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Sony Ericsson always can be counted on for bringing something unique to the cell phone table. Most recently we saw it with Sony Ericsson W380a's external music controls, and now we see it with the Sony Ericsson Z555a. The Z555a features an eye-catching design and a revamped gesture control that allows you to silence calls by waving your hand (albeit, a few times). On the whole it adds up to a satisfying phone for its price ($179 unlocked), though there were some design elements that we didn't quite love.
By any measure the Z555a stands out from the cell phone crowd. Though it has a basic flip phone shape with compact dimensions (7.7 inches by 1.9 inches by 0.7 inch; 3.4 ounces), the front face is beveled into diamond shapes of different sizes. What's more, the individual facets reflect the light in a varying pattern. The diamond theme even continues to the bottom of the phone, which is angled slightly to form a point. Just be advised that the phone has a plastic skin on all sides. It retains a nice feeling in the hand, but this is not a handset we'd throw around. The Z555a comes in both black and rose; we examined the black version, but the features are the same between both models.
Like the W380a, the Z555a features a monochrome rectangular display that is hidden when the backlighting is off. We're not the biggest fans of displays like this, and the Z555a serves as a great example of why not. Since the digits are reflected onto the phone's outer skin, they almost appear blurry when viewed from an angle. What's more, we don't like having to press the side-mounted volume rocker to activate the backlighting just so we could see the time. The screen's size small size also means that it shows just the time, the battery life, and the signal strength. Caller ID is supported but photo caller ID is not.
Just above the display are the camera lens and a small speaker (both are diamond shaped). Below the lens is a light for the Z555's gesture control, which we'll get to later. Oddly enough, the gesture light won't double as a camera flash, and the lens doesn't offer a self-portrait mirror. A left spine charger jack and a right spine volume rocker round out the exterior features.
Inside the Z555a you'll find the 262,144-color display. As with most Sony Ericsson screens, it's bright and colorful with crisp graphics and text. At 1.8 inches (220x176 pixels) it's a bit small for the phone's size, but that's a minor complaint. The menus are easy to use, but take care when choosing a background theme; at times the menu icons blended in with the background.
The navigation array is spacious and easy to use, even if the controls are flush. There's a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys (which double as calling controls), a clear key, a back button, a Web browser control, a shortcut button, and a power key. Below the array is a numeric keypad. It's also flat with the surface of the phone and the numbers on the keys are a decent size. The keys are fairly slick, but they feel better than the button on the W380a. Yet here again, we would appreciate brighter backlighting.
The W555a has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail and Web address, a job title, a company name and work address, a home address, a birthday, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save contacts to groups and pair them with a photo and any of 22 polyphonic ringtones for caller ID. 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 stopwatch, and a calculator. More demanding users will find Bluetooth, PC syncing, a speakerphone (usable after you make a call), USB mass storage, and a code memo for storing sensitive information.
The Z555a's megapixel camera shoots photos in three sizes (1 megapixel, standard VGA, and QVGA). Other options include two quality settings, three color effects, a night mode, white-balance and brightness adjustments, a multishot option, a self-timer, a 4x digital zoom (unusable at the highest resolution), and four shutter sounds (however, there's no a silent option). Photo quality was acceptable. Colors looked natural but the lighting was dim and smaller objects were blurry. Like the W380a, the Z555a has a video player but it lacks a video recorder.
As previously mentioned, the Z555a has a gesture controls feature, which allows you to control the phone by waving your hand. When you receive a call, a tiny light will shine just below the camera lens. By waving your hand in front of the light, you can silence the ring and send the call straight to voicemail. Also, you can silence an alarm in the same manner. In reality, the idea is better than the execution. Each time we tried using the gesture control we had to wave our hand over the sensor a couple of times. It didn't turn us off to the experience, but we were hoping for something a bit more effective.
You can personalize the W380a with a variety of color themes, wallpaper, and screensavers. If the options included on the phone aren't enough, you can purchase more with the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. You also can download more ringtones or create your own using the MusicDJ application. FotoQuestFishing and JewelQuest2 are the Java (J2ME) games included, but you can buy more. There's also an Accuweather application for getting your local forecast.
We tested the triband (GSM 850/1800/1900) Sony Ericsson Z555a in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was quite decent in most regards. Voices sounded natural and the volume level is louder than the W380a. Also, we had no trouble getting a signal and we encountered no interference or static. Our only complaint was that during some calls you could hear a slight hiss in the background. It wasn't particularly bothersome, though.
On their end callers said we sounded fine. They could hear us well and they didn't report any distortion. They could tell we were using a cell phone, which is not unusual, and only a few callers reported that the phone picked up some background noise. Automated calling systems could understand us as long as we were in a quiet location.
Speakerphone performance was unimpressive. The output from the speaker was weak and voices sounded tinny. On our end, we had to speak very close to the phone in order to be heard.
We also noticed that the Z55a's menus were rather slow. There was a slight lag for a second or two when we were navigating through menus. That may not sound like a big deal, but it's noticeable just the same.
The Z555a has a rated battery life of 7 hours talk time and 12.5 days standby time. Our test revealed a talk time of 10 hours and 11 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Z555a has a digital SAR rating of 0.67 watt per kilogram.