key with central select button and two buttons which map onto left and right softmeus. A middle softmenu can be accessed with the navigation button's central key. These functions are all duplicated in one way or another when you open (or remove) the flip.

On the left edge of the casing is a jog wheel which lets you scroll up and down to move through lists and adjust volume -- press it in to make selections. Quite a long way beneath it is a back button -- we found bending our thumb to reach it a bit tedious. Lower down still is a lock button that disables keys and the touchscreen. Above the scroll wheel is a button which will launch either the device's media player or FM radio.

On the right edge is the slot for memory expansion -- Sony Memory Stick Duo or PRO Duo -- and a button that you can configure to either launch the Web browser, media player, sound recorder, video telephony, task manager or go to the device main menu or the activity menu (these last two let you get to software and services on the phone, and what is on the activity menu may differ between operators).

Another button on this edge launches the main camera and shoots photos. You can also start the camera running by opening the lens cover. You do this by swivelling a circle that sits on the back of the casing.

The stylus lives in a housing on the top-left back corner, and the infrared port and main power switch are on the top edge, while the bottom houses the connector for charger and accessories.

Among the accessories is a docking cradle, and you get the PC Suite software which you'll need to synchronise the P990i with a PC.

There is so much going on with the P990i that it is difficult to know where to start. As an ordinary handset it is tri-band GSM, with 3G thrown in. A front-facing camera caters for video calling, and we've already noted the 2-megapixel camera on the back, which has a flash and self portrait mirror. Autofocus means your shots should be nice and clear, and there is a macro shooting mode.

Mobile messaging of all kinds is important to the P990i, and there is an integrated messaging area which brings together the usual suspects of email, MMS and SMS and adds in a link to let you call your voicemail. If you or your employer are keen on push email, this is catered for alongside ordinary POP email.

Document editors for Microsoft Word and Excel and a reader for PDF files are built in. You can use the mini keyboard or write onto the screen with the stylus and let the handwriting recognition take the strain. There is also a business card scanner which works in conjunction with the camera. During testing it captured data from cards quite accurately and is certainly more fun than entering their information manually.

If this sounds too serious there is the media playback and gaming to consider. 60MB of built-in memory sounds like a lot, but on our review unit a little under 20MB was actually free. You will need to use Memory Sticks for your tunes, and our review handset came with a rather measly 64MB card. At least you don't need the card to listen to the FM radio, and sound quality was fine. Just as well, given the proprietary headset connector.

Our review handset came with two games -- Tetris clone QuadraPop and Vijay Singh Pro Golf 2005 3D (showing off the P990i's 3D gaming capabilities)

The Web browser is great -- one of its best features is that you can push it into landscape mode using all 320 pixels of screen width for viewing, and opt for 'full screen' mode which takes away a lot of the non-Web info. If you don't want to browse over the air you can use Wi-Fi if you have a suitable network. Bluetooth and infrared are both also here.

Other applications include a diary and contact book, a calculator, a converter, a stopwatch, a timer, an RSS reader, an image viewer, a sound recorder and MusicDJ for creating your own ringtones.

There are some serious usability problems though, not least that you don't have access to every feature when the flip is up -- eg the touchscreen and the Control Panel. When the flip is down and the touchscreen is available, some of its tappable icons are very small. You are going to need to put some effort into learning to use this handset -- and probably read the manual fully -- if you want to get the best from it.

Voice and video calls were both fine, the camera produced clear and sharp shots, though perhaps a little darker than we'd like on the auto setting.

Battery life was above average and if you are fairly frugal with wireless and 3G usage you should be able to last a few days between charges.

Thanks to Expansys for providing a review sample of this phone.

Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield

Shopping laptop image
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping