Ever been out and about and developed a sudden, desperate hankering to listen to talkback radio? Neither have we, but if your wireless predilections include stations in the AM frequency range, you have a new, compact option for listening on the go.
Sony Ericsson's R306 is a budget clamshell handset equipped with an AM/FM radio and not a whole lot else. With its large buttons, sedate colours and easy access to the talk on 2UE, it seems a perfect fit for the blue-rinse brigade, but it's not daggy enough to embarrass you when you pull it out of a pocket.
With its squarish contours and bulky size, the R306 looks like a sixties designer's vision of future gadgetry. The silver and grey colour scheme is no-nonsense, and the phone is free — some would say mercifully free — from jewelled embellishments and touch-sensitive surfaces.
When closed and held horizontally, the R306 resembles a radio. Speakers on the left and right are divided by a silver panel that incorporates a monochrome display. This LCD displays incoming calls, radio stations and the clock. Beneath it are three preset buttons for quick access to stations as well as up and down keys for scrolling through channels.
Flick the phone open — a slightly arduous task given the weight of the lid — and you're met with more silver and grey on the keypad. The circular number keys are refreshingly well-spaced, and their raised silver ridges make it easy to distinguish between each button by the way the keypad feels. The other keys are not so user-friendly — the selection key at the centre of the menu nav button is particularly troublesome due to its tiny size and the fact that it's flush with the surrounding surfaces. There are also two buttons hiding in plain sight beneath the send and end keys. Though they have tiny symbols on them, they are barely distinguishable as buttons because they are just sections of the surface.
Being an entry-level phone, the R306 is understandably light on features, but the paltry storage space is a bit jarring. Inside the R306 is a scant 5MB of space, or barely enough to store a single MP3. There is no expansion slot to bump up the teeny amount of memory, so you will have to settle for the tunes on the radio if you want to hear music on your phone.
Also making appearances on the features list are Bluetooth, a voice recorder and a 1.3 megapixel, flash-free camera capable of recording short videos. Sony Ericsson's TrackID music identification service is included, for all those times when you need to know the name of a song posthaste but can't Google the lyrics.
In general, radio reception on mobile phones tends to be a mixed, static-strewn affair. Adding AM to the mix makes things even fuzzier. We tested the radio by putting the phone in a pocket and walking around the Sydney CBD. Predictably, when we ventured into areas with densely-packed skyscrapers, static swiftly took over. Reception was better in open areas such as parks, but some stations still suffered from intermittent buzzing.
The R306's AM radio reception is at its least impressive when you're roaming urban streets, but it's tolerable when the headphone cable is pulled taut and you're not moving around too much. This makes the phone a cheap and compact choice for a day out at the cricket — if the commentary provided by the intoxicated rabble proves too irritating, simply plug in the headset, switch on the radio, and listen to the experts give their take on the action.
Calls came through clear and loud, but messaging was not so simple. The interface is laggy, and letters can get skipped when typing speedily in T9 mode, resulting in an annoying need to re-enter entire words. If you're a keen texter, your patience will be tested.
The R306 is easy to use, but the annoying navigation key, laggy messaging interface and fuzzy radio reception don't add up to a very good phone, even at this budget price.