Sony Ericsson TM506 review: Sony Ericsson TM506

Sony Ericsson TM506

Kent German

Kent German

Senior Managing Editor / Features

Kent is a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and has worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog, or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).

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7 min read

The Sony Ericsson TM506 marks a couple of "firsts" for T-Mobile. Not only is it the first Sony Ericsson to land at T-Mobile in several years, but it's the carrier's first 3G cell phone since it launched its 3G network in May. Though it doesn't offer a streaming media experience or a wireless music store, it does have a pleasant array of features and decent performance in a pleasing design. Also, it's an appealing alternative to the carrier's existing 3G models. The TM506 will launch sometime in September; pricing was not available at the time of this writing but it should be less than $100 with a contract.


Sony Ericsson TM506

The Good

The Sony Ericsson TM506 has a sleek, easy-to-use design with a brilliant display. Its functional feature set includes world 3G support, a camera, a music player, and Assisted GPS.

The Bad

The Sony Ericsson TM506's external display is small with limited functionality. It supports only three GSM bands and the speakerphone quality is mediocre.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Ericsson TM506 has a couple of faults, but it's broad 3G support and integrated GPS makes it a welcome addition to T-Mobile's lineup.

The Sony Ericsson doesn't make a bold style statement, but that doesn't mean it's unattractive. Indeed, we liked its slim profile (3.7 inches tall by 1.9 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick) and its glossy black skin with the amber highlights. This phone would look at home both in the boardroom and in a nightclub. It's also relatively lightweight (3.4 ounces), but it has a comfortable feel and a sturdy hinge.

Still, we had a few design gripes. The external display is small, rectangular, and monochrome. As such, it won't work as a self-portrait viewfinder and it can't support photo caller ID. It does show the time, battery life, signal strength, and numeric caller ID, but none of the display's options are customizable. Fortunately, one flick of the volume rocker on the right spine will reactivate the screen's backlighting. In the right light, the phone's external skin will show some fingerprints and smudges, but they weren't noticeable most of the time.

Besides the volume rocker, there are few remaining features on the TM506's exterior. The Memory Stick Micro slot is in a convenient and readily accessible location on the left spine. The camera lens sits just above the external display, the charger port rests on the bottom of the phone, and the TM506's single speaker is on the rear side.

Though the TM506's external display is disappointing, its 2.25-inch internal screen is bright, colorful, and vibrant. With support for 262,000 colors, it stands up to Sony Ericsson's long tradition of making great displays. Graphics, photos, and text show up well and gaming was a treat. You can change the brightness level and choose from three easy-to-use menu interface designs.

Initially we were a little wary of the TM506's controls and keypad, but in use, they're not so bad. The circular toggle and central OK button are flush, but they're surrounded by a raised ring that gives them some definition. The toggle doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. The Talk and End buttons, the camera shortcut, and the clear key are also flat, but their arrangement is spacious enough to prevent misdials. The thin sliver soft keys are raised slightly above the surface of the phone, but they're not as tactile as we'd like. There's a dedicated power button just below the keypad.

The TM506's navigation array and keypad have a unique design.

The keypad buttons have a unique design of overlapping circles. They're also flat, but they're partially surrounded by bright amber circles. We were able to dial and text quickly, and we liked the rubbery feel of the keys. On the other hand, dialing by feel takes some practice and the tiny numbers and letters on the keys may be too small for users with visual impairments. Also, the backlighting is rather dim.

Though the TM506 may lack some of the flashy multimedia features found on 3G phones from other carriers, it offers a respectable feature set with offerings for work and play. We'll start with the basics first. The phone book stores a healthy 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, a URL, a job title, a company name, two street addresses, and notes. The SIM card holds an additional 250 names and you can save your personal information to an electronic business card. For personalization, you can organize contacts into caller groups and you can pair them with one of 20 polyphonic and MP3 ringtones. You can save a photo to your contacts as well, but keep in mind that it won't show up on the external display.

Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, an alarm clock, a task list, a notepad, a calculator, a voice memo recorder, a timer, and a stopwatch. More advanced options include instant messaging, PC syncing, full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, a Bluetooth remote feature, voice dialing, USB mass storage, phone as modem capability, a file manager, and a code memo for storing passwords and other sensitive information. You also can use several POP3 e-mail systems, but you must access them through the WAP Web browser.

The TM506's camera lacks a flash or a self-portrait mirror.

The TM506's two-megapixel camera shoots photos in three sizes and two quality settings. Editing options include three color effects, a night mode, white balance, brightness adjustments, 18 frames, a self-timer, panoramic, multishot modes, and four shutter sounds plus a silent option. There's also a 2.5x digital zoom, but it's unusable at the highest resolution. Photo quality was quite nice. Colors were bright and images were sharp. You can further manipulate photos with the PhotoDJ application. Unfortunately, there's no camera flash.

The TM506 has satisfying photo quality.

The camcorder shoots clips in two lengths. Videos meant for multimedia messages are capped at 45 seconds; otherwise, you can shoot for as long as the available memory will permit. Editing options are fewer than on the still camera, but there's the VideoDJ application. Internal memory comes to 20MB of shared space, so we suggest using a memory card for extra storage.

Though it's not a Walkman phone, the TM506 has a well-stocked music player. Features include playlists, shuffle and repeat modes, stereo widening, and an equalizer with Sony's Mega Bass. Transferring music to the phone is an easy process through a USB cable, Bluetooth, or a memory card. The player interface is simple and utilitarian, but the controls are intrusive. You can activate an airline mode for listening to tunes while flying and you can send the music player to the background while using other phone functions.

We were pleased to see that T-Mobile included Assisted GPS on the TM506. Using the TeleNav service, you can get turn-by-turn voice-assisted direction, local maps, and traffic and a search feature for locating nearby points-of-interest and business. What's more, you can add geotagging information to photos that you take with the phone's camera. T-Mobile's GPS application is similar to AT&T's TeleNav. We'll have a review of the specific T-Mobile version soon.

You can personalize the TM506 with a variety of alert tones, screensavers, clock sizes, color themes, and wallpaper. You can download more options and additional ringtones with the phone's wireless Web browser. Games get demo versions of three titles: Tetris Mania, Are you smarter than a Fifth Grader?, and Midnight Pool. You'll have to buy the full versions for extended play. For more fun, the phone comes with a Music DJ application for composing your own ringtones.

As mentioned previously, the Sony Ericsson TM506 was the first T-Mobile cell phone designed specifically for its nascent 3G network. That means support for 1,700MHz and 2,100MHz AWS spectrum (both UMTS and HSDPA) on top of compatibility for slower GPRS and EDGE networks. Happily, that will give you wireless broadband support in North America and abroad. At the time of this writing, we weren't able to test T-Mobile 3G's network since it is not yet active in San Francisco.

We're disappointed that the TM506 supports only three GSM bands (850/1800/1900). As such, we can't call it a true 3G phone. We tested it in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was decent overall. Voices sounded natural and the signal was relatively free of static interference. On the downside, the volume doesn't get very loud and the signal faltered somewhat in buildings and in underground stations. None of the problems was especially detrimental, but they were noticeable.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could hear us well in most environments, though a few reported that the phone picked up a lot of background noise. Most could tell we were using a cell phone, but we didn't hear too many complaints about the audio clarity. Automated calling systems could understand us most of the time. Speakerphone calls weren't so good, however. The phone's speaker doesn't have great output, and at its highest levels, the sound on our end was tinny and distorted. Callers had trouble hearing us unless we were close to the phone.

Music player quality over the external speaker is about the same, so we'd recommend using a headset for the best experience. Even then, our tunes didn't sound fantastic, but the player is sufficient for short periods.

The TM506 has a rated battery life of 9.5 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. It has a tested talk time of 7 hours and 30 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the TM506 has a digital SAR of 1.43 watts per kilogram.


Sony Ericsson TM506

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7
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