Full disclosure up front: The Sony Ericsson m600i smartphone is not for everyone. It has some quirks and flaws, and the fact that it's only compatible with European high speed networks is a major shortcoming for a smartphone to be used in the U.S.
That being said, I love this phone. There's no camera and I still love this phone. I'm a righty and the jog wheel is placed for left thumb scrolling and I still love this phone. The first m600i I got my hands on had buggy firmware and wouldn't connect to the Internet and I still love this phone.
Why? Because it's so elegant and pretty that I like using it. Sometime's it's just that simple.
A lot of the reasons I like using the m600i have to do with the UIQ 3.0 interface it's running on top of Symbian OS 9.1. That and the phone's clean, simple look and it's innovative QWERTY keypad. This hardware/software duo makes the m600i one of the most elegant phones I've ever had the pleasure of using. Of course some people find that same combination to be strange, annoying, and even ugly. Like I said, this phone's not for everyone. But I love it. And no matter what you think of the look, there's no denying the flexible power of a phone with Symbian under the hood.
The m600i is tall and wide and slim. At 107 x 57 x 15 mm, it's noticeably taller than your average candybar phone, slimmer than most smartphones, and wider than nearly everything this side of the MOTORAZR.(it's actually nearly a full centimeter wider than the V3). Given these dimensions, the device has a propensity to make a dramatic first impression: people aren't used to a handheld that's so "wide and flat." Some people l showed it to loved it while others ... well, not so much.
A 2.6" QVGA touchscreen takes up the upper two-thirds of the front panel, with a very cleanly laid-out 20-button keypad dominating the lower third. Perhaps it's the use of simple shapes that makes the device look so elegantly simple to me - the phone is a rectangle, the screen a similar but smaller rectangle, and the keypad a symmetrical grid of even smaller rectangles. Whatever the philosophy behind the m600i's industrial design magic, it worked on me: I find the phone's overall look stylish and calming, as though it can somehow help me "Zen" my way through my daily affairs.
Available in Crystal White and Granit Black, the m600i is constructed from plastic with a matte finish. The black version I tested featured silver plastic side panels and sky blue accents. Labeling on the keypad was in white with ALT-activated functions in sky blue. The keypad is unique in that the fifteen main buttons are actually rocker switches that can be pressed to the left or right to access different functions. The top left key, for instance, is Q to the left and W to the right. As such, SE was able to spread the alphabet out over only 15 buttons.
I really took to the dual-button keys, though I can easily imagine that some people would hate this system. The concave keys are large enough and comfortably spaced for easy typing, and the upturned left/right edges make for easier hunting and pecking. More on the use of the keypad for messaging and other applications will follow later in the review.
The rear panel of the phone is empty save for an SE logo and a blue accent mark, as the M600i does not have a camera. A panel covering the lower 60% of the rear panel slides off to give access to the battery and a rather difficult to access SIM card slot.
On the left side of the phone, we find the jog wheel and return button as well as a corner-mounted slot for the included stylus. The jog wheel is odd in that it's mounted on the left panel - as opposed to the more common right-panel placement - and that there's a raised plastic ridge in front of the wheel. The left-side placement can be justified by the idea that most users will use their right hand to access the touchscreen (via stylus or fingertip) and so want the left thumb in proximity to the wheel. Why there's a plastic ridge in front of the wheel, I'm still not sure - whatever tactile guidance it might be meant to afford quickly turned into a game of "Wait, is this the wheel? No, I'm trying to press the ridge again" for me.
The right panel of the device features a single programmable button labeled with an @ symbol, and the M2 memory card slot. Sony Ericsson built the m600i with yet another version of their Memory Stick removable memory line, the M2 Micro. What's nice about the M2 is that it's super small, which likely helped keep the m600i so slim. What's a pain about the M2 is that it's neither compatible with nor as inexpensive as the original Memory Stick lines. A 64MB M2 card was included in the box.
A power button and IR sensor are mounted on the top panel of the phone, while the accessory port and microphone are found on the bottom. As is the trend in most mobile phones these days, a single accessory port is used to connect the m600i to the included AC adapter, stereo headset, and data cable - only one of which may be used at a time.
The m600i felt great in my hand and when held to my ear for phone calls. The phone's wide profile made it quite natural to hold, and I took pretty quickly to typing with my thumb tips on the dual button keys. While the jog wheel took a little getting used to, I ultimately found it no harder or easier to use than the jog wheels on BlackBerries and other mobiles. The overall look and feel of the m600i is very European to me, in the sense of a simple, functional design characteristic of our neighbors across the pond.
First the bad news: There is no WiFi or US-compatible 3G (or EDGE) connectivity on the m600i. And, as mentioned, there's no camera to be found, either. Pile atop that documented firmware and battery issues that plagued early production runs of the phone, and it makes one wonder if SE rushed the m600i out the door before it was truly ready for the public.
Now the good news: The UIQ 3.0 interface running on Symbian 9.1 is perhaps the best interface I've ever used on a mobile phone. The QWERTY board and excellent handwriting recognition software allow for multiple methods of text input and accessing applications, messaging, and phone capabilities. Graphics and fonts are beautiful, menus are overwhelmingly logical and intuitive, and the "Today!" menu on the home screen gives easy access to calls, messaging, and calendar info in a DHTML-style collapsible list.
The UIQ/Symbian combo opens up a world of third-party applications to m600i owners with a user interface that's reminiscent of Apple's Mac OS X operating system. A customizable, icon-driven Activity Menu floats on the bottom edge of the home screen in a manner similar to the OS X dock, providing one-touch access to five favorite applications, contacts, Web pages, and/or documents. Pre-installed applications include support for viewing and editing MS Word/Excel/PowerPoint files and a PDF reader.
With the new w950i Walkman phone also built on UIQ/Symbian and housed in a body very similar to the m600i's, I can't help but wonder how far off the 600 media player application is from the UIQ version of SE's Walkman software. The 600's media player works very well with audio and video files of most every popular format including Macromedia Flash Lite. Video playback support is rated at a full 30 fps, and works very well so long as the number of applications running in the background is kept to a minimum. The music player has solid playlist support, a great equalizer that's applicable system-wide, was able to read ID3 tag information from most files I loaded onto the M2 stick (though it balked on some AACs), and even displays album art.
Sony Ericsson built 80MB of internal memory into the m600i, and the M2 slot supports up to 1GB of additional memory (though the M2 standard theoretically can support up to 32GB per stick). Symbian 9.1 is capable of multitasking, and while the m600i generally did well running and switching between applications, I did encounter some sluggishness here and there. I also never quite got the hang of making sure that I was closing applications instead of just switching screens while the programs still ran in the background. This meant some trips to the Task Manager app to end programs I didn't know were still running.
The m600i features support for Java MIDP 2.0 and 3D games. The sole pre-installed game, Vijay Sing Pro Golf, is pretty amazing. I'm by no means a hard-core gamer, but this didn't seem too far off from Tiger Woods 2005 that I played on a friend's PS 2 awhile back. The graphics are stunning and playability is quite high if you're into golf games.
The m600i does not have a camera. While on the one hand this could be seen as a nod to business environments that are increasingly fearful of corporate espionage, on the other hand it's too bad. Given that the p990 - SE's flagship smartphone - packs a 2 MP camera, it seems that SE could have also included one on the m600i in order to increase the breadth of its appeal.
With such a tall, wide form factor, the m600i has space for a nice roomy screen. Some 2.6" in size with support for 262,000 colors at QVGA resolution (240 x 320), this display does not disappoint. Everything looks great on the m600i, from menus to photos and videos. The display can be rotated to landscape orientation, which is useful when viewing multimedia or browsing Web pages on the pre-installed Opera 8 browser.
While the lack of a camera means that you'll have to download or transfer images via Bluetooth, USB, or memory card to the m600i, once they're on the phone photos can be used as wallpapers, caller ID images, and even icons on the Activity Menu.
The m600i's display is a touchscreen, and it worked quite well using the included stylus or my fingers. Calibration of the screen was easy, handwriting recognition is excellent, and general functionality was quite good. I do wish that there were more ways to navigate the device with one hand - many tasks seem to require use of either the touchscreen or both the screen and jog wheel. Being a Symbian device, however, it's more than possible that I just didn't dig deep enough to find keypad shortcuts suited to one-hand use.
You'll definitely want to keep the phone in a case or use a screen protector, since the front-mounted display is at risk to scratches (especially if you carry your phone in a pants pocket).
The m600i is a European-spec GSM phone and so lacks support for the US-only 850 band. That being said, I tested the phone in the San Francisco Bay Area on T-Mobile, which has good 900-band coverage. The tri-band 900/1800/1900 MHz GSM radio performed well, and audio quality on phone calls was very good. If you're considering the m600i, check into your carrier's 900-band coverage in your area.
Quality was fairly good using the built-in speakerphone, as well. The m600i comes with a wired stereo headset with an inline microphone, which provided very good sound during both calls and media player use. During music playback, the phone beeps to indicate an incoming call and automatically pauses and resumes your song before/after your conversation. I was able to plug the handsfree adapter from my w800i Walkman phone into the m600i and use it with other 3.5mm headphones as well as my car stereo adapter. Stereo music playback was excellent, and the integrated equalizer features useful presets as well as a full-on manual mode.
The m600i supports stereo over Bluetooth, as well. I didn't have a stereo Bluetooth device on hand, so I paired the phone with a mono Bluetooth earpiece, and the results were quite good.
Combining the robust versatility of the Symbian 9.1 OS with a unique dual-action QWERTY keypad made the m600i a versatile messaging device. Out of the box, the messaging application supports SMS, MMS, and POP/IMAP email, and is nicely integrated with the Contacts application as well as the Today! menu on the home screen, which can provide simple alerts when you have new or unread messages in one or more mailbox.
Many third-party Symbian messaging applications are also available to extend support to BlackBerry and push Email services, as well. Instant Messaging clients that support AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, ICQ ,GoogleTalk and more are also available. As such, the m600i can be used as anything from a straight SMS device to a flexible, powerful mobile communications hub.
Note that because the m600i is not available through any US carriers, use of messaging features is dependent on configuring the device with the proper settings. I used Sony Ericsson's "Configurator" Web page to configure my review phone for use with my T-Mobile TZones account, but Email settings (username, password, incoming/outgoing server addresses, etc) had to be configured manually.
Sony Ericsson pre-installed the Opera 8 browser on the m600i, and it's a great way to access the Web from a cell phone. While not quite as amazing as the browser Nokia recently debuted on their e70 smartphone, Opera on the m600i does a great job rendering most Web pages and features Fit to Page and Zoom navigation options as well as a rotating landscape/portrait orientation option.
I was able to get around the Web quite well on the phone, dial-up connection speed nothwithstanding. Pop-Up Blocker, Password Manager, and other Web browser tools made browsing on the m600i much more like a computer-based experience than a typical cell phone-based one.
Though the m600i supports 3G data services, its UTMS 2100 band radio only works in Europe. As such, stateside users will have to settle for GRPS data connectivity. I found basic Web browsing and Email management to be tolerable via GPRS, but it's certainly no match for T-Mobile's EDGE, or the faster HSDPA and EV-DO networks offered by other carriers. It's a shame because the phone is such a capable Web and Email device.
Bluetooth includes support for stereo audio devices as well as file transfer and syncing. The m600i can be tethered to a PC or Mac for use as a cellular modem, as well. I had no trouble pairing the Pearl with a mono headset or my computer. I was also able to connect the phone to a PC for charging, syncing, and use as a mass storage device by way of the included USB data cable. The data cable, as well as the headphones and AC charger, connect to the m600i via a single bottom-mounted accessory port that's compatible with accessories from most recent SE phones.
As mentioned, the m600i is one of Sony's first phones to use its new M2 Memory Stick Micro removable memory card format. The included 64MB card is remarkably small - like a microSD card - and worked very well. It remains to be seen if Sony will shift the majority of its new devices to the M2 standard, and how long it will take for M2 prices to come down in line with the more popular Memory Stick and Memory Stick Duo cards. Currently, M2 cards as large as 1GB are available.
The m600i also has an Infrared device. Infrared can be used for file transfer and remote control of computers and other devices (dependent on software support).
There aren't many Symbian OS phones being carried by US cell phone providers right now. I really hope that changes. Symbian 9.1 is a great mobile operating system for smartphones, and UIQ 3.0 as Sony Ericsson has implemented it on the m600i is perhaps my favorite flavor of it thus far. Multitasking, customizing, accessing messages and contacts and web pages - Symbian can handle it all and running UIQ 3.0 on top of it lends a friendly, computer-like feel to the platform.
Sony Ericsson's m600i will not become a best seller in the United States, and that's too bad because it's a powerful and unique mobile phone. The primary hurdle it faces in the US is SE's own doing - it's a European phone that lacks support for any high speed data services available in North America. There's no WiFi, and no EDGE, HSDPA, or EV-DO band. There's also no camera, and cameraphones are big right now.
The other hurdle for the m600i is its unique look and feel. Tall, wide, and slim with a clean, subdued look and a somewhat "cuddly" system font -- this isn't what Americans are used to from their mobile electronics.
Except, wait. Doesn't "Tall, wide, slim, clean, subdued, and cuddly" describe the iPod? Hasn't that been a runaway success stateside? Hmm ... Maybe Sony should reconsider a U.S.-spec m600i. It might just catch on here after all; I know I'd buy one.