Monday, May 21, 2007

Playing with a new phone

I have just got myself a new phone. It's a Sony Ericsson K800i. This model was released about a year ago, so it is not quite state of the art. It is Sony "Cybershot" branded and has a 3.2 Mpixel camera. As phone cameras go this is not bad. It is certainly better than any other phone camera I have had, although it does not compare with a dedicated digital compact camera, let alone a digital SLR. What I want is for the camera in my phone to be good enough that if some dramatic news event happens in front of me, or merely if I see something in front of me that I want to photograph and blog, I will be able to take decent photographs. I am getting there, I think. This camera is sort of okay for this purpose. Not great, but okay.

The K800i phone was pretty state of the art a year ago, but Sony Ericsson have not really improved upon it since. They have just released a supposedly better K810i, but this is little more than consmetically different. The guts of the phone are the same. The release of the K810i has led to some particularly good deals becoming available on the K800i, which is why I have just obtained it. The state of the art camera phone (in Europe at least) seems to be the N95 from Nokia, which has a 5 megapixel camera and inbuilt GPS. I haven't played with one of these to see how good the camera is, but I am sure it is another incremental improvement. Inbuilt GPS is clearly a major feature. I have an external Bluetooth GPS unit that I use with one of my other phones, and it is tremendously useful. Having it built in will clearly be a step forward from that. It will probably be included on the phone I get next year.

However, the N95 is new and very expensive, so I have forsaken it in favour of the K800i for now. Stick a T-Mobile SIM with an unlimited data tariff in the K800i, and how good is it?

Firstly, it is a 3G phone. This is good. Accessing e-mail and websites is much faster than the GPRS phones I have used until now. Having now had a 3G phone, I am not going to go back to GPRS. This means that I am not going to buy a first generation iPhone. (This does not mean the iPhone will fail, particularly given that it is initially aimed at the US where 3G phones are less common than Europe. The key issue there is its user interface. If it is any good, the iPhone will succeed. If not, not).

However, what do I want to use the phone for, besides calls, photographs, and SMS messages? Music? No, I have an iPod for that, and the music player will run down my batteries. Although the K800i has a music player, I have no intention of using it. E-mail? Absolutely. I use gmail for my e-mail, and the first thing I do is download Google's very clever gmail applet. This is pretty good for reading e-mail on the go. Sending an e-mail is bit of a pain, but that is the price of trying to compose e-mail on a numeric keypad. Even with T9, it is tedious. Obviously if I got something with a full keyboard it would be easier. (It will be interesting to see how well the touch screen interface works on the iPhone).

While installing the gmail app, Google also suggests that I install the Google maps application. this is cool, and I immediately use it to look at satellite photographs of the building I am in, and a map of the nearby area. It can give directions too, which is clever. What would make it really good is an interface with inbuilt GPS. Oh well, next year for that.

Still, Google is doing well here, Microsoft has spent years trying to move the PC model to mobile phones, in which Microsoft provides the underlying operating system and takes a royalty on every phone sold. I personally think their resulting product (Windows Mobile) is quite decent, but the PC model isn't going to work. For one thing, Nokia, Motorola, and Ericsson have seen what Microsoft did to the PC market and they are not going to let that happen to them. Google are taking their web model to the phone, and are providing search and web based apps. This works better in the sense that it is going to get their software on more phones. From a revenue perspective it is trickier, though. Google's advertising model is to provide small advertisements on the top and side of a web page. On a 240x320 phone screen there is no space. I am not sure how they are going to overcome this.

What else do I want on my new phone? There is a standard web browser on the phone, but it isn't very good. In my experience the best mobile browsers by far are from Opera. Opera mobile runs on Windows Mobile and Symbian (and is excellent) but not on the K800i. The Java based Opera Mini does run on the K800i, so I install this and use it for web browsing. The combination of Opera Mini and the 3G data connection gives me easily the best phone based web browsing experience I have had.

One final thing is instant messaging. The phone did not come with an inbuild instant messaging client. What I would really like is Skype (just for its instant messaging - for voice I am perfectly happy to use a phone as a phone). However, I am also used to using MSN messenger, as my previous phone was running Windows Mobile. A bit of Googling confirms that there is a free Java based client called "QuickIM". I install this and it rather irritatingly sends advertisements for itself to my friends the first time I use it. But it works.

So the new phone really isn't bad at all. I like it. It can do quite a lot. Mobile based Java apps are useful. An unlimited data plan makes it far more useful than it would be without one. That is a big incentive to do business with T-Mobile or with 3, as these are the two networks presently offering them.


Bruce Hoult said...

I keep an Olympus mju mini in my pocket. Not as good as my Nikon D70s, but much much better than the camera in my phone.

As it happens I keep the mju mini in the pouch that came with my mju 35mm camera ten years ago. There's room for two of them in it, at least!

Michael said...

I have a Fuji Finepix Z2, which is about the size of a cigarette packet and is a superb camera for its size. (It has an entirely internal folding zoom lens, too, which is very clever). However, it is an extra thing to carry and I don't always carry it. I do always carry my phone with me, which is why a phone with a good camera in it is one thing I would like. (The issue is low light, really. Getting adequate pictures out of current camera phones in bright light is quite doable).

Anonymous said...

Two comments about the Tmobile "unlimited" data tariff. 1) it's not actually unlimited - it's actually limited to 1 gb per month. That's not really too much of a problem, though. Who gets through a gig on a mobile phone? More importantly, though, is 2) Tmobile doesn't allow IM, VOIP or P2P on the basic "unlimited" walk and web service.

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