The keypad is one of the most notable design features of the P990i. The numerical keypad flips down to reveal a QWERTY keyboard on the main body of the phone. This is a big departure from the P910a, which had the keyboard on the flap itself. When flipped up, we found the buttons on the numerical keypad to be spacious and tactile for easy dialing. The keypad has the standard navigation keys placed along the top, which consist of two soft keys, a five-way navigation toggle, a back button, and a clear button. As for the QWERTY keyboard, we found the slightly rubberized keys easy enough to press, but they are so tiny and crowded together that it still took us a while before we felt comfortable typing with it. You also have the option of using the stylus for the handwriting-recognition feature for text entry if you prefer. Both the keypad and the keyboard have a blue backlight when activated.
With the keypad flap up, you see only a 2.5-inch diagonal display. However, when the keypad flap is flipped down, you get the full 2.8-inch, 262,144-color TFT screen in all its glory. The display is simply gorgeous and very easy on the eyes. The backlight timer is adjustable, as is the brightness setting. There are also a few other differences when the flap is flipped down vs. when it is flipped up. With the flap down, the display becomes a touch screen and certain features such as the Web browser and the RSS feed reader are made available. If you find it a pain to keep on flipping the flap up and down to gain access to these functions, you can actually remove the front flap entirely with an included screwdriver. You will still be able to make calls via a touch-screen keypad.
On the very top left of the phone's front is a small VGA camera specifically designed for video phone calls. On the left spine are a media player button, a jog dial, a back button, and a keylock slide. We found the jog dial and back button especially useful for one-handed navigation, and we hardly needed to use the navigation controls on the keypad at all. A dedicated camera button, a Memory Stick Duo slot, and a dedicated Internet button are housed along the right spine. On the back of the phone, you'll see a circular camera lens cover. The cover slides clockwise or counterclockwise to reveal the camera lens. There's also a self-portrait mirror, a flash, and a small speaker. Because of the position of the camera lens, the P990i almost looks like a real digital camera when viewed from the back.
The P990i comes with a few accessories, such as a convenient docking cradle, a USB cable, and a pair of stereo earphones. It also comes with a small plastic front cover to replace the keypad flap, in case you decide to remove it. Of course, the Sony Ericsson P990i wouldn't be a smart phone without a ton of features to please the mobile professional. Previous P910a users and tech-minded consumers will appreciate the new and improved Symbian 9.1 OS and UIQ 3 software platform, though it may involve a learning curve to those not familiar with the operating system. One of the biggest upgrades to the P990i is the inclusion of Wi-Fi support, which isn't a feature found in a lot of other smart phones. Along with 3G/UMTS support, the P990i is certainly a well-connected phone.
Let's begin with the basics. Each entry in the P990i's address book can hold up to two phone numbers, an e-mail address, a picture caller ID, a birth date, a street address, and notes and can be assigned to a group as well as one of 23 polyphonic ring tones. The P990i comes with 60MB of internal memory, plus a 64MB Memory Stick Duo included in the package for additional storage. Business users will be especially pleased with QuickOffice, which lets you view, edit, and create Word and Excel documents, a viewer that lets you read PDF and PowerPoint documents, and a built-in VPN client. There's also a video phone feature that utilizes the front VGA camera for video calls. Though this may be intended for videoconferencing, we can't imagine this being too useful for the average consumer.
Other basic features include text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a calculator, an alarm clock, a voice recorder, a vibrate mode, a business card scanner, a stopwatch, an RSS feed reader, and a full Opera Web browser. For connectivity junkies, along with the 3G/UMTS and Wi-Fi support, you can also use the phone as a Bluetooth modem with your Bluetooth-enabled laptop. For e-mail, you can connect via SMTP, IMAP4, and POP3 accounts, and the P990i even supports push e-mail for the BlackBerry via the BlackBerry Connect solution. The included PC suite helps you manage all of these PIM functions and more.
And if you thought that wasn't enough, the P990i comes with quite a few multimedia features. First, there's the lovely 2-megapixel camera with autofocus and flash. Camera settings include four different resolutions (1,600x1,200, 1,280x960, 640x480, and 320x240), a macro setting for close-up shots, five white-balance settings (Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Fluorescent, and Bulb), five different effects (Black & White, Sepia, Solarize, Negative, and off), three quality settings (Fine, Normal, and Economy), a night mode, four shutter sounds and an option to turn it off, and a self-timer. You can also shoot in a burst of four shots at once, or with a frame. As for the video recorder, there are four resolution settings (128x96, 160x120, 176x144, and 320x240), and the video format is MPEG-4 with QVGA 15fps. We thought the picture quality was excellent with well-defined tones and colors, though videos appeared a little washed out and grainy.
The P990i also has an integrated music player that supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, and WAV files, and we were very pleased with the music player's interface, especially with how easy it was to scroll from one song track to the next. The video player supports 3GPP, MP4, and RealMedia video streaming. This is quite handy, as there's an online module in the Media Player section of the P990i that lets you store links to your favorite streaming audio and video sources for quick playback. In addition, the P990i has a built-in FM radio, though it can be accessed only when connected to the wired headset (to be used as an antenna). We tested the triband (GSM 900/1800/1900; UMTS) Sony Ericsson P990i in San Francisco using Cingular's service and were pleased with the excellent call quality. Callers couldn't even tell we were on a cell phone. The speakerphone didn't sound as good, however, and we found ourselves having to raise our voices in order to be heard. However, because the UMTS in the P990i is in the 2100Mhz frequency, and not the 850/1900Mhz typically used in the U.S., the P990i will not have support for existing U.S. 3G networks. So while you can make and receive calls just fine with the P990i, you might want to turn to the built-in WiFi when attempting to use the Internet.
The sound quality from the music player was good. Naturally, we've heard better audio quality from a dedicated MP3 player, but for a cell phone, we can't complain. There was a slight performance lag when switching applications, however, which was particularly noticeable when switching between media applications such as the video player and the photo gallery.
The Sony Ericsson P990i has a rated talk time of 9 hours and a tested talk time of 8 hours and 50 minutes. It has up to 16 days of standby time. According to the FCC, the P990i has a SAR rating of 0.78 watt per kilogram.