Sony Ericsson P1i Review

Last year I bought a Sony Ericsson M600i for several reasons. First off it was very small, fit easily in a pocket without bulging, and felt great in the hand. It also had both a thumboard and UMTS, both features I wanted. The hardware aspect of it was fantastic, and I loved it, but it was disastrous on the software side. It would crash repeatedly, the web browser would often require 4-5 attempts before it would open, and I would regularly pull it out of my pocket to find it sitting on a wonderfully helpful screen saying it had restarted itself for performance, waiting for me to click continue before it would boot (hence sending all calls to voicemail and no SMS/email notifications until I noticed).

Needless to say it wasn’t good. I returned the phone, and the service person was not surprised to see it come back. She said they had received almost every one of them they had sold back. It was withdrawn for sale for a while before being re-released, presumably with a production-grade ROM installed.

I was disappointed to return it, because as I said I loved the hardware and when the software worked, it wasn’t too bad either. Reading about the M600i’s successor, the P1i, I was eager to try it out and see if the flaws in the original had been ironed out. Sony Ericsson were happy to send me a loaner for review, and I have been using for the past week as my primary phone/PDA.

Included in the box is an cradle, AC adaptor, slip case, battery, USB cable, stereo headphones and a spare stylus. It’s very unusual to see a cradle and case included with a device these days, way to go Sony Ericsson! For a video tour take a look at my video unboxing.

The P1i is unmistakably related to the M600i. The size is almost identical, as is the basic design, but it has been spruced up a bit to resemble some of their latest phones. Instead of all-matte black or white casing, there is a two-tone silver and glossy black. The keys are still matte and have a nice feel. The glossy black looks like the same material as the PSP, and the silver border is the same as the Sony Ericsson W880i music phone.

The P1i also has roots in the P990i, Sony Ericsson’s flagship smartphone device. The P1i includes the WiFi and dual-cameras that the M600i never had.

On the left side is a lanyard loop, jog wheel and back button.

On the top is an IrDA window and the power button.

On the right side is a programmable button, the M2 memory card slot and camera button (with half-push for auto-focus).

On the bottom is the Sony Ericsson pop-port style connector for audio, data and power.

The back is made of the same rubberized material as the BlackJack, which helps make sure the phone doesn’t slip out of your hands when talking or typing.

Typing is either a like it or hate it situation. Like the M600i, the P1i uses a two-on-one key setup, that looks like those on the Blackberry Pearl. Unlike the Pearl, each key actually is two keys. The key is raise on each side, and represents the character on either side. Because of this each key is very small, even smaller than those on the BlackJack. I found it to work quite well on the M600i, and I still feel that way. It has a slight learning curve, but once that is out of the way it’s smooth (and speedy) sailing. Best to try it out in person before plunking down the cash.

The keyboard is backlit, and the keys appear very clearly in white (letters and symbols) or red (numbers).

The P1i has two cameras, a 3.2MP with auto-focus on the back and a low-res (probably QVGA) one on the front for video calling. Sony Ericsson phones are often praised for their built-in camera quality, and the P1i joins that list. Photos look crisp and colourful the resolution is plenty for printing. There is also an LED flash for darker situations, but it is really only effective at close range.

Speaking of close range, the camera also has a macro mode that lets you get in very close to your subject (within a few inches). I could never get it to work very well as the camera would not focus properly most of the time. After several attempts at focusing it would usually get it. Probably best to leave the macros to a dedicated digicam. The P1i really does look like a normal digital camera from the back.

The flash is good, but I don’t think it would be as good as the K800i. Close range shots only for this one.

The video calling camera is nothing special. It works fine, but the quality pretty poor.

Like the M600i and P990i the P1i has a 240×320 262k portrait display, and it is excellent. Colours are vibrant and the brightness is more than adequate. The display is also very sensitive, which is important on this phone as a lot of things can be done with one hand without the stylus.

Speaking of the stylus, it is similar to the CLIE stylii from years ago. Very thin, but not telescoping. I like the stylus, it has a decent weight and doesn’t feel too bad in the hand. Considering it won’t likely be used for handwriting or on-screen keyboard text entry (if you do use it for this, you have bought the wrong device) it’s fine. Sony Ericsson also include a spare if you lose it.

The cradle included is a great design, as it not only allows you to charge and sync, it also has a connector for a headset if you prefer the wired variety over Bluetooth. There are no integrated cables, so if you only want to use the cradle for charging you don’t have a USB cable snaking out the back. You need to use the included USB cable to connect the cradle to a computer.

The cradle folds flat to travel which is a great idea.

When sitting on the cradle, a ring around the connector lights up. It’s not plugged in so you can’t see it.

They also throw in a slip case to tide you over until you get a case for it. Nothing flash, but it gets the job done!

Disappointingly, the P1i does not include HSDPA. Just like the M600i, the P1i is tri-band GSM and UMTS2100 only. With the number of quad-band GSM/tri-band HSDPA (1.8Mbit and up) handsets coming out, Sony have left the P1i with only 384Kbit of speed at the best of times. The difference is noticeable too. The P1i is about half as fast at my BlackJack viewing the same webpages. The same is true when I connect the phone to my laptop for internet access.

For times when you need faster speeds, the P1i includes WiFi for getting online at hotspots, at the office, or at home. The WiFi works fine, and has average range and speed, no complaints. I don’t really use WiFi in my mobile devices anymore so it isn’t really a selling point for me, but if you don’t have a data plan with lots of download every month WiFi may be invaluable.

Finally some stability!!! Not once during my testing has the P1i frozen or rebooted itself. Even with lots of applications open it is very snappy, and doesn’t lag like my BlackJack does when running IE Mobile and FlexMail concurrently.

The today screen has a collapsible list for calendar/tasks/missed calls/messages, and a row of icons along to bottom that can be customised with your most-used applications. The icon bar can be expanded using the arrow for a total of 15 shortcuts.

A drop-down menu in the top left provides access to the communications manager and volume settings, as well as a new menu for creating messages, appointments, etc.

In the opposite corner is the task manager. YES, you can access it from pretty much ANY application on the device without having to dig into the settings menu!

One thing that has bugged me since I tried to make my first call on the P1i is the lack of contact dialing from the home screen. On my BlackJack I can just start typing a name and it will filter through my contacts. On the P1i you have to open up Contacts first, then enter the name to search for. Bizarrely, it will often switch into number/symbol mode, so you have to be sure to change it back to alphabetic entry. You can always assign speed dials for people you regularly call, but that doesn’t make up for it.

You can also dial numbers through the call log. The list can be filtered by missed, dialled or received.

Syncing is accomplished through Sony Ericsson’s PC Suite application, which interfaces with Outlook. I didn’t have any major dramas with syncing. It transferred a couple of hundred calendar entries and contacts quickly and without incident.

Only bummer was I couldn’t get it working through Parallels Desktop like I do with ActiveSync. I had to copy my PST file to my desktop and set it up to get my info on the phone. Not a knock at the Sony software though, it was never designed to do that.

Calendar, Contacts and Notes aren’t bad and have all the necesary features to keep you organised. Contact searching isn’t as good as Windows Mobile though.

The menu is the same as on other Sony Ericsson handsets. Either a grid view or a list view can be used. I prefer the grid as it makes the icons easy to press with a thumb (aka. one handed).

Quickoffice is included for viewing and editing of Word and Excel documents, as well as viewing PowerPoint presentations. A separate PDF viewer is pre-installed as well, so this phone is well equipped to deal with most business attachements. I tried out the Business Card Scanner, but it didn’t work very well on the various cards I tried. YMMV.

A basic file manager is thrown in for good measure.

With its included 512MB memory card this phone would make a pretty good music player. It supports A2DP and AVRCP for wireless listening and control.

The currently playing track appears on the today screen to quickly get back to the music application.

With both UMTS and WiFi, it is likely that you are going to be doing some websurfing. For that there are two options, the included Opera browser, or the Opera Mini java application. I think they compliment each other, as they both have their strengths and weaknesses.

The included Opera browser is excellent, it renders pages very well and does a good job of fitting to screen. There are both full screen and landscape modes for most screen room. While it does a good job with desktop websites, it is best to stick to mobile sites when you can (for speed, data usage and ease-of-reading reasons).

For desktop pages Opera Mini is amazing. It has a features similar to the iPhone’s Safari browser that displays the whole page in its desktop format, and you tap on blocks of text or images to zoom in and read them. On the P1i screen it works extremely well! The webpages are run through Opera’s servers to compress them to minimize data usage (and speed up loading as well).

Email is also well catered for. Sony Ericsson include an excellent mail application with the P1i that supports HTML formatting, the same as the M600i. It was great then and it’s still great now. It also supports IMAP Idle for instant delivery of email.

One feature that I love about this client is the addition of scheduling and ability to turn email off when roaming. I’m sure most people don’t want their phone beeping at 4am to tell them they have a new email, or to be downloading large emails while on a rotationally costly roaming connection.

The battery life on this phone is very impressive. I easily got a day of moderate to heavy usage (a few hours web surfing, IMAP Idle on from 6am to 11pm, sending about 20 SMS and 5 emails, 20-30mins calls, camera use, messing around in menus, etc), and over 2.5 days when not using it heavily (aka. not so much web surfing, but the rest mostly the same).That is better than my BlackJack, that lasts almost 2 days with less use. With moderate to heavy the BJ is dead before 2pm :P

Like the M600i before it, I have been very impressed with the P1i. It manages to pack in style and power into a very compact device. The phone is rock solid from a software stability perspective, and hasn’t crashed or frozen on me during my week of testing. The only reason I have turned it off is to remove my SIM to put in a data card! Otherwise it would have likely stayed on for the whole time I was testing. Running it for 3 days without a reboot was no problem, something I haven’t been able to do with even a clean Windows Mobile device. Battery life is excellent, the screen is gorgeous, the keyboard is serviceable, and it’s so damn small!!

I really wish this phone ran Windows Mobile! I’m just too attached to the Windows Mobile OS to give it up for Sony Ericsson’s Symbian UIQ 3.0 operating system. The UIQ OS is rock solid on this device, but I just don’t like it as much as Windows Mobile. That and the fact that it only has UMTS is a deal breaker for me, so I am again waiting in line for a HTC Kaiser (yeah yeah, Tytn II). But if you want an excellent smartphone that has 3G, WiFi, a thumboard, gorgeous touchscreen, stability (something WM doesn’t offer IMO), and looks good to boot, then seriously consider the Sony Ericsson P1i!

The Sony Ericsson P1i can be purchased from both online and brick-and-mortar stores, as well as on carrier subsidy (check your carrier)
MSRP: AU$1099 (converts to US$940, €640, but it would likely be cheaper in a local market, AU prices are expensive), likely less at retail
What I Like: Excellent size, looks great, excellent screen, good thumboard, 3G, excellent battery life, 512MB card in the box and 160MB built-in!
What Needs Improvement:
Keyboard is rather unusual so has steeper learning curve, no HSDPA!

[Ed. note: the photos for this review were taken on the Canon HV20]

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About the Author

Mitchell Oke
Mitchell is a video producer and director working with Australia's leading motoring news sites and car companies. He's always on the go with a camera in hand. With a Bachelor of Creative Technology (Digital Video Production), Mitchell's worked for News Limited, and as a freelancer for many years.

1 Comment on "Sony Ericsson P1i Review"

  1. Francisco | April 7, 2008 at 9:00 pm |

    Thanks for that review, excelente to take my desicion.

Comments are closed.