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Good for Business: A Review of the Sony Ericsson P910i Print E-mail
Written by SymbianOne   
Sunday, 03 October 2004
Sony Ericsson’s P series of UIQ smartphones have been a considerable success, and not only for Sony Ericsson but third party developers too. The latest model the P910, a freshening of the P900, extends the P series professional credentials with a thumb board and built-in ability to edit Word and Excel document and a host of small and not so small improvements. We take a closer look.

In many ways the P910 (specifically the P910i in this case) will be familiar to any P900 user. It is housed in basically the same casing and at a quick glance the two phones look very similar – at least when the phone keypad flip is closed. A closer look reveals the casing inlay on the P910 is a metallic grey and the flip keys are styled differently. The first significant physical difference comes when the flip is opened, revealing what is going to be one of the strong selling points for the P910i, just about the smallest thumb board on any current smartphone.

Despite its diminutive size the thumb board it is very usable. Initially the thumb board gave us an irritating “double click”, one from pressing the thumb board key, one from the phone keypad. However with a little practice we soon learnt to hold the board to eliminate the extra click. Using the thumb board strictly as it was designed does mean holding the P910i by the flip only, this does feel a little precarious, but for those who like to keep a solid grip on their phone the keyboard is equally easy to use as a one-finger board too, allowing the P910i to be held securely in one hand.

Each thumb board key can have multiple characters, multiple presses of the key cycles through the available characters in the pre-edit box, which is shown on the title area (as illustrated below). The board has no shift key, rather upper case characters are obtained from a CAPS key to the left of the space bar, one press gives the next character in upper case, two presses activate the caps lock. To the right of the space bar is the “number” lock which gives access to the second character on each key, which includes numbers as well as common punctuation and symbols. Further symbols can be accessed from the @ and # keys or a long press on the “number” lock opens a symbols table that is navigated using the jogdial.

The keyboard works well, is simple to use and provides access to a comprehensive character set. It has only one drawback, it does not have a backlight, unlike the phone keypad. This means reasonable light is needed to use it (unless you can master touch-typing) but given there are two other input methods (the on screen keyboard and handwriting recognition) it is not really a significant issue.

 

Five alternative thumb boards are available for the P910i, Qwerty, Qwertz (German), Azerty (French), Russian and Greek.

 

Inside, the P910i boasts significantly more storage capacity than the P900. Internally it provides 64MB of storage and the Memory Stick slot now supports Memory Stick PRO Duo, meaning up to 1 Gigabyte of storage can be added to the phone.

The touch screen has also been improved. It is now considerably brighter and the brightness can be controlled (via the control panel or battery icon.) The screen now renders 262,000 colors rather than the P900’s 65,000. Overall this gives a much crisper, clearer screen and is a significant improvement for image viewing.

The majority of applications on the P910 are the same as those found on the P900, so we will return to the standard applications shortly and jump straight to the three built-in applications which differentiate the P910i. These applications are QuickSheet, Quickword and Pdf+.

QuickSheet and QuickWord are supplied by MDM (who recently acquired Quick Office from Mobility Electronics) and forms part of the QuickOffice suite of software which allows Palm and Symbian OS devices to edit Microsoft Office documents. QuickPoint, the third application in QuickOffice, is not preinstalled but is available on the in-box CD (and as a download from the P910i support site).

QuickWord will open Word documents attached to emails or loaded directly onto the P910i. If the document is edited QuickWord saves a copy of the original, which allows any rich Word formatting to be merged back in on the desktop later. As you may guess from this comment QuickWord provides a basic, but none the less useful, set of formatting capabilities including background highlighting, font coloring, font style and size selection, text alignment, bulleting and the usual bold, italics and underlining.

While QuickWord may not provide a practical alternative to a full desktop word processor it is certainly more than adequate for making corrections or updates in existing documents or creating new drafts from scratch (as was the case for the first draft of this article).

QuickSheet provides display and editing capabilities for Excel spreadsheets received as email attachments or loaded on the P910i. QuickSheet is able to display any sheets from the Excel file, but not graphs. It supports most of Excel’s built-in equation function, but as we found out with one of our first test spreadsheets which used the CHOOSE function, not all of them. However generally QuickSheet coped admirably with the test spreadsheets.

It is unclear why QuickPoint it is not preinstalled on the P910, it could perhaps be because the current version available from Sony Ericsson does have editing functionality (which has just become available in the commercial version of Quick Office.) Editing aside, QuickPoint provides comprehensive features to view presentations either as outlines, notes or slides.

The third new built-in application is Pdf+ from mBrain software. As its name implies Pdf+ is a pdf document viewer, for documents received as email attachments or loaded into the P910i’s memory. Pdf+ offers both a full formatted view of the document plus a wrapped text-only version, which makes reading any document considerably more practical than trying to scroll around a formatted page. It also supports bookmarks, has a find feature and the ability to zoom in both formatted and word wrapped views.

In addition to the three pre-installed applications, and the already mentioned QuickPoint, HP Printing and the Opera browser are also available on the retail CD (or P910 web pages) for free addition to the phone. HP Printing now allows picture, messages, contacts and calendar details to be printed, although we did not have access to a Bluetooth enabled printer to test this feature. The Opera Browser is probably the best browser for any small device and as such it does not really make sense that it is not built into the phone (licensing issues we expect).

While the majority of the other applications are largely identical to those on the P900 there have been a raft of small improvements. The change we liked the most was in the flip application where the P900’s “Divert All Voice Calls” option has been replaced with an “Accept Calls” option. This new option allows calls to be limited to a caller list, callers in the contacts database, speed-dial numbers or to simply block or allow all calls. None of this is new functionality for the phone, but it is now accessible and therefore practically usable.

The phone application is possibly the one which will get used the most on any P910i. It provides access to all the basic call capabilities, speed dials, voice mailbox and call list. New features allow the P910i to stay in its active application when a call is received and for an alert to be given if a call is initiated with GPRS active. Several small improvements in call handling, such as incoming call options, setting up a conference call and sending DTMF tones, have been made easier.

The P910i utilizes a 640x480 (VGA) camera, through the single CommuniCorder application to record both still images and video (although maximum video resolution is 176x144 pixcels). The still shooting options include profiles for night, indoor and outdoor photography as well as quick selection of a smaller picture size for MMS messages. For Video there is a standard and MMS message option. Video of any length can be shot, up to the limit of available memory (one hour uses approximately 64Mb.)

Images and Video can be viewed in the Picture and Video application. Images can be edited with a simple drawing application. The Video viewer also allows streaming video to be watched.

The music player now supports AMR format files in addition to MP3, play options include loop and random play features. The sound quality for the headset is excellent. The built in speaker provides adequate sound reproduction, although as it is rear mounted works best when the phone is upside down.

A sound recorder is also provided, but frustratingly still does not include the ability to record phone calls (presumably due to concerns over local legislation on recording phones calls as other Symbian OS platforms include or have third party software to enable phone call recording.) All the same the recorder is useful for recording small meetings, memos and MMS audio. It can also be used to record ring tones, although the lack of editing features means quick reactions on starting and stopping a recording are needed to get the right sound.

The messaging application gives full access to SMS, MMS and internet email as well as beamed content, area info and OTA setup messages. The MMS editor allows multi slide MMS messages to be created with control over the playing time. MMS messages can include images (still or video), sound and text.

Both POP3 and IMAP email account can be accessed from the P910i and a scheduler allows mail to be collected at specific times or regular intervals, which is not quite the same as the on-demand capabilities of systems such as Blackberry but for most practical purposes provides an almost identical capability.

A big improvement is the rendering of HTML formatted messages (using Opera technology). There are also improvement in IMAP support, but we were not able to test these.

For corporate email users SyncML is built into the P910 and can provide the ability to synchronize emails, calendar, contact and jotter records with a SyncML corporate mail server. Push email can now also be integrated into the messaging application, meanings for example that pushed mail activates the “mail waiting” icon on the main screen. This provides much better integration when using solutions such as those from Blackberry Connect (RIM), Intellisync, Smartner, Visto or Extended Systems.

The PIM functionality on the P910i includes Calendar, Contact database, task manager and a jotter. The jotter can be use to create text notes and simple pictures. The Calendar supports appointments, reminder and all day events with repeats and alarms. The contact database allows almost any address information to be stored, allows individual ring tones to be set and can store an image of the contact. Tasks can be dated and prioritized. All PIM data can be grouped and custom groups created.

The P910i comes with a built-in web browser. This browser has been improved considerably, it now includes features such as narrow or wrapped screen rendering. Our advice however is to install and use the Opera browser, not only is it better but it is also able to render the SymbianOne web site which on our test machine crashed the UIQ browser!

In terms of games a simple Solitaire and Chess game are available on the phone. The Chess game can be played either against the computer or against another P series owner over SMS. The in-box CD also includes a free copy of V-Rally.

As might be expected the P910i has a comprehensive set of setup options which allows the user to control Themes, ring tone and alerts, flip and menu application shortcuts.

The P910i comes with a USB desk stand, and has support for Bluetooth, Infrared and, as previously mentioned, SyncML for remote synchronization of data.

Bluetooth now supports a car handfree profile so the P910i will work with the Sony Ericsson Bluetooth Car handsfree (HCB-300) or other compliant car systems.

The PC Suite software allows Calendar, Task, Contact, Jotter and emails to be synchronized with Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes and Lotus Organizer, support has been improved with PC Suite working with Lotus Notes versions 6.0 and 6.5 and Outlook 2003. Contacts can also be synchronized with Windows address book. The ability to backup and restore is also provided along with features to allow P800 or P900 users to transfer data to a P910i.

And finally there are a number of other applications including a calculator, world clock and alarms, file manager and GPRS data log.

From a developers point of view the P910i offers the same features as the P900. Symbian OS C++ developers will see no real changes, except that the P910i now includes a Symbian Signed Certificate so that signed application will install without a warning message.

Java developers will notice a few small improvement. The P910i supports a JSR-185 (JTWI 1.0) compliance implementation of MIDP 2.0, API support has been added for full screen, vibrator and backlight in addition to being able to read the phones IMEI serial number and software version. The P910 supports JSR-82 Java Bluetooth (excluding OBEX/Push) and JSR-120 Wireless Messaging API’s.

In addition the P910i also supports PJava, AppForge Crossfire for Visual Basic programming and OPL, with a port of Python also underway.

Summary

Out of the box the P910i is a much better business smartphone than the P900. The addition of QuickWord, QuickSheet and Pdf+ makes it far more practical as a go anywhere, use anywhere business tool. Loading Opera, QuickPoint and HP Print adds to these capabilities. The extra onboard memory and expandable storage should give more than enough space for even the most demanding business user.

The thumb board also means that the P910i offers the same input convenience as a number of competing devices, with the added bonus of being able to outperform them in every other respect.

Coupled with the suite of PIM, messaging, imaging and audio applications the Sony Ericsson Application Shop that the P910i has more than enough capacity to run.

The P910i will also not leave P900 users feeling too left out, they can easily update their smartphone to provide much of the same application functionality as the P910i as the additional software is available, either as free add-ons from Sony Ericsson (HP Printing and Opera) or as aftermarket applications (as in QuickOffice and pdf+). As such, the P910i offers more without detracting from the P900 which remains available.

For third party developers the P910i offers much the same opportunity as the P900, but also shows that there are practical opportunities in targeting software applications at handset manufacturers where they offer a broad community of users essential features.

The Sony Ericsson Sony Ericsson Developer World portal.

There are a number of resources for Symbian developers on Sony Ericsson Developer World, including Symbian OS Docs & Dools for download, Tips, tricks & code samples (Java, Symbian and VB/.NET sections available), discussion forums, information about Symbian Signed certification, about go-to-market opportunities.

The P910 is available in the following variants:

  • P910i - Triple Band 900/1800/1900 MHz
  • P910c - Triple Band 900/1800/1900 MHz for China Mainland
  • P910a - Triple Band 850/1800/1900 MHZ for North and Latin America
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 14 October 2008 )
 


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