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Sony Ericsson S500i review: Sony Ericsson S500i

Sony Ericsson S500i

Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
Nicole Lee
6 min read

Sony Ericsson is known for its elegant and beautifully designed phones, and the S500i is no exception. Its sleek and sexy slider design sports a unique aesthetic that makes it look like it belongs in a high-end boutique rather than a cell phone store. And even though it's not a Walkman-branded phone, it comes with an onboard music player, as well as stereo Bluetooth, a 2.0-megapixel camera, a wireless Web browser, e-mail, and more. The S500i is available in Mysterious Green, Spring Yellow, Ice Purple, and Contrasted Copper. Since the S500i isn't offered via U.S. carrier, you'll have to purchase it unlocked at a rather steep price of $359.


Sony Ericsson S500i

The Good

The Sony Ericsson S500i is a beautifully designed handset with a slew of multimedia features that include a 2-megapixel camera plus a music player. Performance was great, as well.

The Bad

The Sony Ericsson S500i has a rather fragile keypad, plus it's on the expensive side.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Ericsson S500i is a stylish phone with a lot of sex appeal plus a decent feature set, but its high price and iffy controls make it less than desirable.

As we mentioned, the S500i is a very stylish and eye-catching handset. It has a classy and sophisticated appearance, and there are even glowing LEDs along the sides whenever it's activated, making it appear extra sparkly. Not only is the S500i sleek, it's also compact, measuring only 3.9 inches by 1.8 inches by 0.5 inch and weighing about 3.3 ounces. The S500i is one of a few phones that Sony Ericsson has manufactured in a slider design, the others being the W580i and the W850i. We like the slider mechanism quite a bit--the movement was smooth yet sturdy, and didn't feel too loose at all. There is a slight sloping curl along the chin of the phone that you can use to push the phone open, and to close it, you can slide your thumb down on the raised toggle--making the entire sliding process completely one-handed.

The Sony Ericsson S500i has a 2-megapixel camera on the back.

The beauty of the S500i's display can't be denied. It measures a little more than 2 inches diagonally and supports 262,000 colors and a lovely 240x320 pixel resolution. Colors popped from the screen and images showed up well. You can adjust the phone's brightness and that's about it. Underneath the display is the navigation array, which consists of two skinny soft keys, a circular toggle with a central OK key, a Back key, a Clear key, a dedicated Web-access key, plus a key dedicated to opening a My Shortcuts menu. The circular toggle also doubles as four user-defined shortcuts. Even though we found the toggle easy to use, we thought the surrounding keys felt a bit too small for our taste. This is especially true for the two soft keys, which are extremely skinny.

Slide open the phone and you'll find a pretty decent number keypad. We were surprised that the keys weren't as flat as most keys on slider handsets. There was noticeable textural difference between each tilelike key, and the keys have a nice give when pressed. That said, the keypad did feel a tiny bit crowded and some users have complained about the keys cracking, though that was not a problem we encountered. There's a lovely white backlight emanating from the keypad when the phone is activated.

A slim volume control rests on the left spine, while the charger/headset jack is on the right. On top of the S500i is the memory stick slot plus the Power button. We wished the Power button was a bit larger, but it wasn't too difficult to press. Also, if you slide up the phone, you'll reveal a camera lens on the back of the phone. There's no flash or self-portrait mirror, however.

Aside from its outstanding good looks, the S500i also has a pretty healthy multimedia feature set. As for the basics, the S500i comes with a generous 1,000-entry phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, e-mail and Web addresses, notes, and more. You can save the contacts to the caller group of your choice, and pair them with a photo for caller ID as well as one of 11 polyphonic ringtones. You can even select the color of the glowing lights on the side to match up to a particular contact's incoming call or text message. This isn't necessary of course, but it's a nice touch we do appreciate. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, a voice memo recorder, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a timer, a speakerphone, a stopwatch, and a calculator. On the higher end, the S500i also comes with a wireless Web browser, an RSS feed reader, stereo Bluetooth, PC Syncing, and USB mass storage mode. You can even use the Bluetooth so that the phone is a remote control for your PC.

Though the S500i isn't a Walkman-branded phone, it still has a pretty nice built-in music player. Settings include an equalizer (with both automatic preset modes and manual controls), playlists, stereo widening, and shuffle and loop modes. There's also a flight mode so you can listen to your songs while on an aircraft. You can even send the song to someone else via a picture message, an e-mail, or via Bluetooth. The interface is on the generic side, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, since it maintains a simple minimalist look. All you need to load music on the phone is a provided USB cable plus the PC software included. We found the software to be memory-intensive and a bit of a hog, and would recommend dragging and dropping music directly to the phone instead. The music player supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, and eAAC+ file formats.

The S500i has pretty good photo quality.

The S500i comes with a good 2-megapixel camera. Camera options include three sizes (2-megapixel, 1-megapixel, or standard VGA), two picture quality settings, white balance adjustments, color effects, four different shooting modes (Normal, Panorama, Frames, Burst), a night mode, a self-timer, plus the choice of four shutter sounds (no silent option). There's also a built-in camcorder, which records clips with sound and has about the same settings as the still camera. Video clips are capped at 30 seconds if they're meant for multimedia messages, or as long as the available memory allows. Photo quality was very good, with sharp edges and clear colors. We did wish we had a flash for a brighter image, though. Video quality did not fare as well, though it was much less pixilated than comparable camera phones. The phone also includes a built-in video player.

Personalization options are quite plentiful with the S500i. You can customize it with a variety of themes, screensavers, and wallpaper. One theme that we particularly like is the Everchanging theme that changes illumination and colors as the day progresses from day to night. As for ringtones, you can purchase them from Sony Ericsson's PlayNow store right from the phone itself. The phone supports Java and 3D games, and Brain Juice plus Lumines Block Challenge are included with the device.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) in San Francisco using AT&T service. We loved the call quality with the phone--voices sounded loud and clear with a natural tone, plus callers reported little to no static or background noise. Speakerphone quality could be a little better, but we sometimes sounded rather faint according to our callers. We managed to pair the S500i with the Cardo S-2 stereo Bluetooth headset without a problem.

Music quality is passable. We wouldn't rely on it as a primary music device, but the speakers did deliver good sound quality while headphones provide the best listening experience.

The Sony Ericsson S500i has a rated battery life of 9 hours talk time and 15.4 days standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the S500i has a digital SAR rating of 0.77 watt per kilogram.


Sony Ericsson S500i

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8