Up till very recently my main phone was a Nokia 6600 – which was getting very long in the tooth (I think it was introduced more then 3 years ago. My specific device is about 2.5 years old). I love the PDA features, the full network experience (the internal Nokia browser was shit but with Opera For Mobile and Mini Opera you can actually use the web properly), and of course – the ability to run Putty to get SSH access to all my favorite servers :-). Anyways, I was in a market for a new smart phone, unfortunately the offering in the market right now are very poor, mostly as everything is in a state of transition now – The Windows Mobile platform is moving from the horrendous version 5 to the quite usable version 6, Linux is poised to launch as a major smart phone platform with OpenMoko, Google’s Android, Palm’s Treo devices are aging and we hope to see them soon replaced with the Access Linux Platform (what was once Palm Source), and Nokia… well Nokia are still doing their thing but you can also see that they are thinking about new stuff – if you look at the Nokia internet tablet devices (N810 is the latest) and some exciting demos Nokia had shown.
But still – I need a new phone now and all these exciting new devices will come out – maybe – in middle of 2008. So I have to choose from what I have in front of me, which is not much. Eventually I settled on the Sony Ericsson P1i, which is a very interesting smart phone from Sony Ericsson and is currently their main business offering. I hated many Sony Ericsson phones I’ve used in the past, but I saw some new UIQ3 devices and they seemed very nice so I decided to give it a chance. It also helped that compared to the alternative – a Windows Mobile 6 device – it was about half the price. Then my boss decided that I also need a new phone and went and bought me a Nokia E90 (well – it was a very lengthy and heated discussion and eventually we settled on the Nokia), which is currently the top Nokia business phone. And so the shoot out begins…
The main problem I encountered was that I can’t use both phones at the same time – they’re both 3rd generation devices and like 3G USIMs but I only have 1: I got the 2nd Orange deal where I can have 2 SIMs with the same number, but in this setup one of the SIMs must be a standard 2G SIM. Uri reminded my that I also have a Cellcom account so I tried to use the SIM from my Cellcom phone in one of the devices, but I don’t have a data plan on that account and I immediately removed the Cellcom SIM from my phone when I got an SMS the next day saying that I overused my 90 NIS data allowance and from now on any additional megabyte of use is 10 NIS. I’m currently looking into getting another 3G account with either Cellcom or Orange, but it difficult navigating the narrow twisting paths of cellular billing plans 🙁 .
But the contest to be my primary phone is a long one and I will find a solution. In the mean time I got about 1 week of use of each phone and my initial comments will be based on these. As this post is getting kind of long already – and I haven’t said anything interesting yet – I’ll split the review into several posts where each will concentrate on some specific use. I’ll use the remaining space in this post to cover the first and most obvious consideration:
Availability & Costs
Both the P1i and the E90 are not available in Israel from any cellular provider – if you want the top in business phones, you have to get them from either a local 3rd party (and Nokia Israel and whoever represents Sony Ericsson here do not carry them either) or get them shipped to Israel from some other country. If you’re going for the second method of the do-it-yourself kind, make sure to get phones that are “unlocked” or “unbranded” otherwise when you open the box you’ll find a useless brick that won’t accept local SIM cards.
Price-wise the P1i is a clear winner – it costs around $500 in the UK and US, and about 3500NIS here, while the Nokia E90 is hard to find at $1000 and in Israel is selling for just a bit under 8000NIS (for non-Israeli readers I’ll mention that the NIS is currently at just below 4NIS to the US Dollar).
Since both the P1i and the E90 offer about the same functionality and are aimed at the same crowd, being twice as expensive the E90 gets no points here, and the very large form-factor and second screen are very poor excuses for such a large difference – for the price of an E90 one can buy the P1i, a standard PDA and have some change left. As you’ve noticed, the phone I actually paid for is the P1i so its clear where I put my mouth and money.
Look & Feel
The P1i is really weird:
Its a bar type device, and unlike previous Sony Ericsson business phones it doesn’t have a flip and all the buttons are taking space from the screen which is still fairly large. The large keyboard at the bottom has 5 columns of buttons, but is actually a full QWERTY keyboard (or actually, I got the Italian/Swiss model which has a QWERTZ button – the Y was switched with the Z for some reason): each key can produce either of two letters by tilting it left or right, and most keys can produce additional two symbols with the use of the alt key, except the red labeled that produce numbers with the alt key no matter where you push (and also work as standard numeric keypad when in phone mode). The keys are concave to aid in typing the correct symbol:
After you get a bit skilled in using this weird setup, its becomes surprisingly easy to type very fast with this keyboard.
The handset itslef is rather smallish – its about the same size as my old Nokia 6600 but is only about half as thick. The phone isn’t heavy, but isn’t very light either – it feels very solid, unlike the new Blackberry devices that feel like cheap pieces of plastic, and the P1i sports a nice brushed metal casing with a black back which is probably plastic but feels nice and soft (a bit velvety – very non-skid). Its a very nice device to hold up, the side buttons (scroll wheel with push, back button, “internet button” and camera button) are positioned very well so its easy to operate all the phone controls in one hand and the stylus is tacked nicely on the top left side.
The E90 is a lot of things, but most of all its bulky. It is a very large device which pays when you open it up and want to type with both hands:
Doing so is very comfortable – you have enough space to move your hands and fingers around and it even comfortable to put it on the table for some real all-fingers-typing (although they keyboard is obviously designed for thumbing). And this is where you encounter the first issue – although the E90 is very solid and features an aluminum case (none of that cheap plastic) with small rubber legs at the bottom for resting the phone comfortably on a table or such (also non-skid, good for using it as a handsfree phone in a car) the rubber legs aren’t aligned properly and when put on a table the phone wobbles a bit from side to side as you type on it – it is very very annoying. Also the memory card cover is not just hinged – it has a Motorola-style extend and lift mechanism, but when closed it rocks a bit when you move your hand over it. Worse – the main opening mechanism has 2 modes where it can be held – 90 degrees open or fully flat. The second one is good for typing while holding the phone, but the 90 degrees mode is not comfortable when resting the phone as the screen is not in front of your eyes but facing your stomach. One can try to position the screen in a proper 45 degrees angle but without someone holding it it simply falls back down to lie flat. The E90 feels like it wants to be a solid precision mechanism (the kind that Motorola sells), but the production quality is not high enough and you get a handset which has annoying bits and pieces that fail to work as well as they were designed for.
The E90 definitely mean to be the best of the two competitors in the look & feel arena but fails, so unless they Nokia fixes these annoying kinks in the otherwise shiny facade, I have to conclude that the P1i takes this category as well.
Anyway, that’s it for now – I have to go do stuff and I’ll pick it up later with the more interesting stuff.