Remember a day when the most techie communication device a child could have was a walkie-talkie, or am I dating myself here? From preteens to college students, the younger generation is a growing and important segment for the consumer electronics market, as evidenced by the launch of youth-oriented devices and services, such as the Helio Kickflip and Boost Mobile. Well, Sony wants a piece of that pie and today announced a new personal communication gadget aimed solely at 18- to 22-year-olds, called the Sony Mylo. Mylo, which stands for "my life online," is for those who love to stay in touch with friends via instant messaging and also want to have some fun on the side. It sits somewhere between a souped-up AT&T Ogo and a scaled-down T-Mobile Sidekick 3, but one thing we want to make clear from the get-go is that it's not a cell phone. Instead, it's equipped with built-in Wi-Fi and comes with preinstalled popular instant-messaging clients, VoIP capabilities, a Web browser, and multimedia features. We had the opportunity to check out some working preproduction units, so read on for our impressions.
Upside: The Sony Mylo is Wi-Fi enabled (802.11b) and will search for available networks with a touch of one button. Once connected, the Mylo can help you instant-message friends and make VoIP calls, as it comes preloaded with Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, and Skype. It also supports Yahoo and Google Web mail clients, which it accesses via the Opera Web browser, so it has some e-mail capabilities.
The Sony Mylo wouldn't be much of a messaging device without a QWERTY keyboard, so we're glad it's equipped with one. It lies beneath the screen, which smoothly slides up and clicks into place. Though we had only a brief time with the Mylo prototypes, the keyboard layout seems spacious enough and the buttons tactile. (We, of course, reserve the right to change our judgment after we put the final product through its paces.) The slider design allows the Mylo to keep a compact form factor, measuring 4.8 by 0.9 by 2.5 inches in its closed state and weighing 5.3 ounces, so it won't add much bulk to your backpack. The Mylo's 2.4-inch TFT screen is a sight to behold. It shows off 65,536 colors at a crisp 320x240-pixel resolution, and we were quite impressed by the great picture quality as we watched some sample video clips on the device.
As you might have guessed, the Sony Mylo can play video (MPEG-4 format) as well as music (MP3, ATRAC, and WMA files). There's also an image viewer with support for JPEG, PNG, and BMP file formats. To store all these files, the Mylo has 1GB of flash memory and comes equipped with a Memory Stick Duo expansion slot.
Downside: Though the Sony Mylo offers many goodies, we think there are some important and noteworthy omissions. First, for such a youth-oriented device and one that Sony is touting as "all about fun," we're completely disappointed by the lack of support for and inclusion of any games or a built-in camera. And though you have access to Web mail, the addition of an e-mail client would have made this messaging device that much nicer and useful.
A true killer could be the Mylo's lack of VPN or 802.1x support. A number of college campuses run open wireless networks, but for security purposes, they still require users to log on to a VPN to access the Internet, so without this type of support, a huge chunk of the Mylo's appeal could be nullified.
We also think the Mylo's going price of $349 is rather high. Sony says part of the appeal of the device is that you pay only a one-time fee and don't have to worry about the monthly service charges you'd incur for a cell phone. However, we're willing to bet that college students aren't going to completely ditch their mobiles for this; VoIP/Skype calling hasn't reached that point of saturation yet. Finally, Sony annoyingly restricts you to the use of its proprietary Memory Sticks.
Outlook: We don't deny that the Sony Mylo offers some great features. It looks to be solid messaging device, with some nice extras, but let's be honest. In this day and age, college students will still want a cell phone. Are kids really going to carry around two devices? Why not just get the T-Mobile Sidekick 3? Still, we'll reserve final judgment till we've had a chance to fully check out the device. The Sony Mylo will be available for preorder in late August and is expected to start shipping in September, but we hope to have the final product in our hands within the next couple of weeks, so check back soon for a full review.